More than 140 Farm Bureau grassroots leaders from around the country are flying in to Washington, D.C., this week to advocate for agriculture. They will swarm Capitol Hill to push for passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, solutions to our shortage of agricultural labor and high-speed Internet access for more rural areas. They’ll make, or renew, connections with lawmakers and each other. With so many new members of Congress, our Advocacy Fly-In is a great opportunity to grow understanding of agriculture.

These grassroots leaders also will carry on a great Farm Bureau tradition. Grassroots advocacy is what has made Farm Bureau an effective voice for farmers and ranchers for 100 years. The American Farm Bureau centennial has been an opportunity to reflect on some of our greatest wins. From the first farm bill in 1933 to the most recent one in 2018, all have been shaped and made possible by Farm Bureau leaders reaching out and engaging with their elected leaders in Washington—leader-to-leader advocacy. The Food for Peace program, which donates U.S.-grown food around the world, grew from Farm Bureau policy and advocacy. We’ve worked to open global markets for what we produce, and we’ve achieved tax policies to maintain the economic incentive to invest in our farms and ranches for generations to come. 

Even with our long history of leader-to-leader wins, the grassroots advocate’s work is never done. Today’s to-do list is long. 

First, we must persuade Congress to pass a bill implementing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, so we can build on the tremendous growth in U.S. agricultural exports over the past 30 years with Canada and Mexico—currently our No. 1 and No. 2 markets for U.S. agriculture. With trade challenges in China and a multi-year downtown in farm prices, it’s more important than ever to expand our foreign markets. 

Second, agricultural labor is an issue that farmers talk with me about everywhere I go. They tell me the lack of workers is the main thing that limits their potential. It’s a problem that weighs heavily when they think about whether to pass their farms and ranches on to the next generation. We’ve been talking about this issue for as long as I can remember; it’s time to fix it. 

Third, increasing access to high-speed Internet is just as important today as rural electrification was to our parents and grandparents. We need it to benefit from modern farming technology, access customers, educate our children and provide a quality of life that can grow our rural communities. The grassroots leaders flying in to Washington this week will advocate for passage of the Broadband Data Improvement Act to make broadband coverage maps more accurate, helping to secure funding to build out the broadband infrastructure. 

I’m sure that every person who is participating in this week’s Advocacy Fly-In has several things he or she could be doing at home. Many are behind on planting this year’s crops because of flooding. There’s never a shortage of work on the farm and ranch, but we can’t afford to do just the work that’s in front of us on the farm and ignore the work that needs doing miles away in our nation’s capital. As I have said many times, we must “get outside our fencerows.” That’s the only way to have an impact on things that may seem far away, but really hit close to home. 

Throughout Farm Bureau’s history, leader-to-leader advocacy has been our superpower. A staff leader in the early days of Farm Bureau explained it in farming terminology: Congress is a team of horses, the farmer is at the plow and Farm Bureau is the line in between. Thank you to the grassroots leaders who are taking the time to plow and plant seeds for more wins for all farmers and America’s food security.

Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. You can follow him on Twitter @ZippyDuvall.