LIMA —The annual trip is a decades-old tradition, timed while Congress is in session and before the spring planting season begins.
This week, about 100 Ohio Farm Bureau members will travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on top agriculture issues and get educated on topics such as health care reform, global markets, and trade and food safety rules.
At the top of lobbying and education lists this year is the farm bill. A new five-year bill made progress in 2012 but only passed the Senate; the House didn’t vote on its version. Instead, the 2008 farm bill received an extension to Sept. 30, 2013.
“It was very close last year. Now we’re dealing with an extension, a stop-gap measure,” Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman Joe Cornely said. “It seems to be the default position in D.C. to kick the can down the road. Farmers need a permanent farm bill. Like any business person, they have to plan years down the road. They won’t invest until they know the rules of the game. Farmers are smart people. They can figure out how to operate within the rules.”
Farmers understand the era of direct payments is over, Cornely said.
“At the same time, we also recognize the need for a strong safety net. The largest component of that is crop insurance,” he said.
The other priority issue this year will center around an agricultural guest worker program. It is part of the larger debate surrounding immigration reform.
“It seems like there’s always a hot issue at the time of our trip,” said Troy Ernest, Allen County Farm Bureau president. “This year immigration is definitely one. Migrant workers are important to farming across the nation. We need to protect our borders, but we also need a legal method to bring seasonal workers in and out of our state.”
Ernest has a hog and grain farm near the Allen/Hardin county line. He has 1,300 sows and breeds about 600 pigs a week. He is a third-generation farmer and has served as the Allen County Farm Bureau president for at least seven years. Many of those years, he attends the Washington trip.
It’s important for local Farm Bureau members to make the trip, Cornely said.
“We have American Farm Bureau in Washington working on behalf of our members, and they do a great job, but it’s the farm who’s the voter,” Cornely said. “It’s the farmer who has cause to have a personal relationship with their lawmakers. The face-to-face lobby carries the weight.”
Today and Tuesday are largely education days for Farm Bureau members. On Tuesday, members meet in an agricultural forum with House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, and other members of Congress, including Rep. Bob Gibbs, an Ohio Republican who sits on the House Agriculture Committee.
On Wednesday, members will meet with Ohio’s senators, Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown. They also will meet with Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, and Bob Latta, R-Bowling Green.