By Josh Turney, Rich Selinger and Jared Brown
The class of 2020 took the metro for one last trip into Washington DC for their final day in town to visit with legislators on the Hill. After removing their belts for security one last time the group had the opportunity to meet and visit with Illinois senior Senator Dick Durbin in the Senate Visitor’s Center. Going through security all week was new to many, but well worth the effort for the conversations that were had.
Senator Durbin addressed a wide range of topics relating to rural communities, broadband access, and the agricultural industry. His take on opportunities in Illinois consisted of several pieces. He feels that there are many excellent paying careers available in Illinois that don’t necessarily require a college degree going unfilled and that our students should not be saddled with an unreasonable debt. Senator Durbin discussed the pension crisis in Illinois and feels that significant progress can be made by implementing a progressive income tax increase on individuals making $250,000 or more.
The class was led through the Capitol rotunda by Durbin’s staff on their way to the House Ag Committee room for a series of briefings with Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (17th district), Congresswoman Robin Kelly (2nd district), Congressman Rodney Davis (13th district), and Congressman Darin LaHood (18th district.)
All were instrumental in the formation of the new Farm Bill and helped to strengthen crop insurance programs for producers. Rep. Bustos also spoke to the need for rural broadband as well as the need for local leadership. The class was fortunate enough to have an unscheduled visit with Rep. Robin Kelly thanks to a longtime working relationship with current class member Scott Halpin. She stressed the importance of Illinois Agriculture and the importance of maintaining a dialogue with our legislators.
The class appreciated the time with their legislators and left the capitol armed with the knowledge they will need to drive their agricultural message back in their local communities. Upon boarding the bus the class began their journey to the much-anticipated tour and experience at Gettysburg.
After sharing all you can eat wings at the Pike Restaurant the class learned about the many struggles that the Chesapeake Bay is going through from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). Bill Chain, CBF Program Manager, discussed the history of this incredible estuary system and helped them to understand the plans in place designed to restore water quality to previous levels. Harry Campbell, CBF PA Director, took the class through the impact of water contamination and how increased nutrient loads have negatively impacted the bay. There are many parallels between their issues and our own in Illinois. Both states are important agricultural producers in their respective regions and play large roles in the management of nutrient loss. Conversely, neither state adjoins the major bodies of water that they ultimately affect. The final speaker of the day was David McLaughlin, a Pennsylvania farmer divested into the grain, hay, and dairy production. He shared the story of his farm and how they are utilizing cover crops and varying cultural practices to keep their nutrients on the farm without sacrificing productivity.
Many thanks to all of those that helped to make the week in Washington D.C. possible. It would not have been possible to have such a productive experience without those relationships. The class had a day chalked full of knowledge and new perspectives they can take back to their communities and went to bed eager to spend the next day learning about leadership on the battlefields of Gettysburg.