NFFC Members and Farmers Cultivate Progress on Capitol Hill


Written by Samantha Cave, NFFC Strategic Content Designer.

Before joining NFFC’s fly-in, I had never stepped foot in a congressional building, let alone participated in legislative meetings to influence federal policy. Boarding the short flight from Boston to DC, I felt a surge of excitement — this was a major opportunity to convey to legislators the critical nature of our work before the Farm Bill is finalized. With two full days of congressional meetings scheduled for February 6 and 7, I was eager to dive in with fellow NFFC staff and the dozens of farmers and advocates we would be hosting.

This year’s fly-in was an expansion from 2023, with nearly 40 members joining us from all across the US, and 52 bipartisan House and Senate offices scheduled to meet with us. Many of the members who joined us were farmers, ranchers, or fishermen themselves and were ready to share their own personal stories. Staff provided essential logistic support and advocacy guidance to our members – besides myself, our team included Jordan Treakle, Antonio Tovar, Lisa Griffith, and Maria Superti.

It’s crucial that Congress hear from the farmers, ranchers, and fishermen who are most impacted by the policies enacted on the Hill. Many legislators and their staff were pleasantly surprised to see groups of food producers in their offices, a reprieve from the waves of corporate agribusiness lobbyists they see most. 

Many of our participants were able to join us for introductions and dinner before the fly-in began!

Jim Goodman, President of NFFC and retired dairy farmer, said: 

“It is quite clear, even to the untrained eye, that professional lobbyists fill the halls and cafeterias of Congress. Their voice is heard every day, in every office, and they represent the voice of consolidated agribusiness. Farmers like us are lucky to enter those same offices once a year. We must take that opportunity to make the voices of actual farmers and fishermen heard over the noise of those corporate interests that threaten our livelihood, a just food system and a safe environment.”

Participants were split into five groups, each with a different focus from our Farm Bill policy platform. Topics included reforming credit access, protecting farmland from corporate investment and speculation, promoting long-term solutions to the ongoing dairy crisis, restoring Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL), and revitalizing rural communities through local foods markets. Breakout group prep time before our official visits began proved valuable for participants to prepare for meetings and hone their storytelling skills – one member said:

“Overall, it was a tremendous experience having the chance myself and for my farmers to be part of the legislative process in such a direct and immersive way. It was also immensely valuable to have my farmers have the chance to meet others from around the country and “talk shop” together as well as join forces towards common goals. I’m so glad we all were able to come and hope to continue the tradition.”

I joined the Dairy team, excited to begin sharing how NFFC’s Milk from Family Dairies Act could help dairy farmers across the US prosper. The Act uses supply management and price floors as key tools to address the dairy crisis and end the widespread loss of family dairy farms. Our team, led by Jim Goodman, emphasized the dire situation – in 2023, new data shows that the US lost an additional 1,600 dairy farms (about 6%). I was particularly pleased to meet with Representative Annie Kuster from my home state of New Hampshire, which has a long tradition of small dairies but only has about 90 left.

The Dairy group all together just before a Senate meeting.

The Land Access team brought the landmark Farmland for Farmers Act to the attention of legislators, and we hope to gain more co-sponsors for the bill soon. The Act provides a key framework to address investment-driven farmland grabs at the federal level instead of a state-by-state basis, shoring up USDA’s ability to track and block farmland grabs for investment purposes. The Financial Times just reported that the total value of farmland owned by investment groups has doubled in only three years – from $7.4 billion to $16.6 billion. Congress continues to primarily focus on foreign-ownership of farmland, but this was the perfect opportunity to expand their scope of the issue.

The Credit Access team, similarly, asked for support for the Fair Credit for Farmers Act which makes a number of reforms to the USDA’s loan-making services at the Farm Service Agency. With our close partners at RAFI-USA, NFFC has championed these improvements to provide easier and more transparent ways for small farmers to obtain loans that fit their needs. Margaret Krome-Lukens, co-policy director at RAFI-USA, shared that she was pleasantly surprised to hear several staffers state, “I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t support this Act!”

Members of the Local Markets team smile together.

The Local Markets team shared the many benefits of supported, thriving regional food systems that economically support independent producers and create stability in our supply chains. NFFC has been working with Rural Vermont, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, and the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund to gain support for proposed changes that would clarify and protect on-farm slaughter practices. These meetings were extremely positive, and NFFC looks forward to continuing to advance this issue through new legislation.

Katie Steere, of Wild Earth Farm in Vermont, wrote in her recent blog about her experience in this team:

“It was a process that gave me back a bit of faith in the democratic process. It was amazing to meet with both Republican and Democrat offices and have them genuinely ask what we needed and how they could help…The most important takeaway I went home with was that we as citizens of this country have power in the laws that are written.”

Last, but certainly not least – our Trade Justice group, where ranchers, farmers, and fishermen banded together to urge legislators to reinstate and expand Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL). Key pieces of legislation that guided this conversation include the American Beef Labeling Act, the Farm System Reform Act, and the Improving Agriculture, Research, Cultivation, Timber, and Indigenous Commodities (ARCTIC) Act. Research has consistently demonstrated broad public support for MCOOL, an important note emphasized in our meetings.

The Credit and Trade Justice teams pose together for a quick photo op!

Carl Wassilie, Yup’ik fisherman of the North American Marine Alliance, reflected:

 “Our perspective was powerful to a number of people on the Hill who are not used to hearing this type of discussion on the impacts to the farmer, the rancher, the fisher, and bringing that all together.”

We purposefully built time into our time together to gather around shared meals, enjoy each other’s company and build the relationships and rapport needed to strengthen our approach in congressional offices. A strong foundation of trust helped our members, both familiar faces and new, to authentically share their deeply personal experiences with each other and with legislators. 

Manuel Juarez, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance member-farmer, who co-owns Palo Blanco Farm and Ranch with his sister, Manuella Juarez, said:

 “I really enjoyed the sense of teamwork that I found with these other farmers. It was really cool to see that we may be across the country and our stories are different, but we have similar issues that we face. I felt very empowered.”

Members shared that the fly-in was an invaluable experience, a feeling especially emphasized by those new to NFFC or those who, like myself, had never attended a fly-in previously. As the Farm Bill process continues to stretch further into 2024, it was obvious that legislators and their staff were eager to hear from those on-the-ground. Many offices expressed their support for our priorities and shared their appreciation for our work. 

Duron Chavis (Agrarian Trust) and Tremell Sherman (Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund) share reflections from the Credit group at our debrief.

Personally, I am confident that with continued advocacy and collaboration, we can build a future where independent producers have the policies they need to thrive and where rural communities prosper.

Our staff and members are continuing to follow-up on the threads woven during the 2024 fly-In, and we hope to have more policy successes to share soon. In the meantime, please consider sharing your support for the Farmland for Farmers Act and the Fair Credit for Farmers Act using one of our action alerts

NFFC member organizations participating in the fly-in:

Agrarian Trust; Dakota Resource Council; Dakota Rural Action; Family Farm Defenders; Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance; Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund; Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; Land Loss Prevention Project; North American Marine Alliance; Northeast Organic Farming Association; RAFI-USA; Rural Vermont; Women, Food and Agriculture Network