Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Farm Bureau works to protect communities, farmland

BEND, Ore. — As resolutions came to the floor of the Oregon Farm Bureau House of Delegates in Bend, Ore. this week, a recurring theme emerged: how often farmers and ranchers feel governments and others are claiming good farmland for other uses.

Their frustration was obvious, as well as their concern on how it is hurting their communities they call home. Several of their resolutions had or tried to include words and phrases to try to protect themselves from future land grabs, or at least to get proper compensation for what they and neighbors lost.

One of the good things about holding Farm Bureau meetings is this gives a chance for farmers to share their experiences. They might be from different geographical areas and grow different commodities but they could all relate to what the land means to them and how much it hurts to see valuable farmland lost.

As resolutions were introduced, farmers gave examples of what happened to them and their neighbors and this influenced how their peers voted.

They spoke of cities who wanted to expand beyond their urban growth boundaries; new communities that wanted to turn fields of crops into parks for their children; utility companies that wanted more land for their power poles; expanded highways and road construction; and sometimes private businesses or out-of-state real estate speculators purchasing land and driving up prices.

Will these Farm Bureau policies help save farmland?

These policies are valuable tools that lobbyists as well as Farm Bureau’s elected representatives use to deal with politicians at various levels.

Words in a policy book aren’t enough. Clearly the delegates understood this. More than usual they turned to their peers, elected officials and even lobbyists for advice to help improve the new or amended policies that came from the grassroots members.

Several times the delegates asked what was the best way to word these policies, how should they be titled, and was there any contradictory policies.

What they are really looking for is for an organization — and its people — who understands them, their issues and can do what’s needed to meet the challenges.

Don Schellenberg, an associate director of government affairs, has worked for Oregon Farm Bureau for more than 25 years. His areas for lobbying the government in Salem include labor, land use, education, aggregate, horticulture, transportation and taxation.

During one of the last workshops of the day, Schellenberg shared insight into the various politicians he and others will deal with soon, as well as outlined some of the policy messages he carried to them on behalf of the Farm Bureau.

He handed out and then discussed new, slick, well-produced booklets on Oregon Farm Bureau policies that will be given to politicians and others.

But then Schellenberg passed around small notepads and pens.

“Take that memo pad, and what I want you to do is write on that memo pad two things that you think are the most important things that farm Bureau should do in the next Legislative session. You can put more on there if you want, but give me two … your two suggestions don’t have to come from here,” he motioned to the policy book.

“I’m in the Farm Bureau office, reality is outside the Farm Bureau office. We have the board, we have advisory committees, and to a certain degree Farm Bureau reality is outside of those, too,” he said, as people in the room began to write on the pads.

He went on. “My concern always is yes, we have a legislative agenda — what are we missing? Are we really doing the things that you’re scratching, where the itch it? Or are we doing stuff that is not as important as you think?

“So this is my unofficial way of trying to get a sense of what’s important to Farm Bureau members,” Schellenberg said.

The unofficial pieces of paper he carried with him after the meeting may give him insight to what was on the minds of people in the room. Better yet was the knowledge by the delegates that one of their main lobbyists really cared to hear what the grassroots wanted him to do.

Earlier in the annual meeting, executive vice president Dave Dillon read to delegates the original statement of purpose approved by Farm Bureau members in 1920, a year after the first Farm Bureau was formed in New York state.

The statement said: “The purpose of Farm Bureau is to make the business of farming more profitable, and the community a better place to live.”

Witness the passion of delegates as they create and discuss resolutions at Farm Bureau meetings at county, state and the national level. Listen to the Farm Bureau staff and elected representatives who sincerely care about what the grassroots wants for their farm families and their communities.

As Oregon’s Farm Bureau prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, these people show this organization has grown and remained strong because it has not strayed far from its original intent.

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