Representatives from the Wisconsin Soybean Association (WSA) held their positions with Congress by advocating for Wisconsin farmers during the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) July Hill Visits in Washington, D.C. A group of eight farmers spent an entire day with members of Congress and Senate, discussing a number of issues important to soybean producers, including the Farm Bill, trade and preserving the soy checkoff.
“We had a lot of great conversations with the representatives and senators who represented both urban and rural Wisconsin,” said WSA Director and Past President Steve Trzebiatowski. “We even broke down barriers and began new relationships with legislators who we have never met with before, including Congresswoman Gwen Moore from Milwaukee.”
During their first in person meeting with Rep. Moore, Wisconsin growers discussed shipping opportunities via the Port of Milwaukee.
Farm Bill future
In each visit on Capitol Hill, the WSA representatives pressed legislative leaders on the importance of a new Farm Bill, and the need to pass the legislation sooner rather than later. A few of the legislative offices were still optimistic about a new Farm Bill before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 29, while others set the end of the calendar year or early 2024 as more realistic target dates.
Don Lutz, WSA District 3 director, emphasized the importance of a Farm Bill that improves the Title 1 farm safety net to be more responsive and predictable, as well as protects and enhances crop insurance to assist with volatile weather and crop loss.
“We need a Farm Bill that protects farmers and provides a reasonable safety net for our commodities,” said Lutz, who also represents WSA on ASA. “That’s important to all producers, not just soybean growers.”
A Farm Bill that enables greater access to voluntary conservation programs to meet demand was another priority for the ASA members during the Hill visits, with an emphasis on the word “voluntary.”
“We want a voluntary conservation program that encourages self-directed conservation initiatives,” WSA District 3 Director Dave Coggins said during a visit with Congressman Glen Grothman’s staff. “There’s not a one-size fits all conservation program for the entire country. There’s a wide range of crops, soil types and farming practices that demand flexibility. No one cares more about the health of the land than the farmers. They are the best conservationists and know what works best for the land they till.”
Finding common ground
Perhaps one of the most unique and candid conversations on Capitol Hill came during a visit with GOP Rep. Derrick Van Orden. Congressman Van Orden, who represents Wisconsin’s Third District, broke the ice by offering the group an adult beverage and a platter of Wisconsin cheese and venison jerky, but then got down to brass tacks by asking the tough questions about trade with China.
While acknowledging the tensions between the two countries, Wisconsin ASA Director Tanner Johnson recognized that China currently plays an important role in the soybean industry. According to the latest Soy Stats, China purchased $16.568 billion in U.S. soybeans in 2022.
“Roughly one-third of all U.S. soybeans go to China,” Johnson told Rep. Van Orden. “But through continued support of the farmer-led checkoff program, we can expand the soybean market to other countries and here in the U.S., which would reduce the dependency on China.”
While being direct with the WSA Directors, Congressman Van Orden indicated a willingness to reach across the aisle to support Wisconsin farmers.
“I’m willing to work with anyone, Republican or Democrat, who is willing to help and support the people of my district and the great state of Wisconsin,” added the Congressman.
During the visits to the House and Senate buildings, the legislators were pressed for their support of the checkoff program with bipartisan bills resurfacing recently that would overhaul it and add new regulations.
Checkoff programs are financed by agricultural commodity producers and handlers via per unit assessments with the funds going toward research, promotion and education initiatives aimed at driving demand for U.S. agricultural products. Overall, U.S. soybean farmers receive $12.34 in added value for every dollar they invest in their soy checkoff.
“U.S. soy producers overwhelmingly support the soy checkoff program and want it left as is,” said Johnson during a visit with staff for Sen. Ron Johnson. “Our soybean farmers like it the way it is because it works and works well.”
Worth the walk
Throughout the Hill Visits, WSA representatives walked more than five miles between the House and Senate office buildings in dress shoes and full suits during a hot and muggy day in D.C. Whether it was conversations with staff members or legislators themselves, the Wisconsin soybean group made a point to reach out to legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle.
Coggins said he understands the importance of these Hill Visits and the impact they have on Wisconsin agriculture.
“We can’t solve every problem in Wisconsin,” he said, “but we as soybean growers do play a role in improving the future for farmers.”
Group photo: Wisconsin Soybean Association directors pose in front of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. (From left to right) Jake Steffes (Corteva Young Leader), Daniel Linse (Secretary), Steve Trzebiatowski (Past President), Evan Dalldorf, Tanner Johnson (ASA Director), Dave Coggins (District 3), Don Lutz (ASA Director) and Matt Rehberg (Treasurer).