Connecting the Dots – Heartbeat Member Feature
Farm Credit’s Legislative Fly-In Brings Congress Greater Understanding of Missouri Agriculture
Missouri’s rural infrastructure is bound by the highways and bridges that connect our show-me state, east to west and north to south.
For Ben and Jenny Bradley, Novelty, Missouri, that infrastructure is key to marketing crops via the Mississippi River.
From infrastructure to crop insurance and broadband internet, issues like these weigh heavy on farm businesses across the state — businesses like the Bradleys and like Roth Farms outside Harrisonville, where Danny and Hannah Kiehl farm with Hannah’s family.
With a new Farm Bill on the horizon, the Bradleys and Kiehls want to be sure legislators connect the dots between the state’s farmers and the issues that are important to their bottom line.
These two young farm couples joined more than 600 other Farm Credit leaders from across the U.S. who traveled to Washington, D.C., in late July to meet with lawmakers and encourage a timely passage of the Farm Bill.
“Our main goal was specifically to tell our story, what our farm is like, what we do for a living, our educational experiences and about the aspects of the farm bill that affect us personally,” Danny explained.
Both the Bradleys and Kiehls took part in FCS Financial’s Connect program for young and beginning farmers. Connect helps participants realize their full potential to find success through networking and communication activities as well as cooperative representation. They were selected for the Washington, D.C., fly-in partly because of their involvement with the program.
“The more you talk to (legislators), the more you find out that they really aren’t aware of what rural Missouri — or any other state — is like,” Danny said. “So, it’s kind of interesting to see their perspective.”
Jenny Bradley added, “If we aren’t proactive and keep a lot of communication open, (rural Missouri is) not very many votes when it comes right down to it. We’re already so far behind when it comes to technology, road improvements.
Issues and Impact
While crop insurance continues to be criticized, Missouri farmers know its value as a safety net. The Washington, D.C., fly-in gave the Kiehls and Bradleys an opportunity to set the record straight.
“We need to be able to speak our reasoning for why we need crop insurance and why we need that safety net to be able to farm the way we do,” Danny explained.
“I think that (the legislators) truly appreciated hearing from producers, especially young producers and knowing that there is a future in agriculture. There are men and women who want to work in agriculture, but these things have to be in place for us to be able to,” Hannah added.
As technology seeps its way into farm businesses, access to broadband internet becomes increasingly important. The Kiehls depend on it today to run key programs for the family’s grain operation. They also shared with legislators a time while in college when broadband internet wasn’t accessible while visiting Danny’s family, who lives near Marshall.
“If you’re wanting to have young men and women educated, how are they expected to be if they can’t do their homework, and how can you expect businesses to come into rural areas if they don’t have the internet,” Hannah said. “It’s not worth our time and money to invest in technologies if we don’t have the resources to use them.”
Jenny is hopeful the visit to the nation’s capital will have a positive impact on agriculture in Missouri, noting what happens there has a trickle-down effect.
“All our regulations, crop insurance, guaranteed loans, it all trickles down to the state level,” she said. “Hopefully, (that will) help secure options for those Missouri producers. We’re already so far behind when it comes to technology, when it comes to road improvements, we’re kind of at the bottom of the list. And, if we don’t keep the line of communication open, we’re off the list.”
Young Producer Perspective
Among a minority of young agricultural producers, the Bradleys and Kiehls both see value in helping lawmakers understand the need for financial assistance on the farm.
Labor and resources are often the limiting factors for young producers, Jenny said.
“The problem with labor is that if the farm only produces this pile of income, maybe it can support one family, maybe it can support two families, but it likely can’t support three families,” Ben added.
As more and more college graduates take the road to industry rather than the one leading back to the farm, Jenny said they’re discovering that can help them pay for a farm later in life. Jenny works one-on-one with farmers as an adult ag education instructor at North Shelby High School in Shelbyville. In that role, she assists producers with records management and transitional plans as well as with finding sources of funding and with financial meeting preparation.
“Agriculture is the number one source of local revenue for our schools,” she said of the North Shelby district.
Danny is hopeful the fly-in will encourage other young producers to share their story. “If they tell their story, others will gain a better understanding of where their food comes from, what it takes to make it.”
The fly-in and Connect experiences have given the young couples the opportunity to network with their peers. “One of the biggest problems we discovered was all of us young farmers are trying to get into the ag industry, but our parents don’t want to discuss with us what the next generation looks like because they don’t like change,” Danny said.
FCS Financial’s Debbie Ragsdale said opportunities like these are critical to helping young producers like the Bradleys and Kiehls see another side of agriculture.
“It’s really important to have opportunities to network, to see some good speakers and learn more about the financing side of agriculture,” she said. “Financing is a big part of agriculture, and to help people understand more about it is really important.”
Not specifically a lobbying trip, the fly-in simply helped Missouri farmers communicate important issues to lawmakers. Farm Bill discussions have yet to begin, so the Kiehls and Bradleys both said equipping lawmakers with key issue information was timely.
“We weren’t necessarily asking them for something,” Hannah said. “It was more a trip to make our stories known and to let (lawmakers) know what’s needed. That way they can head into the process of the farm bill and be knowledgeable on the issues.”
As a farmer-owned cooperative, Danny said he especially appreciates FCS Financial investing in rural communities and providing opportunities like the D.C. fly-in to its members.
“They’re based around what farmers need, not what’s going to make them the most money,” he said. “That shows that they really care about us and what’s best for us.”
Jenny added, “(The fly-in) was an awesome opportunity that we’re probably never going to have again. You can go to D.C. as a tourist, but you can’t really go to D.C. and see what’s going on with government and hopefully have an impact (on legislation) as easily on your own.”