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Two-thirds of legislature attends Farm Bureau conference

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

BOISE – About two-thirds of the 105-member Idaho Legislature attended Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s annual Legislative and Commodity Conference Feb. 6-7.

The highlight of the conference is the “legislative dinner," which mixes lawmakers with Farm Bureau members and other agricultural industry leaders.

There is no program or agenda for the dinner. It’s simply a chance for legislators to engage in face-to-face discussions with Farm Bureau members from their districts.

That event is “especially good for legislators who live far away because we like to see people from back home,” said Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs. “It’s good to sit down with them and learn what’s going on.”

He said the annual event is a highlight of the legislative session for many lawmakers.

“For me, it ranks near the top because Farm Bureau people are my people,” said Harris, who previously served on the IFBF board of directors. “For many legislators, it’s one of those must-attend events.”

Russ Hendricks, IFBF’s vice president of governmental affairs, said many legislators have told him the legislative dinner is their favorite event of the legislative season.

“They really enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and the opportunity to just visit with folks from back home,” he said. “It is always great to see our members interacting and engaging with their legislators.”

Hendricks said lawmakers appreciate hearing how various proposals would affect producers’ farming operations.

“Our members are the foremost experts on how proposals will affect their farming and ranching operations,” he said. “It is always great to see our members interacting and engaging with their legislators.”

Rep. Doug Pickett, R-Oakley, addressed Farm Bureau members during the conference and told IFBF later he appreciates hearing directly from them how they feel about important issues.

He said the flow of information and level of detail needed for lawmakers to understand every complex issue that comes before them is beyond the capacity of any single person.

“We rely on organizations like Farm Bureau to study important issues and give us accurate feedback on what the impacts of potential policy changes are and the ramifications to their industry,” he said. “So, to have Farm Bureau or any other organization representing their industry here, is very valuable to me.”

During the two-day conference, members of IFBF’s various commodity committees met to discuss the latest issues affecting their commodities and float possible solutions.

IFBF has committees dealing with beef, water, wheat and feed grains, hay and forage, dairy, potatoes, forestry, and federal and state lands.

Farm Bureau members also visited the Capitol building, where they attended committee meetings and were briefed on important issues by lawmakers and industry leaders.

“The purpose of the IFBF legislative conference is to help Farm Bureau members better understand the legislative process so they know how they can engage to make sure their voices are heard,” Hendricks said.

“We appreciate you taking the time to be here,” IFBF President Bryan Searle told Farm Bureau members as the conference was winding down. “I hope you have become more comfortable over here at the Capitol and I hope you would be willing to come back and testify” on important legislation.

During the conference, members of Idaho’s congressional delegation addressed IFBF members by video.

“We interact with state Farm Bureau people all the time; you are a great ally,” said Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho. “I don’t think a week goes by where I or a member of our staff doesn’t interact with Farm Bureau. We’re on the same page.”

A high school speech contest and Discussion Meet were also held during the conference. The Discussion Meet helps young producers hone their public speaking and problem-solving skills during a competition that is meant to simulate a committee meeting rather than a debate.