OKLAHOMA CITY—American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) delegates made a final push for Oklahoma agriculture on the fifth day of the 2020 National Farmers Union (NFU) Fall Legislative Fly-In Sept. 18. Participants lobbied virtually on behalf of the AFR/OFU membership.

Representative Kevin Hern Congressional Meeting

AFR/OFU delegates met one-on-one virtually with Rep. Kevin Hern on Friday. During the meeting, Hern and AFR/OFU delegates spoke casually and candidly about the issues plaguing rural America both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hern kicked off the conversation with an issue that’s at the forefront of rural concerns in Oklahoma – broadband access. The disparity between those with and those without high-speed internet is becoming more apparent every day and, during Covid-19, rural school systems and the students they serve have felt the lack of bandwidth acutely. Hern agreed with the magnitude of the rural broadband issue and mentioned another group he felt was in dire need – rural business owners. He said small businesses in rural areas are finding it increasingly difficult to compete in the online marketplace because of slow internet speed. Without competitive access to online markets, many small businesses simply can’t survive.

AFR/OFU delegates also discussed at length the urgent need for funding for both state and federal meat inspectors. AFR/OFU President Scott Blubaugh said he thought it was wonderful that consumers have a stronger desire than ever before to connect to their local farmer or rancher, but that Oklahoma is currently unequipped to meet the demand for locally-raised meat products. Given consumer interests, the recent CARES Act meat processing grants, and potential RAMP-UP funding, Blubaugh believes the state will need to double the number of inspectors to meet the demand that is coming quickly. He said frankly, “Any relief we can get would be greatly appreciated and help a lot.”

Hern agreed with the dire need for additional inspectors and the need to break down any other barriers to small and mid-sized processors becoming state, or possibly federally, inspected. He had heard of the backlog at local processing facilities, as well as the lack of freezer and hanger space. He said as a local business owner for more than 30 years, there was nothing more exciting than to see more localized processing and production and to maintain that local connection all the way through to the consumer.

Hern was also excited about the recent CARES Act grants given to some Oklahoma meat processors and the prospect of more funding becoming available soon through Rep. Frank Lucas’s RAMP-UP Act. He said the lack of inspectors is a downside with expansion plans compressing from 10 years out to under six months. Basically, everyone is scrambling to catch up. But, Hern said, “This is a great opportunity to bring prevalence and visibility back to our local processors and revive that old way of processing local beef.”

AFR/OFU delegates also thanked Hern for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments, lobbied for Tester’s and Grassley’s proposed 50-14 rule, and highlighted consolidation in the meat sector and the need to increase competition for a “free and fair” live cattle marketplace.

AFR/OFU Cooperative is a membership services organization established in 1905 as Oklahoma Farmers Union. AFR/OFU provides educational, legislative and cooperative programs across the state and serves as a watchdog for Oklahoma’s family farmers and ranchers and rural communities. The organization is actively supportive of the state’s agricultural industry and rural population with membership consisting of farmers actively involved in production agriculture and non-farmers adding their voice in support of AFR/OFU principles.