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Opinion: A look at the diverse tapestry of Missouri agriculture

My first lesson in agriculture was falling flat on my face cleaning out the back lot of the milk barn. Any farm kid knows this means you are covered in mud from head to toe. Boy, did I used to absolutely not like going to the milk barn. Now, looking back on those years, I realize they were formative in my work ethic and understanding of what is a large portion of the backbone and heart of Missouri. If you would have told that kid who fell flat on her face that day that she’d be serving in the Missouri Legislature, I would have laughed at you. As they say, “God laughs while we make plans,” and here I am.

One of the biggest privileges of my life has been serving in this capacity for the home and people I love. However, what moves me more than successful legislation and victories in the committee room is the incredible body of people who I serve with. It is true that the House is closest to the People. My grandfather, who served many years ago as a representative, told me this when I decided to run, and as each day passes, I realize in the most unique of ways how right he was.

State Rep. Hannah Kelly

Today, as I visited with my colleagues at Summer Caucus, I began to ask the members their background and history with farming. The answers I got were educational as well as a refresher course on our diversity and rich tapestry of people throughout this great state. 

Whether talking with Rep. Randy Railsback about the family farm that he now owns and operates that was homesteaded by his great-grandfather in 1872 or visiting with Rep. Bennie Cook about why he is so grateful to have the chance to raise his kids on the farm alongside his wife Amanda, the passion for agriculture in our legislative body obviously runs deeper than policy ideas written on paper.

If you sit next to Rep. Scott Cupps, you will be sure to hear some great stories about working cows with his twin brother and have an honest conversation about the work ahead of us to always make sure that our farmers’ voices are heard in the budget room where the framework for the direction of our state’s financial focus begins through his role as Appropriations chairman for Agriculture.

Anyone who knows Rep. Mike Haffner knows that he has a strong passion for biodiesel among many other agriculture subjects. If you catch him on the phone at the right time of year, you will hear him say he’s been tending to the Christmas trees on his farm. My reminder of the diversity in our agriculture community that makes us who we are.

If you talk to Rep. Kurtis Gregory, you will find someone who is well known — not just on the football field, but in the agriculture community for his commitment to making sure we continue to have strong family farms and commonsense in the legislature that protects them.

Majority Floor Leader Dean Plocher will be sure to tell you with a big smile on his face about the happiness he gets out of making time to work on the farm he now owns that has been in his family for many generations.

Someone who I call the godfather of the House makes an impact on anything he has something to do with — but when it comes to agriculture, let’s just say the whole room goes extra quiet and is guaranteed to listen to what this wise man says. If you know him, you know that his love for Miss Myra is his No. 1 priority, but  No. 2 is agriculture and making sure our farmers get what they need — whether it be in the budget room, committee room, or on the House Floor. Rep. Don Rone is a force to be reckoned with.

Rep. Dean VanSchoiack doesn’t just wear a cowboy hat for fashion. As an auctioneer and cattle/corn farmer, he knows hard work and isn’t afraid of it. 

Rep. Greg Sharpe always used to tease me when I chaired the Agriculture Appropriations Committee and tell me I was the boss. However, I do know that his commitment to all things agriculture as a farmer is a strong asset not only in the budget room but also on the House floor.

Rep. Rodger Reedy always has a mission, but the thing that makes him smile from ear to ear is when he starts talking about his family and how grateful he is to have been able to raise his family on the farm.

Rep. Louis Riggs is known as a champion for rural broadband, but an interesting fact he doesn’t bring up much because he’s busy helping connect communities to resources for broadband is the fact that he was a hog farmer for 10 years.

Rep. Mitch Boggs builds barns for farmers all of the time. I know this because during both of our busy seasons in our private sector work, we will cross paths often stepping out to take a quick phone call, making sure that bases are being covered at home. Another reminder that in order for agriculture in Missouri to succeed, we need businesses of all kinds to know that we want them here at home in our state with the opportunity to invest revenue back into their businesses versus sending more money to the government in the form of taxes.

Rep. Rusty Black offers a wealth of knowledge from his years farming and serving as an agriculture teacher. You can always expect commonsense and honesty from him.

When the folks at The Missouri Times asked me to write this, they requested the focus to be on the House. However, I would be remiss not to include some individuals at the state and federal level who reflect the rich tapestry of our farming community as well. 

If you know our governor, you know he actively farms in Bolivar and knows what it means to put in a hard day’s work there. Our lieutenant governor actively farms and was talking about getting the hay cut just a few weeks ago when he was in my district. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler actively farms alongside her husband. Her awareness of the challenges farmers face every day is something that rings home with many of my constituents as I visit folks in the district. Congressman Jason Smith is known for his agricultural diversity. You will see cows, sheep, buffalo, goats, and donkeys in the field when you visit his farm. I believe all mentioned here would attest to the values of farm life shaping who they are as public servants today.

As Rep. Dirk Deaton reminded me today, “Agriculture is the heart of our state.” The heart exemplified by these hardworking farmers and others that I have probably forgotten to mention, at all levels of government, is a beacon of light for the future farmers who come after us. 

Missouri is truly a tapestry of business owners, education professionals, health care professionals, moms, dads, grandparents, tradesmen, and — last but not least — farmers. At all levels of government, this is well-reflected. I’m grateful to be a farmer’s daughter who walks in the same halls that her farmer grandfather walked in, doing the same job that he had the chance to do. America is a beautiful place where dreams can become a reality, and Missouri is a great place to call home because of it.