Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday, February 26: Think Tanks - Watch Dogs & Others

Thursday, February 26, 2015
On Thursday, SDARL Class VIII started out the day with a discussion of what we had observed and heard after meeting with lobbyists, USDA staff, South Dakota’s Congressional delegation and staff, and participants in similar rural leadership programs from other states. We were asked to answer four questions:

  1. What has been the biggest “Ah-hah” moment for each of us from our Washington D.C. experience so far?
  2. What has surprised us the most about ourselves so far as part of this experience?
  3. Why is it important for those aspiring for leadership roles in rural South Dakota to travel to places like Washington?
  4. Describe our experiences and impressions after interacting with our peers from other states?

As one might expect from a group of our size and diversity of backgrounds and experiences, there was a wide range of answers for the first question. Many of us were struck by walking in the same streets and places as our Founding Fathers. We had a lively debate about the role of lobbyists, the ability to get things done in D.C., and how important it was to get to know the staffers who worked for our elected officials.
One of the surprises for many of us was that although D.C. is a big, bustling place, we weren’t as intimidated as some of us thought we might be. After learning more about the entire process, we’re more confident in our abilities to get involved in the process.
One of the take-home messages we’ve learned is that the rest of the world matters; and is one of the biggest reasons to get outside of our comfort zone and see places that are different from home. At the same time, we have an increased appreciation for the value of South Dakota “common sense.”
The opinion of the group was that having the chance to interact with our peers from Washington, Indiana, and Minnesota was very valuable. Some conversations came easier than others, but this was a great opportunity to learn more about agriculture in other states, network with our peers, and compare notes about Ag and Rural Leadership programs.
After our group discussion and review of the reading assignments, it was time to meet with our assigned special interest groups. We divided into pairs or groups of three and met with twelve different special interest groups located in and around Washington, D.C. These groups included:
·         North American Meat Institute
·         Sierra Club
·         Planet Forward
·         Heritage Foundation
·         Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
·         Crop Life of American
·         Citizens Against Government Waste
·         Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM)
·         The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
·         Center for Food Safety
·         Environmental Working Group
·         EcoAgriculture Partners
We met with those groups during the afternoon. Later we all gathered at Buca di Beppo® to compare notes. We found that some of these groups, such as the American Meat Institute and CropLife of America, had positions that were very closely aligned with those of the SDARL members who visited with them. Other, less conventional groups, held markedly different views than the participants of our delegation. The experience of respectively listening to those who may have disagreed with us while articulating our views may well be one of the more interesting and valuable parts of our D.C. experience.
There were opportunities before and after the appointments with special interest groups to take advantage of some of the other educational opportunities in Washington, D.C. Some of the places Class VIII members visited included Arlington National Cemetery, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the National Holocaust Museum, and the National Gallery of Art.

Dusty Schley and Warren Rusche

Amy Pravecek and Warren Rusche visiting with Janet Riley, Sr. Vice President Public Affairs for the American Meat Institute
SDARL Class VIII member Shane Reis, Josh Kettwig, Jim Kanable, Sara Berg, and Joel Erickson preparing to enter the Smithsonian.
Seminar Team Leader Sandy Osterman helping to lead the book report discussion.

Wednesday, February 25: USDA and Capitol Hill

Wednesday February 25, 2015
Our day started at the USDA headquarters, where Ms. Kathryn Hill hosted our group.

Deputy Undersecretary Karis Gutter, USDA
Karis Gutter, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services has served at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the past six years. This division oversees Farm Service Agency (FSA)  and Risk Management Agency (RMA). Mr. Gutter described programmatic changes to the farm safety net--crop insurance and commodity programs. With the launch of the new farm bill in spring of 2014, FSA prioritized deployment of disaster programs, dairy risk protection tools, financial lending, and conservation programs. Further discussion with SDARL leaders addressed the need for livestock risk management products; farm program participation affected by wetland compliance concerns; and increasing lending limits for guarantee loans.
Kanable, Symens, Nelson and Kettwig
Rural development (RD) issues were the focus of Sam Rikkers, who serves as Deputy Adminstrator for that agency within USDA. Rural housing, business support and utility programs were highlighted during this dialogue. An example of a RD business program which farmers or ranchers could utilize would be Rural Energy for America Program (REAP,) which provides grants and low interest loans to upgrade to higher efficiency systems, such as grain dryers or barn ventilation fans. Broadband access and wastewater system improvements continue to be high demand infrastructure needs of rural communities, also. Class members shared examples of how their South Dakota communities have benefited from RD programs, such as new housing triplexes and daycare centers.
Dr. Shelly Ver Ploeg: "Food Deserts"
Food deserts were the subject of a presentation by Dr. Shelly Ver Ploeg, economist within the Economic Research Service (ERS). Food deserts are described as an area with limited access to healthy, nutritious food and usually in a low-income area. Dr. Ver Ploeg outlined analysis conducted countywide to identify areas within both urban and rural areas that lack proximity to grocery stores and transportation to those shopping centers. South Dakota's map shows quite a few food deserts, primarily in southwest and northwest counties and a few scattered communities in central and northeastern parts of the state.
Congresswoman Noem meeting with the class
Congresswoman Kristi Noem & SDARL Class VIII
SDARL members took to the Hill on Wednesday afternoon, meeting with Congresswoman Kristi Noem and Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds, as well as with their senior policy advisers. Senator Thune's office arranged a tour of the Capitol, which concluded our visit to the Hill.
Senator John Thune

Senator John Thune & SDARL Class VIII
Senator John Thune meeting with the class

Sen. Thune's policy advisors Lynn Tjeerdsma & Ty Littau
Senator Rounds, members Randy Nelson and James Kroupa

Senator Rounds & SDARL Class VIII

Senator Rounds with Eric Jennings. Jennings' great grandfather Peter Norbeck's desk is nowadays used by the Senator.
Wednesday evening concluded with a reception of agricultural and forestry leadership program participants from Washington, Indiana, South Dakota and Minnesota. Small groups from these states enjoyed dinner together--providing a chance to compare leadership experiences, state agricultural industries and highlights of their Washington, DC trips. Interestingly, some of these state leadership programs have been training leaders for more than 35 years.

Submitted by Trudy Wastweet

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday, February 24: SDARL's traditional ABA Day

Tuesday, February 24th started at the American Bankers Association with Nate Franzen, President of Agribusiness for First Dakota National Bank, giving a presentation on staying in touch with activities in Washington, D.C.
Nate Franzen
Nate is a SDARL class I graduate, and he spoke on the growing disconnect between agricultural and policy makers, and how we as South Dakotans can keep that from happening.  We as producers also have an obligation to pay attention to the rest of the world, because leadership is not a spectator sport.
Even and Pravecek
Brittany Dengler, senior research manager with the ABA, spoke on national economy trends.  Consumers are behind the modest growth in the GDP, and they benefit from steady job growth.  There is, however, concern over the number of unemployed long term, over 27 weeks.  Also troubling is the slow gains in construction and manufacturing jobs lost in the recession.  This leads to well below normal gains in the housing sector.
Michael Torrey, originally of Kansas, now of Michael Torrey Associates of Washington, D.C., talked to the class about how his firm lobbies for and helps manage their clients. They focus on building relationships between clients and policy makers that produce substance on issues.  They lobby legislative and executive branches of the government.
Haugen, Youngblom, Osterman and others
Michael Holland thanked by Jim Kanable
Michael Holland, Director of government affairs for Monsanto, visited with the class about their top priorities in ag.  They're focusing on maintaining the Renewable Fuels Standard, trade, and section 179 dealing with taxation and accelerated depreciation.  GMO labeling is a hot topic that is driven by opponents to rid the country of those products, and they're working diligently to influence legislation on his issue.  One of Monsanto's stated goals is to double the national average yield by 2030.

ABA Vice President of Congressional Relations Ed Elfmann focused on how the ABA deals with all legislators and ag committees in the federal government.  They are dealing with record farm incomes, even though it has declined recently.  FDIC insured that lenders have been diminished by nearly two-thirds in the last 28 years.  Farmers have been restrained in their borrowing for capital investments.  He also communicated that 84% of the farm bill is geared to fund nutrition.  He commented on congressional issues facing ag lending in 2015.
Farmer Mac is a bridge between capital markets and ag producers, helping provide security and coverage on loans.  They graciously sponsored the noon meal, and Larry Jones gave a presentation on how their process works.  Ag producers get more options because their lender can spread risk out.

The day switched gears a little when Ryan Bennett, the director of government affairs for the National Milk Producers Federation, gave a presentation on what they do.  They represent dairy cooperatives in all 50 states, and are ran by a board made up of mainly producers.  In addition, they also help manage several other non-coop dairy institutions and other check-off funded organizations.  Major policy interests range from dairy policy to trade to immigration.
Reuvekamp adding insight in dairy topics

In keeping with producer oriented speakers, Matt Mika with Tyson Foods, Inc, gave his talk as Director of Government affairs.  Tyson is number 1 in chicken, number 1 in beef, and number 2 in pork, so they wield a big stick when it comes to ag policy.  They are following issues like Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), trade, and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HSS) dietary guidelines.
Rusche, Johannsen
CropLife America representative Rebeckah Adcock is the Senior Director of Government Affairs stopped by to talk shop regarding policy on issues that affect pesticide and herbicide use, among other things.  WOTUS is one of the major issues they're facing now, stemming from some states' lack of action on non-navigable, new state waters.  CropLife America see this as a Clean Water Act issue that needs to have a rule written that makes sense.
Kristina Butts speaking; Schley making notes
Kristina Butts is with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) as the Director of Federal Relations.  After a brief synopsis of what NCBA does and how it's organized, she explained more about how they're trying to influence the USDA and Health and Human Services (HSS) dietary guidelines.  The major issue taken with this issue is that the advisory board does not contain the proper personnel and is not addressing issues within the scope of the guidelines.  She also spoke to trade opposition of WOTUS.
Bryan Dierlam
The Cargill Federal Relations Director, Bryan Dierlam, came before the class last and encouraged us to fight any fight united as producers, and fight it on the battlefield of our choosing, rather than fight and die a battle we can't win.  He spoke to worldwide development of food production ability as well as infrastructure investments for food distribution.  Trade issues and labor were also discussed.

Samson, Johannsen
The ABA-day was being concluded by hosts Ed Elfmann and Nate Franzen, followed with a -for SDARL groups traditional- walking tour led by the newly retired John Blanchfield. Blanchfield took us on a brisk hike to Farragut Square and the White House, keeping us entertained with historical stories.

Submitted by Warren Symens

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday, February 23: Mount Vernon & Sustainable Food & Agriculture

Flagraising at Mount Vernon by Seminar Team Leaders Hinke & Johnson

          Today, Monday the 23rd, we started the morning off by going to Mount Vernon Memorial.  Our tour of George Washington’s estate began with the raising of the American Flag.
Mount Vernon
 From there we were able to walk through Washington’s Mansion.  The architecture of the Mansion was incredible for that time in history.  Also the view overlooking the river was gorgeous. For the rest of the morning we were able to walk around the 500 acre estate.  Although it is winter, we were able to see the gardens where they grew their own crops.  Most of us bared the crisp wind and viewed the family tomb.
Jamie Johnson as a Seminar Team Leader
President George Washington wax replica
View of the Potomac River
  For lunch we went to historic Gadsby Tavern.  Our food was delicious and our entertainment during was awesome.  Our first speaker, Pam Hess, the Executive Director of Arcadia gave insight on challenges of supplying poverty communities with healthy food.  Arcadia is center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture.

Pam Hess
Since its establishment in 2010, Arcadia's mission has been to improve the health of our community, support the viability of local farmers, and preserve the environment for future generations. Through our programs, we:  Work to address issues of food access and food justice; Raise awareness about healthy food and its sources; Establish innovative connections between local, sustainable farms and consumers. It was great to see someone else who had that much passion on providing nutrition.
After a very short break we had the honor of listening to Bruce and Julie Knight.  Julie, Strategic Conservation Solutions, spoke on how providing healthy eating and environmental structure in Fairfax is just as important and challenging as it is in South Dakota.  She spoke on Partnership for a Healthier Fairfax and its healthy eating team & how one highly suburban/urban community is doing to address food security issues.

Julie Knight in conversation with members Kroupa and Haugen
 Bruce Knight, Co-founder of Strategic Conservation Solutions, is a South Dakota native from the Gann Valley area who believes his grandfather had a true definition of sustainability!  Leave the land better than when you received it.   Bruce Knight, spoke on  sustainability from a more macro level as well as policy issues and getting your voice heard locally, nationally and globally.
Bruce Knight
Submitted by Randy Nelson & Nick Scott