ENTERPRISE, Washington County – Most farmers and ranchers are used to working with variables in agriculture that are outside of their control. But Washington County farmer Kyle Wilson prefers participating in the public policy process and sharing his influence, rather than simply standing on the sidelines, to help reduce those uncertainties.
“I had the opportunity recently to go to Washington, D.C. for some leadership training with the American Farm Bureau – to be part of the ‘Grassroots Outreach’ or GO Team, and it was great to learn more about national issues and how we can play a part in them,” Wilson said. “While there, I was also able to visit with my congressman – Chris Stewart – and his staffers. Before I left, I let them know that I’d be happy to have them over to visit my farm whenever they were in town. I got a call a few weeks later saying they wanted to take me up on my offer. Who knew?”
Kyle and his wife Shelley have a small farm in Enterprise, just barely over the border from Iron County, where they raise produce – specializing in heirloom and hard-to-find varieties – and some sheep, chickens, goats and cattle.
While making visits throughout the district, Congressman Stewart spent time with the Wilsons and several other area farmers, hearing from them on issues they’re facing and sharing some of his experiences working to address those same issues.
Stewart grew up farming and ranching in Cache Valley, before later becoming a pilot in the military and author. But he loves the lifestyle and enjoyed recently helping a rancher in the Fish Lake forest district move some of their cattle. Stewart shared that he very much appreciates what farmers and ranchers do.
Stewart also express amazement at the complexities of the agricultural economy, and how things have changed from when he was younger. Back then, he couldn’t imagine being able to grow hay in Utah, and have it be profitable enough to ship it to Japan. Despite these successes, Stewart shared how he’s aware of the forces working against farmers and ranchers, and his commitment to keeping government from making things worse.
After sharing some of the work his office has been working on, Stewart took questions from those in attendance, focusing on issues including the Farm Bill and trade. But without needing any prompting, ranchers jumped at the chance to hear what congress has being doing to address the problem of wild horses.
“No one has worked harder on this issue in Congress than I have – in large part because I love these animals,” Stewart said.
Despite efforts in congress to work out compromises to reduce herds of wild horses, agreements that Stewart felt were in place have fallen through. The inability to find a solution is even more puzzling because many horse advocates recognize the need for change and that the status quo isn’t working.
“We’ve had meetings with [animal advocates] and they can see the need for change – with costs of $50,000 per horse. In four or five years, 70 percent of the BLM budget will be used to care for wild horses,” Stewart said. “But four years isn’t long enough to tear town a regulatory empire.”
Stewart was referring to the length of time President Donald Trump will have served by the time of the next presidential election. Stewart complimented President Trump’s willingness to take on issues that have been ignored under previous administrations – including a desire to reform the Antiquities Act, trade agreements, and other land management policies. Pointing out exemptions to the Antiquities Act for the states of Alaska and Wyoming, Stewart wondered aloud with the audience why Utah couldn’t have similar exemptions.
While many challenges impacting land management in southern Utah seem to be focused in the executive branch, Stewart actually directed most of his attention at Congress. First on the list was Stewart’s desire for a legislative remedy to the Antiquities Act, to stop the executive back-and-forth regarding national parks, monuments and the like.
Next on frustrations for Stewart were the procedural rules and traditions of the Senate. Chief among these being the filibuster rule.
“It is just too hard to get 60 votes in the Senate. Senators feel it saves them from bad legislation, but it leads to more and worse legislation,” Stewart said. “It’s not in the Constitution, but was created around 1917 and modified in the 1970s. It may be fine for legislation that is permanent, but for running the government every year, get rid of it. In the House, we passed 72 appropriations bills last year, but the Senate didn’t pass any of those – instead passing an omnibus bill.”
Stewart added that he feels the same way about more than 400 other bills, currently held up in the Senate – including a healthy forest initiative – which would help address the issues of wildland fires.
Wrapping up the legislative discussion was an update on tariff discussions and the Farm Bill, one of only a few bills that is authorized every five years. Stewart shared that it is one of the most complex pieces of legislation that goes through Congress, because the complexities overwhelm most people in Congress.
While not being able to provide remedies to all of the concerns or questions on the minds of farmers from this area of southern Utah, Stewart commended those attending for their participation in the process and encouraged them to continue working with the sense of urgency to see reforms take place. He also thanked farmer Kyle Wilson for his willingness to get involved and insert himself into the public policy process.
While Wilson may not be able to completely change conditions in Congress or their impacts on his farm, participating in the process by sharing his experiences allows him to be an influence for positive change.