Thursday, July 14, 2016

Week Eight: Session's Out For The Summer

Hey friends! With the holiday weekend, I got super behind on my blog posts, so please bear with me! I hope you all had a fantastic 4th of July and ate lots of pork!

The week of June 27-July 2 was the last week of the 2016 short session. The budget from the conference committee passed with a bipartisan vote from both the House and Senate, and numerous other bills were rushed to pass before time was up for this year. The Farm Act was the bill that NCPC was following the closest during this time, and it passed both chambers and is currently sitting on Governor McCrory's desk awaiting a signature. We had two provisions in this bill that affect the hog industry. The first allows for feral hogs to be culled from aircraft by the wildlife commission. Feral hogs carry diseases that can be transmitted to domesticated hogs, so it is crucial that their populations are kept under control. Their natural rooting behavior can also be detrimental to crops and gardens. Concerns were raised that this would allow for hogs to be hunted aerially for sport as they are in Texas, but as of now, that is not the case in North Carolina. The second provision allows for four existing swine and poultry waste-to-energy projects to be interconnected to the grid to sell their electricity in a more timely fashion. It does not affect any projects that may be proposed in the future, but was a huge help to the farmers that owned those four projects.

The final vote on the budget also occurred during the last week of session. There was one provision in the budget that affected the pork industry, and in a good way. $180,719 was leftover in a program that was designed to provide funding for lagoons to be converted into waste management systems using superior environmental technologies. However, that amount of money is not large enough for that program to do anything with it, so it was transferred into a different department at the NC Department of Agriculture to fund a new position. The person who fills this new position will "identify new market opportunities for agricultural and silvicultural producers related to products that producers currently hold, produce, or are capable of producing. The funds are available for activities
including identifying new markets, identifying barriers to market entry, catalyzing efforts to accelerate and ease market participation, educating local extension officers, and creating quality assurance mechanisms for products and service providers." I think this will be a wonderful asset for farmers looking to diversify their operations.

Now that session has ended, I'll be back at NCPC's office and not in the hustle and bustle of downtown life. I'll definitely miss my adventures at the legislature, but the introvert in me is also happy to be spending more time on farms or in my cozy office. Se y'all next week!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Week Seven: I Believe in the Future of Agriculture

After attending a small private elementary and middle school, I remember being absolutely culture shocked when I walked into my first day of public high school. In a place of so much uncertainty, the agriculture department was where I felt at home. FFA, the organization formerly known as Future Farmers of America, was the highlight of my high school days. The first contest I competed in was creed speaking, where students recited the FFA Creed, shown below. The first line of the creed has always had a special place in my heart, and was reinforced this week.

On Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to attend the NC FFA VIP Banquet on behalf of the Pork Council. The banquet brings together industry leaders, FFA past state officers, and numerous others individuals and businesses that support NC FFA. I am so fortunate to be interning with an organization that shares the same love for FFA that I do. During the program at the banquet, I had to hold back tears when alumni shared how FFA impacted their lives. There is no way that I would be having the summer of a lifetime representing the swine industry had it not been for my FFA advisors in high school. Mr. Greene and Mr. Fincham believed in me when I did not believe in myself, and encouraged me to push my limits and explore opportunities outside of my comfort zone. Without the skills and confidence they bestowed in me, I would have never found myself in the Warren Leadership Program.

The night became more emotional for me after the banquet when I attended the general session. The president of the NC FFA Alumni spoke about how her FFA journey did not end when she took off her blue jacket for the last time. I will never forget the feeling of emptiness I had on November 1st, 2014 when I unzipped that blue corduroy, never to zip it up again. I have found joy in coaching members since then, and I could not hold back the tears during her speech when I realized that my FFA career is never truly over. Through our work at the Pork Council, we are ensuring that future generations have the opportunity to work on a family farm. We are providing internships for FFA members that need an SAE. We are giving scholarships to students who excelled at showing their FFA show hogs. To quote the FFA Creed, we are exerting an influence in our home and community which will stand solid for our part in that inspiring task. Every day when Angie and I meet with a legislator to protect hog farmers, we are giving FFA members the ability to continue to develop the life skills you can only learn on a farm. I realized during that speech that my FFA journey did not end in 2014; it morphed into something even more wonderful.

On Friday, I traveled to Duplin County to receive my Pork Quality Assurance Plus certification from Jan Archer, President of National Pork Board. I was joined by high school and college students who intern for Prestage Farms. While chatting with them, I knew that the future of agriculture was indeed bright. The hog industry has so many passionate students learning how to manage farms, breed sows, or even be a swine veterinarian. With people like Jan there to support them, there is no doubt that these students will be the future of NC hog farming. After this week, I have such a renewed sense of value for my work. As I come into (what appears to be) the last week the legislature is in session, I understand clearly why Angie and I do what we do, and will do my work with passion and purpose.

On a less emotional note, I will leave you with a picture of me from 2013 in my FFA gear with my Tri-County FFA Grand Champion Bacon. Yes, that is a thing in West Virginia.

As always, feel free to post questions in the comments. See ya next week!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Week Six: All For One and One For All

It's hard to believe that I'm already at the halfway point of my internship! This was quite a diverse week, which is exactly what I love about lobbying. I had a rough week outside of work with a hacked debit card and lack of air conditioning in my apartment, but my awesome co-workers provided me with an escape from the craziness of my life problems, and for that I am extremely grateful. I cannot express how thankful I am to the Dunn family and supporters of the Warren Leadership Program who have made this awesome internship experience possible.

On Monday, Angie, NCPC's lawyer Kurt Olson, and myself took a road trip to Mount Olive to visit one of our member's farms. On the way there, I was able to talk to Kurt for a good while about his experience as a lawyer and any advice he has for me as an aspiring attorney. I always appreciate insight that I can gain from people who have successfully accomplished what I want to do professionally. The farm we visited has invested in technology that will convert swine waste into electricity, and our visit was based around understanding that process in-depth. We advocate often for regulatory relief for farmers with this type of waste to energy system, so it was quite helpful to understand the process and see first-hand how policies affect what they can and cannot do with their equipment. We rounded off the day by grabbing a late lunch at Eddie's, which is the place to go if you're ever in Newton Grove!

Tuesday marked the annual House vs. Senate Milk Chugging Contest, hosted by Farm Bureau. The House All-Stars came out ahead of the Senate Sippers, but it was a close race. It's always great to see agriculture being promoted at the General Assembly, especially when ice cream is involved!

On Thursday, the North Carolina Utilities Commission hosted the Swine Stakeholders Meeting that occurs every 6 months. Any person or business with an interest in swine waste to energy projects are welcome to attend the meetings. There was a packed room full of developers, electricity companies, swine production company employees, and environmental agency employees. The meeting was full of productive discussion regarding issues that hog farmers face when establishing swine waste to energy projects and how to solve them. Holding stakeholder meetings is very important to the legislative process because it allows people who are directly affected by regulations to give their input on changes that need to be made. 

When I was trying to formulate a title for this post, I truly felt that "All for One and One for All" was a perfect fit for this week. The NC Pork Council is one entity that represents hundreds of farmers in the state. The farmers place their trust in the council to look out for their best interests. NCPC is involved in hosting events like the stakeholder meeting to receive ideas and opinions regarding ways we can help. I look forward to the second half of this internship and all the ways I can continue to help NC hog farmers. I'll check in with y'all again next week!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Week Five: Back Before Everything Became Automatic

I apologize that this blog post is coming to you all a week late! Last Friday, I had the ultimate writer's block and could not find motivation to make this post memorable. I eventually gave up, and made my way to the Miranda Lambert concert that evening. As my roommate and I lounged in the grass listening to Miranda's top hits, she began singing "Automatic" and the main line- "It all just seemed so good the way we had it, back before everything became automatic"- immediately gave me an idea for this post. I noticed last week that an overarching theme of remembering old times had been present.

On Tuesday after work, I went to dinner with Jeff Braden, Dean of NC State's College of Humanities and Social Sciences, lobbyists who graduated from NC State, and other interns from NC State. Dean Braden and Jack Cozort, one of the coolest lobbyists around, told us numerous stories from their days in college. I always appreciate insight from those who have experienced so much in life and try to soak up all the advice they can give me.

After dinner, Angie and I attended the Sportsman's Caucus and I felt right at home. I grew up in an avid hunting family and brought my deer mount and fox pelt to my Raleigh apartment. It was awesome to see so many representatives and senators supporting sportsman and telling their favorite hunting and fishing stories. Life sure did seem happier when people spent their free time in the woods instead of on their laptops and televisions. I definitely needed a little bit of small town in the big city, and the caucus did the trick.

On Thursday, I was looking over the history of a certain statute and didn't understand the logic of the lawmakers when they passed it over a decade ago. Angie told me that I could go to the legislative library in the Legislative Office Building and find the notes from the committee meeting where it was discussed. I made my way over the library, and was searching for the binder containing minutes from the 2002 Finance Committee. I circled and circled the room, but could not find any binders from before 2007. One of the employees noticed my confusion and asked if I needed any help. After explaining to her what I was looking for, she replied that all minutes from before 2007 were on microfilm.

Wait...they were on what?

After seeing the baffled look on my face, she took me over to the microfilm reader and explained to me how to find the rolls I needed and how to operate the machine. For those of you who do not know what this contraption is, it looks like this:

A roll of film is inserted into one wheel of the machine, threaded onto the other wheel, and back to the original wheel. The roll works similarly to a cassette tape, where you fast forward or rewind the roll to find the part you are looking for, unlike a CD where you can skip directly to the beginning of whichever song you choose. All of the finance committee minutes from the 2002 session were scanned onto this roll, page by page, in chronological order. To find the date I was looking for, I had to fast forward the film until I saw the date I needed written on a page. Although this took a good while, it forced me to thoroughly read each page and I ended up learning about other bills along the way. It was like a scavenger hunt for the information I needed, and was actually quite interesting. Had this information been on an online database or a USB drive, I wouldn't have been so attentive to detail in my search. Sometimes doing things the old-fashioned way really is the best way!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Week Four: Constructing Budgets and Barns

I hope everyone reading this had a fantastic Memorial Day on Monday! Pork is a staple of many Memorial Day cookouts, and I'm happy that my internship allows me to advocate for the industry that provides those yummy porkchops that have become an American tradition.

This week was full of 4 jam-packed days of pigs and policy. On Tuesday, I spent a good portion of my day with the Farm Bureau lobbyists, Paul and Jake, and their Warren Fellow intern, Cat. Jake recently graduated from law school, and is always eager to help me when I have questions about interpreting statutes. It's definitely reassuring to have someone who has been where I want to go, and is happy to help me get there. All of us were anxiously anticipating the release of the Senate budget on Tuesday evening. At 9pm, I made some popcorn, grabbed a soda, and began constantly refreshing and the #NCGA search on Twitter so I could read the budget as soon as it was released. At the 11th hour (literally), the budget was posted and I began looking through the agriculture section with a fine-tooth comb, just as Jake and Angie had taught me to always do with a bill. I made a list of differences from the House budget that could affect the hog industry to be sure I kept an eye on them through the budget process.

On Wednesday, Lee Bobbitt, U.S. Senator Richard Burr's Legislative Assistant, visited Eastern North Carolina to tour hog operations. Deborah invited me to tag along, and I was SO excited to spend the day with Lee! Lee covers all legislative issues in North Carolina related to agriculture and the coast, and briefs Senator Burr on issues he needs to watch. She works full-time and attends law school in the evenings. I have no idea how she finds time to do all that she does, but she excels at it. It was awesome to learn from a woman who is going exactly where I want to go and succeeding.

We began our tours at Strickland Farming in Mount Olive. Reggie Strickland is a graduate of NC State's Agriculture Institute and previously served on NCPC's Board of Directors. He and his father and nephew now manage over 4,000 acres of crops and hog barns. I saw the process of transplanting sweet potatoes and learned about cotton production, both of which I knew absolutely nothing about before the tour. 

A sweet potato field at Strickland Farms
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Then, we grabbed lunch with David Herring from Hog Slat, who also serves as Vice President of the National Pork Producers Council and is on NCPC's Board of Directors. If you're ever in Newton Grove and need a place to eat, definitely go to Eddie's and ask for chicken and pastry! David gave us an overview of how sow farms operate and took us on a windshield tour of two sow farms. We then got to see their quail production and hunting lodge, and finished the tour at one of Hog Slat's construction plants. It was really interesting to see how the heaters and feeders I had just seen in the barns were constructed. 

We finished the day with a meeting at Prestage Farms in Clinton. We met with Bill Prestage, President, John Prestage, Senior Vice President, and Scott Prestage, Vice President- Turkey Division. We discussed current issues facing the hog industry in North Carolina and how politics were influencing changes for farmers. I deeply appreciated such busy people taking time out of their schedule to meet with us.

While I had been on farms all day Wednesday, the budget was making its way through committees. When I got home, I looked up the new edition and marked any changes that needed to be watched. Thursday morning, the whole Senate met and debated the bill on its second reading. There were multiple issues that brought contention, specifically education funding and edits to nutrient management plans for multiple watersheds in North Carolina. Senator Woodard even brought in a real mussel to add effect to his debate regarding the proposal to use mussels as a mechanism of cleaning algae from Lake Jordan. After 4 hours of heated debate, the second reading of the budget eventually passed.

There is a rule that states the budget must be voted on three separate days, therefore allowing for enough time to study the bill. However, most legislators leave Raleigh on Thursday night to spend Friday in their home districts. So they could leave Friday morning, the third reading and debate of the bill took place at 12:05 AM on Friday. I listened intently in my pajamas from my bed, but there was only one short debate, and the vote for the budget passed at 12:16 AM. Now we wait for the conference committee of members from both the House and the Senate to meet and work out the differences. When the bill is in conference, the proceeding is confidential and not accessible to the public, so it will be a surprise to see what comes out of conference. Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading, and as always, post questions or statements in the comments. See ya next week!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Week Three: Sows, Piglets, and Showers, Oh My!

This week has been significantly different than my previous two weeks because I spent more time interacting with farmers than legislators. It is important for me to understand who I am representing in order to do the best job possible. What better way to learn about a hog farm than to visit one?

I grew up raising show hogs, but having two feeder pigs in my backyard was drastically different than a commercial swine farm. Mark Daughtry, Vice President of the NCPC Board of Directors and Sow Production Manager for Prestage Farms, gave Angie and I a tour of a 2,000 head sow farm on Monday. Biosecurity is of utmost importance on a farrow-to-wean operation such as this one. Piglets are still building up their immune systems, and will catch a virus such as PED or PRRS much quicker than an adult pig. To protect the piglets, all people entering the farm must take a shower upon arrival and departure. Any clothes worn into the farm are kept on the "dirty" side of the shower, and coveralls, boots, and socks are provided on the "clean" side of the shower. The best part is that hogs don't care that all my make-up washed off and my hair wasn't straightened, unlike the appearance I have to keep at the General Assembly.

We began the tour in the farrowing barn. Sows (momma pigs) that are very close to giving birth are moved from the gestation barn to the farrowing barn, and have their piglets soon after. I was lucky enough to see a few sows giving birth and the piglets making their way into the world. I saw firsthand one of the most controversial aspects of the hog industry: farrowing crates. Producers have long been criticized for the use of crates, although they are in the best interest of the sow and her piglets. A sow kept in a crate is not able to turn around, only to go forward, backwards, stand up, and lay down. There are a few reasons for this- one, the safety of the piglets. The leading cause of death in piglets is accidental squishing by mamma when she lays down. The crate prevents piglets from getting under her when she lays down and significantly decreases the chance of a piglet being crushed. Two, crates are safer for humans while the sow is in labor. Farmers' lives would be much easier if hogs spoke English, but they do not. When a sow has a piglet stuck during birth and needs help, she doesn't understand that a human assisting in the birth is helping her and not attacking her. The crate prevents the 500 lb sow from turning around and potentially hurting the person trying to help her. Three, the crate allows the sow to fully rest during gestation and lactation. Hogs have one of the strictest pecking orders in the animal kingdom. Sows lower in the pecking order are often beat up by the dominant sow. By keeping her in her own pen, the sow does not fear being low in the pecking order and can instead recover from her birth and focus on the care of her piglets. Fourth, the crate allows the producer to monitor individual feed and water intake. When a sow drops her feed intake, it is often an indication of sickness or low lactation. A producer can see this when she leaves feed in her bin, and can take action to treat her and feed her piglets. In a group housing scenario, the other sows would eat her food and the producer would not know that she was not receiving enough feed until her weight and the piglets' weight began to drop.

After the farrowing barn, we moved on to the gestation barn. This is where the sows are kept that are pregnant but not close to farrowing, or are not pregnant and are waiting to be bred. Many of these hogs are also kept in crates, mainly for the third reason I listed above: pecking orders. As a woman, I know how my hormones fluctuate on a monthly basis, and know from friends who have been pregnant that it is even worse during pregnancy. Sows are no different, except they take out their mood swings on the other sows in their pen. By keeping them in individual crates, the sows have less chance of physical harm and/or abortion. It is also easier for the technicians to breed them in a crate than in a group pen. Sows on this farm were bred by artificial insemination (AI) rather than live cover. This prevents the sow from injury that could result during breeding, and is safer for the humans on the farm because they are not handling a boar on a daily basis. AI also allows for greater genetic diversity in the herd and less risk of inbreeding.

On Wednesday, I sat in on the training session for the new members of NCPC's Board of Directors, all of whom are hog farmers. I learned about NCPC's committees, PAC (Political Action Committee), finances, and how the Board of Directors and office staff work together to achieve the goals of our council. After our morning training, we got lunch at Tripp's and I was able to talk to the directors about their operations and how they were similar or different from the farm I saw on Monday. I learned more about nursery farms, where pigs live for their "teenage" years, and finisher farms, where pigs stay from a "teenager" until they reach market weight.

On Tuesday and Thursday, I was at the General Assembly per usual to keep up with legislative happenings. This week, the Senate is working on the budget and should have it ready for discussion by next week. The Farm Bill was also introduced this week, and includes some interesting proposals for swine and cattle. The two most noteworthy changes are a proposal to allow feral hogs to be harvested from aircraft, and for chorionic gonadotropin to receive an exemption from its current status as a Schedule III Controlled Substance. Check out the progress of the Farm Bill here:

As always, if you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments. I'll talk to y'all next week!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Week Two: Dispersing Money from the Piggy Bank

This week in the House of Representatives, the budget was at the top of the pecking order. $22.2 billion needed to be distributed among all of the state's interests, and that does not occur without some major disagreements. I had never sat in on a budget meeting or seen the process before, so I will explain it in the best way possible: through pig gifs.

Tuesday: House Appropriations Committee Meeting

Last Thursday, I sat in on the Agriculture, Economic and Natural Resources Appropriations Committee Meeting. At that point, I had seen the agriculture portion of the budget, but nothing else. During this meeting on Tuesday, the entire budget would be proposed, explained, and open for amendments. I was bouncing off the walls from excitement first thing in the morning to be in such an important meeting, and to see where all of the state's money was going.

I came to the meeting room early to make sure I had a seat; Angie had warned me that seats filled up quickly. Five minutes before the meeting was to start, people began rushing in and scrambling to find seats.

The meeting soon became standing room only. The chairs of each sub-committee presented their portions of the budget and allowed for questions. This portion was very informative, but pretty uneventful. We took a lunch break to allow representatives to submit amendments by one o'clock. I was much appreciative since I had forgotten to eat breakfast that morning.

After lunch, things got interesting. Any member of the committee could propose an amendment to the budget presented by the chairs. Many of these amendments were adopted, as they covered items that the chairs had accidentally overlooked. Many other amendments were heavily debated though, particularly one that would remove a clause from the budget that provided grants to convenience stores in food deserts to sell fresh produce. There was a pretty staunch debate over the issue, but the amendment ended up failing and the grant program remained in the budget. The tension in the room was still high after the heated debate.

By 5 o'clock, a proposed budget was approved by the majority of the committee and placed on the calendar for the House session the next day.

Wednesday: Second Reading of the Budget into the House of Representatives

After a bill is introduced to the House and referred to a committee, it is read, debated, and voted on a second time. Amendments that failed in the committee or that are being proposed by a member that was not on the committee are in order at this time. A number of other highly-debated amendments were proposed, mainly regarding transportation or education. Sometimes an amendment was proposed that looked as if it would cause no debate, but one representative would make a comment that provoked another representative to respond, and soon enough there were 10 people in the queue to debate.

Occasionally, debates would get hostile.

After 30+ proposed amendments, the budget was approved on the second reading with a vote of 103-12. It was placed on the calendar for the next day for the third and final reading.

Thursday: Third Reading of the Budget in the House of Representatives

At 9am, the House of Representatives convened their session to vote a final time on the budget before it would be sent to the Senate. Only three amendments were proposed, and all were technical, so they passed with little debate. Once all amendments were proposed, members could debate the budget in general before it was put to a vote. A few Democrats (the minority party) attempted to persuade Republicans (the majority party) that the budget did not provide a high enough raise for teachers. There was also allusion to the elephant in the room, which was not the mascot of the Republican Party, but of the potential loss of Federal funding that could result from HB2. When a Democratic member attempted to make an amendment to the budget to repeal HB2, the Speaker of the House quickly ruled him out of order since it was not germane to the budget at hand.

After debate, the budget was put to a vote and approved again with a vote of 103-12. The budget is now the property of the Senate, and will follow the same procedure there that it did in the House. This upcoming week will consist of sub-committee and committee meetings for the Senate budget. Although tensions are high around the legislature, at the end of the day, all members are ultimately working together to provide the best budget for the citizens of North Carolina. It will be interesting to see how the Senate interprets the budget, and if HB2 will continue to make an appearance in that process.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them in the comments. I'm "leaf"ing for now, but will be back next week!