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 through 14 as part of the 73rd Ohio County Farm Bureau Presidents’ Trip to Washington, D.C.
Every year Ohio Farm Bureau takes Ohio County Farm Bureau presidents and vice presidents, along with a group of media, on a three-day trip to advocate to legislature.
Gary Mescher, OFB County president of Mercer County and a dairy farmer, spoke with Rep. Bob Latta of Ohio’s 5th congressional district during his congressional visit on Capitol Hill, in addition to Jared Dilley in place of Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio’s 4th congressional district.
He said that meeting with Latta went well, adding that “Mr. Latta was very receptive. He listened to all of us. Unfortunately, he had a vote, but that’s his job,” referring to Latta having to end the meeting to vote.
“I spoke a little bit on water quality. I’ve been dealing with that for a long time,” said Mescher, who is in the Grand Lake watershed, which he said was an issue “way before” the Lake Erie situation. “The Lake Erie situation is kind of like a slap in the face to me,” referring to the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR), which Mescher said he “very much” disagrees with. “But not being a citizen of Toledo, I really don’t have a say so.”
“[LEBOR] has given people the right to just legislate things that will put agriculture or other business out of business. Especially when these same people are not playing by the same rules,” he added.
Mescher said he asked Latta if he thought LEBOR and the water quality law suits were unconstitutional. Latta said that he doesn’t see how it stands up constitutionally.
“I also am very concerned about trade. I agree with the tariffs. I don’t like them, but we have to do what we have to do,” Mescher said.
Latta and the Farm Bureau members who met with him talked about broadband, saying that, “It would be nice to use all that technology,” referring to the farmers who do not have fast enough internet connection to use farm machinery that depends on strong internet connections.
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.
During the congressional meeting, Ronald Wilker, an egg farmer in Auglaize County, asked Dilley, “Why can’t we have a law passed for supply and demand,” regarding animal regulations and producing caged chicken eggs versus cage-free chicken eggs. “Let supply and demand equalize,” Wilker added.
Breakfast with the senators
The attendees had breakfast U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on March 13 and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, on 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,” Brown said. “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,” Brown said.
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,” Portman said.
“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 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 1 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.”
Portman said during his breakfast that “the science is uncertain” about the impact that humans have on climate change. “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.”