By Joshua Mechaelsen
Back in September, hundreds of Farmers Union members gathered in Washington, D.C. for the 2023 Fall Legislative Fly-In. Among those present were about a dozen Wisconsin farmers, young and old, who had come to share their perspectives vis-à-vis farm policies with lawmakers and congressional staff members. Sharing these perspectives is particularly important now because the next “Farm Bill” is currently in the works.
National Farmers Union (NFU) is an organization made up of statewide and local farmers union chapters throughout the country. As a grassroots organization, NFU prioritizes the direct involvement of members in the fly-in instead of relying on national level staff to reach every congressional office and agency. The Wisconsin members met with the offices of all but one lawmaker in the Wisconsin congressional delegation. We also helped cover the bases for other state’s delegations where Farmers Union is not as widespread such as North Carolina, West Virginia, and Alabama. In most of the Wisconsin offices we met directly with the representative but in a couple of offices we met only with their staff member. Senator Baldwin was particularly interested in hearing about how I had come to start farming in Wisconsin.
Three broad areas of focus were identified for consideration as congress considers the next farm bill. The first, “Fairness for Farmers” is a longstanding priority of Wisconsin and National Farmers Union, in fact this priority can be traced all the way back to the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921. Broadly speaking this priority area addresses consolidation in the agriculture and food sectors of the economy and the fairness of prices that farmers receive for their products.
A Second area of priority for NFU is a robust and functional farm safety net. The current safety net may do a tolerable job at protecting commodity crop farmers and some livestock farmers, but there are many other farmers who are left to fall through the cracks. For this reason, we advocated for, among other things, the Dairy Revitalization Plan and whole farm revenue protection as well as permanent disaster assistance programs for all segments of the agricultural sector.
The third priority area deals with the challenges posed by climate change at both mitigation and adaptation levels. Manure management, cover crops, and alternative energy generation on farm are all ways that farmers mitigate their own and others contributions to climate change as well as adapt to the changes that have already occurred. Having adequate funding for farmers to implement best practices is therefore a society-wide investment that NFU prioritizes.
In addition to these three broad areas, several other policy issues affect farming and rural life including staffing levels at USDA field offices, mental and behavioral healthcare in rural America, and childcare for farm families. Of all these different policy areas, each one related directly to at least one member of our WFU delegation, which is why it was so valuable to have our members share their perspectives directly.
Farming is such a boots-on-the-ground occupation that it can be easy to think of it as being isolated from the causes and effects of policy making hundreds of miles away. But in actuality, modern American agriculture, with all its achievements and challenges, is a direct result of nearly a century of pro-active policies that have sought to shape what farmers produce in this country, how we do it, and who gets to consume it.
The world of the last Farm Bill in 2018 seems long ago and far away now and so much in society and farming has changed. Which is why it is so important for the next Farm Bill to respond to those changes and to do that, NFU believes that lawmakers and their staff need to hear directly from farmers on the ground.
After living, working and studying in Iowa, Washington DC and rural England, Joshua Mechaelsen joined Gwenyn Hill Farm as the Land and Livestock Assistant in 2022.