Members of the Montana Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee had the opportunity to meet with legislators, state government officials and industry lobbyists during the YF&R Calling on the Capitol January 26-27 in Helena.
The meeting began with the group attending a Floor Session at the Capitol and listening to a committee meeting; later they met with Justice Jim Rice in the Montana Supreme Court Chambers. Tuesday they had the opportunity to visit with Senate President Debby Barrett, R-SD 36, and leaders of the House and Senate Ag and Natural Resource Committees. In addition, the group visited with officials from the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Livestock (DOL).
“Meeting with our representatives at the Capitol was interesting. The one thing I really came away with is that although there are many differences of opinion on issues, there really is not a divisive voice in Helena,” noted Jennie Anderson from Big Timber. “Everyone made it clear that everyone there has good intentions, even if there are differences of opinion.”
Anderson said the meeting with the Montana Department of Livestock was informative. “It was good to hear what is going on with the DOL, what they are facing with budget shortfalls, and plans to solve those problems.”
Gilmen Gasper, a young farmer from Circle, found the DOL meeting interesting. “We got to hear about their financial concerns, and even though those issues aren’t resolved, it was good to see there are people working to solve those problems,” said Gasper. “Although I primarily farm and don’t have many cattle, I believe we need to get issues with the DOL resolved because that reflects on all of agriculture in Montana.”
This was Gasper’s first time at the YF&R Calling on the Capitol, and he found the event worthwhile. “It was great to meet with leaders in the House and Senate, as well as committee chairs,” the farmer said. “We are fortunate that although agriculture is a small group overall in the Montana Legislature, we have a strong voice thanks to our Farm Bureau lobbyists and those in leadership roles in the legislature. I’m very confident in who we have leading the way in Helena.”
“One other valuable aspect of coming to the COTC was talking to people about the current issues. We read about an issue and talk locally about our concerns, but traveling to Helena and talking to the players and lobbyists with firsthand information is important,” said Gasper, “For instance, we had Melissa Hornbein with the Department of Natural Resources talk about the CSKT water compact. I have talked to people on both side of the issue who had good facts, but it was great to have someone take time to explain that entire issue.”
The group heard from Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Moore, R-SD 19, who noted that although the majority of people sitting on the Floor of the House and Senate don’t know much about agricultural issues, the leadership strives to assign people with an agricultural background to corresponding committees. “He said they try hard to match people with committees they have knowledge about,” Gasper said.
Both Anderson and Gasper stressed the importance of being involved in the political process. “It’s so important for legislators to hear from people in agriculture,” said Anderson. “Although everyone is very busy, it’s essential to go to Helena and let your voice be heard.”