Bryan Reed had joined us for lunch. His narrow face sported the thin frame of his glasses and beneath them were a tie, gray dress shirt and sport coat he donned for the final day of Iowa Farm Bureau’s Summer Policy Conference. He was a voting delegate, representing his home county of Monroe. It was Bryan’s turn to make conversation.

“My daughter the other night was looking at someone in a pearl snap shirt and a big belt buckle and cowboy boots and a felt hat, and she said, ‘Daddy, they tried to tell me that’s a cowboy.’

“‘Well, it is a cowboy,’ I told her.

“‘Nu-uh, Daddy. A cowboy wears T-shirts with holes in them and cow poop on them. He ain’t no cowboy, Daddy. You’re a cowboy.’”

He laughed. We laughed. His daughter was right.

I served on the State Resolutions Committee at that conference. There were a dozen of us who had yet to serve as voting delegates. We were tasked with tallying the issues members raised statewide, researching them and organizing the issues into questions for an opinionnaire that we sent to the counties. Each county could add to or edit the questions as they saw fit. They distributed it to their regular members, received their county’s results, drafted their county’s position and sent it back to the committee.

Working through policy development

In 2018, it is that time of year again. Two weeks ago, the Madison County Farm Bureau went through the results of their opinionnaire.  Some of the issues were straight forward. Some we debated. The various experiences and perspectives of the 15 or so board members changed my mind a couple of times. Some have seen it all. Some are young and chomping at the bit. There is a school board member, a retired teacher, a nurse, those farming full time and those who have another full time job. We asked questions, gave opinions, and after an hour, we reached consensus.

When the county responses came back to the Resolutions Committee last year, we essentially repeated the process the counties did. After a couple days of deliberating, we reached consensus and drafted initial statements on the policy issues at hand. We then went back to the counties one more time.

As a committee member, we took part in regional meetings prior to the Summer Policy Conference.  We told the counties what we thought we heard them say. They told us if we were right or not. It kicked off the debate and deliberations the Summer Policy Conference entailed, where each county is represented by one voting delegate from their board.

On the committee last year, our opinionnaire had a question concerning CRP grasslands. It’s a combination grazing/conservation program. As a committee, we didn’t feel we had strong response from the counties. Some don’t have many cows. Some don’t have many areas with CRP.

We realized we weren’t on the committee just to speak for our own county. That was our delegate’s job. We were there to listen and organize what the counties had to say. If we weren’t sure, then it was up to the voting delegates, the designated county voices, to determine that.

So on the issue of CRP grasslands, our committee recommended to table it until next year. That would have been fine with 99 of the voting delegates, but it wasn’t fine with Bryan Reed.

A time for action

Bryan brought up that it had been tabled the year before. He argued we needed to take action one way or the other, rather than let it die a slow death. He argued we should have policy supporting further developing the program. I’m not sure he won many converts.

A couple individuals took a turn at the microphone to debate him.  Bryan calmly rose in response.

“Look, I know some aren’t impacted by the issue in their home counties, but I can also tell you our county doesn’t have any drainage districts. Last year, when we debated policy on them, I listened to the voices of those that had experience with them.”

The cowboy was scoring some points. It was now looking like the issue was a toss-up.

A third stood to debate, this time on the particulars of the program.  Bryan knew the particulars like the back of his hand. Midway through Bryan’s rebuttal to him, he stood and said, “You know what? You converted me.” There was light-hearted laughter. He had converted everybody.

Some cowboys ride off into the sunset. Bryan’s not that type of cowboy. He rode home to raise a family and survive a drought. The Iowa Farm Bureau gave him a platform for his voice. He made good use of it.

That’s grassroots membership. That’s being deliberate. That’s why I’m proud to be part of Iowa Farm Bureau, where the voices of farmers and teachers and cowboys can make a difference.

Hanrahan is a member of the Madison County Farm Bureau.