Lesley Dixon, USA Rice
WASHINGTON, DC -- With Members of the House of Representatives back in their home districts for the August recess, this is the chance for constituents to visit with them to voice concerns, share priorities, and hear updates from Washington. The ag industry will be out in force to make sure lawmakers hear what's on their minds - and that is trade and the new Farm Bill.
On trade, elected officials will be called upon to end our various trade wars and work toward repairing the damage already caused in important markets, wrap up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations to ensure that rice's current position is not harmed, secure new trade agreements with dependable markets, and enforce existing trade agreements that include rice.
For the Farm Bill, lawmakers are going to hear that the rice industry wants a bill that works for this industry, including the maintenance of the farm safety net with no harmful provisions limiting access to these programs, the continuance of voluntary, incentive-based and cost share conservation programs, and food aid programs with no changes that would allow cash to be used in lieu of U.S.-grown commodities.
The town hall is the classic forum for Americans to express their opinions and connect with their government, and this year legislators will be hearing firsthand from constituent rice farmers, millers, and merchants who have been directly impacted by recent trade policies and depend on a coherent farm safety net.
But engagement doesn't have to be in person. Those in the rice community who wish to encourage their legislators to take action on trade can share their thoughts on social media, submit op-ed articles to their local papers, make phone calls and send emails, which is especially useful if they are already out in the field harvesting.
Regardless of whether it's a phone-in town hall or a community roundtable, it's always best to arrive informed, prepared, polite, cool-headed, and in groups. Some current policies and issues might be frustrating, but showing up to a public meeting inarticulate and angry is usually ineffective. Telling a personal story or citing convincing statistics can really help you get through to your audience while you've got the floor.
"Relationships are built on credibility, not 'gotcha' questions. If you get known for that, they're going to avoid you," said Louisiana rice farmer Jackie Loewer. "The whole reason to go to these events is to get a little face time with your representatives and remind them that rice is important. I tend to think we're the victims of friendly fire when it comes to tariffs, but I recently spoke with Congressman Ralph Abraham and his wife about tariffs at a local event. They were very approachable, and he was firm in saying that it's rough right now, but we're going to get through it and it'll be better on the other side. Building these face-to-face relationships is important when you want to have consequential discussions."
The conversations constituents in rice districts are having with legislators make a real difference.
Scott Franklin, a merchant at Holly Ridge Rice, remembers a meeting with Congressman Ralph Abraham in Rayville, Louisiana, last October that had a tangible impact on policy. "There were several things mentioned in the testimonies from attendees at that public meeting that became actual language in the House version of the Farm Bill. I think this is a good example of why it's so important to get out there and interact with your representatives when you have the chance."
While an audience with actual Representatives and Senators presents excellent opportunities to share your perspective, speaking with their staff members can be just as impactful as speaking to the representatives themselves.
"We have important points to get across about these vital issues. I'll tell anyone who will listen and might be able to help," Franklin said. "To ask a Member of Congress to know everything about every industry is an unrealistic expectation. The people in the industry are the ones that have to educate them."