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From our growers around the state, guest columns

Learning the Ropes in D.C.

Erin with her family during harvest in Morrow Co. 2019. 
January 2020
First timer narrative by Morrow County President, Erin Hansell-Heideman

I thought I was just going along to learn the ropes. After all, it was my first trip to ‘The Hill’ in any capacity other than a tourist. I didn’t think I would actually have to talk to anyone official, other than a quick introduction, since I was traveling with the pros. Blake, Amanda and the executive team would direct the conversation, I could just observe and be present. That strategy worked for three appointments before we split up to accommodate schedules running a bit long. I was now going to have to actually talk to a US Congressman, in their office, on their turf and with their staff. This was unnerving. I know about wheat production and related topics, I live it! But, could I articulate that to a member of congress without stumbling over myself? Could I speak on behalf of anyone else in this industry appropriately and give justice to our organization?

Evidently, my FFA training paid off. I said what needed saying at the time and thanked my stars that our state wheat team had the talking points laid out to follow. It really wasn’t as nerve wracking as I had worked it up to be.

Another reason I was in DC, was to complete the second part to the Bayer Crop Science Wheat Industry Leaders of Tomorrow program, WILOT. This two-part course series helps wheat growers, like myself, be able to speak articulately and professionally about our industry. This has been one of the best training lineups I’ve participated in; and I’ve taken part in a few. It was poignant, relevant and a little uncomfortable at times. Doing a live interview in front of a room of fellow wheat folks and then replaying the video to critique it as a group right after was rough. Yet, no question that it made a significant improvement in the way I communicate.

Some take-a-ways I had with this experience;
1. Talking about what you do and love to a congressman isn’t as scary as it sounds.
2. Know your why. Why do you do what you do? Why do others need to know?
3. Never wear heels in DC.
4. Trust our organizations’ leadership team to do the right thing. They’re pretty amazing.
5. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone for the greater good, our industry future.

The bottom line is that we have to do a better job as an organization and as individuals to tell our story. We have to be able, and willing, to travel to our lawmakers and explain why topics like glysophate is critical in our operations and how trade wars affect our budget. While we know that we are doing the right thing, how are we telling others? Or are we? Our farm succession plans are going to change dramatically if we don’t make the choice to be involved at a level greater than our industry propel forward.
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