The Pig Farmer Goes to Washington

Musings of a Pig Farmer
by Larry Sailer

United States Capitol

I felt like a fish out of water while visiting a city that eats a lot of seafood!  But one thing I have learned is that we must make our voices heard in the center of government.  That’s why I traveled recently to Washington, D.C., with a group of 70 state Farm Bureau leaders and spent four days talking to our elected officials.

You find out real fast in D.C. that everyone has an agenda and often times you don’t agree with it! I was reminded of this lesson on our second day in Beltway when we met with a group from Missouri and listened to Scott Faber from the Environmental Working Group. Although I did not buy into what Faber was trying to sell, it’s always good to listen to someone whose ideas are quite different from your own.

Next we had a question and answer session with two Senate staffers, Joe Schultz and Tara Smith. The Senators for whom both work serve on the Senate Ag Committees, one from each party.  It was interesting hearing each party’s viewpoint on the new Farm Bill and what it might include.

Of course, a lot of what the Farm Bill looks like depends on how much money gets appropriated to various programs.  Bill Hoagland from CIGNA met with us about the Federal budget. There’s not much to tell about that meeting as not much happening is happening there!

Next we watched Mike Adams host a live radio show, AgriTalk Live. He interviewed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and Iowa native, Tom Vilsack.  We finished off Day 2 with some briefings from Farm Bureau staff on issues that we wanted to discuss with our congressmen and senators.  A few issues of particular interest to me were child farm labor, taxes, The Clean Water Act, antibiotics and animal housing.

The next morning we loaded into buses for a tour of the Embassy of Australia.  I always enjoy learning about agriculture elsewhere, and it was very interesting to find out how and what another country is trying to get done in D.C.  We had two speakers, Dr. Chris Parker, Minister-Counsellor for Agriculture, and Cathy Raper, Minister-Counsellor or Trade.

Over lunch in the Russell Senate Office Building, we listened to the House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas from Oklahoma.  Sen. Lucas said he thinks the Farm Bill was maybe the only bill that has much of a chance to pass before the fall elections! However, many of our group members remain doubtful.

We split into Farm Bureau districts after that and visited the offices of our Congressmen. I was with a group that had a good visit with Congressman Latham, who is a farmer from my home county and we agree on most issues.  Later that afternoon, we visited our two Iowa Senators, Grassley (Republican) and Harkin (Democrat).   As you can imagine we heard two opposite stories!

On our final day in D.C., we had the kind of meeting that gets you fired up!  Gail Hansen from the Pew Charitable Trust shared her views on the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.  Dr. Rich Carvevale from the Animal Health Institute was also there with an opposing view.  This meeting gave me a lot to ponder during the plane ride home.

Upon reflecting about my time in D.C., I realized just how slowing the wheels of change turn – especially during an election year!  We didn’t come home with any hard and fast answers as no one wants to make a mistake or even take a chance of a blemished record.  But, we did have a chance to make our voices heard and to provide them with viewpoints from the farming community.  Everyone needs to voice his or her opinion in a democracy to make the system work!