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Minnesota Turkey Goes to Washington

Collin Peterson visits with Minnesota Turkey

Congressman Collin Peterson’s office.

Minnesota’s turkey industry had excellent representation at this month’s National Turkey Federation Summer Conference in DC, where the group visited all the Congressional offices of Minnesota and North Dakota as well as several in Wisconsin.

In addition to the “Hill visits”, as they are called, industry leaders heard from keynote speakers Ambassador Gregg Doud of the Office of United States Trade Representative; Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs for USDA, Ted McKinney; and Congressman David Young (R-IA). The Legislative committee meeting also featured a bipartisan discussion between Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Thom Tillis (R-NC). All had great insights to share about moving forward in Washington D.C. and spoke on the need for strong trade policy.

Senator Tina Smith visits with Minnesota Turkey

Meeting with Senator Tina Smith.

Additional Committee meetings allowed members to discuss, social media strategy, consumer understanding of labels, as well as hear from the government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Throughout our time at the conference – and especially in our meetings with all of our Congressional offices, we discussed the following topics:

  • Farm Bill, specifically asking for support for the Animal Disease and Pest Prevention Program and urging both the House and Senate to include the requested baseline funding for this new program over the next five years.
  • Trade specifically related to ongoing issues trying to gain access to China, leaving Mexico (NAFTA) as is, and talking about Canada and India – the latter country being a newer potential market for turkey.
  • Worker availability, which is a major issue for not only the processing plants but for many farms as well.
Senator Amy Klobuchar meets with Minnesota Turkey

Meeting with Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Upon our return to Minnesota, we heard the news that the House – thanks in part to the leadership of Collin Peterson (D-MN) overwhelmingly backed a motion to instruct its conferees on the Farm Bill to insist on mandatory funding for the Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Programs during conference committee negotiations begin with the Senate. The vote came as the House was rejecting the Senate amendments to the Farm Bill and requesting the formation of a conference committee.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) gave strong statements in support of the motion. The Senate is likely to vote late July/early August on moving to conference and naming conferees. The current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, 2018.

With regards to trade, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on July 24 announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will take several actions to assist farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation. President Trump directed Secretary Perdue to craft a short-term relief strategy to protect agricultural producers while the Administration works on what it calls “free, fair, and reciprocal trade deals to open more markets in the long run to help American farmers compete globally.”  Specifically, USDA will authorize up to $12 billion in programs, which is in line with the estimated $11 billion impact of the retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods. According to Perdue, these programs will assist agricultural producers to meet the costs of disrupted markets.

Tom Emmer meets with Minnesota Turkey's college students

Students meeting with Congressman Tom Emmer.

Learning Experience for U of MN Students

This year, MTGA was pleased to be able to take four University of Minnesota students / recent graduates to Washington DC with us to participate in the NTF Leadership Conference.

  • Eliza Theis graduated in the spring and will be a first-year veterinary medicine student in September with a strong interest in poultry.
  • Elias Braun will be a senior this fall and hopes to get into veterinary school (hopefully at the University of Minnesota!).
  • Madison Taylor graduated in the spring and currently works full-time at Ferndale Market in Cannon Falls, handling a variety of tasks from live production to marketing.
  • Wyatt Wittenburg will be a junior this fall and has been gaining plenty of work experience this summer on his family’s turkey farm in North Dakota, spending time at Northern Pride Cooperative seeing the processing side of the industry, and working at Protein Alliance to get a feel for the sales/marketing aspects.

The students were fully immersed into the NTF Leadership Conference, attending the general sessions, committee meetings, and networking with industry leaders. They also toured the Capitol building, and participated in all of our Congressional office visits.

“It is MTGA’s hope that exposure to leaders and the turkey industry on a trip like this will encourage these students to consider poultry in their career plans,” said Steve Olson, MTGA Executive Director. “All have a passion for agriculture and are very smart and capable. Our industry would welcome their talents in a variety of ways.”

Prior to the conference start, MTGA staffer Lara Durben brought the group to the poultry research facilities at USDA-ARS in Beltsville, Maryland. The students met poultry researcher Dr. Julie Long and she and her staff gave the group a tour of her facilities and talked at length about the different research projects going on for turkeys, layers, and broiler chickens. It was definitely a highlight for the students.

USDA-ARS Poultry Research Facilities in Beltsville MD

Students with Dr. Julie Long at the USDA-ARS Poultry Research Facilities in Beltsville, MD.

After the students returned to Minnesota, we asked them to provide a brief write-up of their experiences. Here is what they told us:

Eliza Theis:

Thank you so very much for the opportunity to travel to DC with you all once again. It was such an incredible experience and I felt that I gained so much attending the NTF conference for a second time. As a future veterinarian, I can feel confident in diving headfirst into the poultry industry. Meeting leaders from the turkey industry and leaders from within our government was key in fueling my passion for poultry and politics.

Wyatt Wittenburg:

Thank you again for everything you guys did on this educational trip. I really enjoyed the USDA research facility. It was interesting seeing all different types of lines among the turkeys and chickens. My favorite part of the trip was meeting with the congressman/women and senators, and discussing issues the turkey industry is seeing. I hope the MTGA continues to bring students to this conference as they will be able to experience first-hand on how issues like trade, immigration policies and the farm bill are discussed with our representatives. Thank you again!

Elias Braun:

As far as the trip goes I think my biggest takeaway was seeing how willing representatives and senators will willing to meet and talk with their constituents. I always slightly imagined they would be too busy. My favorite part of the trip was probably the USDA Poultry Research tour. It was really interesting as a researcher to see Dr. Julie Long have such a passion for her studies and her birds. It also gave me a fresh perspective on working for the government through science. This trip mainly helped me through the connections I made. It was really enjoyable meeting everybody throughout Minnesota Turkey and the National Turkey Federation. It was good for me to hear about all of their roles in the perspective fields whether it be processing or sales. This trip definitely opened my eyes to possibilities in my future that I was not considering before.