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Farm Bureau members travel to Washington

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 10/14/2013 3:25 PM

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Wanda Patsche is holding out hope that a farm bill will get done.

The Welcome farmer was tweeting to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last week, hoping to keep the pressure on to pass a farm bill.

"I'm always holding onto hope," Patsche said.

She and her husband, Chuck, were among Farm Bureau members who traveled to Washington, D.C., Sept. 11-14 to lobby for immediate action on the farm bill.

Farmers don't want an extension, said Patsche, who raises corn, soybeans and hogs near Welcome in Martin County.

She said it was important that farmers' voices be heard.

"I just feel that we as citizens, they're there to represent us and we do have a voice," Patsche said.

The group met as a whole with Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar. Participants also met with Congressmen Collin Peterson, Tim Walz and Erik Paulsen; and staff members from the offices of Reps. John Kline, Michele Bachmann, Rick Nolan, Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison.

"Having the opportunity to meet with all 10 congressional offices is a testament to the fact that Farm Bureau remains the most highly regarded source for bringing the concerns of American agriculture and rural America to Washington, D.C.," said Paul Lanoue, chairman of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers committee.

Dave and Julie Marquardt of Howard Lake in Wright County met with Kline's staffer and Ellison's immigration aide. In Kline's office they talked about the farm bill and agricultural labor. The visit to Ellison's office focused on agricultural labor.

Keith and Morgan Allen of Kenyon in Goodhue County also met with Rep. Kline's staffer. In addition, they met with Peterson and staff from Nolan's office.

In Kline's office, they talked about the importance of immigrant labor to the dairy and vegetable industries. The agricultural industry needs a reliable, secure source of labor, he said. Migrant labor is an integral part of agriculture.

In their five office visits, topics covered in addition to the farm bill and agricultural labor include the Water Resources Development Act and on-farm fuel storage, Morgan said.

They told the members of Congress and their staffers the impact of the policies on them or others back home. It gives them a personal connection, Morgan said. Occasionally, they'll be asked if they will share their email address for follow-up questions.

They go out to build relationships, Morgan said. Minnesota Farm Bureau state president Kevin Paap and the federal issues specialist get calls every week for input.

"We speak for everybody that's involved in agriculture," Keith said.

The officials they met with voiced optimism about the farm bill, yet said the more emergencies that arose the longer a farm bill would be delayed. When they were out there, Syria was on the front burner. Now, it's the debate about defunding Obamacare and funding the federal government.

The one-year extension of the farm bill expired Sept. 30.

The farm bill is unique in that's it has been a more bipartisan effort, Keith said. The farm bill doesn't impact just farmers, everybody is connected to it. It traditionally has funded not only farm programs, but also food programs.

Minnesota is lucky to have champions of agriculture in federal office, he said. The state is expected to have three people on the agricultural conference committee: Peterson, Walz and Klobuchar.

"We're incredibly blessed to have the individuals we have," Keith said.

Visiting our nation's capital is an eye-opening experience, several of the Farm Bureau members said. It gives them a new appreciation for what members of Congress are up against when it comes to passing legislation.

"It's a great experience," Morgan said. "I recommend it for anybody who has the opportunity to do it."

Patsche agreed, saying that everyone should visit the capital at least once.

The September visit was her first. She had many "wow moments" while there and also came away feeling very patriotic.