It was a great opportunity, Paul Lanoue said - to meet in person with national legislators and tell them what's on the minds of Minnesota farmers.
Lanoue, a Marshall area resident and an agriculture teacher at Marshall High School, traveled to Washington, D.C. on Sept. 15-19 as part of a legislative trip with the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation's Young Farmers and Ranchers. Paul and his wife Ruth said they were part of a group of about 13 people who visited with eight different Minnesota congresspeople and senators.
"It was a great learning experience for us both," Paul Lanoue said. "I really enjoyed getting a chance to participate in policy development, and to inform our elected officials about agriculture."
Both Paul and Ruth Lanoue are members of the MFBF Young Farmers and Ranchers. Paul Lanoue said the chance to go to Washington came about partly from his competing in an MFBF discussion meet. Finalists in the discussion meet contest earn the chance to go on next year's legislative trip, he said, and in the meantime the Lyon County Farm Bureau board sponsored him and Ruth to attend this year.
"We met with both senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken," Paul Lanoue said. Later the MFBF group split into two to meet with Representatives Collin Peterson, James Oberstar, Tim Walz, John Kline, Erik Paulse and Michelle Bachmann.
Some of the main issues the group talked to legislators about included estate taxes, Ruth Lanoue said. Estate taxes in 2011 are scheduled to be at 55 percent, with a $1 million exemption. Those rates would be high enough, she said, "that when you're a farmer trying to pass the farm to the next generation, it becomes harder."
Other key issues included animal care standards, and new requirements to file 1099 tax forms on vendor purchases of greater than $600, Paul Lanoue said. As far as farmers are concerned, he said, "That would just be a cumbersome disaster." Small farms deal with too many vendors, and make too many large transactions, for such a requirement to work, he said.
One of the good things about the trip, Paul Lanoue said, was that legislators really were listening to what the group had to say.
"Tim Walz mentioned that a group came a couple years prior with some good suggestions," that were actually put into use, he said.
The group also spoke with staff members from the offices of Representatives Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, and a liaison from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Minnesotans also visited the Australian embassy.
"I think it helps you understand that we are competing in a global market," Paul Lanoue said of the embassy visit. In order to be successful in agriculture, the U.S. needs to think about how it's positioning itself in that market.
Paul Lanoue said for him, the trip was also a good opportunity to learn more information he could share with his students. But the chance to be an advocate for Minnesota farming was one that couldn't be passed up.
"It puts a face on agriculture for some of these legislators," he said.