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News & Media: Staff Columns

Right place, right time

Monday, July 9, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John Holevoet, director of government affairs
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It is said that timing is everything. In lobbying it certainly matters, but it can be hard to anticipate the optimal time. Sometimes, you just get lucky.

Edge just had one of those moments. Our co-op belongs to the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC). Every June, NCFC hosts a policy-driven conference in Washington, D.C. The timing of this year’s event, June 25-27, could not have been better.

It has been an intense month of activity in Washington. All three of Edge’s top legislative priorities have been in the news: immigration reform, trade and the farm bill. Both immigration and the farm bill have been the subject of congressional votes. Indeed, the Senate farm bill amendment process and the House vote on their “compromise” immigration package both happened while we were already scheduled to be in D.C.

I had the opportunity to join leadership from about two dozen co-ops for a meeting at the White House to discuss the top issues of the day. We met with Stephen Censky, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Tim Pataki, special assistant to the president for the Office of Public Liaison; and Mackenzie Gross from the National Economic Council. Trade was the most discussed topic. Ag labor was also raised and the specific needs of dairy farmers were discussed. Edge was one of three dairy co-ops in the room.

NCFC also tailors part of its conference to young cooperators to develop the next generation of farm policy leaders. This was Edge’s first year participating in this program. Edge members Justin Peterson from Bangor in western Wisconsin and Brad Boon from Greenwood in northcentral Wisconsin attended that part of the conference.

The pair also visited eight offices on Capitol Hill with help from me and the team at Michael Torrey  Associates, our contract lobbying firm in Washington. In addition to the Wisconsin delegation, they also met with senators from Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota.

The focus of the meetings was on immigration reform, trade and the farm bill. Edge joined with other supporters of NAFTA and free trade for a joint meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan’s staff. Other lobbyists in the room included trade associations for retailers and canned-goods manufacturers, as well as lobbyists for specific companies from international brands like Walmart and Kraft Heinz.

Another targeted meeting was with Kristi Bowell at USDA. She is a senior adviser to Secretary Sonny Perdue and her focus at USDA and previously at American Farm Bureau is addressing agriculture’s labor issues. We had a good, candid discussion about where dairy should focus its efforts considering the recent failure of ag guest worker provisions in the House.

It was the right time to have a particularly impactful series of meetings in D.C. It was also a great opportunity for two Edge members to get more familiar with the inner workings of Washington and how to effectively lobby on behalf of dairy farmers and our co-op. We look forward to expanding the ranks of our member advocates and we’ll be back in D.C. with a fresh crop of young cooperators next June.

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