Alexis Bodlak – National Corn Growers Association – Washington, D.C.

Intern Updates

August 2023 Update

Corn Congress. I love a good alliteration! I was fortunate enough to have a flexible schedule throughout the week. This gave me the opportunity to attend many different action team meetings. I split most of my time between the risk management and transportation action team and the member and consumer experience action team. Many of these discussions were focused on issues that are affecting our farmers, or potential members. We had many conversations about what might be stopping new members from joining, and what we can do to make them feel like there is a space for them in this organization. Another important topic that was discussed centered around trade and updates to the Farm Bill in specific areas like base acres. Throughout the summer, I have been learning more about these issues and tracking them, but I was grateful to be a fly on the wall and hear other thoughts on the issues.

In addition to action team meetings, I was able to join my fellow Nebraskans on Wednesday for Hill visits. We started off the morning early with breakfast and our first stop at Growth Energy. They focused on expanding the market for ethanol and relied on me and two younger farmers in the room to provide insight into consumer preferences for the younger demographic. It turns out that means other broke twenty-somethings that want whatever gas is cheapest and environmentally conscious.

After this first stop, we had a quick lunch and met with the Canadian Embassy. The agricultural staffer was very proud to highlight the trade relationship between the U.S. and Canada. I learned about how products that are grown between the two countries are traded, processed, and then turned into a final product that consumers can buy right from the shelf. Another talking point was addressing moves made towards filing a consultation with Mexico regarding heir ban on GMO corn.

After a morning that heavily focused on international trade, it was refreshing to visit Senator Fischer’s office to discuss more state and federal level issues. We thanked her for all her hard work on the E-15 bill and other efforts that she has made to support Nebraskan farmers. We rounded out the day with a presentation from Bluestem Health, a new biotechnology firm in Omaha, Nebraska. They are adding another production capacity to existing ethanol plants that allows for diversification. After such a busy day, I was happy to relax and enjoy the company of other growers and hill staff at the Farm Bill Frenzy hosted by NCGA.

Aside from all the new information and connections that I was able to make, the food was my favorite part of the week! I was able to join the RMTAT team and my Nebraskans for dinner each night. As a young agriculturist, I appreciated the opportunity to learn from others that had more experience than me while also sharing my perspective. We ended the week with the big event: Corn Congress. I was able to witness the several rounds of voting and speeches that took place prior to the election of the new board. I learned about what matters to our farmers and what NCGA was going to do to advance them with policy and legislation.

July 2023 Update

It’s true that time flies when you’re having fun! With only two weeks left of my internship, I thought that now would be a good time to fill Nebraska Corn in on what has been keeping me busy in the D.C. office. As you know, Corn Congress and visits “on the hill” took place in the middle of July. Most of my tasks this month were focused on logistics and scheduling for hill visits.

As much as we would have liked to spend all month preparing for Corn Congress, our office has many other priorities that we needed to manage as well. With the August recess creeping up, the Farm Bill and Comms Outreach Team Meetings ramped up. To help free up some time for others in the office, I took on the task of creating meeting agendas and managing agenda items as needed. Of course, I sat in on those meetings and learned more about what the comms team does and how it relates to farm bill education.

One of my favorite things about the agricultural industry is the diversity and breadth of topics that fit under one umbrella. I love taking notes on different hearings within the Senate and House to see what the committee is tackling or taking into consideration when drafting new legislation. This month, I was able to branch out from government to take notes on an electric vehicle and sustainability roundtable that was organized by Politico. It was interesting to hear their speculations on the feasibility of electric vehicles and gain an understanding of the challenges with nationwide implementation.

Every once in a while, I think that it is important to gain experience outside of the office. During the second week in July, I was able to attend the Universal Food Forum which was organized by Michigan State. They had a series of panels throughout the day on topics ranging from sustainability to misinformation in the media and everything in between. As a nutrition and agricultural communications double major, this was right up my alley! I was able to identify topics and issue areas that were of interest to me and make connections with industry professionals that are already working to address them.

Summer birthdays were never that fun for me because I didn’t get to celebrate with all of my friends. For the first time, I was able to celebrate my 20th birthday with some of my fellow intern friends when I hosted the NCGA lunch and learn. We had birthday treats of course, and the D.C. staff was able to share about what they do and promote opportunities for young individuals to stay involved with the National Corn Growers Association.

This monthly recap is quite brief but for good reason! Stay tuned for another update that covers all things Corn Congress and my final thoughts on this internship. Until next time!

June 2023 Update

The first week at the office was quite a busy one! Shortly after my tour of the building, I met with my supervisor Kendra to learn more about what my role would be this summer. We discussed my goals for the internship, skills that I would like to improve, and some things that I absolutely must do while in D.C. Following our chat, I introduced myself to the rest of the staff in the office. Everyone was very kind and welcoming. I knew from the first few minutes here that I would have a great relationship with my coworkers.

As someone that is not very good at sitting still, I wasted no time getting to work on several projects. My first of which was to create a welcome banner for sponsors at a reception during Corn Congress. In addition to the banner, I met with Kendra Ricks, my supervisor, and a few other staff members to learn about their areas of expertise. Following their conversations, I was able to identify my areas of interest and begin working on my summer project proposal. On Fridays, the office generally works from home. I have taken advantage of this by setting up shop in various Smithsonian museums and local coffee shops to work. These places were the perfect environment for me to update a spreadsheet with the most up-to-date USDA stats relating to corn. The data I collected will be used to create a leave-behind for Congressional Visits at the end of July.

My first week was jam packed full of exploring and many exciting projects in the office. Week two was no exception. I kicked off the week by working on my project proposal, narrowing down many different ideas into one cohesive theme. I decided that I will be working with Wayne to analyze marker bills and determine what their impact would be on corn farmers. I hope to take a deep dive into one or two proposals that pique my interest and create a formal position on behalf of NCGA. My supervisor had an interesting way of getting me to think about my goals for the internship. She had me write myself a letter of recommendation. When I was finished, I met with her to identify action steps that would make everything in my letter true! She was very helpful and gave me a lot of guidance and direction as to which projects I should ask to help with. That day I was asked to sit in on the interview for the newest trade lobbyist position. I thought that it was interesting to see questions that are asked in a formal job interview, and it made me think about how I want to present myself in those formal situations.

One of my favorite things about being a Nebraskan in Washington D.C. is the weekly Nebraska Breakfast held in the Russel Senate Building. My supervisor was gracious enough to give me the morning off to attend. I was able to connect with several friends that are interning for Nebraskan Representatives and Senators while listening to all the elected officials update Nebraskans on their projects. This was the morning of the Willa Cather statue unveiling so the breakfast was packed! It was exciting to meet with the governor and new president of my school, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Following breakfast, I attended a Ways and Means Committee hearing that related to agricultural sustainability. Most of the conversation was centered around precision agriculture, which I admittedly do not know much about, crop insurance, and climate change. I took notes at the meeting and met with my coworker back at the office to discuss the hearing and how I thought it would impact NCGA and its growers. I loved being pushed to think critically about policies and their effects. Truthfully, I leave most meetings and hearings with more questions than answers, which turns out to be a good thing. I am grateful to be in an office where everyone is an expert in their area and has a dept of knowledge and experience they are more than willing to share.

This week was jam packed! After the breakfast and hearing on Tuesday, I began preparing for the farm tour with Trey Hill at Harbor View Farms. We spent the morning of the farm tour in Virginia at a research facility that was involved in every aspect of pesticide production from the lab to the field, and everything in between. I was able to learn more about the extensive regulation surrounding agricultural product development and implementation. In the afternoon, we loaded back into the charter bus and made our way to Maryland for a visit to Trey Hill’s farm. He is a regenerative farmer that has embraced reduced tillage and pesticide use paired with cover crops. The farm is around 10,000 acres and there are several farm hands that assist with day-to-day operations. We heard about his struggles and successes relating to his operation. Following a tour of his fields, chemical shed, and equipment shed, his pesticide pilot gave us a pesticide application demonstration on a nearby field. During high school, I interned as a crop scout and became familiar with Grab Brown, a regenerative agriculturalist who farms in South Dakota. My favorite part about the day was comparing what I knew about regenerative agriculture from my family’s operation with that of Gabe Brown and Trey Hill’s. That was the end of a very busy week!

Week number three was just as much a learning experience as the previous two. Through CropLife America, interns from all over Washington D.C. that are working for agricultural related companies, corporations, and associations can get together and network. In addition to lunch and learns weekly, the D.C. Ag Interns Network connects interns with various learning opportunities. My favorite to date has been The Pesticide Discussion. For two days, I was able to network with industry professionals and interns as we learned about what pesticides really were. We dove into the science, misconceptions, and what CropLife was doing to address them. Throughout the two days, we were trained in advocacy and the best ways to use social media for education. The communications team did a great job explaining the biggest challenges they face and how their job has changed with consumer preferences when it comes to the food that they buy.

After a very busy two weeks, I was grateful to spend some time in the office working on my projects and helping others. As you know, Corn Congress will be here before we know it! This week, I started reaching out to state representatives and senators to schedule meetings on the Hill for our advocacy day at the end of July. After spending all of Monday answering emails, it was great to get out of the office to volunteer at the International Dairy Foods Association Annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party. With a few of the other D.C. Ag Interns, I manned the root beer float station in the pouring rain. It was so fun to chat with staffers and interns that braved the rain to bring ice cream back to their offices. I turned in early that night, so I was well rested for my early morning flight the next day. My supervisor Kendra organizes an annual Women and Mentors Conference in St. Louis. She was gracious enough to invite me to attend, and I knew that it was too good of an opportunity to turn down!

We kicked off the conference learning about how to quiet our inner critic, take charge of our leadership journey, handle conflict constructively, and run our life like a business. There was plenty of great food and opportunities to network with women that came from farming backgrounds or were very passionate about the industry. After lunch on Friday, we were paired or grouped with other women who would be mentors or mentees. I was paired with two phenomenal women who are both involved in agricultural policy. I am looking forward to continuing this professional relationship as I start gaining more experience and begin my career in agricultural policy.

It’s hard to believe that it is already the last week of June! I kicked off my week with a Tennessee Farm Bill Listening Session. The next day, I attended a breakfast for ag interns with the Sugar Beet Association. We learned about how checkoffs and associations work and what their operations look like when pairing up with other agencies to accomplish policy change. I was able to make industry connections and continue to network with other interns in the ag space. I ended the day at the Russell Senate Building for the National Farmers’ Cooperative Reception. I have been fortunate enough to be pulled in on quite a few projects around the office and I have enjoyed each of them! When not attending networking events or taking notes on a listening session, helping others around the office has kept me quite busy.

My favorite part about growing up in a small town was the sense of community, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find that in D.C. However, the more I get to know my coworkers and other interns and professionals involved in the agricultural industry, the more I can see myself coming back to D.C. after graduation. No matter what people believe or where they stand on issues, a passion for agriculture is the only thing that you need to feel welcomed in this space. I have no idea where I will be post-grad, but I do know that I will be serving the producers that have helped me get to this point.