Montana session break puts Farm Bureau boots on the big Hill
Montana Farm Bureau put some boots on the “big” Hill this week, Capitol Hill, that is. I travelled with seven Montana members to Washington, D.C. for advisory meetings, events, and visits with our Congressional delegation.
Tom DePuydt, a farmer and rancher from Saco, serves on the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Federal Lands Advisory Committee. Gary Heibertshausen, a sheep rancher from Alzada, serves on the AFBF Environmental Issues Advisory Committee. Larry Switzer, a cattle rancher from Richey, serves on AFBF’s Market Structures Advisory Committee. Turk Stovall, a cattle rancher from Billings, serves on AFBF’s Animal Care Committee. Bruce Wright, a farmer and food processor from Belgrade, serves on the AFBF Farm Policy Committee. All Advisory Committee members met on Monday and discussed a variety of agriculture issues specific to their area of interest, seeking to provide direction and solutions.
They also participated in AFBF’s Advocacy Conference the following day to learn more about priority issues Farm Bureau hopes to address this Congress. These priority issues are Regulatory Reform, Comprehensive Tax Reform, Farm Policy, and Immigration Reform. American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall addressed the group, reminding us that it’s the grassroots that make our organization strong. He called us to take action and make our agricultural voice heard.
Duvall also shared that he would be attending a ceremony in the White House to watch President Trump sign his Executive Order on Waters of the United States, an EPA rule wildly opposed by farmers and ranchers across the U.S. AFBF lead the fight in stopping the rule and we are thankful to start the process of rolling back its devastating effects. An impromptu visit from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt just minutes after President Trump signed the Executive Order requiring EPA to review and revamp the Waters of the United States Rule was a real highlight for us. Mr. Pruitt expressed his interest in restoring the principals of cooperative federalism – returning power to the States – which caused the crowd to erupt in applause more than once.
Joy DePuydt joined the group for the Advocacy Conference and Hill visits. Jennifer Bergin, a rancher from Melstone, attended the conference as the final part of her experience in the Partners in Agriculture Leadership (PAL) program and official graduation from the program.
On Wednesday morning, the group headed out for a long and productive day of meetings. Our first stop was a meeting with Senator Steve Daines and his agriculture legislative assistant, Dan Gerig. Senator Daines provided us with insights of what lies ahead in 2017, expressed his support for agriculture and rural Montana, and his excitement about the impending confirmation of Montana’s own Ryan Zinke as Secretary of Interior. We thanked him for his supportive position of tax reform and relief, actions he’s taken to help advance regulatory reform, and discussed upcoming legislation such as the Farm Bill. We were also able to present him with his “Friend of Farm Bureau” Award, recognizing him for work he did to benefit farmers and ranchers during the 114th Congress. We had a chance to visit further with Gerig about challenges with agriculture labor and the need for immigration reform in order to provide a reliable work force.
Following the meeting with Senator Daines, our group headed over to the house side to visit our Congressional office and meet with staff serving there. It just so happened that while we were there, the Senate was casting their votes to confirm our Congressman Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior. We were able to watch the votes come in on a television in the office and celebrate when his confirmation officially passed the Senate.
After that, our group travelled across town for a meeting with three staff people from newly confirmed Secretary Zinke’s office. We were able to discuss a broad variety of topics with regard to Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs leases, “wild” bison, sage grouse, multiple use, and management rules. The staff were gracious hosts, informed, incredibly competent and genuinely interested in learning about challenges and solutions to better manage the lands under their purview. This meeting gave us reason to believe that there are many positive developments to come and we look forward to working with the new Department.
Our group wrapped up the day meeting with Senator Jon Tester and his agriculture legislative assistant, Justin Folsom. Senator Tester expressed his support for getting a Farm Bill that works well for Montana farmers enacted in a timely manner. He also shared that he thinks maintaining and expanding our trade opportunities is an important a way to open up markets to farmers and ranchers and will be a challenge going forward. We were able to discuss our priority issues, as well as our support for the confirmation of Sunny Perdue as USDA Secretary and Neil Gorsuch as Supreme Court Justice with them before they had to move on to their next meeting.
We’ll be back in Helena next week to get back to work on state matters that matter to our farming and ranching members.
–Montana Farm Bureau