OKLAHOMA CITY—American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) delegates continued lobbying for Oklahoma agriculture on the third day of the 2020 National Farmers Union (NFU) Fall Legislative Fly-In Sept. 16. Participants lobbied virtually on behalf of the AFR/OFU membership.
AFR/OFU delegates met one-on-one virtually with several members of Congress or their staff—Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK), Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), and Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL). In these meetings, AFR/OFU delegates focused on solutions to the nationwide meat processing disruptions and other issues exacerbated by Covid-19.
Senator James Lankford Congressional Meeting
The congressional meeting with Lankford’s staff was an in-depth conversation about the U.S. beef industry, consolidation in agriculture, and the dysfunction of our nation’s food system as a whole. It was a dynamic, positive dialogue with questions and answers from both parties.
During this dialogue, the state of meat inspection in Oklahoma was a hot topic. AFR/OFU delegates discussed current funding initiatives to increase slaughter capacity both within the state and nationwide, as well as the dire need for more state and USDA inspectors. This need was emphasized when one delegate stating, “Funding to step up inspection on small to mid-size processors doesn’t matter if there are no inspectors.”
In addition to the food system discussion, AFR/OFU delegates covered the need for rural broadband and the vulnerability of rural healthcare. They also reiterated the need for additional funding and support for the national farm stress initiative. There is a farm stress epidemic growing in American agriculture and the AFR/OFU Farm Stress Management Team program was discussed in detail as a great example of how additional funding could have a dramatic footprint nationwide in farm country.
Representative Kendra Horn Congressional Meeting
AFR/OFU delegates were pleased to meet with staff of the sole Democratic member of the Oklahoma federal delegation. AFR/OFU President Scott Blubaugh kicked off the meeting by thanking Horn for her recent leadership in relation to Covid-19 and her involvement in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which has unveiled a “March to Common Ground” framework to help break the gridlock on the latest pandemic relief package negotiations.
In keeping with other congressional meetings from earlier in the week, the need for increased slaughter capacity and meat inspectors was front-and-center. AFR/OFU delegates lamented the loss of many small and mid-sized processing facilities across the state and outlined how that loss has impacted them. The fear conveyed is that without an increase in capacity for smaller processors coupled with an increase in the number of state and USDA inspectors, the disruptions from Covid-19 could repeat. Intertwined throughout this discussion was Rep. Frank Lucas’s RAMP-UP Act, which aims to increase the number of plants eligible for state or federal inspection on a national scale.
Agriculture and food security issues dominated much of the remaining conversation, including issues like funding and appropriations, commodity markets, foreign ownership of food system assets and corporations, antitrust behavior in the meat processing sector, and international trade, specifically the optimism and volatility of trade with China.
Additional discussion topics included soil health and the push for new conservation options for farmers and ranchers. As expected, the need for rural broadband was also a key talking point, with one AFR/OFU delegate stating, “Having connectivity in rural Oklahoma—that’s critical.”
Representative Austin Scott Congressional Meeting
AFR/OFU delegates’ congressional meeting with Austin Scott (R-Georgia) was an engaging and in-depth discussion of the current state of the agriculture industry. Packer consolidation and the need to spread out industry risk and invest in mom-and-pop meat packers were highlighted early in the conversation with AFR/OFU Scott Blubaugh commenting, “We need a level playing field and it’s time for Congress to address concentration in meat packing.”
Most topics circled back to program funding and appropriations. Scott said he shares with consumers just how little of their grocery bill goes to the American farmer and often reminds colleagues that agriculture has been one of the hardest hit American industries during the Covid-19 pandemic. Like in Oklahoma, Georgia farmers usually need a secondary income source even in good years.
Scott acknowledged that (Coronavirus Food Assistance Program) CFAP and Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments are not long term solutions, but they’re needed now to help ensure America’s farmers will still be farming next year. While he expects another round of USDA payments, adequate funding simply wasn’t appropriated and the payments may not be enough to sustain agricultural producers.
Tied to the funding issue, AFR/OFU delegates and Scott discussed the idea of a new “working lands” conservation program that could help reduce overall yields and improve commodity prices. The program discussed would be a short-term program that would improve soil quality so, as Blubaugh put it, “When the world is hungry, our soil will be ready.”
At the end of a very productive conversation, Scott wrapped up the congressional meeting by commending on the common challenges producers are facing nationwide. “We’re going to have to adapt faster to the changes we see, but that’s easier said than done in agriculture.”
Representative Neal Dunn Congressional Meeting
The congressional meeting with the staff of Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) was a shorter, but still productive conversation that centered on meat processing industry disruptions and national food security. As with other meetings, AFR/OFU delegates hit the consolidation issue hard by highlighting the need to spread out food system risk by adding more small and mid-sized processing facilities, as well as state and federal inspectors. Lucas’s RAMP-UP Act was discussed in detail, as well as the impact of foreign ownership of large portions of the meat industry.
Conservation was also an important topic during the Dunn congressional meeting, with specific conversations about carbon sequestration, CRP lands, cover crops, and a new “working lands” conservation program. As with other meetings this week, pandemic relief for agriculture, rural healthcare, broadband and the need for increased farm stress initiatives were covered in detail.
Memorandum of Understanding between NFU and MANRRS
In addition to the one-on-one meetings with Lankford, Horn, Scott and Dunn, AFR/OFU delegates attended a virtual joint event between National Farmers Union and Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS). During the online ceremony, NFU President Rob Larew and MANRRS National President Dr. Antomia Farrell signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) summarizing the ways in which both organizations will collaborate to provide educational and leadership opportunities for young people of all racial and ethnic identities, develop federal policy priorities, and extend each other’s reach within agricultural communities.
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.