By Jeremy C. Nagel
LANSING — One of high peaks of Farm Bureau’s meeting season, Lansing Legislative Seminar represents the essence of the organization’s grass-roots work ethic, with hundreds of motivated farmers converging on the state capitol to convey agriculture’s priorities directly to lawmakers. Several members at last week’s event shared their thoughts about its value and that of the mirror image practice of getting elected officials out on the farmers’ own turf…
From the West
Larry and Licha Smith have a hay farm in the southeastern corner of Newaygo County, raising about 200 acres of high-protein grasses and alfalfa. They craft custom blends and market their small, square bales primarily to equine enthusiasts.
“Even though our operation is probably like a pin drop compared to a lot of larger farms, we’re still affected by all the regulation and legislation coming out of Lansing and Washington, D.C.,” Larry said.
“I see the impact of bad legislation back home and affecting a lot of my peers,” he added, noting particularly the relevance of transportation and pesticide-use measures on his day-to-day operation.
“Coming to events like this and being able to interface with our peers gives me a bigger perspective on things, and I’m able to relate that directly to our lawmakers here.”
On the flip side of the grass-roots lobbying coin are contacts made back home—getting lawmakers into boots and onto members’ farms. The Smiths give their county Farm Bureau high marks in this department.
“We have good relations with all levels of elected officials,” Licha Smith said, noting that it’s vital to maintain regular contact with state, county and township-level officials. “We extend all types of invitations to all our elected officials.”
Newaygo County Farm Bureau hosts regular, well-attended legislative breakfasts, and it’s common for lawmakers to visit members’ farms.
“We know our legislators are real people,” Larry Smith said. “Even though they’re in a political environment, they understand what they’re doing by representing us.”
To the East
Tuscola County Farm Bureau sent a pair of Vassar-area members to Lansing this year: Nate Rupprecht and Lonnie Kester. Asked about the value of the annual grass-roots lobbying day from a member’s perspective, they responded single-mindedly:
“It’s not only what we get out of it, but it’s what we can contribute,” Rupprecht said, with Kester picking up and stretching the sentiment further: “First year I came here I talked with a representative from Oakland County—Brad Jacobsen because we have to educate our city cousins. They know our situation, but our city cousins don’t always understand, so we kinda ‘crossed the line’ and spoke with them.
“Because, if they came to the reception, they were interested in agriculture,” Kester said.
Rupprecht, in turn, brought Kester’s thoughts full-circle.
“The reception is a starting point, but hopefully it goes farther than that and you can get ‘em out on some farms, because that’s where the real conversations can happen,” he said. “We got Congressman Dan Kildee out on a farm tour—took him to a bean processing plant and other facilities—and he was like, ‘Wow I was not expecting this.’ I know it made an impact.”
Then it was Kester’s turn again.
“If you’ve got that type of relationship,” he said. “If you can get them on the farm, that’s great. You have to make that opportunity to meet with them and have a discussion.”
“We always try to come early and meet up with our reps and their staffs at their offices,” Rupprecht finished. “Especially this year because we’ve got new representation, we’ve got to get to know these people.”