Farmer veterans shared their unique perspective with policymakers in Washington, D.C., July 11-12 as part of a fly-in organized by Farm Credit. More than 60 farmer veterans who are Farm Credit customers or Farm Credit employees who are veterans visited with key lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to highlight the role of veterans in agriculture and talk about the needs of servicemen and women as they transition from military to careers in agriculture.
“Farming gave me a purpose,” said AgGeorgia Farm Credit customer Mike Reynolds who served 18 years in the U.S. Army and was wounded in Iraq. The traumatic brain injury Reynolds suffered prevented him from returning to his pre-military jobs as a paramedic and firefighter.
“If it hadn’t been for Farm Credit taking a chance on me when nobody else would, I would still be trying to find a purpose – now I can say, ‘I’m a farmer’,” said Reynolds as he told his story of being turned down for a loan by eight different lenders before AgGeorgia loaned him the money to get started in farming. Today, Reynolds and his family own and operate a farm in Gordon County, GA where they primarily raise beef cattle.
Reynolds’ comments came as part of a panel discussion held in the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee room that also featured comments from Tammy Darbyshire, an Air Force veteran and Kansas farmer, Ryan Lankford, an Army veteran and Montana farmer, along with Jed Welder, who served in the Marines and the Army before starting his family farming operation in Michigan.
Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) all joined the Senate panel discussion as well. A link to watch the panel discussion, including the remarks made by Senators, will be available at www.farmcredit.com/veterans beginning tomorrow.
“I spend a lot of time working on veteran homelessness, housing, healthcare and suicide. The single best solution to all those problems is a job, a career and a future. And there’s nothing better than agriculture,” said Isakson, who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
“Bottom line: we want more veterans to have the opportunity to get into agriculture,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Roberts added.
Farmer veterans participating in the event also visited with their individual members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives where they shared their own stories about transitioning from the military into agriculture and many spoke passionately about the helpful role Farm Credit played in that process.
Fly-in participants kicked off their day yesterday with a visit to the House Agriculture Committee where committee chair Mike Conaway (R-TX) talked about the importance of veterans in agriculture and urged support for the Farm Bill.
“You could not be here at a more critical time,” Conaway said. “Keep pushing this process forward – keep the pressure on.” Conaway demonstrated the urgency of action as he showed participants his cell phone which has a clock counting down time until the current Farm Bill expires.
Rep. James Comer (R-KY) was on hand to help unveil a newly revised Homegrown by Heroes label during the two-day fly-in. In 2013, Comer was Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner and created the original label in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. The label, designed to help consumers identify agricultural products produced by veterans, was redesigned this year to include women veterans as well. Farm Credit has contributed more than $1 million to help the Farmer Veteran Coalition expand use of the label to veterans throughout the U.S.
“It’s something that, as a consumer…you can feel extra proud about. This was someone who was a hero that put their life on the line to protect our country, now they’re a hero doing everything they can to produce the best, healthiest, safest, most abundant food supply in the world,” Comer said. “Farm Credit took the lead on the Homegrown by Heroes label and made it what it is today,” he added.
Participants also met with USDA Deputy Secretary Steve Censky who explained programs available for farmer veterans at USDA and detailed the Department’s progress toward its stated goal of having veterans and spouses of veterans comprise at least 25 percent of USDA’s workforce.
All of the fly-in activities were featured on Farm Credit social media channels where they received heavy engagement from Members of Congress as well as from Farm Credit institutions. You can view some of these efforts on Facebook and Twitter.
This smaller, veteran-focused fly-in is part of our ongoing One Mission. Many Voices. campaign designed to demonstrate the impact of Farm Credit’s mission to support rural communities and agriculture. The veteran event followed an agriculture technology-focused event earlier this year. Next year, we will again host the larger national Farm Credit Fly-in in Washington, D.C., during the week of July 22-26, 2019.
Thanks very much to all who attended and brought farmer veterans to Washington this week!