Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Out of the Office & Into the Field

Happy to be on Capitol Hill focusing on agriculture.
The time keeps flying by and it is hard to believe that the summer is coming to an end. I have spent a majority of my time the past two weeks traveling and working on various projects.

Farm Bureau is dedicated to their members including both farmers and insurance customers. With so many people across the state, you may be wondering how they connect with those members. Farm Bureau involves members through county board meetings, leadership programs, conferences, among other things. To help coordinate communication, Farm Bureau has ten field representatives that cover different regions around the state to connect the members on the ground to the office in Raleigh to keep everyone up to date on issues and make sure their voice is heard. I had the chance to ride with Milo Lewis for a day to learn about her role as a Field Representative. We went to various offices in Johnston County to debrief agents and other personnel in the offices on Farm Bureau structure and programs. These employees have direct access to all Farm Bureau members and it is important that everyone understands the mission of Farm Bureau, both as an insurance company and as a non-profit organization. Field reps work many hours to connect with members during the day, as well as, through county meetings in the evenings. They are a direct line of communication and an essential part of Farm Bureau’s network. On a personal note, I was happy to get the chance to ride with Milo, because she is one of a few employees at Farm Bureau that I have known for a number of years. When I started showing Angus cattle, Milo was a few years older than me and very active in our Junior Angus Association. Growing up in agriculture is a blessing in multiple ways, including the ability to develop friendships that will help you later on. Agriculture is an expansive industry, but yet, it is a small-world and I love being able to watch other farm kids find their path to make the agricultural industry better.
Chief of Staff, Todd Poole, for Congressman
Hudson. We had a great conversation about
agricultural issues.

As the weeks continued, I dove into agricultural topics with legislative staff members and built relationships with Congressmen and women in DC with Linda Andrews, NCFB National Legislative Director. Congress members were in recess this particular week (or some at the RNC), therefore, Capitol Hill was a little less hectic and we had more opportunities to sit down and talk with staff members. Linda and I spoke with legislative assistants in the offices of Senator Burr, Senator Tillis, Representative Rouzer, Representative Adams, and Representative Hudson (along with Chief of Staff, Todd Poole, in my Representative's office). These conversations were incredible to learn about the dynamic of Congress and the progress on various agricultural issues. I will try to capture the highlights of our conversations. We discussed topics such as the new GMO Labeling bill. This bill is not ideal to many legislative members or the ag world, but there was a need to implement a uniform rule that covers all states. This legislation requires all states to provide text, a symbol, or an electronic link to provide a disclaimer about bioengineered products in the package. The bill is a win for ag, because it helps keep production costs down for retail packaging and, ultimately, helps crop prices. In addition to GMO Labeling, I prompted questions regarding the future of the H2A farmworker program and shared my first hand experience of the program’s meaning to the farmer. Staff in Senator Tillis’ office understand the importance of this program to North Carolina farmers. He informed me that farmers should not expect to see a comprehensive bill due to the political environment of DC. However, they plan to try to pass smaller pieces of legislation to improve the program over time. In addition, I discussed a topic of top concern to me, the Veterinary Feed Directive, in all of the offices we visited. Congress passed this legislation last year and it will take effect in January 2017. VFD requires producers to obtain a veterinary prescription for antimicrobial feed additives, which play a digestive role in livestock species by increasing production efficiently. The new rule does not include prescriptions for injectable antibiotics, however, livestock producers show concern for the the addition of them to the list in the future. Antibiotics would no longer be available over the counter requiring a prescription from a vet.  Antibiotics are expensive driving up the production cost and take time away from our, already, busy schedules. As a farm, we do not choose to use antibiotics unless it is absolutely necessary to treat an animal's infection or illness, ultimately to save the animal’s life. Antibiotics are a hot topic in today’s media, but I want to assure consumers and lawmakers that, as a whole, livestock producers are careful with medication and follow directions on the medication label. It would be extremely difficult and inconvenient for producers to have to call on the vet every time an emergency arose, for example, on a Sunday afternoon. Currently, I do not believe we have enough large-animal veterinarians to take care of the demand every day of the week, at all hours of the day. As a responsible livestock producer, I expressed my concern to the staff and urged them to consider my point of view whenever the legislation may arise in the future. Linda and I had many conversations about various agricultural issues, but the highlights for me included the previous GMO Labeling, H2A Farmworker Program, and Veterinary Feed Directive. I challenge all of you reading to stay aware of agricultural issues and develop a relationship with your own legislative representation. Personally, I hope to continue growing these relationships in the future to be able to have more conversations with our Congressmen and women to share real-life stories and advocate for agriculture.
Stanly County Farm Bureau Board member
and my neighbor, Mr. Ronnie Burleson, in DC
with the Corn Growers Assn.
(A big thank you to Linda Andrews for taking time with me and arranging my productive trip to DC. She does a great job arranging meetings for many FB members advocating for ag in DC.)

I am looking forward to my last week at Farm Bureau, continuing every day learning about different aspects of the organization and agricultural advocacy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ag Highlights from the Legislative Session

Happy Independence Week! In thinking about our country, we have been experiencing some tough events over the past few weeks continuing to pull us apart as a nation. I sympathize with all of the families that lost loved ones across the country. I pray that the Lord will guide us as we look to Him in such a troubling time full of hate and anger. Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers all wrongs”.

In other news, the General Assembly has wrapped up its session for 2016! After taking a few days to go through the new legislation, I would like to share some highlights for agriculture and the results of different bills Farm Bureau followed throughout the session. This week, I was tasked with helping Adam Tesh and Mike Garlow of Blue Red Marketing construct a pamphlet to send to members with highlights and information from the 2016 Legislative Session. Adam and Mike work with Farm Bureau on many projects to publicize the brand of Farm Bureau through video presentations and campaigns, radio advertisements, informational printouts, and much much more. They have great marketing ideas and it is exciting to work with them to learn about PR efforts and strategic design behind projects.  

First and foremost, the NC Farm Act of 2016 was one of the main agricultural bills for the session. We, along with many other agricultural organizations, followed the bill throughout the session and watched members cut up, revamp, and tweak the bill in the process. The bill passed both chambers and is on the desk of the Governor pending his signature for approval. In the end, the Farm Act provides the agricultural industry some new opportunities. There is an exciting provision for landowners regarding culling feral hogs and it remained in the bill throughout the tweaking process. This provision allows wildlife agencies to shoot wild pigs from aircraft with the permission of the landowner, in efforts to alleviate some problems regarding damages to property. The Farm Act also promotes fresh, local produce through its requirement that school systems give preference to local farms when purchasing their food supply. For those producers interested in farmed cervid (deer), feed resources will have an added assessment to gather funds to promote the farmed cervid industry (but will not include feed used for recreational purposes). The pending law provides the NC Department of Agriculture new authority for various activities including to deploy teams in response to agricultural emergencies, to inspect bedding regulations, and to eliminate an inessential inspector position to empower the Department with more discretion to inspect rendering plants, Lastly, the legislative piece addresses the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act, a legislative act that helps individuals develop programs to regulate material runoff that could build up in bodies of water. Many agricultural operations are exempt from this legislative program currently, and the exemption broadens to include ornamental horticulture. The Farm Act has more legislation, but these were many of the influential pieces that affect various agricultural operations.

A second interesting agricultural bill referred to the Industrial Hemp Program in North Carolina. The hemp program allows farmers to grow the controversial plant to research growing methods, suitable environments, marketing venues, and more in regards to hemp products. Land grant universities are involved in the research process to further study the substance to create usable products for industrial uses including clothing, building supplies, rope, plastics, paper, and more. This piece of legislation expands the Commission to include farmers, agricultural professionals, university faculty, and law enforcement to supervise the program. The bill redefines the purpose of the program and clarifies penalties for unlawful actions. During the session, there was debate over this topic with concerns about the plant and products. Only a few states allow the production of hemp, meaning that most businesses import the commodity or use other products instead of hemp. Hemp advocates argue that hemp is more versatile and usable in various tools and would be beneficial to the economy. The purpose of this research program is to study those claims and discover the potential for hemp in this state in a monitored environment.

Finally, we kept a close eye on the budget process watching for taxes and contributions to ag. In the end, the legislature slightly expanded the budget to $22.3 billion in their attempt to negotiate the needs of both the House and the Senate. Some highlights from the agricultural portion of the budget include an allocation of $200,000 in promotional funds to NC State’s Agricultural Institute. The Institute is an Associate’s degree program at NC State that enables students to get a degree in ag providing classes with more hands-on experiences and lectures in conjunction with the Bachelor degree program. The budget provides $1 million to Farmland Preservation Trust Fund to conserve land surrounding military installations. The farmland remains suitable for farming and this conservation easement prevents development, in this case, to help provide a buffer to military bases to protect the needs of the military. Lawmakers increase funding to the Tobacco Trust Fund as well as to AgWRAP. AgWrap is a program designed to focus on water resource management on the farm. The budget increases funds for the International Marketing division at NCDA&CS, provides more than $6 million for the NC Forest Service and firefighting equipment, and funds capital improvements at the WNC Ag Center and Farmer’s Market. There are other contributions to agricultural programs and facilities in the budget, but these are some of the major contributions that affect many of us collectively throughout the state.

As an additional component of the budget, it is important to mention the expansion of the sales tax exemption for ag. Taxes affect EVERYBODY, and I enjoyed following this issue throughout the session, because it is a complex situation and it was interesting to hear the debates concerning the tax. Senator Rucho worked to pass his service tax bill that implements a tax on services refering to repair, maintenance, and installation on real property. For background information, some retailers are already collecting this tax when they perform a service for a customer such as installing carpet, repairing an appliance, or other services of like kind. However, this service tax clarifies that all businesses performing a service previously mentioned, will be required to collect the tax. There are exemptions to this tax, including landscaping services, house cleaning, alteration services, self-service car washes, and a few others. Personally, one of the most important pieces is the continuation of the exemption for ag. Currently, certain tangible goods utilized in farming operations are sales tax exempt for qualifying farmers. This exemption helps farmers by reducing the input cost into their operations to continue producing food at a profitable rate. Agricultural groups worked hard to insure that ag operations are exempt in this new service tax, because of the endless repairs, maintenance, and installation services on a farm (as many farmers would agree!). It is a win for ag, but it is also necessary to continue monitoring this issue to keep farmers exempted and producing food for our communities.

Those are some of the major Ag highlights for the session this year. I have appreciated the chance to watch these pieces of legislation be presented in various committees, tweaked by members, and debated in the chambers while following them through the legislative process. It takes time for an idea to become law, and there is quite a bit of work and waiting along the way!

A look into one of the committee rooms where I spent much of my time. Also, as the intern, this is the location where I had fight the crowd to get a hard copy of the modified bill some days.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Travel Adventures (Part 2): Iowa Ag, Beef Issues, and Last Day of Session!

Prepare for a long post, but I hope to convey some important agricultural issues and take-aways from my week. In the second part of my saga, I left our great state of North Carolina to venture to the Hawkeye State, Iowa.

I love to travel, and I am grateful to check Iowa off of the list of states I have traveled to. On Monday, I attended Iowa Farm Bureau’s Economic Summit with NCFB staff including Chester Lowder, Jay Boyette, and Herb Vanderberry. The purpose of the Economic Summit is to gather producers, processors, agribusinesses, Farm Bureau staff, and others interested to learn about the current agricultural economy. There were several great speakers with a variety of career backgrounds to educate the audience about current issues and challenges such as pending Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) legislation, USDA Farm programs, farm financing, marketing, and much more. Out of my personal interest, one of my favorite speakers was economist Erin Borror from US Meat Export Federation speaking about International markets for different meat products. Considering NC is a strong pork state, it is interesting to learn our top 5 international markets for pork are Mexico, China, Japan, Canada, and Korea. Although, the U.S. continues to battle with the E.U.’s lower pricing for higher cuts of pork, and is pushing more processed meats to remain competitive. Fun fact: Europe and the U.S. account of 70% of the world’s pork supply. Erin also spoke about beef demand and how the diversification of U.S. beef helps our prices across the world. The United States is unique in the fact that we supply much of the world’s grain-fed beef, because almost all other countries produce predominantly grass-fed beef. We attract customers that want a higher marbling, more flavorful beef and we can supply more product compared to the high marbling beef produced in Japan and Korea. In addition to Erin Borror, I really enjoyed listening to ag economist Chad Hart from Iowa State University. He emphasized nine strategies to managing margins to help producers keep production costs low to ideally make a larger profit. Some important strategies include diversify your income, actively manage your risks knowing your breakeven price, revise your family living expenses, and protect your working capital. I could go on and on about what I learned referring to my pages of notes, but I will stop there for now. I plan to consider many of these strategies and advice in my family’s operation, and I would encourage producers, especially new farmers, to learn more and pay attention international and domestic markets, the ag economy, and financing of your business.

On the second and third days of my traveling, I attended the American Farm Bureau’s Commodity Meetings and participated in ag tours to view Iowa’s agriculture. Mary Kay Thatcher from American Farm Bureau discussed the Outlook of the Farm Program and the beginning steps of planning for the 2018 Farm Bill in DC. They are running into many challenges regarding agricultural topics in DC mainly concerning lack of funding for farm programs. AFBF is working hard with our Congressman to convey the needs of agriculture in a time of low commodity prices. For the remainder of the conference meeting portion, staff members and state representatives participated in separate meetings to discuss issues relating to individual commodities to recommend new policy or policy changes to American Farm Bureau. If you can guess,I participated in the beef cattle commodity meeting with producers from across the country. Collectively the group had a variety of production backgrounds (cow/calf, backgrounder, feedlot, etc.) and experience on several different beef boards and associations. Dr. Peel from Oklahoma State University talked about the futures for the cattle market. For those who do not follow beef cattle prices, beef cattle soared to record setting prices in 2014 and 2015 for inconclusive reasons. But as any person in agriculture knows, when there is a high, there will be a low. Cattle prices dropped very quickly at the end of 2015 and have, for the most part, leveled since then. Beef cattle producers and buyers are unsure of the market’s next move and Dr. Peel tried to address the concern, but speculates a continuation of lower prices until beef demand grows.  A few other points of discussion included implementing a stronger cattle trace ability program nationwide, preparing for stricter regulation of antibiotic use, and suggesting more animal purchasing reports from packing companies to send better pricing signals down the chain of production. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and the chance to share my opinion and experience with the group. I left with new ideas to think through on how to make our industry more reliable and transparent to our own industry and the consumer. (And I would love to continue this conversation with any of you interested in such ideas!)   Lastly, all commodity conference participants split up into two groups, Crop-Focused and Livestock-Focused, to tour facilities and farms near Des Moines. The Livestock group toured the USDA Animal Health Lab to learn about their research on different diseases to handle outbreaks and dangerous health issues. They are situated on more than 500 acres with research facilities and a farm. Next, we toured a cattle feedlot, Couser Cattle Company, learning about their new technology and facilities that maximize production while maintaining the comfort of the animal. Concluding the day, both groups visited and ate at a local winery. It was a very tiring few days, and while I enjoyed Iowa and it’s flat lands full of corn, it is always great to make it home safely with my feet on North Carolina soil.

That was not the end of the week! I experienced two full days at the General Assembly as the legislature was “in the short rows” and they worked long days to wrap things up! While I was gone I missed much of the discussion regarding the Farm Act, but after a few provisions were cut out, legislatures finally agreed on terms and passed the bill, unanimously in the Senate. I can discuss more important points about the Farm Act in my next post, as I am sure this saga is enough to read already! Members also reached a conclusion on the budget and with a few more policy changes, they were ready to go home for the year. The 2016 Session officially ended on July 1st, and I am thankful for the chance to get to see lawmakers and lobbyists at work in downtown every day. There are many ideas and hands in the pot, but in the end, the body makes decisions and we will see who is elected to come back next year to continue working, I believe, with the best of intentions to make our state better.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Travel Adventures (Part 1): Cattle Tours, Crisis Drill, and Session Wrap Up

The past two weeks I have had the pleasure to travel across the state and country with Farm Bureau. Due to the traveling and crazy schedule, I finally had to chance write down my experiences and hope to share what I experienced and learned in my own two-part saga. For the majority of the first week, I was away from downtown Raleigh, traveling around the state for farm tours and events.

To begin with, NCFB and North Carolina producers hosted a group of Kentucky Farm Bureau Members with an interest in beef cattle. The staff at Farm Bureau understands my large interest in beef cattle and they offered me the chance to go on the farm tours with the group. On Monday, Mr. Chester Lowder (NCFB, Livestock Director) and I started our journey by meeting the group from Kentucky in Asheville. We began our tours at the Mountain Research Station, then visited a backgrounder (someone who buys younger calves and then forms a group of cattle to send to a feedlot), and lastly, visited and socialized at the regional stockyard. On the tour, we viewed cattle, burley tobacco, christmas trees, produce stands, pollinator sections, and more displaying the diversity of our state's agriculture. We continued traveling with the group into Tuesday as they traveled east, down the mountain, and into the foothills and Piedmont areas. We experienced a walking tour of the Ellis' Gelbvieh cattle operation in Old Fort, learned about Holstein cattle exportation at the Stamey family's dairy operation in Statesville, and visited the Piedmont Research Station to look at varieties of corn and their dairy cattle research. To conclude the day, President Wooten, NC Farm Bureau President, and Bryan Blinson from the NC Cattlemen's Association joined us for dinner graciously hosted by Farm Bureau’s board of director, Elaine Fryar, at her venue “The Hayloft”. President Wooten gave an enthusiastic review of North Carolina’s agricultural industry to the Kentucky members to share some differences between our two states’ agriculture and demonstrate the pride we have in our agricultural diversity. Lastly, Wednesday morning, Mr. Lowder and I finished out the last of the group's stops in North Carolina at Baldwin Beef in Caswell County. It was interesting to learn about their operation growing grass-fed beef sold to the triad and triangle regions of North Carolina. I personally believe that we as an industry have to produce a variety of options in our beef products to appeal to all customers and increase the consumer demand for beef. My family raises cattle on grain that makes a safe and wholesome product, but I also appreciate the operations that are bringing diversification to the market and learning more about raising beef. Regardless of grain-fed, grass-fed, all-natural, or whatever label it is, the most important part is to, Eat Beef… It's What's For Dinner!
President Wooten speaking to the group of KYFB members about NC agriculture.

By Wednesday morning, I already felt like I had been through a whole week, but there was still much more to come. Mr. Lowder and I traveled from Caswell County to Stanly County and then to Mecklenburg County to attend a Crisis Drill hosted by organizations within the Dairy Industry. This particular event is an effort held around the country in various locations to prepare those in the dairy industry for any type of crisis situation, especially concerning undercover video footage targeting animal welfare concerns. Animal rights activists and media are routinely targeting dairy operations for suspected animal welfare violations. Like many of you understand, the dairy industry is not the only sector of agriculture that the media and activists target. In order to help all aspects of agriculture, this drill provided a good experience to learn how to handle a situation if a crisis should arise in any sector of ag. On the first day, I went through training on the do's and don'ts of responding to a crisis through social media. Social media is an instant platform for your cause, which in this case is one's livelihood, farming. It is important to be proactive and manage a social media account to engage your customers and community before a crisis should arise. Being proactive will give you credibility and help establish trust from the beginning with those in your circle of friends, communities, and customers. Tips from the pros include: be transparent about your operation, avoid giving statements during a crisis until you have all of the information, show concern for those with questions, and provide useful, credible facts to strengthen your side. Also, do not engage in heated arguments with others as it portrays a negative connotation for agriculture, but take the high road and let those arguments cease, strengthening your name in the end. Social media is a growing platform, but do not forget other means of sharing information, such as other media sources and word of mouth. The second day of the crisis drill, we split up into teams (dairy farmer, Co-op, milk processing companies, dairy promotional agencies, etc.) and actively participated in a simulated drill mimicking a real-life crisis scenario. It is difficult to think of everything a company needs to do and to remember everyone that the business needs to contact in a situation. It is important to prepare a contact list, task force, and steps of action earlier, rather than later, to insure your company or farm is ready to tackle the situation and not forget any steps. It was challenging being placed in a fast-paced situation, but I definitely left the drill with a broader understanding of the steps and preparation needed to survive a crisis.

Lastly, on Friday, I was back in downtown Raleigh with Jake and Paul watching budget negotiations and bills as the legislature hoped to be winding down the short session. The Senate convened and held several committee meetings on Friday to speed up their work process. There were not any bills with relevance to ag, but as usual, we attended the committee meetings to insure that there were not any surprises or changes to the bills that could affect the ag industry and Farm Bureau members. In the session, we continued to follow the NC Farm Act, but waited to the following week for a final bill. Listen to Jake Parker and Paul Sherman's legislative update to have a better understanding of what happened the second to last week of the Short Session (with yours truly behind the camera, live at the General Assembly)

It was a very long week, but I was excited to get the chance to do so many different things in just 5 days. I have enjoyed having an internship that keeps me moving and on my toes! Stayed tuned for Part 2 to learn more about my travels out of state with Farm Bureau.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Eventful Week: Ice Cream, Secretary of Mexico, and IFAL!

I apologize for the long post, but this week was the most exciting week of my summer so far! Not only was the legislature packed with activity, I was able to help with various events that changed up the normal routine. I love a job that has something different every day, and this week was one of those weeks where it was something different each day.

This week there was much legislation passing through the House and the Senate regarding topics such as the Farm Act, regulation reform, industrial hemp, service taxes, and military protection. In my opinion, one of the most interesting discussions regarded the military protection bill. The proposed bill would restrict industries from constructing large structures such as wind turbines or tall buildings in areas that are vital to the military’s aviation training and operations. Over the past few months, a third-party group constructed a map that outlined and ranked important flight paths of jets, helicopters, and other aircrafts to distinguish the areas that would pose flight risk. Agriculture could be involved in this bill regarding the property rights of a farmer’s land. Due to this legislation, the right to have a wind energy farm with tall wind turbines could be restricted on your farm. I believe that it is important that our military has a voice in the regulation of air space to meet their needs for training and other operations to insure the safety of the personal and the investment in their equipment. However, to counter that argument, it is also important that landowners have the freedom to benefit their farm and local communities with economic development or to be compensated for the value of the lost revenue. I will let each of you develop your own opinion on this argument! Legislatures will continue looking at this issue and I am interested to hear the remaining discussion. I found this legislation, and similar pieces, interesting because it demonstrates how there are always two sides to the argument and more to think about when you look below the surface.

Serving Ice Cream with Sam outside Legislative Building
Aside from legislative responsibilities, I was able to interact with many groups and guests throughout the week that kept each day downtown even more interesting. First, on Tuesday, Farm Bureau assisted in hosting a Milk Chugging contest between the House and Senate. After the contest, I practiced my ice cream scooping skills to serve a sweet treat on a hot summer day. Next, Wednesday was one of the longest and most interesting days so far this summer. Farm Bureau facilitated a conversation between a few North Carolina legislatures and Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs. The Secretary also made other stops in the state to visit with agriculturalists and discuss matters pertaining to our state's relationship with Mexico. During the time frame of the meeting, we also had other committee meetings to attend and I was happy to get a opportunity to help make both activities happen. After the meeting, I happily went to lunch with Mr. Larry Wooten, Mr. Peter Daniel, and Mrs. Linda Andrews and as always, learned something new from each of them during our conversations. Later that evening, I attended an Agribusiness Reception at the Museum of Natural History where many of my fellow Warren Interns were in attendance. Governor McCrory, Commissioner Troxler, and Peter Daniel from Farm Bureau spoke to the attendees about the significant impact and promising future of agriculture in North Carolina. Also, an added bonus to the day, I was able to see some familiar faces throughout the morning as 4-H members and leaders were at the General Assembly talking with their legislatures! It was a great, busy day! Last, but not least, Thursday was probably my favorite day of the week, because IFAL (Institute for Future Agricultural Leaders) visited the General Assembly to learn more about the legislative process and talk with legislators. I had a great experience at IFAL when I attended 4 years ago (the years fly by!) and I was very excited to get to talk with the participants to inform them of what happens in the legislature and the role of Farm Bureau in the process. I was also happy to have my fellow Warren interns, John Wesley Hairr and Molly Hass, there to talk about how we became involved in ag policy and talk about the Warren Leadership Program! After talking with them, I was able to go with the group to take a tour of the Capitol Building and learn a little more history about our great state.

IFAL participants from NC State and NC A&T State on the floor of 
the House Chamber before session.

One of my “take-aways” for the week was the reminder of how far I have come since that time 4 years ago when I was an IFAL participant as a rising senior in high school. At that time, I was like many of the this year's participants that were asking for advice about college and questions about my involvement in agriculture. It was awesome and a strange feeling to feel like the knowledgeable one giving advice to high schoolers, because at times, it feels like just yesterday that I was in their shoes. 4 years ago, I could not have dreamed that I would be so fortunate to have all the opportunities I have experienced since the summer of 2012. My advice to rising seniors in high school, is take opportunities that may be planned or unplanned and let your college experience create itself. You will be surprised what chances will unfold before you and it is important that you take risks and open your mind to new experiences, subjects, and friends. With an open mind you will do great things and have incredible experiences that will open doors and help you create your own path!

This week was incredible and I can’t wait for the next couple of weeks when I will be traveling across the state and country for events and conferences!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone

If you want to hear more about what’s happening in downtown Raleigh, read next week’s post, because it will be FULL of information that will be happening with the Budget and Ag Committee meetings next week, along with activities with the IFAL program!. However, for this post I want to comment on the challenges and triumphs that I have faced with this internship. In 5 short weeks I have learned so much more than I would've thought possible. First and foremost, I have learned about the legislature and the policy work that it entails. Secondly, a bigger piece of the puzzle, is that I am learning about the differences in this internship compared to anything else I have ever done.

I come from a background where I have had the same job since I was a little 10 year old.  I have worked in our stockyards, managed a cattle herd, and helped in marketing other people’s livestock products. While sometimes reading my dad’s mind is a challenge, the majority of the time I am aware of what is going on, or what I should be doing, or what my next step is going to be because of the fact that I have had the same job for over 10 years and have learned from my dad. In addition, I am one of those people that I want to have a full understanding of what is going on or a concept at hand. In school, I want to have a full understanding of the concept I am learning. In raising cattle, I want to have a full understanding of the genetics we are using and the feed consumption of the animals. In marketing cattle, I want to have a full understanding of what the market is going to be like. Am I successful at these things all the time? No. I understand that I cannot know everything, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to. I ask a TON of questions at times, and at times have to rely on Google, because of my desire to have a better understanding of topics on the spot. Public policy is a whole new concept to me and therefore there is much to learn in a short amount of time to be successful.
My ten year old self working at my family's livestock market
(and yes, my dad loved the cowboy hat phase)

That is where this internship has been a challenge for me at times, but I strongly believe that it is one of the most beneficial challenges I have ever been faced with. I have learned that while I want to know as much as possible, it takes time to develop an understanding and build relationships that help your career. I cannot know everything about public policy in a few short weeks. I have also had to remember that one part of my job is to shadow and learn from the great staff at Farm Bureau. I remind myself what my dad always told me from a young age, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen more than you speak.”, and I believe that advice is very applicable to my situation. While I want to contribute and help, at times, it is more beneficial for me to listen to conversations and learn from those individuals in the conversation. However, when I am needed, I do my best to contribute to the best of my abilities. My big take away from my time with Farm Bureau so far, is this kind of work takes a whole different kind of thinking at times than what I have been used to. I will tell you each and every day that farmers are smart, intelligent, forward thinking people, because they have to be. However, as much as I like to think I am a somewhat intelligent person, working in policy making and at the legislature takes another level of critical thinking. Sometimes you have times to sit down and think through legislation, but in the busy times, you have to take learned information and find the best solution on the go. One minute everything could be fine and the next minute, a single sentence in a bill could change the meaning that would impact farmers. At that time, it is important to know the legislatures and know who to have a conversation with to make sure that farmers will not be harmed. Relationships are one of the most important things in many careers, but that is especially true when working at the General Assembly. The more you can know about legislature’s backgrounds, motives, and interests, you will be able to pinpoint certain legislatures that might help you in a time of need and be a stronger advocate.

I am excited to see where the rest of the summer takes me with this internship and the challenges that may arise. I entered into this internship expecting challenges, and I am fortunate to be working with great people that teach me and guide me through my questions. To conclude, I challenge each and every student to take opportunities to get outside of their comfort zone and do something that is not like anything they have done before. I can assure you that my internship here at Farm Bureau is vastly different than what I have been used to every other summer working on the farm, but I anticipate to leave this internship with a greater understanding of agriculture to be a better advocate for the industry.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Funds and Tax Exemptions for Ag!

First and foremost, since week 4 is also Memorial Day week, I would like to take a moment to thank all of the men and women who have previously and currently are serving our country and their families for the sacrifices they make each and every day. Collectively, we do not show our appreciation enough for their hard work and commitment to our country that allows each of us to live a life of freedom. So thank you and God bless you for your service!

I was happy to have the chance to stay at home an extra day to work with my cattle, help out around the farm, and be with my family on Memorial Day. Therefore, my work week with Farm Bureau was a day shorter this week, but that did not limit the amount of work and happenings in just 4 days! To begin with, this week we anticipated a release of the Senate’s budget and we were not disappointed. In regards to agriculture, the Senate’s budget was slightly different than the budget the House passed two weeks ago. Some differences included increased funds for NC State's Agricultural Institute program, for NCDA International Marketing of North Carolina products, for the Ag Water Resources Assistance Program, for a grant to the Association of Agricultural Fairs, and funds for an Animal Welfare Position with the Veterinary Services Division. Some funds remained relatively the same, including appropriations to the Forestry Service for fire-fighting equipment, and other needs, as well as money appropriated to the Tobacco Trust Fund and Farmland Preservation. Like I mentioned two blog posts ago, this budget is only from ONE chamber and will be sent back to the House Chamber to seek their approval. However, in order to pass a budget that appeases both chambers, leadership from the House and Senate will go into conference to try to find common ground to pass a budget for our state. It is the hopes of the legislature that they will be finished with the budget in a couple weeks and out of session by early July.

In addition to the budget, I attended several committee meetings all week to try to stay up to date on different issues around the legislature. One issue regarding sales tax, Senate Bill 870, was one of the most interesting to me personally because it is a complex situation. The majority of people understand that tangible goods that you buy at the store have a sales tax that must be paid at the register. However, some companies perform services rather than selling tangible goods and not all businesses that perform services are taxed at the same rate. The Senate Finance committee proposed to make the tax on services equal for all businesses regardless of their size or classification. In the effort to do so, there were many questions raised about what would or wouldn’t be taxable. The answer to those questions is yes to some and no to others. For example, for a business to do renovations to repair or restore an existing structure would be taxable, but a capital improvement such as a new building would not be taxable. Other exemptions include house cleaning/ janitorial services and landscaping services. Under current understanding, agricultural activities would also be exempted from this tax, but since the bill is still being discussed and amended, Farm Bureau will be following the issue to insure that an ag exemption remains in place! An tax exemption will benefit many farmers in the event that they need to grade land to make farm-able field, repair barns or other facilities, or any other service to remain operating successfully.

Lastly, to conclude the week, I had the chance to read Farm Bureau’s policy book for the first time. I know many Farm Bureau board members that may not find that as exciting as I did, but I appreciate having a better understanding of Farm Bureau members' preferences in regards to legislation. For those of you who do not know about the structure of Farm Bureau, it is a member organization composed of an executive state board as well as individual county board of directors. The policy of Farm Bureau begins in the county with the farmers. FB members propose policy that eventually will be voted on at the annual state meeting. An adopted policy idea will be recorded into the policy book that keeps a record of all of the policy that members have voted in favor of over the years. The organization's staff, including Jake and Paul, utilize the policy book to accurately advocate in the legislature for FB members. The policy book guides Jake and Paul in advocating favorably for certain legislation and in opposition to other legislation that FB members do not support. However, sometimes there is not policy to cover a specific topic that arises downtown. In that scenario, Jake and Paul will have to research and interpret the policy book to make the best decision for the members or consult the membership about the matter to evaluate where the organization should stand on a certain issue. In my case, I was doing the research in the policy book to find information about prompt payment for commodity products, but also found myself reading about various policy categories such as livestock, marketing, and crops.

Thanks for reading about my fourth week with Farm Bureau! I couldn't post it on here, but go check out NC Farm Bureau Capitol Roundup to learn more about the Senate's budget through Jake Parker and Paul Sherman's weekly update!
Capitol Roundup - June 3rd