WASHINGTON, D.C. — Legend has it, the practice of lobbying began at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. Supposedly, political advocates frequented the hotel's lobby to access Grant who was often there in the evenings to enjoy a cigar and brandy and would try to buy the president drinks in an attempt to influence his political decisions.
Taking a more transparent and pragmatic approach, leadership from 56 County Farm Bureaus from Michigan recently spent two days on Capitol Hill talking with lawmakers about trade, immigration and ag labor and the farm bill at the Presidents’ Capitol Summit in Washington D.C., March 21-22.
Much of the discussion on trade revolved around modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). With more than 95 percent of consumers living outside U.S. borders, county leaders spoke to members of Congress about the farm economy’s current state and what new markets would mean for their business.
“I’m very involved in NAFTA modernization, in fact I’m on the committee that has jurisdiction over this,” said Rep. Mike Bishop of Michigan’s 8th Congressional District. “I’ve been to Montreal as part of the delegation in the process of negotiating NAFTA. My goal is to be sure Michigan issues are heard. Today I had a trade policy hearing with Ambassador Lighthizer who’s doing the chief negotiating on NAFTA, and I expressed to him how important the agreement is to Michigan, our American workers, and in particular, the Michigan agricultural community.”
The issue of immigration reform and how it affects agricultural labor is not new to Michigan farmers or lawmakers. Along with the need for a legal and stable workforce, County presidents stressed Michigan Farm Bureau’s support of including the Goodlatte Ag Guestworker (H-2C) bill in the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) discussion in the House of Representatives.
“We are overdue as a country as to what a comprehensive immigration policy and law looks like,” said Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan’s first Congressional District.
“When it comes to having a workforce of people who aren’t necessarily interested in becoming citizens, that’s a different discussion. We’re going to have people who are going to work seasonally, either as H-2As, H-2Bs and now H-2Cs, for it’s the right thing to do for our country, for we’re a country of immigrants. We need to get that discussion on the table at the highest level, in a bipartisan manner, that reflects the needs of American business.”
Finally, discussion on the 2018 farm bill focused on:
“I’m very pleased, as this was a very big fight and victory for us to get help for our dairy farmers,” said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow. “One of the biggest disappointments for me in the last farm bill was that the dairy program didn’t hit the mark, and even though prices dropped, the margin program didn’t kick in. We’ve invested now over a billion dollars to make it a better program for small and medium-size farmers, and we’ve created a new opportunity for crop insurance for milk as a separate commodity from livestock.”
Along with meeting members of Congress, County Farm Bureau leaders visited the Canadian Embassy, where they heard from Agriculture Counsellor Mike Hawkins. He pointed out Canada is Michigan’s number-one trading partner. And while acknowledging the pros of NAFTA, Hawkins said Canadian negotiators will defend their supply management system in the negotiations, one being the Canadian dairy quota system. Hawkins said Canadian producers have chosen the quota program for themselves, and it's one the Canadian government intends to respect.
"We continue to defend their interests in all free-trade agreements," Hawkins said regarding the dairy quota program. "It's a system though, that's never prevented us from pursuing an aggressive and ambitious trade policy agenda abroad. It's also important to recognize Canada is your second-largest export market for dairy and poultry after Mexico."
Grant Reiff is president of the Washtenaw County Farm Bureau. He fully understands the importance of being able to visit with legislators in Washington D.C.
“Being a grass roots organization, it’s critical we continue to forge ironclad relationships with our legislators, at all levels,” said Reiff. “I feel that our conversations made a difference, and am positive the voice of Michigan Agriculture was heard.
“I’m blessed to be part of an organization that shares so many of my beliefs and provides the opportunity to reach out to lawmakers so that we can continue to leave our land, communities, and country better than we found it for countless generations of farmers to come.”