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Three local residents represented Crook-Wheeler counties at the annual American Farm Bureau convention

PHOTO COURTESY OF WADE AND JANICE FLEGEL - Wade and Janice Flegel at the annual American Farm Bureau convention, Voice of Agriculture.

The week of Jan. 18-21, three local members of the American Farm Bureau traveled to Austin, Texas, to attend the organization's annual convention, along with members and representatives throughout the United States.

The theme for the annual convention was "Voice of Agriculture.," Local farmer Wade Flegel has been the Region No. 5 director for 10 years -- covering Crook, Jefferson, Deschutes and Wheeler counties. Tim Deboodt is the Crook-Wheeler Farm Bureau president. Wade's wife, Janice Flegel, represents Oregon Farm Bureau Women's Advisory Council Chair and is the fourth vice president of the bureau. She is in her second year of a two-year term in the former role. The couple has been involved in the bureau since 1993.

Local resident Ray Austin also attended as a member of the Oregon Farm Bureau Health and Safety Committee, which he has served on since 2011. Austin was chairman of the committee from 2012-2016

"My biggest takeaway from the convention is how strong agriculture is in our country," Austin said. "Agriculture is still the backbone of our economy."

Another overarching theme at the convention was farmer wellness, both physical wellness and mental wellness. Austin attended one seminar entitled, "How farm economy affects farmer wellness." President Donald Trump attended and spoke to the attendees on Sunday, Jan. 21, for approximately one hour.

"His presentation was fantastic and well received by the attendees," Austin said. "He updated the agriculture community about recent trade policy and updates to our agreements with Japan, China and recent tariff changes to open our ability to increase exports of American commodities."

Janice attended a workshop on communicating with your legislator.

"It was really good because the point they were making there is you don't have to talk directly to your legislator. You need to have a good rapport and a good working relationship with their staff in your area," she said.

Wade added that building relationships and credibility with local staff members can give you the ability to start a discussion. He said he and Janice became active in the Farm Bureau because they wanted to have a voice to make changes in the agriculture industry, which directly affects them.

"2018, coming into 2019, was a pretty rough year," Wade said. "Through the negotiations that Trump was able to do –- it was really rough for the short term. Yet now what he has set up with these new treaties has put American farmers in a lot better position to negotiate better terms and get better prices and consumption of our products overseas."

Janice added that in 2019, Trump came and asked the farmers at American Farm Bureau convention to stick with him and trust him to make a good deal.

"He didn't have to come back to American Farm Bureau, but he did," Janice said. "He said, 'Thank you.' That was the big reason he was there, was to say thank you to the farmers for sticking with him and not turning on him. I really respect him for what he did. He is humble, and he knows people, and he talks to you like a regular person. It was really cool to see him."'

About the American Farm Bureau

When someone joins the farm bureau as a county member, they also join the Oregon State Farm Bureau, which in turn makes them a member of the American Farm Bureau. When paying their dues, they are paying dues to all three organizations.

Wade explained that it all starts at the local level of the county. Crook and Wheeler counties have combined their membership. Oregon Farm Bureau is made up of county farm bureaus, and the American Farm Bureau is made up of the state farm bureaus.

"Being a member at your county level gives you a voice statewide, and an advocacy at the legislative level and at the state level of agencies, such as Oregon Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Department of Agriculture," Janice said.

When they have administrative rules, they advocate on behalf of farmers. Janice gave an example of some issues of the Crooked River that affected farmers. Wade coordinated a meeting between farmers and agencies to craft a strategy going forward.

"That is some of the benefits of being a member of your county Farm Bureau, is being able to get advocacy in state agencies," she said.

Wade explained that the state Farm Bureau also holds an annual meeting. All representatives from all county farm bureaus come together to work on a policy book. Oregon Farm Bureau follows this policy book when it comes to working with state agencies and doing legislation at the Capitol.

At the annual convention for the American Farm Bureau, delegates for each state vote on policy for the upcoming year and advocate for federal agencies and administrative rules and legislation that comes out of Washington.

"In 2019, I got to sit on the House of Delegates for the American Farm Bureau, which was a really big eye opener, but it was really good because you have a voice in voting and speaking to the different policies that they have in their policy book," Janice concluded.


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