If you had a senator visit your farm one afternoon, what would you talk about? What would you ask and what to help him/her to understand? You probably haven't really thought about it because you don't really think it will happen. It happens a lot in Pennsylvania, with the help of PDMP
Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania (PDMP) wants to educate producers, help them network within the industry and advocate for the industry. Producer advocacy has taken a little more emphasis in the last few years, says Alan Novak, the Executive Director for PDMP.
"We encourage, and even logistically set up meetings where our producers visit with their state senators and representatives in the district offices," says Novak. "The program that we started a year ago involved at least one visit to a district office a year. We encourage our members to invite policy makers and we are planning some on-farm visits where policy makers will be invited to the farms. We are trying to get policy makers and staffers out to our issue forums and have producers meet them at the capitol. We try to have our producers set up the appointments and go to them. I may, as somebody that's in this all the time, be in the meeting along with the producer, but we try to have the producers come in to Harrisburg and sit down with key members of the Pennsylvania Senate and Pennsylvania House."
Why is it so important to reach out to policy makers? Well, consider what Novak says is inevitable.
The U.S. population is further removed from farms than ever before in America's history.
In the 1930s one farm produced enough food to feed the farmer's family and 9 other people. Today one farm feeds the farmer's family and 150 other people.
There are fewer farms, fewer farmers, fewer animals and less land to feed more people. This also means that policy makers are further removed from agriculture as are the people electing them.
Whether you like it or not, government is getting in the middle of more and more aspects of life and business.
"The idea is that producers should invite senators on their farm and let them see what really happens," Novak says. "We have a great story to tell about sustainability. Unless you form relationships and form a credible resource for information, and the dairy producer is the best person to do that, you are going to be defined by someone else who may not have the same interest as you have in modern dairy production."
So how is it working? Novak says that all the legislators that have visited a farm have enjoyed it. One example is Senator Dominic Pileggi
, who is the Senate Majority Leader. Pileggi visited Walter and Ellen Moore at their farm in West Grove, Pennsylvania. He learned from the Moores about issues that are impacting them and other producers in the state. He took pictures of the Moore's farm and posted those pictures on his website
. This experience also gave him facts and information that he can take into consideration while performing his duties as a senator.
"You know, a lot of producers are active in their community," Novak says. "They just don't think it's important to schedule a meeting once or twice a year with their elected representatives. What we found during the budget season, when a lot of producers were having these meetings, was that these representatives and senators really wanted to hear about the milk price crisis. They were thirsting, no pun intended, they were just desperate for information from dairy producers. Policy makers would hear about the problems on the news, but they hadn't really encountered milk pricing. The dairy producers were really well received, better than a lobbyist."
How does a farm visit with a policy maker work? It's really simple.
"These visits involve a tour, meeting the families, some lunch and some honest dialog," Novak says. "The tour part is pretty candid. The idea is not to create an unrealistic image, it's to show the way life is on a farm. I believe most of our producers are responsible stewards of the environment. They are responsible in the way they care for their animals and in the way they treat their employees. So there is nothing to hide. The idea is to make sure people understand, particularly policy makers, how an operation works, and transparency is the key to that."
In 2010, PDMP will hold three Issue Forums for their members. Here are the topics:
• Milk pricing and what's really behind your milk check. This forum will go into the nuts and bolts of how the amount on a farmers milk check is derived. They will also cover the role of the milk marketing board in Pennsylvania.
• Who made money in 2009 and who is going to make money in 2010? This forum will explore the few farmers that still were profitable in 2009 and the tools they used. Then they will explore ways producers can improve their margin in 2010.
• Chesapeake Bay Standards. This forum will be targeting small and medium size dairies that could be affected by the new rules the EPA is mandating and how to prepare for them.
Whether it's finding ways to educate, connect or advocate, PDMP is seeking to advance the dairy industry in Pennsylvania through improved productivity and profitability.