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WASHINGTON – Wisconsin Farmers Union members were among the more than 300 farmers and ranchers who gathered in the nation’s capital this week for National Farmers Union’s Fall Legislative Fly-In. The annual event allows Farmers Union members from across the country to meet directly with lawmakers, USDA leaders and other administration officials to discuss issues important to family farmers and ranchers.

“As a farmer-led organization, grassroots advocacy and education are a big part of Farmers Union,” said WFU President and Westby dairy farmer Darin Von Ruden. “The fly-in is an opportunity for members to meet with their representatives in Congress and put a face to the issues impacting rural America. Given the state of the farm economy, we need to ensure policies are supporting family farmers and ranchers, and their rural communities.”

NFU Fly-In participants spent the past several days in Washington speaking with their elected officials on legislative solutions to issues that heavily affect their farming and ranching operations.

“Times are tough right now for American family farmers and ranchers,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “And when times get tough for farmers, Farmers Union members step up and advocate.”

“We’ve seen a dramatic, 50 percent drop in farm income over the past four years,” Johnson continued. “At the same time, farmers are enduring major weather volatility due to climate change, uncertainty over foreign trade markets, massive consolidation of farms and agribusiness companies, and the ongoing degradation of farming and rural community infrastructure and services. The men and women who feed and fuel our nation need the support of their elected leaders, and that’s why 320 of them took four or five days out of their busy fall schedules to advocate at our Fly-In.”

“Congress has a long list of issues to deal with this fall, and we want to make sure they’re considering the social and economic well-being of American family farmers and ranchers with every vote they cast,” said Johnson. “NFU members are especially concerned about the prospect of an adequate farm safety net through the 2018 Farm Bill, bipartisan health care system fixes that ensure accessible, affordable, quality health care, and expanded markets for American grown, renewable fuels, including E30 and advanced biofuels.”

The three-day event began Monday with a briefing at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). NFU members heard from USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, USDA Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett, National Resources Conservation Service Acting Chief Leonard Jordan and USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Administrator Hubert Hamer.

The fly-in participants met with U.S. Senate and House of Representatives agriculture committees’ staff members to gain insight into the committees’ fall agendas. Participants also traveled to Capitol Hill to meet in small-group meetings with all 535 congressional offices, and to present 33 members of Congress with the Golden Triangle Award, the group’s highest legislative honor. Sen. Tammy Baldwin was among the recipients of the prestigious award.

Representing WFU this year were Jacob Marty, Monticello; WFU Special Projects Coordinator Sarah Lloyd, Wisconsin Dells; Kriss Marion, Blanchardville; WFU District 1 Director Linda Ceylor, Catawba; WFU Government Relation Associate Nick Levendofsky, Madison; Stacey Botsford, Athens; Alicia Razvi, Stevens Point; Darin Von Ruden, Westby; Cathy Statz, Chippewa Falls; and WFU Communications Associate Tommy Enright, Amherst; back row, WFU Government Relations Director Kara O’Connor, Madison; WFU District 6 Director Chris Holman, Custer; Anthony Sheard, Kenosha; Tenzin Botsford, Athens; WFU District 4 Director Craig Myhre, Osseo; Sarah River, Iola; WFU District 2 Director Dennis Rosen, Emerald; John Adams, Washburn; Mary Jo Borchardt, Poynette; Patty Edelburg, Scandinavia; and Alyssa Joachim, Lodi. Missing are Jess Bernstein, Mount Horeb; Jessica Jurcek, Jefferson; and Ali Slaughter, River Falls.

The trip to D.C. kicked off what will be a year-long experience in the NFU Beginning Farmers Institute for Bernstein, Borchardt, Marty, Razvi and River. Jurcek is representing youth from across the nation as a member of the NFU National Youth Advisory Council, a position she was elected to by her peers during Farmers Union All-States Camp this summer in Bailey, Colo. The Botsfords, of Red Door Family Farm near Athens, are among other young leaders from a five-state region who are taking part in the Farmers Union Enterprises Leadership Program, which will involve traveling to several states in the coming months for interactive leadership development activities. 

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