On a recent rapid-fire trip to Washington, D.C., 14 farmers and University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agents met with congressional staffers, networked with people from other countries, voiced their opinions and learned a great deal about policy, agricultural markets and government.

Agriculture and natural resources agents Clint Hardy, Daviess County; Michael Smith, Henderson County; Greg Henson, McLean County; Rankin Powell, Union County and Vicki Shadrick, Webster County, and horticulture agents Annette Heisdorffer, Daviess County, and Jeff Porter, Henderson County, were responsible for planning, coordinating and recruiting participants.

Hardy admits that from the time the team of agents started developing the idea, until the time they departed for the capital, the scope of the trip changed a great deal.

“Our initial idea was for it to be an educational program to expose them to the activities of Washington,” Hardy said.

“Our participants shifted the program from our original intent. It became an opportunity to go share their opinions and views with Congress. I think the ultimate thing our farmers gained from this experience was that they realized Washington leadership is much more approachable than they thought they were.”

The participants met with the staffs of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and congressmen Brett Guthrie, who represents Daviess County, and Ed Whitfield, who represents the other four counties. At each stop they had the opportunity to talk about issues important to them, which included immigration reform, the farm bill and trade policies.

“If you don’t speak for yourself, you’ve got to wonder who’s speaking for you,” said Jesse Horn, one of the trip participants, who farms 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans in Daviess County.

Horn, who at the age of 30 is considered an early-career farmer, is a graduate of KyFarmStart, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded program for beginning farmers and ranchers run by the UK Cooperative Extension Service. As such, he jumped at the chance to continue his education and meet policymakers by going to Washington, D.C.

“I wanted the opportunity to put myself in front of people and say this is who I am, this is what I’m doing, let me know how I can help,” Horn said.

Opportunities he certainly had. Horn and the others made contacts not only in the legislative offices but also at the 2013 USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum.

Professor Will Snell, UK agricultural economics, made arrangements for the trip’s participants to meet with legislative staffs and to attend the forum, which attracts media, producers and agribusinesses from all over the world.