By Marlee Moore
Escalating conflict overseas, government overreach, ballooning inflation and ever-increasing input costs were top of mind when 80 Alabama farmers went to Washington, D.C., March 1-4.
The Alabama Farmers Federation members began Capitol Hill visits the day after the city lifted COVID-19 mask mandates. High points included meetings with House and Senate ag committee staff, critically important as 2023 farm bill talks ramp up.
“We need to touch base with our congressmen and especially with the ag committees on issues that are important to us,” said Covington County farmer Ricky Wiggins. “We need to try to keep them on track with what our issues are. We need to find out where they are, and they need to know where we are.”
In a series of visits with congressmen, staffers and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials, farmers reiterated the importance of voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs — not government mandates.
Those conversations will hopefully pay dividends as leaders such as Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, draft legislation affecting rural America.
“My message to agriculture right now is you need to stand together,” Boozman, who chairs the Senate Ag Committee, said during breakfast with Alabama’s farm delegation. “I can’t tell you what the farm bill is going to look like, but I can tell you it’s going to be based on the input of folks like you.”
Boozman underscored the importance of rural broadband, maintaining and creating markets and supporting farms of all sizes.
“We’re committed to using common sense…we’re not for setting aside productive farmland,” Boozman said. “The last thing we need is to get dependent on foreign sources for our food supply.”
U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, welcomed farmer-constituents to the capital during the opening dinner, held the night of President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address. During an interview with “Simply Southern TV” that evening, Tuberville thanked farmers for taking time to visit Washington.
“We’re going to do everything we possibly can to help our citizens through these tough times that we’re having now and those we’re going to have in the future,” said Tuberville, who serves on the Senate Ag Committee. “There are going to be some bumpy roads ahead because of the pandemic, inflation, high prices — everything that’s going on.”
During the fly-in, a group of farmers met with U.S. Rep. G. T. Thompson, R-Pennsylvania, the House Ag Committee ranking member and a fierce proponent for rural America.
Farmers also heard from five members of Alabama’s Congressional delegation during breakfast meetings: Reps. Jerry Carl, Barry Moore, Mike Rogers, Gary Palmer and Robert Aderholt. Staffers from their offices met in smaller groups with farmers to discuss pressing issues such as the farm bill, ag labor, cattle markets, disaster programs and more.
It was Macon County farmer Shep Morris Jr.’s first legislative conference. He’s a retired Army pilot who’s stepping up involvement in farm organizations, including the Federation, to benefit his family’s row crop operation.
“Our representatives have been easy to make contact with and communicate our points to,” Morris said. “Right now, I’m really concerned about supply chain security. So many of our inputs come from overseas. If we have a major world disruption, we could be out of luck.”
Farmers crisscrossed Capitol Hill and the surrounding area to meet with other ag associations to help align goals for Southern agriculture. Meetings included the American Forest Foundation, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and American Farm Bureau Federation. The group also visited the British Embassy and heard from USDA officials, including Alabama native Keith Gray, the Risk Management Agency associate administrator.
A perennial conference highlight, the Congressional Barbecue, packed out American Legion Hall March 3. The time of fellowship and one-on-one conversation with members of Congress and their staffers featured Bishop’s Barbecue from Colbert County.