The MILE Program completed its weeklong trip to Washington D.C. Nov 14-18, 2022, to learn about the intricacies and importance of agricultural policy.
The tour included visits to Capitol Hill, conversations with trade and commodity organizations, networking with Texas Tech alumni in D.C., and an opportunity to meet with various departments in the United States Department of Agriculture.
Early in the trip students spent time with representatives of the House and Senate agriculture committees along with staff from several congressional offices. With the current farm bill set to expire in 2023, the process of crafting a new bill is a major priority in the next Congress.
“Everyone we met had some role to play in shaping the farm bill, and what was important to them was drastically different from the next,” said John Owen, a junior majoring in agriculture and applied economics from Sealy, Texas. “The staff workers for elected officials and committees were more focused on party priories while the trade groups and USDA had a more bipartisan but simultaneously more focused stance on specific topics to best serve the more select group of individuals they represented.”
Jenne Arrott, a junior agricultural communications major from San Antonio, Texas, said the group’s conversations were heavily centered around the upcoming farm bill.
“The creation of a new farm bill was a topic of conversation throughout our trip,” Arrott said. “Getting to spend a day on the Hill, a day visiting with commodities, and a day with USDA allowed us to see all the different moving parts and influences on the new farm bill. This was really neat to me because, at the end of the day, everyone must work together.”
Several students also noted they were surprised to see there is much more bipartisanship when it comes to agricultural policy. Breely Huguley, a senior majoring in agricultural communications from Olton, Texas, said meeting with the Senate and House agriculture committees really gave her some perspective.
“We talked about this all the time, but I was honestly surprised by how non-polarized it was,” Huguley said. “We talked to the Senate and House agriculture committees, and both of them stated clearly and several times that to get a good farm bill into place you need both sides of the aisle working together to accomplish that.”
While agricultural policy is created and enforced on Capitol Hill, ag advocacy groups and commodity organizations also play a big role in the process. Midway through the trip, students spent a day traveling to a variety of these organizations to learn about how they represent producers with elected officials.
The trip concluded with a day spent at USDA where students heard from the Ag Marketing Service, the Food Safety Inspection Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Foreign Agricultural Service. The day ended with a special visit with the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Dr. Jewel H. Bronaugh.
Owen said having the opportunity to speak with Deputy Secretary Bronaugh about her role and passions in the agricultural industry was his personal highlight of the trip.
“She was easily my favorite meeting of the entire trip,” Owen said. “She was the most approachable individual we met with. Her emphasis on diversity within ag and ensuring everyone had a place in the industry really resonated with me and is a topic I am extremely passionate about. It is reassuring that such a high-ranking individual at the country’s largest ag entity was committed to inclusion and bettering the industry that is so crucial to the world.”
Along with the opportunity to learn and engage with the federal government and agricultural organizations, Owen also said that the trip to Washington D.C. helped showcase several career opportunities that he might have an interest in after graduation.
“The D.C. trip was the most impactful simply because I think I could see myself potentially getting into a career field, whether that be on the Hill or as a lobbyist or something of that nature,” Owen said. “So, I think professionally, D.C. opened my eyes to a lot of things.”
The variety of tours during the MILE experience is meant to engage students professionally, but many walk away with noticeable personal growth as well. Arrott said that Washington D.C. helped remind her why ag advocacy is so important to her.
“This trip was eye-opening for me,” Arrott said. “It showed me the good and the bad, and all the little things in between. I learned a lot about myself and how vital it is I advocate for the agricultural industry. There is a gap between policymakers, consumers, and the people in the industry. I do think this is being worked on, and it inspired me to help aid closing the gap.”
The trip to Washington D.C. marked the final tour of the second semester for Cohort III. During the spring 2023 semester, students travel to the Texas Panhandle and Austin. This will complete their MILE Program experience and conclude with a graduation ceremony in May 2023.
A special thanks to Brandon and Hannah Lipps of Caprock Strategies LLC for hosting the MILE students for a networking event to kick off the program’s D.C. experience.