OKLAHOMA CITY—American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) delegates had an effective second day of the 2020 National Farmers Union (NFU) Fall Legislative Fly-In Sept. 15. Participants lobbied virtually on behalf of the AFR/OFU membership.
AFR/OFU delegates met one-on-one virtually with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and former Chairman of the House Ag Committee Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). In both meetings, AFR/OFU delegates talked of challenges rural citizens have faced during Covid-19, as well as issues farmers and ranchers have dealt with in recent years that are now exacerbated by the pandemic.
Congressional meeting with Senator Jim Inhofe
During the congressional meeting with Inhofe, cattle market issues were top of mind as AFR/OFU delegates discussed the funding discrepancy between pre- and post-April 15 Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments. As one AFR/OFU delegate remarked, “CFAP payments have made a difference in Oklahoma, but it could make a really big difference if we could get some of that equity back.”
Another major topic of conversation is the farm stress issue plaguing American agriculture. AFR/OFU delegates noted how it has been a difficult past few years for all producers and that keeping family farmers in existence has been an incredible challenge even with relief payments. One delegate who is a member of the AFR/OFU Farm Stress Management Team asked specifically for additional and continued funding for the national farm stress program.
The various challenges facing Oklahoma’s farmers and the agriculture industry as a whole dominated the remainder of the meeting. Topics included the plight of the dairy industry, trade with China, the desperate need for rural broadband access and, as expected, beef industry consolidation issues. On the consolidation front, the 50/14 concept was pushed in an effort to increase market transparency and competition.
Inhofe discussed the next Senate Covid-19 relief bill and assured AFR/OFU delegates that farmers and ranchers will be well cared for if the legislation passes. Finally, AFR/OFU Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh urged investment in the Sooner State, saying “Every dollar we can keep in Oklahoma helps our rural economy and Oklahoma citizens.”
Congressional meeting with Representative Frank Lucas
The congressional meeting with Lucas was a lengthy back-and-forth discussion, covering issues like Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness, farm stress management, Covid relief funding, the state of rural healthcare, the risk of African Swine fever and, of course, rural broadband access.
When discussing the challenges faced by Oklahoma’s agricultural producers, Lucas conceded that farmers and ranchers have experienced several tough years and responding to those challenges in an effective way can sometimes be difficult. With past years and future economic difficulties an almost certainty, Lucas said work on the next farm bill may begin early because there are so many issues to tackle.
During the meeting, Lucas hit hard on beef supply consolidation. While the U.S. system may be the most efficient and low cost in the world, he said it was clear the industry had some issues and that we should work toward solutions. Those solutions included two bills Lucas has authored this year. The RAMP-UP Act would provide facility upgrade grants to existing meat and poultry processors to help them move to USDA inspection and be able to sell their products across state lines. The Agricultural Security Risk Review Act would include the USDA Secretary on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) ensure sales of U.S. assets to foreign entities do not threaten or impair the national security of the United States.
In addition to the beef industry discussion, AFR/OFU delegates also talked with Lucas at length about conservation efforts within Oklahoma. This discussion emphasized funding and improvements to upstream flood control and aging infrastructure, soil health and water quality.
Congressional Leadership Briefings
In addition to the one-on-one meetings with Inhofe and Lucas, the AFR/OFU delegation attended a briefing by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Former Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
The briefing provided by Pelosi and Peterson were expansive with both leaders giving details on programs and welcoming questions from all NFU Fly-In attendees. The briefings provided by Stabenow, Lucas and Tester were recorded, but also packed with information. In particular, Lucas’ briefing was excellent and is available at https://nfu.org/fly-in/.
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.