Despite declining farm incomes, producers have heard little from 2016 presidential candidates about issues critical to agriculture. That said, farm advocacy experts say steady, long-term grassroots participation is one of the most effective ways for producers to maintain visibility on issues that matter to them.
Participation in the political process can take on a variety of forms, including:
Organized national advocacy. Last year, more than 2,400 producers took advantage of formal advocacy training and issue briefings provided by the American Farm Bureau in Washington, D.C. More broadly, the association maintains a database of nearly 18,000 producer advocates who have indicated a willingness to speak up on issues important to the agriculture community.
State-level advocacy. A recent legislative victory in Iowa shows the value of grassroots political activity. Several crop and livestock advocacy groups helped drum up producer support for a change that coupled Iowa state income tax policy with the federal Section 179 deduction, which allows for expensing of certain purchases. This one-year tax break will allow producers and other business operators to write off up to $500,000 of qualified business expenses, providing an estimated $98 million in tax relief.
Moore said that older farmers and ranchers tend to get involved in more traditional ways, such as joining association boards, participating in local, county or township government, speaking up at town halls or helping enlist friends and neighbors to communicate with lawmakers on important issues.
But in the digital age, effective messaging isn't limited to personal interactions. Consider the following examples where producers or other agriculture advocates have used social media to weigh in on legislative or regulatory issues:
- Blogs written by producers often are picked up by trade or mainstream media organizations to bring an insider perspective to industry topics such as GMOs, water quality, trade policies and food safety.
- Videos are also a good vehicle for producers to help frame public and political opinion. The American Dairy Association's Mideast U.S. office features a full range of videos with Ohio producers discussing animal care, environmental issues and food safety.
- Many agricultural trade or media organizations have staff or contributing editors who regularly write blog posts on topics important to producers. For example, Farm Progress has 14 bloggers who regularly deliver opinions on political issues, general agriculture news and farm life.
- At Farming America, site owner David Hayden maintains a curated list of "Agvocates" – producers who share their farm or ranch experiences, often in ways that dispell misperceptions about food production and farm practices.
Getting involved can be as easy as making a phone call, dropping an email, or sending a letter. Numbers matter, and the more voices in agriculture that are heard by lawmakers, the more effective the industry will be in advocating for its future.