I was reminded of the importance of ASHS being an active advocate for horticulture and horticultural science during the Board’s visits on Capitol Hill and with UDSA administrators on May 11, the day after our May Board of Directors’ meeting. While ASHS had been involved in legislative activities through partnerships with other scientific societies through common coalitions (i.e., AAAS CoFARM, CAST, etc.) for a number of years, the Society was not a stand-alone voice for horticulture with government entities and agencies until about 7 years ago. Most other agricultural science societies have been engaged in this process for a long time. From a suggestion at the 2005 Annual Business Meeting by Thomas Björkman, the ASHS Board of Directors established a “Public Affairs Task Force” consisting of the Executive Committee, Executive Director Mike Neff, Thomas Björkman, and chaired by John Clark. Initial efforts began with Björkman and Neff visiting with CSREES (now NIFA) officials in February 2006 to discuss ways of increasing ASHS’ profile on grant review panels and other areas. Later that spring, Clark and Neff attended the Coalition for Funding Agricultural Research Missions (CoFARM) Capitol Hill visits.
ASHS Board of Directors on on a May 2012 visit to Capitol Hill. (photo: Jonathan Moore)
The Public Affairs Task Force was renamed the National Issues Task Force in 2007 and formal, expanded advocacy efforts began in D.C., with the first ASHS Capitol Hill visits beginning that spring. In January 2007, ASHS contracted with a public affairs consultant, Jonathan Moore, who works part-time in D.C. on our behalf. Moore provides a column in the ASHS Newsletter to keep members informed about ASHS activities and issues.
This is the 6th year that Jonathan has arranged for the Board to visit with key Senators and Representatives, as well as key staff members. We had 12 meetings with 18 Senators, Representatives, and staff members on May 11, including a senior staff member for the Senate Agriculture Committee. My take-aways from the day were: our message was clear and well-received, the individuals we met with were very supportive and informative, and it is a tough budget environment.
We also met with USDA administrators Catherine Woteki (Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics), Sonny Ramaswamy (new NIFA Director), and Ed Knipling (ARS Administrator). This was a productive one-hour meeting where we talked about the role of horticulture and our successes and how we can partner with USDA to advance the research and education mission. We provided specific examples of collaboration with measurable impacts. We also informed them of our efforts to educate the Congress on important issues of mutual concern.
I think ASHS has already made significant impacts through our advocacy efforts. It is apparent to many that we contributed to the successes for horticulture in the 2008 Farm Bill (establishment of NIFA and funding for SCRI, OREI, etc.). Some of this was done through individual contact, but some was behind the scenes, advising and encouraging coalition partners such as the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, the Association of Public Land-grant Universities, and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. Building strong, consistent relationships with these partners is critical to growing our influence. Our educational efforts have placed issues important to us on the front burner for these organizations, many with considerably larger advocacy budgets than ASHS. This visibility and input resulted in ASHS being invited to the table for such things as the Ad Hoc Group for Agricultural Research, organized by Roger Beachy after he left the NIFA Director position. We were able to effectively communicate that horticulture (specialty crops) represents one-half of the farm gate value of all agricultural crops and is probably the most visible, positive face of U.S. agriculture. We also support a huge variety of fruit, vegetable, and ornamental crops, many of those grown by small farmers and disadvantaged communities. That message was well-received, but can be easily forgotten unless we remain visible and at the table when important issues are discussed.
The current Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill is kind to agricultural and horticultural research, but the funding level is reduced. A key and unprecedented clause is that SCRI and OREI were recommended for mandatory funding for 10 years in the Senate version. Another significant inclusion in the Senate version is the removal of the “non-federal” describer of the required match for SCRI grants. We were able to make a case for this to the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance’s Research Committee during a conference call last winter and this became one of their talking points. This is very important for our ARS scientists and their ability to use their salaries, etc., for matching. A markup of the House version of the Farm Bill is expected to occur in June/July.
You might ask, “What can individual ASHS members do to assist in our effort to educate policymakers, appropriators, and administrators about the value of horticultural research and education and the needs and opportunities?” Well, I am glad you asked. You can do two things. The first thing you can do is say a good word to your U.S. senators and representatives about the impact of programs they have funded and ask for their support for funding in the 2012 Farm Bill. Most universities have policies in place about who can represent their institutions with policymakers; however, we represent ASHS when making these contacts and should identify ourselves as such.
- Access a pamphlet about ASHS and our legislative priorities for your use on the ASHS website: www.ashs.org/downloads/ASHS-Position-5-30-12.pdf
The second thing you can do, and probably the most important thing, is to report the impact of your work. Impacts are real ammunition for ASHS to use to document past performance and project the potential of federal programs such as SCRI, OREI, AFRI, land-grant formula funding, and ARS horticulture program funding. John Lea-Cox and Linda Brewer, with excellent support from Mike Neff and Tim Rhodus, along with input from Tom Bewick, have established a database for collection of impact statements from our research and extension programs. We are calling that database the Center for Horticultural Research Impact Statements (CHRIS). Jonathan Moore has already been using this information to educate policymakers and their staff of the significant returns on investment from funding horticultural research. Several congressional staff members have applauded the availability of this information, used it, and asked for more. This information has also been used by collaborating groups such as APLU and the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance.
In this issue of the ASHS Newsletter, John Lea-Cox is providing more detailed information about the database, what an effective impact statement looks like, and how you can contribute your impact statements. PLEASE take the time to write impact statements. It is the single most important thing you can do to advance our advocacy for horticultural research and education.
It is imperative that ASHS be a visible, positive force for horticulture and horticultural research and education with our federal policymakers and administrators. It is probably most important during such negative budget times. I am proud of what we have done on this front so far and look forward to even greater success as we build necessary relationships.
As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.
published in the May 2012 ASHS Newsletter