OKLAHOMA CITY—American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) delegates experienced a successful first day of the 2020 National Farmers Union (NFU) Fall Legislative Fly-In Sept. 14. Participants lobbied virtually on behalf of the AFR/OFU membership.

Representative Trent Kelly Congressional Meeting

AFR/OFU delegates met one-on-one with member of the House Ag Committee Rep. Trent Kelly’s (R-Miss.) legislative team via videoconference. During the call, they highlighted the challenges our nation’s farmers, ranchers and rural citizens face as they attempt to wade through and recover from Covid-19.

On the farming front, AFR/OFU delegates hit hard on Covid-19 funding issues. These included underwhelming or nonexistent CFAP (Coronavirus Food Assistance Program) payments and the great need for Small Business Administration (SBA) loan requirements to be loosened for agricultural producers who had experienced negative returns in recent years. Concerns were also voiced over a need to strengthen the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) system to ensure local FSA offices are truly local to the majority of agricultural producers.

In addition to funding issues, AFR/OFU delegates emphasized the food system problems brought to light by the pandemic. Heavy-hitters included the incredible consolidation of meat packers and the U.S. food system in general over the last few decades and the need for further investigation of the meat packing sector in regard to potential antitrust behaviors. Delegates also discussed positive solutions to recent disruptions of the meat supply chain. One solution discussed in depth was Frank Lucas’ (R-OK) RAMP-UP Act, which aims to increase state- and USDA-inspected slaughter capacity nationwide through grants for small and mid-sized processing facilities.

Finally, hardships rural citizens are dealing with nationwide that have been exacerbated by the pandemic were talked about at length. Specifically, points of discussion were the loss of rural hospitals, the vulnerability and availability of rural healthcare, the importance of the U.S. Postal Service to rural America, and the lack of and desperate need for increased broadband access from coast to coast.

USDA Leadership Briefing

In addition to the congressional meeting with Rep. Kelly’s legislative team, the Oklahoma delegation attended a briefing from USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand. In the briefing, Brand emphasized that many Rural Development employees live in the communities they serve and face the same issues the department fights to improve. She stated that, despite pandemic shutdowns and remote working environments, the Rural Development team has continued to work and serve.

Brand discussed one Rural Development priority at length—rural broadband access. Brand was clear in her comments—USDA knows the importance of broadband access and considers it a top priority. From Smart Ag and telemedicine to remote work and virtual learning, Brand outlined the reasons for increased broadband access and left the issue with a motto of sorts for the efforts. She said, “When rural America thrives, all America thrives.”

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.