When state Senate Minority Leader Jason Frerichs was invited to the White House for a roundtable discussion on rural affairs, he brought with him a gift he thought might help President Obama remember South Dakota: a laser-engraved pen set from the Wilmot FFA, made on a machine that was paid for by a federal education grant.
The meeting Wednesday was part of a series of weekly spitballing sessions that the Obama administration is calling “Champions of Change.” This one was moderated by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
“My whole mission was to inform them that we need confidence for our rural communities,” Frerichs said.
Frerichs, one of 19 people and the only state legislator in attendance, was nominated by a friend who lobbies for the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.
He said he spoke with Vilsack about crop insurance, mobile broadband access in rural areas and how the farm bill is shaping up. Ten minutes into the meeting, in walked President Obama.
“He said – to paraphrase the president – he gets tired of people only talking about farming and agriculture when the farm bill comes up,” Frerichs said.
The president spoke briefly with each person, and that’s when Frerichs came out with the pen set.
Steve Dick, executive director of AgUnited for South Dakota, praised Frerichs as “one of the faces of agriculture” in the state.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for a guy who’s invested in the day-to-day production of row crops and livestock to sit down with the secretary of agriculture,” he said. “But also to have the president there – it can’t help but be a good thing for (agriculture) in South Dakota.”
Dick’s group recently worked with Frerichs to collect seed bags to use as sandbags along the flooded Missouri River.
Frerichs called the trip a chance “to remind people out in D.C. that we have real people back here in South Dakota that are affected by the direction they take.”
He came away encouraged.
“We definitely have a USDA that’s producer-driven,” he said. “That’s something we haven’t seen for a while.
“I’m proud to say I carried the message for South Dakota,” he added.