The Farm Bill: A student view

Chelsea Render is a student at MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine. She is a 2009 graduate of CANR's animal science program. After she graduates in May 2014, Render plans to enter rural veterinary practice.

February 19, 2014

by Chelsea Render

Chelsea Render is a student at MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She is a 2009 graduate of CANR's animal science program. After she graduates in May 2014, Render plans to enter rural veterinary practice.

Animal agriculture has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up on a small farm in Michigan raising sheep and horses and spending time at the local livestock auction barn. As a first-generation college student, I was drawn to Michigan State University through its extension and agriculture outreach activities.

MSU was founded as an agricultural college – the nation’s pioneer land-grant institution – so it has more than 150 years of shaping leaders in agriculture and veterinary medicine. I knew being a student at MSU would provide me with many opportunities, but I never imagined it would land me in our nation’s capital.

In 2011, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow became the first Michigan senator to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee since 1889. This brought national attention to our diverse agricultural economy and gave Michigan farmers a powerful voice in national policy. Also in 2011, MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine Food Systems Fellowship Program created a summer position with the committee for one veterinary student.

I didn’t have significant policy experience, so I was surprised I was selected for the fellowship. My issue assignments on the committee, however, seemed like a natural fit. They included livestock, dairy, food safety and animal welfare. I provided background and technical insight to help the chairwoman and staff members make policy decisions and draft legislation. Each idea we considered had the potential to be included in the farm bill, a package of legislation updated about every five years that sets federal agriculture and food policy.

Near the end of the fellowship, I was offered a position on staff to help write the farm bill – legislation that affects every American, from farmers to manufacturers to consumers. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. So, I temporarily suspended my veterinary studies for a whirlwind adventure with the 112th Congress.

Over the next 18 months, I assisted committee members in writing two versions of the farm bill. Following the legislation through committee and eventually on the Senate floor, I had the opportunity to experience nearly every step of the legislative process in Congress. When the Senate considered the farm bill in 2012 it voted on 73 amendments in just a few days. I felt like I was a part of history, watching as our leaders debated, negotiated and voted on policies I had a hand in crafting.

As I write this, Congress has yet to approve this year’s farm bill. But whatever the outcome, I’m proud to be part of Michigan State’s tradition of shaping the agriculture industry’s future. I never thought a farm kid like me would ever be able to influence federal policy in such an intimate way.

Editor’s Note: Since this publication was written, President Obama signed the Farm Bill on the MSU campus. (Read more about the President’s visit to campus here.)

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