Farm Bureau members meet with legislators, discuss issues
By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
BOISE – Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s annual Legislative and Commodity Conference is one of the organization’s signature events and an important way for IFBF’s grassroots members to connect with lawmakers face to face.
More than 70 of Idaho’s 105 legislators and 175 Farm Bureau members attended this year’s event, which was held Feb. 7-8.
The highlight of the conference is a strolling buffet that allows farmers and ranchers to sit down with lawmakers over dinner and discuss important issues.
“Building relationships with our legislators is one of the most important things we can do,” said IFBF President Bryan Searle. “They are right in the middle of Idaho’s legislative session during this event, so it’s an opportunity to come and remind them of our policies and where we stand on some of the legislation that’s being proposed.”
There is no program for the strolling buffet. It’s simply an opportunity for agricultural producers to engage in face-to-face discussions with legislators.
“We purposely don’t have a program at the dinner so that they can just talk about whatever’s on their mind,” said Russ Hendricks, director of IFBF’s governmental affairs division. “Our members do a great job of talking about the issues that are of concern to them.”
Weston rancher Jason Fellows, a member of IFBF’s board of directors, said the highlight of the two-day conference “is getting together and meeting with our legislators.”
The low-key nature of the strolling buffet allows both parties to engage in frank discussions about important topics, he said.
“It’s pretty hard not to be able to listen to somebody when you’re breaking bread,” Fellows said.
During the conference, Farm Bureau members also visit the Capitol building and attend legislative committee meetings.
“For the legislative side of the conference, the main emphasis is on helping our members better understand the legislative process that affects their farms and ranches and how they can meaningfully engage in it to make sure that the outcome is positive for them and their fellow farmers,” Hendricks said.
While attending the House State Affairs Committee Feb. 8, five Farm Bureau members who were there for the conference ended up testifying on a school elections bill with provisions that IFBF policy supports.
The bill passed out of committee by an 11-2 vote.
“As I spoke to the chairman and some of the committee members afterward, they just thanked me again and again for having real members come and share their thoughts with the committee; they loved it,” Hendricks said.
During the IFBF conference, members of the organization’s various commodity committees also meet to discuss the latest issues affecting their commodities.
Members of Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s wheat and feed grain, hay and forage, beef, water, potato, dairy, forestry and farmland preservation committees met during this year’s event.
“This allows grassroots members who are experts in the potato area or beef area or wheat area or whatever it is, to really dial in on those issues affecting that commodity so we can have relevant policy that meets the needs of agriculture,” Searle said.
The commodity side of the conference is held in conjunction with the legislative part “so that there is cross-pollination,” Hendricks said. “We found there’s a lot of synergy in terms of bringing them together and getting the commodity committee folks to engage on the legislative side and vice versa.”
The new director of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, Chanel Tewalt, also addressed Farm Bureau members during the conference.
She said ISDA’s relationship with Farm Bureau is strong and important to the department and assured agricultural producers that ISDA understands it “is there to serve agriculture, not the other way around.”
She also encouraged people to make sure the department is kept up on important new issues.
“I have a very open-door approach to things; please tell me when you have issues,” Tewalt said. “If I don’t know about it … I can’t fix it.”
All four members of the state’s congressional delegation addressed IFBF members by video during the conference.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said he understands how critical the new farm bill is for agriculture.
“This is an important piece of legislation, for agriculture, for Idaho,” he said. “We have to make sure this is a decent bill ….”
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