DFA members get active beyond the Beltway

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These days, compromise is difficult to find in the Washington, D.C., legislative process. Both sides of the political spectrum have found themselves mired with internal party challenges, making it difficult to reach across the aisle.

“Over the last few years, DFA has worked with its members to increase their comfort level and interest in engaging in policy issues that impact them on the farm,” says Jackie Klippenstein, DFA vice president of industry and legislative affairs. “The lack of action on important issues in Congress, like immigration reform, has many of the Cooperative’s new advocates looking to other places to use their new skills.”

It’s little wonder, then, that Dairy Farmers of America members see their state legislatures as avenues for change. As with federal law, state laws can positively or negatively affect residents and businesses in their states. Thus, the DFA legislative team has broadened its effort to support farmers who are advocating in their respective states.

A recent example of member advocacy that produced legislative results was the Missouri Dairy Revitalization Act of 2014. Larry Purdom, a DFA Board member and president of the Missouri Dairy Association, and Bill Siebenborn, a DFA Board member from Trenton, Mo., were deeply involved in the development and passage of legislation that would have dovetailed with the newly passed dairy program in the federal Farm Bill.

The Missouri Dairy Revitalization Act would have reimbursed participants in the federal Margin Protection Program 70 percent of their premium payment. In addition, the bill included the Missouri Dairy Scholars Program, which would have made available 80 scholarships at $5,000 each toward tuition at any college or university in Missouri for students in agriculture-related degree programs who make a commitment to work in the agriculture industry. Also, the University of Missouri’s commercial agriculture program would conduct an annual study of the dairy industry and develop a plan for how to grow the state’s dairy industry.

The legislation was ultimately included in a larger agricultural omnibus measure that contained controversial language on the state’s deer population and drew Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. While Missouri legislators consider how next to pass the dairy provisions, the success to date of the measure would not have been possible without the calls and personal visits to legislators made by dairy farmers in the state.

“Legislators need to see your support, need to hear the opportunities the bill will provide on the farm and to the state’s economy,” said Marilyn Calvin, who went to Jefferson City several times with other DFA members in support of the dairy bill.

This legislative session saw efforts in several states to increase or allow the sale of raw milk directly to consumers. DFA staff and members worked together and with other state organizations — such as farm bureaus, dairy associations and health advocates — against these bills. These bills were defeated, either losing the vote on the floor or failing to secure support to leave the committee of jurisdiction in their respective states.

“Our members are calling us when something happens in their state in the way of regulation or legislation that will affect their operations,” Klippenstein says. “They want to be involved and know more engagement with their legislators will make a difference. This producer activism is good for DFA and the industry as a whole.”