Advocating for ag in Washington, D.C.

By Katie Zelechowski

For six Illinois Farm Bureau members who visited the nation’s capital for a Leaders to Washington trip, the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C., was markedly different. Fewer business professionals crowded the sidewalks, several government buildings were closed and signs mandating masks were posted on nearly every door.

To accommodate stricter health and safety guidelines due to COVID-19, Illinois farmers met with members of Congress and industry leaders in a variety of in-person and virtual meetings during the three-day trip. The new format allowed Farm Bureau members to reach both sides of the aisle while advocating for agriculture.

A $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, which was recently passed in the Senate, was a main priority participants discussed with lawmakers. The proposal includes funding for road and waterway improvements, along with broadband expansion for rural areas.

During meetings with members of Illinois’ congressional delegation, Matt Lilienkamp shared his experiences as a truck driver who hauls livestock and ag commodities across the country. The Washington County Farm Bureau Board member said investments in roads, bridges, locks and dams are critical for trade.

“For Illinois and the Midwest, (transportation) is a vital part of getting a lot of products up and down the river to the Gulf, to be transported out or (imported) in,” he told FarmWeek.

“We’ve had some pretty tough winters here the last few years and it really took a toll on some of these roads that have already been neglected. When you sit in a truck for 10 or 15 hours per day and are bouncing around on these roads, it takes a toll on the driver.”

Internet connectivity also remains top of mind for farmers.

Mercer County Farm Bureau President Michael Zecher said he explained the need for broadband expansion in his county during virtual meetings with Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Hoffman Estates.

The corn and soybean farmer said his county Farm Bureau has been working with a local coalition to collect data on existing internet access. Results show connectivity ranges from five megabits per second (mbps) to more than 100 mbps, with speeds increasing in populated areas.

“We definitely would like to see some sort of strategy or policy to get higher levels of service across the entire state,” he said.

The hybrid nature of this year’s trip highlighted the need for strong, reliable internet connections. Adam Nielsen, IFB’s director of national legislation and policy development, said the combination of in-person and virtual meetings allowed members to highlight areas they are most concerned about.

IFB’s District 6 Director Keith Mussman worked to call attention to rising input costs for farmers.

Mussman said nitrogen prices are expected to rise by 50% and dry fertilizer prices could more than double this year.

Import tariffs placed on fertilizers from Russia and Morocco are likely contributing to the problem, said Mussman, and he asked members of Congress to investigate.

“We’ve gone through a very short profitable time in farming, and it appears that window is closing,” he said. “The message that we brought to our legislators is that we understand things are going to go up — inflation is happening, we’ve had some issues with products getting delivered — but 120% is extreme.”

Nielsen said he counts this year’s trip to Washington as a success.

“Our leaders group used this unique opportunity to make the case to preserve stepped-up basis, alert congressional offices to high fertilizer prices, drive home the need for a strong Renewable Fuels Standard, and push for infrastructure that will keep our members competitive,” he said.

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