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Two-thirds of legislature attends Farm Bureau event

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

BOISE – About two-thirds of the Idaho Legislature attended Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s Legislative & Commodity Conference Feb. 8-9.

The annual event brings farmers and ranchers from across the state who are Farm Bureau members to Boise for a two-day event where they have the opportunity to engage with legislators face to face.

About 160 IFBF members and more than 70 of the state’s 105 legislators attended this year’s event.

“There are about five top events that legislators look forward to attending each session and this is one of them,” said Rep. Clark Kauffman, a farmer from Filer and chairman of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee.

He said he enjoys having open and frank discussions with Farm Bureau members, hearing their concerns and learning more about IFBF policy.

“It’s always good to have those conversations,” Kauffman said. “Sometimes they straighten me out, sometimes I straighten them out.”

One of the highlights of the conference is the strolling buffet, where legislators sit down with Farm Bureau members during dinner and discuss the various issues facing agriculture and the state.

There is no program for the strolling buffet; it’s just lawmakers and farmers and ranchers having face-to-face discussions.

“This is a valuable opportunity for us to meet face to face with our legislators, tell them thanks for what they do and also talk to them about the issues that are going on,” said IFBF President and Shelley farmer Bryan Searle.

IFBF CEO Zak Miller said the conference is one of his favorite events of the year.

“We feel we have a great relationship with legislators but it’s always good to be able to talk to them face to face,” he said. “There’s nothing better than when a farmer or rancher can sit down and talk to a legislator.”

“Legislators showing up for the event shows the value they place in Farm Bureau and the conference is a good way for us to show the value that Farm Bureau places in them,” Miller said.

Payette County Farm Bureau President Mike Shoemaker, who farms in New Plymouth, said the conference is a great opportunity for producers “to become more familiar with the issues the state legislature is looking at that Farm Bureau has a vested interest in.”

Last year’s event was canceled due to COVID-related restrictions and Shoemaker said it was good to return to having one-on-one meetings with lawmakers.

“It’s always good to see them and strengthen that personal relationship even more,” he said.

Before the strolling buffet, members of IFBF’s governmental affairs team encouraged Farm Bureau members to speak their mind to legislators and assured them lawmakers are eager to hear from them.

“They want to hear from you as their constituents,” said Russ Hendricks, director of IFBF’s governmental affairs division. “They really, really want to hear from you and they want to know what’s happening on your operations and how different issues affect you.”

“We can’t over-emphasize (how much) they want to hear from you guys,” said Chyla Wilson, an IFBF governmental affairs representative. “It’s important to have this open line of communication between you and your senators and representatives.”

The two-day conference also brings together members of IFBF’s commodity committees to discuss the latest issues affecting the various agricultural commodities produced in Idaho.

Members of IFBF’s beef, water, wheat and feed grain, hay and forage, dairy, potato, forestry, and federal and state lands committees met during the event.

Members of the newly formed ag land preservation committee also met for the first time.

That committee has been tasked with finding a way to help preserve farmland in Idaho. Lynn Steadman, the committee chairman and a former IFBF vice president, said the group will try to find a solution “while also protecting individual property rights.”

Members of Idaho’s congressional delegation also addressed Idaho Farm Bureau Federation members by video conference from Washington, D.C., during the event. A major topic of discussion from the delegation was finding a way to fix the agriculture labor issue.

“The ag labor issue is probably the biggest issue facing agriculture across the country,” said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. “We’re working on it and we will continue to work on it.”

Hendricks thanked Farm Bureau members for attending the event and reminded them that they as grassroots members are the backbone of the organization.

“Each of you as members of Farm Bureau, this is where our strength comes from, so thank you for participating in this conference,” he said. “Our strength comes from us all supporting each other and working together.”