WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 100 Ohio Farm Bureau members, many of them farmers, visited Capitol Hill to speak with their district representatives, March 12-14, as part of the 73rd Ohio County Farm Bureau Presidents’ Trip to Washington, D.C.
Every year Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) takes Ohio County Farm Bureau presidents and vice presidents, along with a group of media, on a three-day trip to advocate to legislature.
Lisa Peterson, Fayette County Farm Bureau president, met with Congressmen Steve Stivers and Troy Balderson during the congressional visits on Capitol Hill.
“Attending the OFB DC trip was the perfect opportunity to share personal concerns with my congressmen,” said Peterson. “The trip was also a great opportunity to network with other county presidents, discussing issues they face and concluding that the issues concerning those in Northern Ohio are just as important as those in the southern part of the state.”
Peterson and her husband, Ohio Sen. Bob Peterson, farm soybeans, corn and wheat on a 2,700-acre farm in the western part of Fayette county near the Clinton and Greene county lines.
“It is important to put a farmer’s face and thoughts directly in front of lawmakers and share some of the real life issues we face on the farm. When 87 Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents show up in DC people take note,” she said.
One of the main issues she brought with her to DC was over-regulation, which she said is one of the “greatest threats to the next generation.” She added her son plans to continue the family farm when he returns from college.
“Like all of those involved in Ohio agriculture – regulatory reform, rural broadband, Waters of the United States (now the Clean Water Rule) and trade are all issues of great importance,” said Peterson.
Obtaining more access to broadband technologies and higher speed internet for rural areas is one of OFB’s top priorities for Ohio. Along with that, OFB advocates for the nation’s infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, locks and dams, ports and waterway systems.
Breakfast with the senators
The attendees had breakfast U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on Wed., March 13 and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on Thurs., March 14. Both senators talked about their agricultural concerns, some including broadband, trade and the division of the U.S.
“[This is] a troubling time in our country right now,” said Brown. “Jobs have moved overseas, while the opioid epidemic has moved in. Farm bankruptcies are up. Prices are low while input costs are high. It’s almost impossible to make a living without off-farm income.”
Portman agreed and said, “Prices aren’t good, weather is tough and things are tough in the farm economy.”
“Rural communities are often ignored by state and federal government,” said Brown, emphasizing that Ohio should be recognized as an “Ag state.”
Brown told the group about a recent trip he took to Iowa. “We went to a lot of smaller places, we didn’t spend a lot of time in Des Moines. I heard a lot of the same concerns in Iowa that I hear from Ohio farmers. But maybe the biggest takeaway I heard was that just like in Ohio, these small towns feel overlooked and ignored,” said Brown.
Portman said that his biggest concern is trade, adding that he has learned a lot about agriculture while working on trade issues. “Trade and agriculture are so close,” said Portman.
“We know that more needs to be done to increase access to broadband in rural Ohio, so we included a 14-fold increase in funding,” said Brown, referring to the Farm Bill. “It’s only with this level of federal investment that we can ensure that small businesses, farm families, and students have access to high speed internet. None of this would have been possible without your input.”
“This country is divided now,” said Brown, telling the group that they need to “keep the pressure on us…Tweets and name calling distract us.”
Climate change and taxes
Although Portman and Brown work on several Ohio agricultural issues together, they have some different viewpoints on issues, such as taxes and climate change.
Portman said that he talked to some small businesses benefiting from a little bit of a tax break from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed at the end of 2017. However, Brown said that “the tax cut went to no one in this room but to the one percent,” said Brown, speaking to the group during his breakfast.
During a media interview before his breakfast, Brown told reporters that anyone who continues to deny climate change should be “embarrassed.”
“I just don’t think there are two sides to the issue of climate change,” Brown said. “The facts are facts, and climate change is real…And it’s not really a political thing. It’s a fact thing.”
In contrast, Portman said during his breakfast that “the science is uncertain on climate change, let’s be honest,” said Portman. “Do we have a role to play, yes, I think we do, but you can’t say that it’s just people.” Although Brown did not advocate the New Green Deal, Portman said that it is “outlandish” and “just doesn’t make sense.”
Portman added, “[There are] absolutely things we can do to reduce emissions,” but “we should do it in a way that’s pro growth, pro jobs, pro farmer. It doesn’t have to be either/or.”