Dec 01, 2022

Government communication for agribusiness 101

Strategies, tips and resources for having effective conversations with members of Congress.

Nearly every issue that grain handlers and feed manufacturers face in their day-to-day operations — from transportation to safety to trade — is impacted by government policy in some way. That’s why as business leaders and as an industry, it’s critical to engage with politics and elected officials.

At the American Feed Industry Association’s (AFIA) 2022 Equipment Manufacturer’s Conference (EMC), Danielle Nelson, director of government affairs with Torrey Advisory Group, said education is the most effective way agriculture can influence government policies. And that process starts by building a relationship.

“One of the biggest things you can do not only for your company — your own operation — but also for the industry as a whole, is to get to know your members of Congress, your senators, and even more so, [officials] at the local level,” Nelson said. “That is so important in agriculture because if you do not make that effort, your legislators do not know you exist.”

Government relations may not always come naturally to business owners, but the prospect shouldn’t be intimidating. Nelson offered this simple strategy for feed industry stakeholders to communicate with the government and lay a track for success with the 118th Congress:

  1. Make a connection
  2. Package your message
  3. Follow-up to the finish line

Connecting with Congress: where to start

Nelson encouraged EMC attendees, and the entire feed industry, to prioritize a fly-in to Washington, D.C. if they haven’t already done so. Scheduling meetings with Congress members may take patience, but an initial office visit can open the door to future face-to-face meetings.

“If your employees have the opportunity to come to Washington, D.C., it’s one of the biggest things you can do with your members of Congress to make that connection,” Nelson said. “Going into their offices, finding somebody to take your comments, talking to them about their district or state and making a connection is key.”

Equally as valuable as fly-ins to the Capitol for employees is inviting elected officials to your operations or manufacturing facilities. Nelson said to check the Congressional calendar for scheduled recesses and invite Congress members for visits during those times.

“Find ways to get them in the door where you can have some one-on-one time and they’re not rushed,” Nelson said. “Where members are going to learn and listen the most is out in the district, in the state, in your operation — seeing firsthand what's going on.”

According to Nelson, late spring is a good time to send invitations for them to visit your operations in August and October, two months when Congress members are typically available to visit with constituents.

Breaking down the message

Packaging a message to legislators should accomplish two goals: simplify your issue and explain how it impacts their constituents. Nelson said the biggest messaging opportunity for the feed industry right now is sustainability. The 118th Congress will be responsible for the next Farm Bill and implementing the Inflation Reduction Act bill, which contains funding for a number of sustainable agriculture programs.

“The sustainability conversation makes sense to us because we’re in the industry and know what we're doing, but that's not true for Congress,” she said. “They might not understand exactly what it is you're doing on a day-to-day basis to make sure that your operation is sustainable, that agriculture is sustainable.”

Torrey Advisory Group and AFIA offer assistance with breaking down messaging into terms that members of Congress can understand, in addition to identifying appropriate Congressional contacts, writing and communicating with them, scheduling meetings and following up.

“The message of sustainability is going to be reiterated as we head into this next Congress and to this Farm Bill,” Nelson said. “Making sure that you’re able to break down the message and get it across the finish line is going to be important and why we also need AFIA, to make sure those priorities are communicated up on Capitol Hill.”

Communicating with the government is as important to businesses as customer service or inventory management, and will be key to educating the next Congress on issues important to the feed and grain industry.

5 Tips for visiting lawmakers

One of the many benefits of industry association membership includes government advocacy resources. The American Feed Industry Association’s members-only site contains several videos with helpful tips for meeting with members of Congress. The following summarizes their expert advice:

  1. Research the lawmaker and their staff on LinkedIn, Facebook and official websites to find out how you can relate to them.
  2. Keep the meeting simple and short. Lawmakers have limited time and need to get right to the point.
  3. Immediately express why your issue is important to you and them. It’s easier for them to take action if they understand why.
  4. Have your ask ready — an actionable item you want that lawmaker or staffer to make.
  5. Print out your packaged message as a leave-behind to be studied later. Include your contact info in case they have follow-up questions.

Elise Schafer

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