Farmers meet with U.S. legislators, staff in D.C.

By Ashley Rice

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), prevented plant and Wet Weather Variance (WWV) were among key issues Leaders to Washington participants discussed with House Agriculture Committee staff and U.S. representatives and senators.

There was general agreement amongst the group that participation in the climate change discussion is necessary or the conversation will not include agriculture. Farmers shared sustainable practices they have been implementing on their farms for generations in order to conserve and protect the land and environment for years to come. In addition, agriculture now produces more with less inputs.

The group then met with their respective legislators, including U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos, Darin LaHood, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis, John Shimkus and staff of Rep. Robin Kelly. Meetings also took place with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s staff. An overview of the agriculture year was discussed and questions were asked about the likelihood of USMCA passing and when a resolution would come on the RFS waiver issue. Lastly, the group asked for the WWV to be extended into 2020 for Highly Erodible Land (HEL).

Illinois Farm Bureau members pause during a busy meeting schedule during the Leaders to Washington program last week. Discussion topics included trade, disaster assistance and small refinery waivers. (Photo by Ashley Rice)

The group overall felt discouraged about the likelihood of USMCA being passed after meeting with the senator’s offices. But the bill must start in the House before it can move to the Senate. Regarding RFS waivers, farmers shared the effects these have had on the market.

“With the waivers granted here recently to the defined small refineries, there has been a significant decrease in the demand for corn for ethanol production,” Robert Benson, Peoria County Farm Bureau member, told FarmWeek. "It has taken since the early 2000s to get that demand level up to what we have been using for ethanol and the loss of those gallons from the ethanol market has been reflected in a drop in corn price. When we look at our producers and a breakeven point … it’s going to be tough for these producers at the current levels to be able to project a profit.”

This comes at a time when harvest normally would have begun in some parts of Illinois.

“Checking fields right now, I’m thinking we’re still probably three weeks away from combines rolling,” said Matthew Herberling, Christian County Farm Bureau president. “So, there is a little bit of concern we aren’t going to be able to have tillage windows this fall to help us correct the fields and get them prepped for the 2020 growing season either.”

Therefore, farmers asked their representatives for the WWV for HEL to be extended into 2020 to allow farmers time to get into their fields.

Overall, the group shared similar stories of stress and a feeling of helplessness in the countryside amongst the agriculture community.

“We’re hearing more and more about farmers just emotionally and mentally breaking down,” shared Julie Newhouse, Winnebago-Boone County Farm Bureau member. “I mean, I can’t really change a frost, I can’t change a rain, I can’t change a disease pressure … If the market is flat and below our cost of production, we can’t fix that.”

Greg St. Aubin, Kankakee County Farm Bureau member, added how he is bringing awareness to mental health by sharing his story on CropWatchers 2.0 during Mental Health Awareness month in May 2019.

While farmers are searching for a “win” and reprieve from this year of unexpected challenges, they are not giving up hope.