A Time For Speaking Out: Farmers, Ranchers Are Increasingly Being Recruited For Advocacy Roles

Press & Dakotan

10/30/15

By Rita Brhel, P&D Correspondent

Farmers and ranchers, as a whole, tend to like quiet lives. They’re not much into politics and would rather leave the lobbying to farm organizations like the South Dakota Farm Bureau or Nebraska Cattlemen.

But increasingly, agricultural producers are being called into advocacy to protect their way of living and doing business. Those who refuse threaten to have their rights taken away by lawmakers who aren’t educated on how their decisions can affect citizens who are involved in agriculture.

“When most people think of influencing regulation, they really think of lobbying,” said Amalie Lipstreu, policy program coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in Columbus, Ohio, during a farmer advocacy training webinar held in September.

But she said advocacy is just as vital to shaping agricultural policies.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Lipstreu said.

Advocacy is the active promotion of a cause or principle, she explained. Unlike lobbying, advocacy does not have to involve confrontation or conflict, though it does include actions that lead to a specific goal.

There are a variety of advocacy strategies, from talking one-on-one with politicians, testifying in state legislature and litigation to educating community groups, hosting speakers or independent film showings, and writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper. Advocacy also includes attending rallies, blogging or even just being on the regulations team of a local Natural Resource District or another agency. Just about any activity that is done to promote a certain cause is included in advocacy, Lipstreu said.

With today’s media-saturated age, law- and policy-makers — not to mention any reader, listener or viewer of messages online or through traditional media outlets – are bombarded with communications advocating for one thing or another.

“While advocacy is getting louder, it’s not necessarily getting more effective,” Lipstreu said, who recommended that farmers interested in advocacy have the most sway with lawmakers simply by making phone calls or sending personal emails to lawmakers.

“Personal stories are the single, most effective tactic,” she added. “Personal stories, plus why the issue matters to you.”

Politicians respond best to people they have a relationship with, Lipstreu said, so she also suggests advocates take the time to not only thoroughly research the issue they want to promote, whether that be boycotting the construction of a pipeline or protecting crop subsidies, but also to research what issues are important to their state lawmakers.

“Don’t call about broad issues. Call about specific legislation,” she said, adding that as few as 10 calls on a certain angle of an issue can change a lawmaker’s stance.

It’s not unusual for farmers to be intimidated by making a phone call, but hearing a voice gives more meaning to a story than reading it in an email, Lipstreu said.

To give an overview of a typical phone call to a lawmaker’s office, Lipstreu introduced Jazz Glastra, a college intern who worked with Lipstreu over the summer. Glastra said that one of the lawmaker’s aides typically answer the phone. The person calling in needs to remember to give the aide his or her name, residence, any relevant association affiliations and the reason for the call, citing a specific piece of legislation, before giving a personal story and a statement as to why that lawmaker should care about your story.

“This doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience,” Glastra said, though she did admit that the first couple of phone calls do feel awkward.

The aide who takes the phone call is generally able to help the caller through the process. The aide will take notes as the caller talks, before thanking the caller and hanging up the phone.

Other tips from Glastra included writing down talking points and being prepared to give an introduction in a voicemail, with the caller’s name and phone number, so that his or her story can be told when the aide calls back.

“The more you make those calls, the more you interact, the easier,” Lipstreu said.

No matter what, farmer advocacy is becoming an ever-increasing need in agriculture to ensure that farmers – who are in the minority of the total U.S. population – are able to keep their rights as to how to do their business.

“We have so many pressing issues around agriculture and food policy right now,” Lipstreu said.