#farmbillnow: NCGA launches Twitter campaign to speed a successful conclusion to 2012 Farm Bill debates

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Farmers rose up this spring and used Twitter to thwart bad government policy.

By sending the short text messages via the Internet-based service Twitter, farmers conveyed their displeasure with proposed farm child labor rules they felt would mean an end to time honored participation of young children in farm chores and adolescents in the operation of basic farm machinery. The ability of children to participate this way is a staple of farm life. The government responded to the barrage of messages by withdrawing the proposal. It was a spontaneous, grassroots reaction.

National Corn Growers Association, known for its culture of engaging grassroots political activism, launched a campaign recently on Twitter, asking farmers to “tweet” — as Twitter messages are referred to — in favor of passing the Farm Bill offered in the Senate.

“We need a farm bill now, not in the fall, not by the end of December, but now–farmers will begin shortly to make critical decisions for the next crop year, and not having a farm bill in place leaves too much uncertainty,” said Janice Walters, communications manager for NCGA’s Washington, DC office. She goes by the Twitter username @DCcorngal and she encourages anyone interested in the farm bill to follow her in order to get the latest news. She said, “Even an extension leaves too much uncertainty while it funds programs that aren’t working well for us, like direct payments.”

American Farm Bureau, American Soybean Association and National Wheat Growers Association have joined NCGA in this Twitter campaign.

By including the 12 characters #farmbillnow in the 140 character message, the “tweet” is channeled to any Twitter user who searches using this set of characters, known as a hashtag. Within hours of the announcement of the campaign, farmers were sending messages with this hashtag, and Senators had begun incorporating it in their “tweets” on the Farm Bill, said Walters.

She said Twitter can be an effective tool for lobbying Congress because over 460 of the 535 members of Congress now have Twitter accounts.

Walters quoted Chuck Grassley, who has been in the forefront in adopting Twitter as a means to communicate quickly with his constituents. He was quoted in Agri-Pulse, saying: “I use Twitter to keep in touch with Iowans. It’s a way to describe what I’m working on as their U.S. senator, to make a point in a public policy debate and to try to foster greater citizen participation in the process of representative government.”

The #farmbillnow outreach effort encourages farmers to include in their message that farming is an economic powerhouse that supports 16 million American jobs, and serves to even up America’s trade imbalance with the world, Walters said. Another key “Tweeting” point: the bill drafted by the Senate Agriculture committee offers $23 billion dollars in cuts over the next ten years, compared to the current farm bill.

“We want members of Congress to know the kind of fiscal restraint and fiscal leadership farmers approve of–it’s the way we run our businesses and our household budgets and we think government needs to operate the same way,” said Walters.

NCGA felt it was a fortuitous time to launch the campaign because the Senate voted 90-8 to “invoke cloture” — the technical measure required to open debate on any bill. Very shortly, Senators will begin debating the bill and introducing amendments, and with the help of the encouragement through #farmbillnow, NCGA leaders hope Congress can pass the Farm Bill before its summer recess.

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