Jenna Hanks (NR) Goes to Washington

Jenna Hanks, Natural Resources MajorThe morning of May 8, 2016 I remember having to pinch myself constantly as I was walking through the secret tunnels that ran beneath the various Congressional buildings. I was on my way to a conference room located in the Committee on Natural Resources meeting chambers. Representative Jody Hice agreed to host an early morning meeting to discuss various agricultural issues his constituents had concerns about. I was getting a glimpse into the world of politics and public policy.

Never in a million years did I think I would be meeting with a representative from Georgia in his committee meeting chambers, but that is exactly one of the things I did during my time as the public policy intern for the Southern Crop Production Association.

The Southern Crop Production Association (SCPA) represents various organizations from the fifteen southern states in the agricultural industry. The SCPA serves as a spokesperson for various agricultural companies and provides some of the biggest names in the agricultural industry, such as CropLife America, Bayer CropScience and Dow-DuPont  with state and federal legislation updates. We also facilitate inter-industry networking opportunities and educational opportunities for the general public on behalf of our members.

Now, if my major is Natural Resources with a concentration in Policy and Administration, how did I end up working with an agricultural lobbying organization? Well, the Natural Resources major ensures that  students receive a solid foundation in a wide variety of areas, including natural resources subjects, economics, political science, communications, physics, and chemistry.  While I had some work to do to learn the specifics of a different industry, the solid background I received in chemistry, soil science, and communications made catching up an entirely achievable task.

I enjoyed my internship so much that I chose to extend it through the fall. One thing that made my time at Southern Crop so beneficial was that I was able to explore a variety of topics in the agricultural industry. I started by doing some basic research on the industry and the association that would be used for our educational outreach. My boss, Jeff Cassidy, and I both concluded that my recent introduction to the industry would give a fresh perspective to the development of educational materials for the public.

My immersion into agriculture started with looking into its history and future. Before this summer, I had no idea that the evolution of agriculture is one of the main things that allowed for the massive increase in our population. I also examined the specific steps in the farming process and new emerging technologies and practices, such as precision agriculture, which is the use of maps that measure variables to optimize field-level management. Many of these programs include systems taught in Natural Resources, such as ARC GIS.

The next issue that I tackled was the history and specific information about pesticides and the ‘Big 6,’ which is a reference to the main companies that produce them. As I familiarized myself with the different types of pesticides, along with the approval process through the EPA, I realized how intertwined science is with policy. Pesticides influence a number of public policy issues, such as The Clean Water Act, The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, and pollinator health.

In Mid-May,  I accompanied Southern Crop and representatives from its members to Washington D.C. to call on Congress members from the fifteen southern states. We discussed an array of topics such as pesticides’ effect on pollinator health (a scientific study published during our visit attributed the decrease in the pollinator population to the Verroa Mite, not pesticides), the permit process for spraying crops near a body of water considered a water of the U.S., and the need for a national GMO labeling law in response to Vermont’s labeling law. Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, are a hot topic in public policy at state, federal, and global levels. GMOs will allow crops to have higher survival rates, yields, and increased nutritional values, which can help feed the globe’s growing population. A single state labeling regulation would have driven up the price of GMO crop production. I was thrilled to see that our visit paid off and Congress passed a national standard for GMO labeling so that the U.S. wouldn’t end up with a patchwork of labeling standards for every state. The national standard will help regulate food prices, which in turn, will keep the GMO industry thriving. It is amazing to say that I had a part–a very small part, but a part nonetheless–in getting a federal law passed.

After returning from D.C., I spent most of my time putting together information for SCPA’s website and educational material for presentations. I gave a presentation on GMOs to a local Garden Club and my Global Environmental Politics class this semester. My visit to Washington sparked an interest in possibly pursuing a career in the agricultural industry or as a lobbyist.

My experiences over the summer highlighted the importance of communication in the STEM fields. I spent much of my time learning how to convey very technical information in the most efficient and relatable way possible, which is much more difficult than I originally assumed. This showed me how valuable effective communication can be and helped me realize my passion for public speaking. Lobbying is the perfect platform for blending communication with scientific expertise to educate those responsible for forming our country’s environmental laws. I hope to use the skills the College of Natural Resources has prepared me with to make an impact in my future professional field.