Why Lobbying for Agriculture is a Contact Sport

2019 SCPA fly-in participants David Yoder and Rep. Greg Steube

This spring in D.C. as part of the Southern Crop Production Association fly-in, Valent’s David Yoder [left] and Florida Rep. Greg Steube caught up and talked ag issues.
Photo courtesy of FFAA

During this year’s Southern Crop Production Association’s (SCPA) advocacy trip to D.C, participants came with a unified message. Literally — each participant received a SCPA T-shirt with the catchphrase – “Lobbying is a contact sport” – across the back. Figuratively, the lesson will last longer than that 100% cotton shirt.

SCPA Executive Vice President Jeff Cassady recounted the savvy advice Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black shared with SCPA members during a previous event: “Lobbying is a contact sport,” Black said, holding up his cell phone. He asked how many in the audience had their elected representatives’ numbers in their phones just a speed dial away?

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Not many hands went up.

Would yours?

Lobbying is a contact sport. If you don’t know your elected representatives (local, state, national), take steps to meet them and their staffs.

In May, I went to D.C. with a great group of SCPA and Florida Fertilizer & Agrichemical Association (FFAA) members: Jerry Hulbert and David Yoder with Valent, Corteva’s Breanna Lawyer, and BASF’s Dan Watts. Richard Gupton, Senior Vice President with the Agricultural Retailers Association, lent his public policy expertise to our team. I found out David Yoder and Congressman Greg Steube were Alpha Gamma Rho brothers. Little insights like that added a deeper meaning to Rep. Steube’s excellent op-ed on Florida’s water issues. His words flowed from his Florida ag roots and are grounded in his legislative experiences. Thank you Rep. Steube!

Create a Personal Connection
You don’t need to travel to D.C. or Tallahassee to help your profession. Start building these relationships at home. Schedule a meeting at your elected officials district offices to introduce yourself over a glass of OJ or a cup of coffee. Invite your elected officials to tour your operation. Stay in touch — send a text, email a photo, ask a question, share a thought, give thanks for their service. Aim to create a personal connection beyond being a name on a voter roll or a campaign contribution donor list. Be nice! You may not always agree, but you can keep it civil.

Make a Difference through Unified Lobbying
And then, when it comes to lobbying, ag must have unified messages and policy positions. Most successful efforts require building coalitions to leverage influence. Efforts like the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association-led Together Florida initiative on water policy is a great example.

Members of groups representing ag, the green industries, the golf industry, and their suppliers created Together Florida in response to growing concerns about Florida’s water challenges. Its core premise is that all Floridians have a part to play when it comes to water quality and protecting our water bodies. Given that every resident or visitor to Florida contributes nutrients to the natural system in some way, shape, or form, we need comprehensive solutions to address the issues, and we must work together to succeed.

FFAA is proud to be a part of this initiative to create common ground and unified positions on Florida’s most contentious water issues.

Nearly two dozen groups are involved in Together Florida. The voluntary coalition’s progress is driven by the leadership and expertise of people such as FFVA’s Paul Allen, Alan Jones, Mike Joyner, Kerry Kates, and Lisa Lochridge; Florida Farm Bureau’s Charlie Shinn; the Florida Land Council’s Ernie Barnett; Rich Budell with the Florida Agribusiness Council; and Mac Carraway with the Environmental Research and Education Foundation. FFAA participants include Will Harrell with Harrell’s, Christy Lyle with ProPlus Products, and me. Many more influential industry leaders are involved as well.

The Together Florida coalition kept us on the same page during this past legislative session in Tallahassee, advocating for support of best management practices research, implementation, cost-shares, and verification. The group’s members advocated for science-based public policy and appropriations to address all contributions to the state’s water-quality issues.

Members of Together Florida supported plans to capture, store, and treat nutrient-laden waters; the coalition was engaged on wastewater, stormwater, septic, and biosolids issues. Progress was made, but more challenges lie ahead.

Our industries need a unified voice on issues. We must continue to work together. You’ll be hearing more about Together Florida leading up to the next legislative session – so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, remember — lobbying is a contact sport. Who can you contact?