Being There, or Not to Be There, Depends On The Traffic

“Being There” is a stirring film about the subtle wisdom growing plants generates and the value of that wisdom in the political landscape of Washington D.C. Of course that is not the description of the film that the creators intended, but that only proves my point of how the city can offer a myriad of perspectives, which is the running theme of the film.

The fifth gathering of VALOR Class II took place in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. This also coincided with my first week living in the city and working at my new job. My new position prejudiced my experiences during the week, as I was much more engrossed in the regulatory and legislative aspects of our seminar then I would have been otherwise. I looked at everything more closely and tried to work out the “cogs in the machine” that kept everything moving.  I had the opportunity to meet with the American Feed Industry Association and discuss the way a nationally minded organization represents their industry and how the industry uses lobbyists to interact with “The Hill.”

Representative organizations in Washington D.C. can be broken into two types, member driven or industry driven. Member organizations regionalize their members to allow for a pipelines of consolidated voices to be shared with groups and individuals that affect policy on Capitol Hill. This style of representation begins with an established county level board that presents issues to annual state meetings that in turn share information at a national forum, which decides the official position of the organization when communicating with groups and individuals on specific topics on the Hill. These organizations, when operating with their “stakeholders”, or industry participants, can use their grassroots efforts to provide a stronger voice to their issues and concerns by showcasing the direct impacts of the decisions being made. Examples of positive or negative effects are immediately available to these member organizations, providing credence to their positions.

Industry, or Commodity, organizations often collect national and state level groups that themselves reach out to individual industry participants. This allows industry leaders to more coherently express the concerns of the industry, generally at an annual meeting, and efficiently address those concerns directly with their industry spokespeople. A “special interest group “can be more cost effective in its representation by foregoing the “grassroots” interactions and working directly with the leadership of the organizations that already have the participation of the industry stakeholders. This often provides a singular and consistent  “voice” for the industry to the elected representatives who are tasked with making decisions and eliminates the excessive time needed to “rally the troops” and formulate a position.

Both methodologies prove useful and have a great deal of success in the city the Pierre Charles L’Enfant built.

While these organizations must focus on legislation, they are also tasked with often obscure, yet decidedly imperative, regulatory affairs as well. Research grants, disease response, animal movement restrictions, even international trade guidelines all function outside of First Street SE, Washington DC. The agencies that impact the day to day lives of the agricultural community are interested in the opinions of those affected by their “Guidance Documents” and internal “Memorandums” and yet few participants in this process, neither industry nor agency employed, feel their voices are able to be heard.

The disconnect between the industry and those who regulate it is often due to a lack of personnel able to address the questions and concerns that arise. Compounded by budgetary concerns on a national level, now more than ever, the agricultural community needs to offer clear concise information to our elected officials and those who supervise and enforce the decisions those officials make. Elaborating the need for effective industry representation in Washington DC.

After all, if you don’t make an effort for your voice to be heard, everything will get left to the Chauncey Gardners of the country.

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