MSGA suits up in D.C. for Hill Visits, board meetings

Joel Schreurs has spent nine years representing Minnesota on the American Soybean Association (ASA) board. After a few dozen stops in the nation’s capital, Schreurs decided to switch it up for his final Hill Visit as an ASA director.

For the first time, Schreurs wore a tan suit to the Capitol.

“I thought, ‘This is my last one, I’m going to do something different,’” the Tyler farmer told his fellow directors prior to visiting Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers.

Upon his morning visit with Rep. Michelle Fischbach, Schreurs already received positive remarks on his light threads. On a hot day in Washington, D.C., he certainly felt more comfortable.

“You rock the tan suit,” said Nick Lunneborg, Rep. Fischbach’s deputy chief of staff.

And when you look good, you advocate good. Schreurs and the team of ASA and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) directors got down to business on the Hill. Passing a timely and effective Farm Bill was top of mind throughout meetings with Minnesota’s congressional members.

Joel Schreurs (left) begins his final Hill Visit by engaging with Rep. Michelle Fischbach (right) on the need for passing a new Farm Bill.

“The current Farm Bill is a good one, but we need to strengthen the safety net,” MSGA President Bob Worth told Rep. Fischbach, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. “Our biggest asks are improving the safety net and crop insurance. There’s a big gap right now.”

Fischbach told growers that Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, who chairs the House Ag Committee, is cautiously optimistic that a new Farm Bill can pass by September, if not the year’s end.

“I trust GT,” she said. “He wants a Farm Bill that works and he is working hard to do it.”

ASA’s additional Farm Bill priorities include:

  • Expanding trade programs by providing more funding for the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program;
  • Enabling greater access to voluntary conservation programs to meet demand;
  • Building biobased market opportunities to promote value added uses of soybeans;
  • Investing in research for innovation and competitiveness; and
  • Maintaining the farmer-financed soybean research and promotion checkoff.

“If we didn’t have the checkoff program, we wouldn’t have the biodiesel industry,” said ASA Director Chris Hill, a Jackson farmer who also sits on the Clean Fuels Alliance America board. “It’s such a good investment.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s legislative aides said the senator continues to press the EPA and Biden administration to prioritize biodiesel. MSGA and ASA recently expressed their disappointment with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) volumes for 2023, 2024 and 2025 set by the EPA.

“We need an RFS to better reflect the market and be something that encourages growth,” Worth said.

While meeting with Rep. Ilhan Omar’s staff, farmers underscored how biodiesel helps clean the air and provides jobs in Rep. Omar’s district in Minneapolis.

“We’re finding all kinds of ways to reduce our use of petroleum through soybean oil,” said MSGA Director Kyle Jore, who was recently elected to MSGA’s Governing Board.

MSGA directors squeeze into Rep. IIhan Omar’s office.

Expanding agricultural exports via the Port of Duluth-Superior is a growing priority for MSGA. Directors explained to lawmakers, including Rep. Pete Stauber, who represents the Duluth area, how diversifying transportation routes is increasingly critical to bringing soybeans to international markets.

“If we can open up the Port of Duluth, we can start to get more grain to places in Europe and North Africa, so we’re not so reliant on China,” ASA Director Michael Petefish told Rep. Betty McCollum’s staff.

In the day’s final visit, growers were whisked to the Capitol building to visit with Sen. Tina Smith, a member of the Senate Ag Committee.

“We appreciate all the support we receive from Sen. Smith and her colleagues,” said MSGA Executive Director Joe Smentek. “We know we’re lucky in Minnesota to have lawmakers on both sides of the aisles representing us in D.C. who understand how important agriculture is to our economy and reducing carbon.”

MSGA was accompanied by two special guests throughout the Hill Visits. ASA Director Jeff Harrison, who farms in Ottawa, Canada, joined his neighbors to the south for the day on the Hill. Le Sueur farmer Colby Brandt, a member of ASA’s Ag Voices of the Program, tagged along for his first visit to Capitol Hill before beginning his first year at Iowa State University, where he’ll study agriculture and rural policy.

Walking Capitol Hill with an all-star roster of farmers – not to mention embarking on his first plane ride – made for a surreal week for the aspiring advocate.

“This was an unbelievable experience,” Brandt said. “To walk in the Capitol was just amazing.”

Everyday people

During Tuesday’s Soy Issues Forum, ASA briefed the board of directors from its 26 state affiliates on the legislative environment in D.C. in advance of the Hill Visits and hosted a forum featuring four Agriculture Committee staffers. Since the last Farm Bill was passed in 2018, more than 200 new members have been elected to Congress.

On their final Capitol Hill stop, directors have a chat with Sen. Tina Smith (far right).

ASA’s staff also underscored how the soy checkoff benefits the industry. Sen. Cory Booker, who sits on the Senate Ag Committee, and Sen. Mike Lee have co-introduced a bipartisan bill that would prevent commodity checkoff groups like the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) from partnering with MSGA. During each Capitol Hill visit, MSGA continued spreading the message that the soybean checkoff doesn’t need reforming. During the most recent checkoff referendum, less than 1% of growers sought a repeal of the program.

“Growers know how the checkoff has benefited their operation, from finding new markets to research,” Worth said.

Even though checkoff funds can’t be used for lobbying purposes, MSR&PC and MSGA have collaborated within the parameters of the Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act. for decades, leading to improved farmer profitability. Today, for each dollar farmers invest into the checkoff, growers earn $12.34 in return value.

“Who loves the soybean checkoff?” asked Ariel Wiegard, ASA director of government affairs, to a chorus of roars.

Upon arriving in D.C., MSGA Treasurer Ryan Mackenthun – on his birthday no less – spoke with RFD-TV about MSGA’s participation in the Hill Visits. For the second year in a row, MSGA will return to Washington, D.C., in September for a state-led Hill Visit. Schreurs passed along some wisdom to his successor, Redwood County farmer Jeff Sorenson, who will fill Schreurs’ ASA spot starting in December.

“It’s impressive being here,” Schreurs said. “The access we get is incredible. Gradually, you get to see, (legislators) are just people, too.”

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