As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” And the same could also be said about policy making, which looks a whole lot simpler when you’re a thousand miles from Capitol Hill.

Policy makers need agriculture, because farmers and related occupations provide food sources both domestically and abroad. Agriculture needs policy, because legislation such as the Farm Bill provides insurance and subsidy programs. With such an interdependent relationship, it’s important for agriculturalists to pay attention to what’s going on in Washington because new pieces of legislation can directly impact daily production practices.

After the House of Representatives failed to pass the Senate-approved Farm Bill, focus has shifted to comprehensive immigration reform. While the name doesn’t suggest direct ties to agriculture the same way the Farm Bill does, guest workers play an important role in American agriculture.During his address to the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City on immigration reform on June 21, United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack framed the reform as pro-agriculture and pro-growth. Vilsack said with the current broken immigration system, many farmers can’t harvest everything they’re capable of growing due to an unstable workforce, which negatively impacts the economy. The proposed reformwould allow for two major changes in the current immigration system by offering an earned path to citizenship and a new guest worker system.

In addition to affecting production practices, policy can also affect our foreign relations. While there are many implications of continuing to use old Farm Bill policy, one that goes relatively under the radar is cotton subsidies. The United States pays $147 million annually as part of an interim settlement with Brazil, guaranteeing the Brazilian government will withhold retaliatory restrictions on non-agricultural products until a new Farm Bill modifying cotton subsidies is passed. (Brazil went to the World Trade Organization in 2002, claiming that American cotton is so heavily subsidized that other countries cannot compete. The panel ruled in favor of Brazil, giving them the right to impose trade barriers against American products.)Ending the interim settlement could result in retaliatory restrictions against non-agricultural products such as U.S. financial services and automobiles.

Because the Farm Bill and immigration reform have such high stakes and wide ranging impacts, it’s imperative that Congress exercises political leadership in search for compromise and consensus. But it doesn’t stop there, there’s a role for producers as well. Your representatives were elected to embody the opinions of their constituents, so it’s your job to make sure your voice is heard.

During his address Vilsack especially encouraged young people to stay educated about policy because it will have a lasting impact on future generations.As agriculturalists, it’s important to understand new policy and the implications of continuing to use old policy. Vilsack credited social media as an outlet to creatively share our thoughts on these issues.

What are your thoughts on farm policy and immigration reform? How do you go about sharing them?

Not sure how to contact your state representatives? You can find House of Representative contact information here and Senate contact information here.