(This post has been updated to correct the last name of the president/CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.)
Rural Americans encounter agriculture every day. We experience food moving from farm to fork first-hand. We see the positive impact agriculture has on the local the economy, creating jobs and providing nourishment for our families. Those of us who live and love the country life may find it hard to believe that only 1-in-5 Americans live in rural areas. More than 80 percent of Americans live in urban and suburban areas far removed from farms and food production, according to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey.
Rural areas receive less representation and recognition than densely populated urban and suburban areas. In the House of Representatives, the number of seats assigned to an area is based on population density. Each state is allotted two Senate seats, but senators focus on issues concerning the majority of voters in their district. As a result, issues critical to the future of farming are often overlooked. If farmers want our voice heard, we must be advocates.
This week at the Annual Farmer Cooperative Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, Autumn Price, Land O’ Lakes Vice President of Government Relations, explained why now is a critical time to advocate for the future of agriculture: A new administration in Washington is writing policy to guide regulations, taxes, and trade for the next four years. A new Farm Bill is anticipated in 2018/2019. Farmers are struggling with low prices and low incomes.
Farmers can give lawmakers keen insights to improve farm economic conditions, strengthen markets and create opportunities in rural America.
“We haven’t told our story clear enough,” Chuck Conner, President and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives said. He urged cooperative leaders and farmer-members to reach out to local representatives and share personal stories how their operations are affected by current issues.
As tempting as it is to leave lawmaking to lawmakers, Capitol Hill must hear the strong voice of rural America to take action on issues important to the survival of our farms, families and communities.
How to take action
There are many meaningful ways farmers can advocate the future of agriculture. The first is writing and calling government representatives. Provide real examples of how issues affect your farm operation. Connect how Ag issues affect the representative’s entire district, including urban and suburban voters.
Farmers can also take action by educating urban and suburban Americans on challenges facing our industry. Eighty percent of Americans live away from Ag, but 100 percent of Americans eat. Traditional media, social sharing, community roundtables and public hearings are great ways to reach the public.
Farm organizations connect farmers, form alliances and deliver a strong message to lawmakers. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and Ohio Agribusiness Association help farmers advocate the future of agriculture.