Thursday, September 18, 2014

Washington (DC); As In (Direct Contact)

I've had the opportunity to visit our nations capital on a few occasions, and I enjoy being there. But recently I got to experience Washington DC as part of a Leadership Experience trip with about 60 individuals through the Ohio Farm Bureau's Young Ag. Professionals and AgriPower programs. This was one of my favorite trip to DC. WHY? Because on this trip, DC meant Direct Contact.  Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) staffers Melinda Witten, field training specialist, and Yvonne Lesicko, senior director, Legislative and Regulatory Policy, put together a 3 day educational package that was superior to any I've experienced before. What a wonderful opportunity for folks from all across the Buckeye state, from various backgrounds and experiences, to come together for such an experience. Here's a brief recap of what took place.

9/10/14 (Day 1): With an easy 45 minute flight from Columbus to Baltimore, we wasted no time in getting started. After an hour or so bus trip from BWC airport to DC, we soon found ourselves in the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) office, where we discuss several issues important to agriculture. Issues such as; Waters of the United States (WOTUS), and the overreaching desire of the US EPA to have jurisdiction on all waters. The Farm Bill, and what it means to American farmers. We then participated in an exercise on balancing the federal budget...what an eye opener that was. Following dinner, we did get to take a night tour of the national monuments. What beautiful sites and a humbling experience. I also got to witness many agricultural leaders interacting and getting to know one another. Listening to conversation they were having about their interest and concerns. This is a group of people, many who have never met before, who can learn from each other and possibly help each other.

9/11/14 (Day 2): This was the 13th anniversary of one of the worst days in U.S. history. A day to stop and reflect. A day to remember those who were loss in this tragic attack. But it was also a day of learning and sharing. Our day started with a trip to Capital Hill. The days expectations were for those here as part of  the Young Ag. Professionals to visit with Congressional leaders on many of the issues we discussed the first day with AFBF staff. But things don't always go as planned. President Obama  announced  his intentions of how the U.S. will handle the ISIS situation as we were on our national monument night tour. Therefore, all members of Congress were called into caucus this morning at the exact time many from our group had meetings scheduled. However, just because members of Congress were not able to meet face to face, didn't stop several members of the group from meet with congressional staff members. What a great opportunity to share thoughts and concerns about issues that have a direct impact on their livelihood. Rep. Bob Gibbs, (R - Ohio Seventh District) did take time, prior to the caucus meeting to welcome the group, and to share the status of several pieces of legislation currently being discussed. Following Rep. Gibbs we heard from several members of his staff as well as staff members from the offices of Rep. Bob Latta (R - Ohio Fifth District), and Rep. Bill Johnson (R - Ohio Sixth District).

We then traveled to Europe...well not exactly, we visited the European Union Embassy and a chance to discuss international trade. We met with Giulio Menato, First Counselor, Agriculture who shared quite a bit of information and answered several questions from the attendees. Many questions pertaining to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). Very interesting. The European Union does not export much in the way of raw products like the United States does, they deal more in processed goods. One interesting fact is that just about one-half of the exports from the European Union is alcohol based. (Wine, spirits, etc.).

Following our visit to the Embassy, it was back to Capital Hill for a tour of the Capital Building and then a meeting with Joe Shultz, Chief Economist, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and
Forestry. Joe is a native Ohioan, who has spent many years in Washington. The topic of discussion was the Farm Bill.  He took the group through the process of what it takes to develop and pass such a piece of legislation. It was a very interesting meeting with great discussion.

9/12/14 (Day 3): can you match what this group was able to do on the first two days? That's take them to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and have  conversations with some of the top ranking officials within the department.
Dr. Gregory Purham. Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Administration did an outstanding job of describing how the USDA functions. We also got to hear about agriculture and global trade from Levin Flake, Agricultural Economist for Trade in the Office of Global Analysis, Foreign Ag Service.
Then it was back on the buses and back to the airport for our return flight to Columbus.

What a great opportunity to have Direct Contact with many of our federal leaders. A chance to put a name with a face. A chance to see and hear from leaders who work day in and day out to assure that we have an opportunity to farm and work in the agriculture industry. But it was also a great opportunity for these folks to meet face to face with one another. To have Direct Contact with others from Ohio that depend on agriculture and have a passion for agriculture.

In three short days I witnessed a great transformation. As we arrived at the airport on day one, I saw very few conversations taking place among the participants. Many sat alone, checking their phones for e-mail messages or Facebook updates. But by the time we were ready to leave on day three, the number of conversations, the sharing of thoughts and ideas, the friendships and connections that were made, multiplied immensely. All because of the opportunity to have Direct Contact with others.. If you would like the opportunity to have Direct Contact with others in agriculture, contact your county Farm Bureau  and ask how you can become  more involved and have Direct Contact with others.

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