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RLND Class VIII Seminar Four - Washington, DC: National Trends in Agriculture and Rural Issues

It was a major accomplishment for our RLND Director, Marie Hvidsten, to gather 24 class participants from various airports across ND during a winter storm, all coming together in Washington, DC for a joined venture to our nation’s capital.

RLND Class VIII participants with Roger Johnson at USDA.Our first evening in DC involved dining at Union Station followed by an Old Town Trolley Tour of the monuments by moonlight. While many of us had been to DC before and had viewed the monuments, seeing them lit up at night was a whole new experience.

Day one took us to the USDA. Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union and originally from Turtle Lake, ND, quickly made us feel at home while he described the challenges of representing a diverse agricultural population nationwide. Some states do not have the organizational strength that ND Farmers Union has.

RLND Class VIII will be traveling to Argentina next spring. This made the presentation by Timothy McGuire, International Trade Specialist with the Foreign Ag Service, particularly interesting. He described the U.S. agricultural trade balance with Argentina. Because many of the agricultural products produced in the U.S. parallel those in Argentina, increasing exports to the country has been challenging.

USDA Rural Development programs were outlined by Claudette Fernandez, Assistant Administrator for Water & Environmental Programs. There are a multitude of Rural Development programs that can assist rural communities improve their economy and quality of life. Funding notices are posted at www.rd.usda.gov; or calls can be directed to 800-670-6553.

Sean O’Neill, Assistant to the Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs, discussed possibilities with the next farm bill and the projected impact on FSA programs. O’Neill spoke highly of our ND congressional delegation, describing each as positive and cooperative while working on ag initiatives.

Our final morning address was by USDA Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, Ted McKinney. His presentation described his role in strengthening opportunities for trade while working on policies that are in the best interest of our nation’s growers/producers. President Trump’s proposed steel tariffs were a topic of discussion. There will be challenging times ahead, he predicts; yet he feels positive results will prevail.

Tuesday afternoon involved a tour of the FBI, called the FBI Experience, an outstanding exhibition explaining what the FBI does. A number of our group was photographed around the desk of J. Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the FBI.

Dinner Tuesday evening at the Trattoria Alberto of Capitol Hill was especially enjoyable as we were joined by a rural leadership group from Kentucky.

Weather conditions on Wednesday were nothing unusual for us upper Midwesterners, however minimal snow fall in DC led to a government shut down and a test of our flexibility. On a positive note, we found getting around much easier as traffic around the capitol was very light. We were still able to meet with Senators Heitkamp and Hoeven as well as take a tour of the Capitol.

The evening dinner was hosted by ONEOK, one of the nation’s premier energy companies involved in the natural gas business. ONEOK’s headquarters are located in Tulsa, OK, with one of its field offices located in Sidney, MT. The Williston Basin is included in its operations. Frank West, Government Relations Representative, talked about his work as a lobbyist with the company.

A late opening following the snow event the previous day prohibited us from touring the Newseum Thursday morning. In its place, we attended committee hearings at the Capitol, visited the Library of Congress and the Botanical Gardens.

Thursday afternoon was open for each of us to engage in prearranged professional development appointments. Some of the agencies visited include FSA, AG Marketing Service, Farm Credit, CHS, Corteva, Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, DC Urban Green Tour, National Assoc. of Counties, American Wind Energy, Health and Human Services, National Council on Behavioral Health, National Assembly of State Arts, Americans for the Arts Agency, National Rural Electric Co-op, Crop Life America, DC Legislative and Regulatory Service, Rural Wireless, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Following an afternoon of learning, we met at the Farmers and Distillers Restaurant owned by dinner sponsor, ND Farmers Union. The eatery’s general manager, Dan Simons spoke about the restaurant’s business model including serving quality food made with U.S. farm products and employing well-trained staff. Vodka distilled and sold there is made with ND grain.

Early Friday a.m. we boarded a bus and traveled to Gettysburg. A battlefield tour was followed by a film and museum visit about the Civil War battle in Gettysburg. Lunch at the historical Dobbin House Tavern was a very nice compliment to the tour.

During our final evening in DC and the following a.m. we were free to explore DC on our own prior to our afternoon flight home.

This seminar was an absolute opportunity of a lifetime.

We have utmost gratitude for RLND Director, Marie Hvidsten. We also thank retiring RLND Administrative Assistant, Cynthia Selstedt, for the endless details she managed to make this and so many other seminars successful.

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