By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
BOISE –About 150 Idaho Farm Bureau Federation members were able to discuss important issues with state and federal lawmakers during IFBF’s annual Legislative and Commodity Conference Feb. 11-12.
The conference brings Farm Bureau members from across the state to Boise to provide them a close-up experience of the state’s legislative process.
They attend committee meetings of the Idaho Legislature, hear from and ask questions of lawmakers and meet informally with them during a “strolling buffet” dinner event that seats Farm Bureau members at the same table with lawmakers who represent their districts.
They also hear from the state’s four-member congressional delegation during a teleconference.
The conference benefits Idaho Farm Bureau Federation members by providing them a hands-on learning experience about the legislative process and allowing them to ask lawmakers questions about important issues, said Russ Hendricks, IFBF’s director of governmental affairs.
“I think the big benefit our members get from the conference is that they get to actually visualize the legislative process,” he said. “We talk about it all the time but when you’re actually in the committee hearings or watching the floor debate, it’s a whole new experience for people.”
IFBF Executive Vice President and CEO Rick Keller said many Farm Bureau members want to be involved in the legislative process but don’t know how to or are uncomfortable with it.
“To them, the process is very overwhelming,” he said. “By bringing them here to the Capitol, we let them watch committee meetings and visit with their legislators and they realize anybody can do it and it increases their comfort level so they can be involved with government.”
The conference is also an important way to show elected officials that Farm Bureau represents a lot of farmers, ranchers and others around Idaho, said Zak Miller, IFBF’s director of commodities.
“We have staff that works very hard to represent our members but nothing proves our organization’s value more than when elected officials hear from our members,” he said.
Miller said the event helps show lawmakers that IFBF staff aren’t just speaking for themselves, “they are speaking for a whole group of very specialized professionals that understand what they do and can explain their needs in a way that helps water get to the end of the row.”
“The real benefit for legislators is that they are able to recognize that we actually do represent 80,000 families that live all around Idaho and that are their constituents and live and work in their districts,” Hendricks said.
Legislators “need to know, and they want to know, what’s going on back home in their districts,” said Keller. “We bring people in who are able to tell their personal stories of struggles they are going through and how the laws are impacting them and that helps legislators be better informed and make wise decisions.”
During the conference, members of IFBF’s various commodity groups –beef, water, wheat and feed grain, hay and forage, dairy, potato, sugar beets, dry beans and pulses and forestry – meet to discuss issues important to their industries.
While IFBF is a general farm organization that represents all of agriculture, the discussions held during these individual commodity meetings help Farm Bureau address issues that are specific to certain commodities as well, Miller said.
“That way, we can be a general farm organization and continue to represent the entire agricultural industry but we can also stay laser focused on particular issues,” he said. “So, as our policy is developed, we can keep track of what the greater needs of agriculture are without losing sight of the individual needs of agriculture as well.”
The conference is open to any Farm Bureau member “and we welcome anybody and everybody who would like to come and participate,” Hendricks said.