Two members of Congress took a break from Capitol Hill on Monday to revisit their Hoosier roots.
Between Congressional commitments, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-South Bend, and U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Shelbyville, both spent time Monday at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds.
The lawmakers made pit stops at the fairgrounds to grab an elephant ear and meet with constituents on issues facing Hoosiers — especially about agricultural matters.
Donnelly, who has lived in the northern Indiana cities of Mishawaka and South Bend, kicked off his southern Indiana visit just before noon in the Farm Bureau building, where more than 30 local farmers attended the senator’s statewide Farm Bill Listening Tour. Bartholomew County is one of many session stops along Donnelly’s tour route, which began in January.
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As a part of the tour, Donnelly, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, met with farmers for an hour-long session to discuss the challenges facing today’s farming industry and what voters hope to see addressed in the 2018 Farm Bill.
“I want to be sure the Farm Bill reflects Indiana, and it reflects our values and ideas,” Donnelly said.
The previous five-year Farm Bill, which passed in 2014, expanded crop insurance coverage for feed-stock crops used to produce bio-fuels, electricity and bio-based products. It also established a pilot program to allow canned or frozen fruits and vegetables to be in school snack programs, among other things.
The current bill expires Sept. 30, 2018.
Parker Newsom of Columbus, a farmer for most of his life, said hearing Donnelly’s own concerns about Hoosier farmers made the day worthwhile.
“It’s important for us to know what they’re thinking in Washington,” Newsom said. “He’s a man that represents us, so it was important for him to get ideas from us. We matter.”
A theme looming among discussions Monday was crop insurance — purchased by farmers to protect themselves against loss of their crops due to natural disasters such as hail, drought or floods. Crop insurance also protects farmers from loss of revenue due to declines in the prices of agricultural commodities.
Some farmers said they hope to see the program expand with more funding.
Messer, who grew up 28 miles east of Columbus in Greensburg, said crop insurance is a vital part of the modern agriculture industry, which is why he said it’s important for the program to continue to thrive and flourish.
“The crop insurance program is vital for farmers because it protects their wealth, their energy, their efforts,” Messer said. “It’s also important for everyday consumers because without that crop insurance program, farmers and everyone in the food industry would have to charge more to factor in the risk of a potential flood or drought.”
Barb Hackman, the Bartholomew County Republican Party chairwoman, escorted Messer around the fairgrounds Monday, introducing him to farmers, fair leaders and visitors. She said Messer showed the greatest interest in agricultural issues, asking 4-H families what mattered most to them.
“He just wanted to stay connected to the farmers in the county,” Hackman said. “There are a lot of agriculture issues out there. There’s always the farm bill. A large part of the county is farm, even indirectly. For him to come out and spend time here, make a presence, is very important to the county. He met Democrats and Republicans alike, and it makes an impression on them that he would take the time to come down.”
Agriculture wasn’t the only topic to come up when local residents talked to the congressman.
Messer said other matters on local people’s minds were jobs and the economy, national security and Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
“They don’t want the rug pulled out from underneath them because some folks are on these programs. But they also understand that the current program is not working,” Messer said. “That it’s collapsing under its own weight, that rates are spiking and that’s not sustainable, either.”
Donnelly and Messer could face off against each other in the 2018 general election. Donnelly is expected to seek a second six-year term in the Senate as a Democrat. Messer, a third-term Republican representing the 6th Congressional District (including Columbus) in the U.S. House, said he is considering running for Donnelly’s Senate seat. The two returned to Washington on Monday after their visits to the fair.
BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY YOUNG FARMERS DAY
9 a.m.: 4-H Cat & Caged Critter shows, Pavilion
9 a.m.: Grand Champion Pictures, Community Building; David Boll Theatre
10 a.m.: Adventure Day Carnival, David Boll Theatre
Noon: Lil’ Hands on the Farm, 4-H Community Building, Family Arts and Commercial Buildings open
Noon: Midway opens – Kids Day
1 p.m.: Lil’ Wrangler Sheep Show, 4-H Sheep Show, Pavilion
2 p.m.: Pedal Tractor Pull, east of Farm Bureau Building
2 p.m.: Amazing Race Scavenger Hunt, starting at Fair Fit Booth in Lil’ Hands on the Farm building
5 p.m.: Extension Homemakers – Puppy Pillow Session, Family Arts Building
5 p.m.: Feel the beat with the Drum Circle from Miller Race Center, David Boll Theatre
6:30 p.m.: Open arena horse riding
7 p.m.: Area teen bands: Attic, others, David Boll Theatre
7 p.m.: Midwest Three-Quarter Racing League, Grandstand
7 p.m.: Southern Indiana Pipes & Drums, Farm Bureau Building
8 p.m.: Easterling Magic Show, Farm Bureau Building
BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY FARM BUREAU INSURANCE DAY
10 a.m.: Lil’s Wrangler & 4-H Dairy Show Judging, Pavilion
12:30 p.m.: Lil’ Wrangler Beef /Starter Calf, Pavilion
1 p.m.: 4-H Beef, Pavilion
1 p.m.: Grand Champion Pictures, Community Building; David Boll Theatre
5 p.m.: Lil’ Hands on the Farm, 4-H Community Building, Family Arts and Commercial Buildings open
5 p.m.: Midway opens
6 p.m.: Children’s Baking Contest, Family Arts Building
6 p.m.: 4-H Best Dressed Rabbit Competition, Gathering Pavilion
6:30 p.m.: Horse & Pony Parent & Alumni Horse Show
7 p.m.: 4-H Rabbit Race, Gathering Pavilion
7 p.m.: Small Town Famous – Country and folk music performed by Mac Trotter and Ed Kriz, David Boll Theatre
7 p.m.: Mud Bog – presented by Rhino Linings of Columbus, Grandstand
7 p.m.: Happy Feet, line dancing, Farm Bureau Building
8 p.m.: Working Chute Contest, Pavilion
Want to make the photos you take at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair photos extra cool?
The fair board is offering up a different Snapchat filter for each day of the fair.
Take a photo at the fair, then take a swipe on Snapchat, and you’ll find some fun fair filters. Don’t forget to enable location.
What: Retired NASCAR champion Tony Stewart will compete tonight in the Midwest TQ Association Three-Quarter Midget race at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair. The event, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed due to threatening weather.
When: Warmups at 6 p.m., with racing starting about 7 p.m. today
Where: Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds, 750 W. 200 S, Columbus.
Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for kids, $5 for parking, $15 for a pit pass