In February, leaders of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) took their advocacy efforts to Washington, D.C. For four extremely busy days, they met with policymakers to discuss farm bill, trade, crop insurance and conservation.
“Because of the relationships we’ve developed with our congressional delegation, we were able to get access to high level meetings such as the office of the Speaker of the House and administration officials within the White House,” said Michelle Hennings, WAWG’s executive director. “With each trip we take to our nation’s capital, our strong working relationship with our congressional delegation allows us to strategize the next steps in achieving WAWG’s priorities.”
Trade was the No. 1 priority on this trip. As North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations continue and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) moves ahead without the U.S., Washington wheat growers are increasingly worried about the possibility of losing market share to competitors due to increased tariffs and the absence of trade agreements that create a level and fair playing field. WAWG also advocated for more funding for the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development program, both of which are vital to developing and maintaining overseas markets. The growers scored a meeting with Ray Starling, special assistant to the president, where they discussed these trade issues and the White House’s stand on TPP. Starling told the group that the administration understands the importance of trade and realized the urgency of protecting overseas markets.
Crop insurance was another top priority for wheat growers. With low commodity prices still plaguing farmers and the always present threat of uncertain weather, growers need a strong safety net to fall back on in case of emergencies. WAWG leaders were able to relay that message to top legislators when they met with Geoff Antell, special assistant to the Speaker of the House for policy and counsel. In the meeting, WAWG leaders explained the importance of crop insurance and how proposed cuts, eligibility limits and means testing will impact the ability of farmers to produce a safe, reliable food supply.
Growers also met with every member of Washington’s congressional delegation, the Risk Management Agency, the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Agricultural Research Service. In many meetings, WAWG leaders were joined by leaders from the Washington Grain Commission, U.S. Wheat Associates and Derek Sandison, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Another topic of discussion in Washington, D.C., was increased funding for farm bill conservation programs. The current cap on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres has caused a halt in general sign-ups. In Washington state alone, more than 400,000 acres are set to expire from CRP through 2020. The packet passed out by wheat growers included letters from the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Washington State Conservation Commission and individual state conservation districts that explained the importance of CRP as a critical tool to protect soil, wildlife and air and water quality. WAWG strongly supports working lands conservation programs, including the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
With federal budget negotiations happening during the wheat growers’ visit, money was never far from legislators’ minds. WAWG was able to further advocate for the wheat industry’s appropriations request for additional falling numbers research funding. That request has been fully supported by key members of Washington state’s congressional delegation.
Other wheat grower priorities included:
- Supporting publicly funded agricultural research at the full amount specified in the 2014 Farm Bill.
- Supporting funding to maintain and improve rural Washington’s roads, river and rail systems.
- Keeping the Snake River dams intact.
- Supporting immediate action regarding the Columbia River Treaty, which protects the viability of U.S. navigation, hydropower, irrigation and flood control throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“This was a very busy, but productive visit,” said Marci Green, WAWG president. “Through the relationships we’ve established in Washington, D.C., we are able to present our message directly to the people who are responsible for making and implementing the policies that influence our ability to make a living growing a crop.”
This year, Washington state had two growers who participated in NAWG’s Wheat Organization Leaders of the Future (WOLF) program. The WOLF program provides new board members with information and training that enables them to be more productive, knowledgeable and effective wheat grower leaders. Jeff Shawver, WAWG vice president, and Ryan Poe, WAWG secretary/treasurer, both went through the one-day training program held just prior to the Washington, D.C., visit.
The wheat growers would like to recognize Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) who has been a huge advocate for trade, spending many hours educating the administration on the importance of free trade to agriculture and explaining how the U.S. withdrawal from the TPP could cost farmers billions of dollars. WAWG also thanks Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) for leading the charge on the Senate side for the request for additional falling numbers research funding.