Why Does the Fertilizer Industry Need a Lobbyist?

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October 18, 2011

My guest at a recent dinner party asked me "why does the fertilizer industry need a lobbyist?"  As a lobbyist with 30 years of experience proudly representing a business that is responsible for between 40 and 60 percent of world food production, I have more than a few answers to that question. 

President Ulysses S. Grant is believed to have coined the term “lobbyist” in the early 1800’s when he would enter the Willard Hotel, one block from the White House, various people would be waiting for him in the lobby to discuss their concerns.  While lobbying was a much less organized activity back then, the idea of developing opportunities to present your case to key decision makers remains today.

Today, the United States Congress is made up of 535 (100 Senators and 435 Representatives) democratically elected individuals from 50 states with numerous backgrounds ranging from lawyer, business owner, fisherman, doctor, military, farmer, nurse and teacher to name just a few.  Add to that, over 2.5 million federal government employees at fifteen Cabinet-level agencies and seven additional Cabinet-level officers that develop thousands of regulations to implement the laws that Congress enacts and the President signs, and you start to realize that there are likely a number of people that may not know much about your particular business or interest.

This is where the role of a lobbyist comes into play.  When it comes to the fertilizer industry, government policies, federal, state or local, can have serious impacts on all aspects of our business - from the manufacturing at the plant, to transporting the product by rail, barge or truck, to the storage of the product at the retail facility to the application on the farm.  Nearly every piece of the fertilizer chain has some sort of regulation, federal or state, that dictates how, when and where we can deliver our products.  Furthermore, the fertilizer industry is not just a big business or corporation; rather it consists of workers and employees that are dedicated to ensuring that the country is able to produce the food, fuel and fiber that our nation is dependent upon.  A lobbyist simply gives these individuals who are busy with full-time jobs a voice in Washington.   
     
It is critical that the fertilizer industry has a representative in Washington, D.C., and state capitols, that can build and maintain relationships with the key lawmakers and agency officials that write and implement the laws affecting our ability to conduct business. It is the job of the lobbyist to educate these people and provide them with relevant information that is helpful in making sound policy decisions.  Without the necessary information, poor policy decisions can be made that could lead to unintended consequences causing negative impacts on our industry and its ability to operate. 

Unfortunately, much of the media attention on the lobbying world is heavily focused on the few bad apples that give lobbying a bad name.  The reality is that there are approximately 15,000 registered lobbyists at the federal level, representing every American on a wide variety of issues.  For example, if you are over 65 and retired, you have the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) lobbying on your behalf, if you own and operate an automobile the American Automobile Association (AAA) is lobbying on your behalf, if you are disabled, you have the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) lobbying on your behalf.  In fact, it would probably be safe to say that if you are a U.S. citizen (and even if you are not in some cases), you have a handful of lobbyists who are working for your interests either directly or indirectly.  On the other hand, there are probably another handful of lobbyists working on the opposite side of your issue.  You just hope that your arguments are better than the other sides.  It’s kind of like the saying about attorneys, “they’re all bad unless they’re representing you.”