Springtime on farms and ranches in Utah is a busy time of preparing for the coming growing season, planting seeds for a later harvest, and anxious hoping for the future. This situation also describes the goals of a recent visit to our nation’s capital by young farmers and ranchers throughout Utah.
Though many hands are needed to get the work going on the farm, the Utah Farm Bureau recently sent the largest contingent of young farmers and ranchers ever to Washington, D.C. The purposes of the trip were to visit congressional leaders, further deepen their understanding of national agricultural issues, and have first-hand experiences in the historical and current democratic experiences that set our nation apart.
This congressional relations trip has taken place every three or four years for a long time, but this trip marked the largest delegation ever from Utah, with more than 100 young farmers making the trip.
Attendees came representing all segments of agriculture, representing counties throughout the state – from Rich and Cache Counties in the north, to Uintah and Grand Counties in the east, Kane and Washington Counties in the south, and everything between.
Before coming on the trip, couples prepared by studying issues of importance to Utah agriculture as well as fine-tuning a message of what issues impact them on their own farm or ranch. As many have come to know, statistics and principles are important, but a first-hand account of how a national policy impacts a rural business on the ground is invaluable.
While in Washington, the young farmer delegation visited with all four Congressional and both Senate offices. Adding to the unique and historic nature of the visit, the fact that Utah has many staffers in prominent offices led to opportunities to visit with the acting heads of the Bureau of Land Management and Fish & Wildlife Service, as well as the congressional liaison for Secretary Ryan Zinke of the Department of Interior.
“While sightseeing and touring the city was remarkable and so much fun, the highlight was being part of something bigger than myself,” said Shelley Wilson, who along with her husband have a produce farm and raise livestock in Washington County. “Lending my voice and passion for agriculture with fellow young farmers and ranchers to be advocates for what we need in Utah was second to none. This trip definitely stoked the desire to continue to be vocal about and fight for the issues that affect our state.”
The trip also includes visits to Gettysburg National Military Park, Mt. Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery, and the main memorials and museums. The visit to Washington was a first for the majority of attendees on the trip, making experiences there even more memorable and leading many to realize they were going to need a repeat visit to see all the historic city had to offer.
“It brought into perspective the value of this great nation when we visited places like Arlington and Gettysburg. Senator Hatch put it best when he said ‘I hope that we get on our knees every day and thank God that we live in the country that we do’,” said Brady Spackman, a dairy farmer in Cache County. “We don’t realize how fortunate we are. We definitely have some concerns in the agricultural industry that need to be worked out, but how fortunate we are to live in a country where we can express those concerns freely, and be heard.”
Before visiting with congressional leaders, the group was able to rub shoulders with leaders at the American Farm Bureau Federation offices. Staff members held briefings on issues such as immigration and labor reform, the endangered species act, transportation regulations related to new Electronic Logging Devices (ELD’s), and international trade.
Besides being the largest group coming from Utah, this year’s group was the largest young farmer group that anyone at American Farm Bureau (AFBF) remembers coming. Julie Anna Potts, AFBF’s Executive Vice President commended the Utah group for their commitment to coming to Washington and helped the group understand how being a member in their respective County Farm Bureau back home connects with the work done on their behalf in Washington. This was true as well when visiting with congressional offices, as staffers remarked on how an issue in a small town in rural Utah can make its way to the halls of congress.
“Something we enjoyed were the meetings with the congressional offices and staff. We were impressed with the staff in D.C. and how incredibly informed they were on local issues we’re facing in Utah,” said Cassie Heaton. Cassie and her husband have a cattle ranch in Kane County. “It was really comforting to see people who are fighting for us as ranchers.”
Utah Young Farmer & Rancher Committee chair Kenny McFarland, a produce grower in Weber County, expressed similar thoughts about meeting with leaders in Washington.
“I appreciated the opportunity to voice my concerns and personal experiences to those of influence in the federal government,” McFarland said. “I now have greater confidence in knowing that we have representatives that we can get to know and gain rapport with to develop support on the issues that affect us most.”
A highlight of the trip to Washington was having a tour of the U.S. Capitol and offices conducted by the Congressional representatives themselves. Representatives Chris Stewart (District 2), Rob Bishop (District 1), and John Curtis (District 3) made themselves available for tours and answered questions about the historical aspect of the city and the business that takes place in Washington. Staffers met earlier to hear farmers share experiences of how the issues of the day affected them on their respective farms.
Advocating on behalf of agriculture was new for many, and while intimidating to some, provided learning experiences unmatched elsewhere.
“When I was asked to be one of the few to speak up about our struggles with immigration, I was so very nervous because I felt I wouldn’t really know what to say. I wanted someone else to go for me, but others insisted that I go to tell our story,” said Angie Hepworth, who works on her family’s fruit orchards in Utah County. “When I got my chance to talk to Senator Lee’s staff, I became emotional trying to help them understand our need for guest workers in order for our farm to continue. Hearing from other farmers and their issues made me feel a deep connection to them and to have hope that we, as an army of farmers can make our voices be heard.”
“One thing we realized was that even though certain issues do not directly impact us right now, they impact others who are close to us. As we grow our ranch, those issues will become our own. These issues we read or hear about on the news are real and impact real families. That is why it is so important to stay connected and speak up in defense of agriculture,” said Dustin Lemon, a rancher from Duchesne County. “Being able to see the sights and walk in the footsteps of history relit my patriotic fires and gave me a reason to stand up for this way of life. It gave me confidence in our government processes and gratitude for the right to vote.”
The advocating on behalf of Farm Bureau members is an invaluable segment of the congressional relations trip, but an extra value is the networking and relationship building that takes place amongst the participants. Many left feeling part of something bigger than themselves, and empowered to continue making a difference in the future.
Returning home to their farms and ranches in the spring, these young farmers leave like seeds planted in fertile soil agricultural advocacy. The Utah Farm Bureau will continue to harvest future gains because of experiences such as this.
A great thank you to sponsors of Utah Farm Bureau events, which help defray costs for these experiences, with special thanks to Western AgCredit, Redmond Incorporated, and Smithfield company for their generous sponsorship of the Congressional Relations trip.