Farmers will step away from the fields and into the statehouse on Jan. 27 to discuss agricultural issues and concerns with legislators during the 2020 Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Legislative Day.
This year’s theme is Farmers In Action to emphasize the importance of farmers being politically active. Pittsylvania County farmer Kristal Harris said putting a human face on the issues affecting Virginia’s agricultural community means lawmakers can make decisions informed by real relationships.
Harris has participated in VFBF Legislative Day the past few years.
“You have to go and tell your story, because you’re the expert,” Harris said. Her first-generation farming family produces flue-cured tobacco, small grains, hemp, beef cattle and poultry. She is the Southside District leader for the VFBF Women’s Leadership Committee.
“It’s all about opening the lines of communication,” she said. “What a phenomenal experience to go up and speak to your legislator one-on-one, to be able to tell them how you feel, and how a change will affect my family, my farm operation, help me or hurt me—it puts a face on it.”
VFBF governmental relations staff coordinate group meetings with legislators for the annual Legislative Day but encourage farmers to extend relationships past the one event. Harris said she and her husband have built strong, personal relationships with lawmakers and staff representing their home district, and urban districts too.
“It’s nice to build a relationship with someone not so strongly knowledgeable about agriculture,” she said. “You become a resource for them as well.”
Among the issues important to farmers in 2020, the mandatory conservation requirements of the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan, or WIP III, takes priority. Farm Bureau also will advocate for funding of the Agricultural Best Management Practices program, increased funding to retain Virginia Cooperative Extension agents, and the ability to use crop protectants.
“It’s critical that farmers reach out to legislators, whether it’s through face-to-face visits, emails or phone calls,” said Kelly Roberts, VFBF assistant director of member engagement. “Hearing directly from farmers on how an issue could impact their operation could greatly affect how a legislator votes on a bill.”