Champaign County Farm Bureau Board Member, Adam Watson, was one of two dozen Illinois Farm Bureau members visiting Washington, D.C., as part of the Leaders to Washington trip. The trip, sponsored by the Illinois Farm Bureau, took place March 21 –March 23. Adam’s first trip with the Leaders to Washington was a memorable one and one that he says “I wish everyone involved in agriculture could do! If you have the opportunity to go, set aside time in your schedule. It is worth it – 100%!”
What makes this trip so memorable and worthwhile? The group had an action packed agenda visiting with elected officials to discuss current agriculture issues. Arriving around noon on Monday, March 21, the group was in its first meeting by 1:30 p.m. and stayed on the go until they finished up with a 2:30 meeting on Wednesday. Over the course of three days, the two dozen IFB members, accompanied by IFB staffers, Ryan Whitehouse and Adam Neilsen, met with legislators and their staffers and the staff of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and the USDA.
Adam Watson thought the most influential visit of the three day stint was with the staff of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield. The visit occurred right after Senator Durbin made some controversial statements on a Bloomington, IL, radio station about glyphosate and GMO labeling. The IFB delegation expressed their concern and one member of the delegation invited Senator Durbin to her farm to see things first hand. Adam says he “Realized his voice was being heard! I thought Senator Durbin’s staff really paid attention to what we said.”
TPP, Trans Pacific Partnership, was a big talking point in meetings too. Adam says the common theme if there was opposition to TPP was not directed at agriculture, but rather other issues with things such as labor, Unions, etc. Adam was impressed that “if the legislator is against something they will flat out tell you. If they are against you, they want you to explain to them why you want them to be for it AND they listen to you! I was also amazed at the involvement of the staffers. They are at the meetings, doing research, writing bills, reporting to the Congressman or Representative. It is the staffer’s job to report back to the Congressman or Representative and let them know where their constituents stand on the issues.”
One of Adam’s favorite visits was to the Japanese Embassy. “We were sitting in a large, very nice, conference room discussing agriculture and you realize agriculture is a very powerful, worldwide deal. We were talking to people influencing agriculture in Japan and we are from Illinois. It was very neat to experience this!”
The group was also able to meet with AFBF and had a very good briefing on various topics including big data and GMO’s. Updates were given to the group by USDA, FSA, and RMA.
The Leaders to Washington did get to experience a behind the scenes tour of the Capitol Building. U.S. Representative John Shimkus rolled out the red carpet and greeted the group on the steps of the Capitol Building before leading them through the tour. The group was able to visit places in the building not seen by the usual visitor. “Representative Shimkus knew his history. This tour was very neat!”
In addition to the Capitol Building Tour, the group did enjoy cool restaurants at night after a hard day’s work. The second evening in Washington the group was led on a night tour of the monuments including the World War II Memorial, Washington Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Memorial. Adam had seen the monuments during the day before, but said seeing them at night was “totally different and beautiful. We also got lucky and were able to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom!”
Adam also noted that the group woke up Tuesday morning to the world news of the terrorist attack in Brussels. News outlets were reporting heightened security on Washington’s public transportation system because of the attacks, but the group didn’t notice any unusual changes. Adam says it was just strange to “experience it and worry about it because I usually don’t have to think about those things (heightened security measures) at home.”
Embarking on a trip and not knowing anyone at the beginning turned out to be a great opportunity for Adam. “I met really neat Illinois Farm Bureau Members, everyone from a dairy farmer to a 35 acre farm to market city farmer to a grain farmer! I wish everyone involved in agriculture could take this trip!”
One final remark from Adam, “We asked staffers and legislators if our Calls to Action work and they all said yes! They can tell when there is a big issue and Illinois Farm Bureau has issued a Call to Action because their phones blow up!”