The 2017 Leadership Institute was a big success. We would like to recognize our sponsor, DowDuPont Pioneer, for its support of this program as well as Lonnie Smith and Rod Nothwehr who represented DowDuPont and Pioneer. The opportunity to attend an event such as the Leadership Institute is second to none. Oftentimes, this is the first time that attendees have traveled to Washington, D.C., and going to the Hill provides great training and experience. Here are a few of the meeting’s highlights and takeaways.
Meetings With Key Leaders
After arriving at the headquarters hotel in Alexandria, Va., the attendees began Monday morning at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). Speakers included John Ross with DOI, Nick Hufford with the General Services Administration, Brian Holly with the Department of Justice and Karin Gross with the Internal Revenue Service.
On Monday afternoon, the attending farm managers and appraisers met at USDA with chief economist Rob Johansson as well as personnel with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service. The meetings provided an understanding of how various departments gather information and implement programs. We also heard about the challenges that departments are facing given the number of appointments yet to be made by the President. Monday evening concluded with presenting the ASFMRA government relations surveys.
On Tuesday, Eileen Wixted with Wixted & Company and her staff instructed participants in more effective and concise communications to prepare for visits to Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday morning included an insightful presentation from Todd Van Hoose, CEO of the Farm Credit Council; it described the balance of power in Washington and how we got here. Other discussions in the morning were with members of the Senate Agriculture Committee staff—both Republican and Democrats—and participants found that committees on each side of the aisle are working hard to bring something together that could underpin the writing of the next farm bill. Lobbyists from corn, soybean, wheat, cotton and rice joined participants for an update during lunch. Each commodity group recognized the importance of the farm bill. You also get a sense of cooperation among the groups. Agriculture is no longer in the majority. Common ground must be established to advance the legislation.
Mike Conaway (R-Texas), chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, met with the group on Thursday morning. Conaway’s visit was forthcoming and insightful. Without a doubt, he can be considered a champion for U.S. agriculture.
Mary Kay Thatcher with the American Farm Bureau Federation concluded the morning with an update of Farm Bureau’s activities. Like the commodity groups, the Farm Bureau team is collaborating to advance the message of agriculture’s importance. Appraisers met that afternoon at The Appraisal Foundation (TAF) with David Bunton of TAF, Jim Park of the Appraisal Subcommittee, the Independent Community Bankers of America and the American Bankers Association. Farm managers traveled north to the Delmarva Peninsula to tour Chesapeake Farm, which is managed for wildlife and crops, and meet with Trey Hill, who farms 13,000 acres in the bay area. They concluded Friday morning with a tour of DowDuPont research plots and participated in skeet shooting before returning home.
Attendee Emily Lucke from Wyoming says, “This was my first time attending, and it was seriously an event that I will never forget! It was a jam-packed week of meeting with many influential people, both governmental and from the appraisal industry. Each speaker was engaging and very open to sharing thoughts, opinions, goals and outlooks. The speaker that stood out the most to me was the Chairman of the Ag Committee, Mike Conaway. I really enjoyed his discussion and feel that we’re in good hands with his involvement! I enjoyed the communication session and really learned lessons that I can take with me and use for the rest of my career! I can’t say enough good things about the Leadership Institute! I’ve encouraged others in our chapter to attend. I feel very strongly that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that shouldn’t be taken for granted!”
There is a lot of desire to finish the farm bill early instead of punting like in past years. Each party needs to get a few wins under its belt before the next recess. It appears that agriculture remains at least bipartisan in Washington, D.C., which could enable both to claim such victory.
The message has been consistently delivered that crop insurance needs to remain intact. ARC-CO is good but needs some tweaking. PLC adjustments need consideration. Conservation and the renewable fuel standard are high priorities. Dairy and cotton were also left out or severely impacted in the last farm bill, and both will need to be considered in the upcoming bill.
If ag programs receive no funding increase, then new expenditures must be offset with cuts elsewhere. This is challenged by the “Budget Scoring Process” from the Congressional Budget Office. The process differs from how we as producers and taxpayers think about income, expenses, business and farming.
Conservation Reserve Program acres may increase somewhat, but don’t expect it to be much, and it may become more targeted to highly sensitive areas. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is popular and will likely be maintained as a major cost-share program, and it’s possible that additional work may make sister programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program complementary.
Last, reorganizing the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency into the Farm Production & Conservation Service may streamline work among agencies. This also includes items such as eliminating DUNS and SAMS registrations, which hinder the process and discourage participation. However, until the new undersecretaries are in place, authority to act is limited.