By Amelia Kent
The wheels of change may move slowly in Washington, D.C., but involvement on the local level can steer the direction of legislation at the Capitol. That may seem obvious with the 2018 Farm Bill, but you can also make a difference when an idea could literally have bicycle wheels rolling over farmland, through pastures and into the paths of logging trucks.
Over the past few weeks I’ve met with Congressman Ralph Abraham’s staff. These visits are especially timely as the Farm Bill was going into markup the same week as most of these meetings.
The first was a lunch with Congressman Abraham’s staffers and some neighbors in East Feliciana Parish. I was invited as I’ve participated in meetings like this before, both in Washington, D.C. and in Louisiana. The topics of discussion at this meeting included trade concerns, Farm Bill progress, arbitration clauses in contracts of all kinds, and a proposed bicycle path that could disrupt agricultural operations. Congressman Abraham is a great supporter of Louisiana agriculture and already has strong insight and positions on our trade concerns and the Farm Bill. He is the only member of Louisiana’s delegation on the House Ag Committee and he has personal farming interests.
At this meeting we were able to bring to the staffers’ attention our concerns relative to arbitration clauses and the negative impacts this potential bike path would likely present, given the proposed route. You may be thinking, what harm can a recreational bicycle path have? The proposed route spans more than 300 miles from the Texas state line to the Mississippi state line, running parallel to U.S. Highway 190 and La. Highway 10. The bike path would not be on these major highways, but would run along smaller state roads and highways. I am familiar with these roads. I also know the agricultural commerce in our area. That's why I can envision a nightmare for Louisiana’s timber and livestock industries should there be a collision between a bicycle and one of our trucks on these rural roads with no shoulders. The same could happen with grain trucks or tractors hauling sugarcane in other parts of the state.
After we presented these two new topics of concern, we also asked if there was anything they needed from us in the district. Their response was, “an opportunity to visit with constituents in the district.” How timely? Later that week, there were two local Farm Bureau annual meetings. I had the opportunity to introduce one of these congressional staffers at both of these meetings. At the end of one meeting, dairy farmers and grain farmers alike approached Congressman Abraham’s staff asking for more information about the Farm Bill, and discussions regarding Title I and Dairy. Their requests were taken down, and early the next week, the Congressman’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Ted Verrill, contacted me to ensure these requests were addressed. Verrill also asked if there were other issues of concern from our local farmers.
I share with you this experience because it is a prime example of how staying informed at the local level can influence discussion on Capitol Hill. The congressional visits to Washington, D.C. are important and have their place. But communication with constituents about their concerns is equally, if not more, important. Involvement at the local level does indeed impact discussions and policy decisions at the state and national levels, and keeps the wheels turning in the right direction.
Amelia Kent and her husband, Russell, raise beef cattle and hay in East Feliciana Parish. Amelia is a past chair of Louisiana’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, is currently a member of the - Partners in Advocacy Leadership program with AFBF, and serves on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Find them on Facebook at Kent Farms; or on Instagram and Twitter @kentfarms_la.