Center Focus Column

Your Voice Matters

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to testify on the dairy industry during a hearing hosted by US Congressman GT Thompson at Ag Progress Days in State College. It was an opportunity to speak directly on the issues that affect Pennsylvania’s dairy farms and share my thoughts with the Congressman on how public policy could positively and negatively impact our dairy farm businesses.

As farmers, it’s easy to push off those opportunities to share our thoughts with our elected leaders, telling ourselves that our voice doesn’t make a different and what happens down there doesn’t affect what we do on our farms anyway. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

The ability to voice our opinions and have our voices heard is one of the true hallmarks of a democratic society. Whether it’s the next farm bill, legislation governing EPA’s authority over farms, or laws affecting our farms’ access to a quality workforce, legislators are having discussions almost daily that can significantly impact our ability to operate our dairies and grow our operations. And, as your elected leaders, they want to hear from their constituents on the issues that matter to you.

A Shrinking Minority

Those who work in production agriculture represent less than 2 percent of our nation’s population. Yet, we produce the food to feed a growing population and a hungry world. The decisions made in Washington DC and at the state level can affect our ability to do that, so we need to speak up. Policy leaders need to know what dairy brings to the local community. They need to hear from dairy farmers and agribusiness leaders — the people who live and breathe dairy every day to understand who we are and what we represent.

You don’t have to speak at a hearing to have your voice heard. You can do it simply by picking up the phone, sending an email or stopping in at your legislator’s local district office. If you have not yet met your elected leaders, you can start just by introducing yourself and talking about your role in producing food and supporting the local community.  You could also invite them to your farm to give them a better perspective of who you are and what your business looks like.

Getting involved with groups like your local county Farm Bureau, the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania or the American Dairy Coalition are also excellent ways to connect with your legislators. These groups have staff that monitor the issues closely and identify when producer input is needed. They will often organize grassroots campaigns, arming you with information on how a certain policy or issue will affect dairy so that you can speak to it with your legislators.

Understanding the Issues

Your voice can make a difference. Recently the Center for Dairy Excellence asked dairy producers and others to reach out to their local legislators about restoring the Ag Excellence funding in the state budget. Many responded by sending letters and making phone calls, sharing personal stories of how the center’s programs funded by Ag Excellence helped their businesses. And as a result, the funding was restored in the 2017-18 budget. That’s thanks to outreach from people just like you.

Many other issues need your voice. Here are just a few.

  • Farm Safety Net. Discussions have begun on the 2018 Farm Bill, and the Dairy Margin Protection Program is part of those discussion. Authorized as part of the latest Farm Bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, Dairy MPP has fallen short of what it was intended to do. It will be debated as part of this next round of Farm Bill discussions.
  • Dairy Labeling. Legislation recently introduced by US Senator Tammy Baldwin would protect the integrity of dairy products by enforcing existing labeling requirements, but it still needs to gain traction within both the House and Senate. The bill would require FDA to provide enforcement of mislabeled imitation dairy products within 90 days.
  • Workforce Development. Having access to dependable, high-quality employees is critical to any business, and many dairies are concerned about immigration reform. The Agricultural Guestworker Act (AG Act), introduced by Congressman Goodlatte (R-VA), replaces the impractical H-2A program with a sensible guestworker program that works for year-round agriculture like dairy.
  • Repeal of WOTUS. The Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS) proposed by the Obama Administration is not only confusing and contradictory but amounts to a huge regulatory burden on dairy farmers and other landowners. Those involved in agriculture are encouraged to write to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt lending support to his efforts to repeal the 2015 WOTUS Rule, which has been called a prime example of federal regulatory over-reach.

 Whatever you decide to speak up about, the most important thing is to make sure your legislators know who you are and hear your voice. If you want help in finding your legislators’ contact information, visit our website at www.centerfordairyexcellence.org. Click on “Share Dairy’s Value,” then go to “Contact Policy Leaders” under the “Share Your Dairy Story” section. If you are looking for help in crafting your message to elected leaders, the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania could be a great resource. Visit their website at www.pdmp.org.

Editor’s Note: The Center Focus is a column published monthly by Jayne Sebright, executive director of the Center, in the Lancaster Farming Dairy Reporter.