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Wright reports on MARL trip to Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:
Concerned about the issues that are evolving around our federal government these days? Wonder how our federal government works?
Recently, I was able to spend six days in Washington, D.C., along with other members of the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership program (MARL). Our purpose was to spend time with our congressmen, federal committees, embassies, professional appointments and various work groups to better understand our federal system, and to learn how to become more effective in it.
Our time spent with Minnesota congressional representatives was a great opportunity to exchange ideas and questions on policy, leadership and discuss the upcoming changes to the U.S. Farm Bill. In a conversation with Erik Paulson (Minnesota-U.S. House District 3), he mentioned relationship building and critical thinking as keys to success in Washington. He is concerned about the number of U.S. companies leaving our country and believes that free trade agreements are a big component for agricultural and other products produced here. Collin Peterson (Minnesota-U.S. House District 7), as ranking member of the House Ag Committee, also cites relationship building, understanding, working together and listening to constituents as components of being successful. Rick Nolan (Minnesota-U.S. House District 6) expressed the importance of reaching out to congressmen, and the importance of the relationship between elected officials and constituents.
In sessions with Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, they mentioned their appreciation to our delegation from Minnesota. Klobuchar expressed comments heard from her listening sessions that just wrapped up in Minnesota on the Farm Bill, and also mentioned infrastructure and rural broadband as items of focus for our state. Visits with our congressmen echoed the same general points: relationship building, constituent involvement and realizing that they have a very important job to do.
Many other meetings proved to be just as informative for our group of Minnesota rural leaders. Time spent with staff in both the Senate and House ag committee chambers brought needed insight into the depth of their ground work for the next Farm Bill. Both indicated that the business of the Ag Committees is greatly nonpartisan and prefer that it stays that way. Few committee areas have that kind of working relationship. Staff discussed the tough topics like trade, world shipping, limiting government intrusion, country-of-origin labeling, immigration and tight budgets will have a lot to do with the next Farm Bill. The purpose of the Farm Bill is to balance the needs of feeding our country along with the long-term goals of a sustainable food supply.  
A break down of components looks like this:
US   Farm Bill (Agricultural act of 2014)
• 80 percent food nutrition, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (S.N.A.P), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), school breakfast program, child and elderly care programs, part of the school lunch program and  other nutrition programs.
• 8 percent crop insurance, sets a safety net for agricultural production to ensure long-term sustainability.
• 6 percent conservation, funding for forest management, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), conservation grants, habitat incentives, payments in lieu of taxes to local governments, and watershed programs.
• 5 percent commodity programs, maintains a base value for U.S. produced commodities.
• 1.5 percent farm-related programs, credit programs, young farmer programs, small farmer programs, rural sustainability
Our meetings at various embassies proved valuable and a great opportunity to learn about the connection of United States agriculture to the rest of the world. Time spent within the embassy of Chile allowed us to learn that South American country has 21 million acres of cropland, is the world’s largest exporter of blueberries, second largest in salmon, with Minnesota receiving fresh apples, grapes and wine from its agriculture. Chile also has free-trade agreements with 58 countries around the globe.  
A meeting with a delegation from Kazakhstan in its embassy unveiled information on how it is the largest landlocked country in the world; however, it claims to be one of the largest wheat growers specializing in varieties of ancient origins. This county has some complications with exports and imports because it has no seaports, but produces a sustainable amount of food. Its president has indicated that agricultural growth is a very important the future of his country.  
Our appointment within the embassy of Germany brought out how fortunate we are in the U.S. to have more land mass to work with. The U.S. is 3.5 million square miles in size whereas Germany is only 138,000 square miles. Half of German land is dedicated to agriculture. Eighty-one million people occupy Germany, making it the most populous country in the European Union.  Germany has far more imports than exports but uses the U.S., Canada, Mexico, China and the Netherlands as primary trade partners. Eighty percent of the feed for Germany’s livestock is imported. Understanding the culture, differences and similarities of other countries around the world can do more than just expand our knowledge base, it can also be the building blocks of cementing relationships for the future.
Several other meetings throughout our stay in Washington, D.C., helped broaden the idea of working together to resolve problems. Sometimes, or too often, it seems like we are victims of one-sided press or social media criticism on issues around us. However, the fact is that there are at least two sides to every issue. From our time with our congressional representatives, staff and professional organizations in D.C., a common point was brought out. If you want to make a difference, having a seat at the table of reasoning is better than making continuous noise. Decisions everywhere are made by people who show up.
Paul Wright
Lynn Township Farmer
McLeod County Commissioner
District 3