Monday, September 10, 2012

Indiana Farm Bureau policy

At it’s heart, the Farm Bureau is a policy organization. Yes, it is a grass roots organization of farmers. And they do lots to develop leadership skills, networking opportunities, and educational programs for farmers and non-farmers alike. But the heart and soul of the organization is policy.

Farm Bureau is very involved in any legislation that can affect farmers, whether directly (like the Farm Bill) or indirectly (like time zones).

Every year, the Indiana Farm Bureau holds a delegate session in Indianapolis in August. At this meeting, the delegates (representatives from each county) discuss and vote on the policies that Farm Bureau will support (or not support) in the next calendar year.

delegate session
This was my second time attending the delegate session. I will admit, last year I really didn’t understand much of what was going on, or why we were talking about some of the things we were.

This year, I had a little better grasp of things. Some policy recommendations were accepted with a simple vote. Some were not, and the discussions got a little bit heated at times.

One of the policy recommendations Indiana Farm Bureau supports is that anyone who has livestock, poultry, or pets that may be considered livestock (like pot-bellied pigs) should follow the accepted standards of care for these animals, including recommended vaccinations. There have been instances in this state (and I am sure in many others) where someone had a small flock of “backyard chickens” or a small herd of other farm animal that were not properly vaccinated. These animals got sick, and the airborne disease infected a larger farm nearby. While this may only be an inconvenience for the farmer with the small flock of birds, it can mean the loss of an entire year’s income for the farmer with a barn full of birds.

The delegates discussed for a long time who should make recommendations for “accepted standards of care.” The Indiana Board of Animal Health does have laws in place for things like food, water, shelter, and the responsibility to provide medial care for animals, but they do not make specific vaccination guidelines. Like the Board of Animal Health, the Indiana Farm Bureau delegates recognized that the appropriate vaccinations for one flock of birds or herd of goats may not be the appropriate vaccinations for a flock or herd on the other side of the state in different living conditions. So they recommended that the “standards of care” be based on the recommendation of a veterinarian for that specific group of animals.

Although we discussed many other policy recommendations (we did meet for 6 hours!), there was one other that caught my attention. Time zones.

When I first moved to Indiana, some counties were on Central time and changed clocks with daylight savings time, but most counties were on Eastern time and did not observe daylight savings time. Talk about confusing – you had to remember which time zone you were on, which time zone the county you were going to was on, and if you were in daylight savings time or not! Indiana is still split between two different time zones. And the counties can choose which time zone they would rather be in. Most of the state is in the Eastern time zone, but a cluster of counties around Chicago and a cluster of counties in the southwestern part of the state are in Central time (that’s me). At least right now, everyone observes daylight savings time. So we’re always an hour behind Indianapolis.

And the issue of the time zone was raised at the delegate session. The initial proposal was that we should support that Indiana all be on the same time zone. That one was good enough for me! Then someone suggested that the whole state of Indiana should be on Central time. Then there was heated discussion. Should we stay on Eastern time, even though this stretches all the way to Bangor, Maine? Should we stay on Eastern time, because over 50% of the population is in the Eastern and Central time zones? Should we switch to Central, because most of the out-of-state business farmers do is with Chicago or other cities on Central time?

There was definitely a deciding argument. One of the points for continuing daylight savings time is that it gets light out earlier in the mornings, so it is safer for kids to get on the school bus. But, in Indiana counties that are in the Eastern time zone, the sun doesn’t come up in the winter until around 8:00 in the morning, and the kids are already at school. Which means they are still getting on the bus in the dark. So, if the state switches to Central time, the kids will have the benefit of sunlight when they are getting on the bus early in the morning.

And then we voted. And holy moly! The delegates voted to support policy that would put all of Indiana in the Central time zone!

The Indiana Farm Bureau does not set policy. We do not write policy. We don’t even vote on the policy. But we do have good relationships with our legislators, both here in Indiana and in Washington, DC. So if policy comes up in Indiana next year about the time zones, we now have an official Indiana Farm Bureau opinion. And I am very surprised at what it is!

I suppose that’s the beauty of grass roots.

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