VIEW FROM THE HILL

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
March has been a very busy month. Aside from the usual farming activities, I traveled to Washington, D.C., and participated in the annual get-together of the National Association of Wheat Growers

In addition, as a participant in the Wheat Industry Leaders of Tomorrow program, I attended meetings with staff of our elected congressional and senate officials.

This trip to our nation’s capital, and actually driving down Pennsylvania Avenue-as opposed to touching down in Dulles or Reagan National Airport on the way to other places-was a first for me. It was an awe-inspiring sight to see the monuments so close and to stand on the steps of Capitol Hill.

Not forgetting the reason for the mission, board meetings began in earnest on Sunday morning. Believe me, I would have preferred taking the day off, but, as they say, when in Washington….

Several issues were of extreme importance to farmers back home. The first was to come to an agreement between all wheat grower associations on impending legislation. The list of issues important to all farmers filled 27 pages.

Imagine a roomful of people who represented producers from their home state that have diverse agricultural interests. Imagine getting them to agree on anything, let alone agree on anything important.

I witnessed democracy in action, and when the dust settled, we were a unified group, ready to go to the Hill and speak with one voice.

A unified voice is extremely important when meeting with elected representatives, whether they agree with our position or not. Unity empowers farmers, and forms them into a credible voting block. It gives their agenda a solid platform for dialogue and negotiation.

A unified voice presents one argument to all interested parties. There is no debate over alternative ideas, no opportunity for agriculture’s foes to employ a divide-and-conquer strategy.

For instance, Resolution II-A-21 states that NAWG supports the preservation of domestic support within the commodity title at no less than authorized in the 2002 farm bill while recognizing the importance of moving all countries toward less trade-distorting programs.

Our federal government is currently running a huge budget deficit. By year’s end, projections indicate it will be the largest in American history. It is up to NAWG, representing American wheat producers, to protect their interests by working with our senators and representatives to ensure agriculture does not receive an unfair burden when the budget is cut.

The Kansas delegation met with staff of Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, Reps. Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran, plus others who did not represent our districts.

On one hand, it seemed like we were “speaking to the choir,” but one can never underestimate the power of proactive communication, which underscored the seriousness of our mission.

On Tuesday night, Moran received a plaque for being “Wheat Man of the Year” at a Capitol Hill reception. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) received a similar award from wheat growers from his home state.

The awards were an expression of appreciation for representing wheat producers on Capitol Hill.

Monday evening, I toured the monuments, along with other participants of the WILOT program. We walked through the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

If you have never done this at night, consider doing so. The effect of dim light reflecting the images of soldiers walking by, staring from the past, captured the moment in time.

The names of men and women on the wall, the lights illuminating the small flags invokes a silent reverence for those who fought the battles and paid the highest price.

On the lighter side, meeting producers from various states and actually getting to know them on a personal level was a highlight for me. Even so, this had a serious side. When names and faces become more than mere acquaintances, differences of opinion are easier to process. There was no “them” and “us.” We share common interests, goals, hopes and dreams. We are willing to work through issues, knowing whatever decision we make in board meetings will affect the life of someone we know.

Now that is the ultimate beauty of democracy in action.

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