Members of the Montana Farmers Union (MFU) joined nearly 400 other National Farmers Union members from around the nation in Washington, D.C., for the organization’s annual fly-in held the first part of September. With the goal of discussing policy, nine Montana agriculturalists arrived on Capitol Hill to advocate for their industry.
Once arriving in D.C., MFU members sat down with industry policy makers at the USDA building to hear briefings. The great line up of presenters included Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Gregory Ibach and Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Affairs, Ted McKinney. Representatives from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Risk Management Agency and Farm Service Agency also offered insight and updates for attendees.
The next day of the fly-in took MFU members to Capitol Hill for face-to-face meetings with Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines, as well as Congressman Greg Gianforte.
“We went to talk about the current farm economy and trade,” stated Will Downs, a MFU member and dryland farmer from Molt. Downs has participated in three fly-ins.
Trade wars have been affecting U.S. ag producers greatly and the current farm economy is not a favorable one. Downs noticed, while networking with National Farmers Union members from around the county, no state has been spared. States with a predominate dairy industry in particular voiced their woes with the current state of American agriculture.
Another major talking point for the trip was the consolidation of major ag companies, an issue that legislatures where keen to listen to. Downs explained that lawmakers seemed to understand that increased ag company mergers have led to a tightening in ag markets and they were eager to discuss possible solutions.
While on the trip, members presented Tester with the Golden Triangle Award from the National Farmers Union for his dedication to agriculture. Daines was also recognized for the hard work he has done advocating for Montana ag families as he was given the Friends of Farmers Union Award.
Attending the fly-in for the first time was Park City High School sophomore, Phillip Prewett, who went as a youth delegate. The first-generation agriculturalist jumped in on trade talks with policy makers, but also discussed the importance of youth in agriculture.
“I was there as a youth representative trying to push for my fellow agriculturalists in the future,” Prewett expressed.
Some youth his age may have found it intimidating to sit down and talk with our nation’s leaders, but Prewett took it all in stride. He admitted it was a little nerve wracking at first, but after taking a deep breath, Prewett represented MFU and youth in agriculture with poise.
The trip was educational as well as eye-opening for the young diversified producer. As an active member of both 4-H and FFA, Prewett always envisioned himself pursuing a life in production agriculture, but after experiencing the lawmaking process first hand, he is now contemplating a life in politics.
“This trip impacted my life greatly,” Prewett said.
Both Prewett and Downs emphasized how important it is for agriculturalists to be involved in grassroot organizations. In a time when misinformation is flooding the media, it is vital for industry members to step forward and educate others about agriculture and the impact politics has on markets. Prewett pointed out it may be hard to believe, but agriculturalists are living in a time where one tariff may be all it takes to tip a small family farm over the edge.
The National Farmers Union has had a long history of advocating for family farms and affording youth opportunities in agriculture. Prewett and Downs may represent the young side of the farming spectrum, but what they lack in age, they make up for in passion and drive to make the industry better.