AFR/OFU has been recognized as a partner in Farm Aid’s COVID-19 Farmer Resilience Initiative. AFR/OFU is one of approximately 120 local, state and regional organizations across the United States working to pair immediate relief efforts for farmers with longer-term resilience strategies. Only one other state organization—Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, Inc.—is a partner in the grant project.

Already facing years of low prices, trade disruptions, frequent natural disasters and climate change, farmers are also now facing a myriad of issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These issues include loss of direct markets due to the closure of restaurants, schools and other institutions, increased infrastructure and labor costs to facilitate the creation of new markets, supply chain and labor disruptions and even greater declines in prices received for agricultural products.

“America’s farmers and ranchers already carry a great burden to produce food and fiber under increasingly stressful conditions,” said AFR/OFU President Scott Blubaugh. “Following years of low and volatile markets from continued trade issues and other disruptions, they did not need another catastrophic event like the Covid-19 pandemic. We hope grant efforts such as Farm Aid’s Farmer Resilience Initiative will be a bright spot of relief for our nation’s struggling agricultural producers.”

The Farm Aid Farmer Resilience Initiative provides assistance to farm families in all 50 U.S. states through funds administered by its partner organizations. The $500 spot grants help farmers meet household and other necessary expenses and are paired with materials developed by Farm Aid’s national partners (Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, Intertribal Agriculture Council and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition) to help farmers and ranchers navigate their recovery.

“Farmers and ranchers face a deep and multi-faceted farm crisis. Federal responses to both the ongoing economic crisis and COVID-19 have unfortunately flowed to farms with the most resources, as well as powerful corporate interests, leaving the vast majority of farmers high and dry,” said Alicia Harvie, Farm Aid’s Advocacy & Farmer Services Director. “Without aggressive action, we will lose thousands of farms and ranches to this crisis, with ripple effects across our food system that are sure to further drain rural economies, impoverish food and farm workers, and consolidate land and markets into even fewer hands.”

To help farm families recover from the impacts of COVID-19, the Farmer Resilience Initiative is:

  • Investing in farmer-led solutions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Deploying emergency grants to family farmers and ranchers in need, particularly those producers that are less likely to receive federal and state disaster aid;
  • Coordinating a national network of experts to create comprehensive resources for farmers;
  • Offering support to farmers under stress through the 1-800-FARM-AID hotline and connecting farmers to the legal, financial and mental health support resources they need to recover;
  • Supporting local, state and national farm organizations working on-the-ground to help farmers navigate this crisis; and
  • Advocating for needed COVID-19 recovery funds and resources from the federal government for short-term relief and long-term resilience.

Farm Aid’s collaborative approach to the Farmer Resilience Initiative is informed by more than 30 years of experience in disaster response, which relies on the participation and strength of grassroots organizations on the ground in affected communities.

By handing major decision-making authority over to local and regional organizations that work most directly with farmers, Farm Aid shares power with its grantees and supports local leadership to best address the needs of America’s diverse farm communities.

Farm Aid’s grant-making is one aspect of its work to keep family farmers on the land, growing good food for all. In addition, other Farm Aid programs inspire an increased demand for family farm food; bring farmers, advocates and activists together for trainings and other opportunities; advocate for policies that serve farmers and eaters alike; and invite everyone to be part of building a thriving family farm system of agriculture.

For more information about the Farmer Resilience Initiative, visit www.farmaid.org/farmer-resilience-initiative/. Farm Aid welcomes donations at www.farmaid.org/donate.

AFR/OFU has named two state legislators 2020 AFR/OFU Legislative Advocates. This year’s AFR/OFU Legislative Advocate Awards recognize Rep. Ty Burns, R-Morrison, and Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher.

The AFR/OFU Legislative Advocate Award is presented to state leaders that advocate for AFR/OFU Cooperative policies and work hard on issues that are important to the AFR/OFU membership during each state legislative session. Jech and Burns were recognized for their work during the 2020 legislative session.

“The 2020 legislative session was marked by unprecedented disruption, but these legislators were still able to successfully represent rural Oklahoma,” said AFR/ OFU Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh. “We applaud the leadership of all our legislators and their service to Oklahoma. Darcy Jech and Ty Burns are two legislators who went above and beyond in 2020 and we’re pleased to honor them with this award.”

Jech represents Oklahoma Senate District 26. He serves as the Senate Rural Caucus chair and has championed several critical pieces of legislation over his years of service. He is also a longtime AFR Insurance agent.

Burns represents Oklahoma House District 35. This year, he authored and championed legislation that created the “Oklahoma Certified Beef” program, which lays the ground work for Oklahoma cattle producers to strategically label and market their beef.

George W. Stone, longtime Oklahoma Farmers Union president and state agriculture leader, died May 26 in Purcell. He was 101 years old.

Stone leaves behind a legacy of family farm leadership that will be difficult to match. His long and storied career helped shape American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) and Oklahoma agriculture through much of the last half of the 20th century.

Stone’s AFR/OFU career spanned more than 64 years, a tenure that ultimately included leadership roles at the county, state and national level. He is the longest serving OFU president to date, guiding the organization from 1956 to 1980. He later served as National Farmers Union president from 1980 to 1984 and later as a dedicated OFU board member.

Stone left his first career as a Baptist minister in 1952 when a throat condition made it increasingly difficult to preach. That same year, he became a full-time servant of the OFU membership. He had already begun to gain prominence in the organization, first as secretary of his county Farmers Union for a time, then as chaplain for the entire state. Following time spent in various organization roles, he was elected to his first term as OFU president in 1956.

Stone commanded respect with his tall frame, strong oratory abilities and unwavering convictions. He guided OFU through unprecedented expansion during his presidency, doubling OFU’s membership count and overseeing the construction of two new, larger OFU headquarter buildings. He also relaunched the insurance company and grew it into a viable entity with more lines of coverage. He is credited with shifting OFU’s trajectory from a fraternal brotherhood to a professional business organization.

Stone’s upbringing on his family’s diversified farm near Byars, Okla., never left him. His early years working on the farm led to an extreme work ethic few could match. In fact, his drive is still frequently mentioned at AFR/OFU headquarters some 50 years later.

His upbringing also led to a passion for family farming. During his presidencies, the importance of preserving the family farm and the opportunities and challenges that come with it was ever present. His legislative efforts always came back to reducing corporate involvement in farming and the continuation of the family farm system of agriculture.

Stone’s strong oratory abilities and passion for agriculture made him a formidable figure and, when he communicated, lawmakers listened. He successfully lobbied at the state and national capitols and testified before various Senate and House Agriculture Committees for beneficial farm programs and equal treatment for farm families. He worked with more than half of Oklahoma’s governors and traveled the world on behalf of agriculture, meeting with national and international leaders including every president from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush.

Through National Farmers Union’s membership in IFAP (International Federation Agriculture Producers), Stone traveled to 65 countries to represent American agriculture. He even traveled behind the Iron Curtain to meet with insurance companies throughout Europe, including the former Soviet Union.

Stone retired from full-time service to Farmers Union in 1984 and felt the familiar pull of the family farm once again. He and his wife purchased a working farm near Stratford, Okla., just a few miles from where he grew up and settled in to raised cattle, sheep, Bermuda sprigs, hay and peaches.

While continuing to farm, Stone remained involved in OFU. He served on the organization’s board of directors for a total of 12 years, guiding the organization he had such a strong hand in shaping. He also continued to craft organization policy at state and national Farmers Union conventions and fight for the family farm at legislative fly-ins to Washington, D.C.

Stone received many accolades over the years, including Oklahoma State University’s “Diploma of Distinction” in 1980 and Oklahoma Baptist University’s “Outstanding Alumni Achievement in Agriculture, Business and Public Service” in 1981. He received AFR/OFU’s highest and rarest honor, the OFU Meritorious Service Award, and reached the pinnacle of Oklahoma’s agricultural industry when he was inducted into the Oklahoma Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2000.

Stone fully retired from OFU leadership in 2010 when he completed his last term on the board of directors. In February 2020, he attended his last AFR/OFU event—the 115th AFR/OFU State Convention. He gave the invocation at the organization’s annual banquet as the interim chaplain, the role that started his career with Farmers Union. He had come full circle at an event that was just 15 years his senior.

The Stone family’s involvement in Farmers Union reaches beyond the George Stone years. His grandfather became a member in the early 1900s, his father was an OFU insurance agent, and until recently the sixth consecutive generation of the Stone family held AFR/OFU memberships.

The Oklahoma Senate passed three beef-related bills back-to-back with unanimous votes May 12. The Legislature has resumed activity following the Covid-19 recess, but only to pass the SFY2021 budget and hear a select number of bills. All three beef bills were selected for the limited docket.

“The Legislature’s decision to include three beef bills in a very limited docket, and senators’ unanimous approval, shows how urgent cattle industry issues are right now,” said AFR/OFU Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh. “I commend legislative leadership for recognizing the strain on Oklahoma’s cattle producers and prioritizing legislation that may give them additional marketing options in the future.”

Blubaugh also voiced recognition and gratitude for the lawmakers that authored the bills and pushed for the legislation to be heard.

“We have ranchers at the Capitol that want to help our industry,” Blubaugh said. “We’re grateful for their representation and pleased to be able to congratulate them on this bipartisan victory.”

Rep. Ty Burns (R-35) noted how visible Oklahoma’s cattle industry is to lawmakers right now and the timeliness of his Oklahoma Certified Beef bill.

“There’s definitely a lot of talk about Oklahoma beef and its producers at the state Capitol,” Burns said. “With the crisis going on, there’s no better time than now to pass this bill to promote Oklahoma beef. It’s a win-win for producers in the state of Oklahoma. It’s something we can build on in the future to promote and protect Oklahoma producers and Oklahoma beef.”

The Oklahoma Certified Beef bill (HB 3963), sponsored by Burns and Sen. Casey Murdock (R-27) was one of the three bills passed unanimously. The legislation defines Oklahoma certified beef as any bovine product “bred, born, raised and slaughtered” within the state of Oklahoma. The legislation could pave the way for an Oklahoma Certified Beef Program in the near future. Gov. Stitt is expected to promptly sign the bill into law.

“The creation of additional marketing options for our state’s ranchers is extremely important right now,” Blubaugh said. “Not only is this a great first step to another marketing option, but it also reminds us that we have the power to create additional outlets for our product. The more flexibility we can provide our cattle producers, the stronger our state’s cattle industry will be.”

HB 3806, a bill sponsored by Rep. Toni Hasenbeck (R-65) and Sen. Michael Bergstrom (R-01), creates the Oklahoma Meat Consumer Protection Act, which relates to the prohibition of deceptive practices in advertising and selling meat to consumers. It cleared the Senate with a unanimous vote and is expected to be promptly signed into law by Gov. Stitt.

HB2008, a bill sponsored by Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-19) and Sen. David Bullard (R-06), would increase the ability of Oklahoma producers to market and sell beef and bison through intrastate commerce. It passed the Senate with a unanimous vote, but still needs to pass the House before close of session.

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.

OKLAHOMA CITY—U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) April 18, 2020. The program is intended to support America’s farmers and ranchers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The agriculture industry, already reeling from trade war fallout, has lost billions due to plummeting prices, sudden drops in demand and supply chain weaknesses.

“I am very disappointed in USDA’s CFAP relief plan,” said AFR/OFU Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh. “Agricultural producers across the nation are suffering through unprecedented market upheaval. Amid record losses and incredible market turmoil, USDA’s plan is an ineffective mess.

“Congress must provide additional funding to the agriculture sector immediately to avoid irreparable harm to America’s farmers and ranchers. If lawmakers fail to act now, our nation’s producers and our food system is in certain jeopardy.”

CFAP provides two forms of assistance—$3 billion in purchases of agriculture products, including meat, dairy and produce, to provide for those in need through food banks, community programs and faith-based organizations and $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers, funded through the $9.5 billion CARES Act emergency provisions and $6.5 billion in Credit Commodity Corporation (CCC) funding.

The $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers will include $9.6 billion for the livestock industry ($5.1 billion for cattle, $2.9 billion for dairy, and $1.6 billion for hogs), $3.9 billion for row crop producers, $2.1 billion for specialty crops producers, and $500 million for other crops. The payment limit is $125,000 per commodity, $250,000 total per individual or entity.

“These amounts will be woefully inadequate for all commodities,” said Blubaugh. “Oklahoma agricultural producers were hopeful, but this program provides no real relief. Secretary Perdue has proven he’s out of touch with producers; I fear we will lose a lot of farmers and ranchers because of it.”

The $5.1 billion allocated to cattle producers is especially concerning. Following years of market volatility, they have spent the last few months fighting large meatpacking companies over possible market manipulation and other antitrust violations. There is an open USDA investigation addressing the concerns.

“Agricultural economists across the country have shown losses to be three times that of the CFAP payments to cattle producers,” said Blubaugh. “$5.1 billion may not even keep producers on their farms and ranches, much less prop up an entire industry. At best, this ‘relief’ will pay a little bank interest. It’s merely a Band-Aid on a much larger wound.”

According to USDA, producers will be compensated with a single direct payment determined using two calculations: 85 percent of actual price loss from Jan. 1 to April 15 and 30 percent of expected losses from April 15 through the next two quarters. USDA expects to begin CFAP sign-up in early May, with producers receiving payments by early June.

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.

OKLAHOMA CITY—More than 140 members of Congress sent a letter April 1 to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue urging immediate assistance for America’s cattle producers. The AFR/OFU Cooperative leadership is pleased to see all seven members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation had signed their support to the letter.

“Oklahoma’s cattle producers are navigating unprecedented market conditions due to COVID-19,” said AFR/OFU President Scott Blubaugh. “Without prompt emergency funding, many of our state’s producers face an uncertain future. It is reassuring to see that our congressmen recognize this issue and have joined in the push for immediate relief from USDA Secretary Perdue.”

The requested assistance would be provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Stabilization (CARES) Act. The CARES Act provides $14 billion toward replenishment of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and an additional $9.5 billion to support farmers and ranchers as they weather the financial storm caused by the global Coronavirus pandemic.

The bipartisan letter acknowledged the market turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and calls on USDA to quickly provide “targeted, temporary, equitable relief to cattle producers in a manner that limits market distortion and negative effects on price discovery.”

“We hope Secretary Perdue takes notice of the bipartisan support for our nation’s cattle producers shown in this letter,” said Blubaugh. “Lawmakers from across the country and across the aisle want swift and effective monetary relief for those who grow America’s beef.”

Some lawmakers have been specific about how they think support for cattle producers should take shape. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) introduced standalone legislation (S.3552) prior to passage of the CARES Act that, if passed, would direct USDA to use CCC funds to offset losses in the live and feeder cattle markets by using Economic Research Service 2020 projections as a baseline.

AFR/OFU is supportive of Sen. Rounds’ legislation and encourages Oklahoma’s senators to sign on to the bill.

“Additional market disruption is the last thing Oklahoma’s cattlemen and cattlewomen need and they could use all the support they can get on Capitol Hill right now,” said Blubaugh. “I urge Sens. Lankford and Inhofe to support Sen. Rounds legislation that can bring much needed stability to the nation’s cattle market and our state’s producers.”

AFR/OFU is also supportive of the increasing calls to investigate antitrust issues in the beef packing industry. Record packer profit margins stand in sharp contrast to producers’ losses and have continued to be a source of irritation to cattle producers nationwide.

“Our cattlemen and cattlewomen have endured incredible adversity over the past few years,” said Blubaugh. “Continual market volatility has taken a toll on our industry and producers need to see action on this issue. Whether or not wrongdoing is discovered, our producers deserve to have their concerns answered. A cattle market antitrust investigation is more than welcome and, in my opinion, it can’t come soon enough.”

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.

Each fall, AFR/OFU Cooperative holds its Annual AFR Speech Contest at five district locations across the state, in the month of November.

All students in grades 4th – 12th are eligible to compete in their respective categories to enhance their public speaking skills. The contests are open to AFR members and non-members.

“Public speaking is one of the most valuable skills youth can gain for their future professional careers,” Scott Blubaugh, AFR/OFU Cooperative President, said. “We are honored to host the 75th Annual AFR Speech Contests, which have a long-standing tradition of fostering Oklahoma youth’s expertise in public speaking.”

The top three participants placing in their respective speaking category and age division at each district contest will receive an award. The first and second place winners in each category will advance to the State Speech Contest, which will be held on Saturday, December 7, at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

This year, changes have been made in regard to time requirements and speaking categories. The time requirements for the Intermediate and Senior Divisions have been changed to correlate with the Oklahoma FFA public speaking guideline (6-8 minutes). Novice and Junior Divisions time requirements will remain the same as previous years.

The Science and Natural Resources speaking category has been separated into two separate categories. Junior Division speakers can speak in either the AFR/OFU or the Science category only. Listed below are the contest dates and locations for the 2019 AFR Speech Contests.

Central – Thursday, November 7th at Tecumseh High School, Tecumseh

Northeast – Tuesday, November 12th at Lone Star School, Sapulpa

Southeast – Thursday, November 14th at Eastern Oklahoma State College, Wilburton

Southwest – Monday, November 18th at Cache High School, Cache

Northwest – Thursday, November 21st at Autry Tech Center, Enid

All speakers must pre-register at least one week in advance of their district contest. For more information about the 2019 AFR Speech Contests, please visit our website www.afrcoop.org or contact Vanessa Wiebe at Vanessa.wiebe@afrmic.com or 405-218-5561.

Thirteen farmers and ranchers from across the country took part in educational programs Sept. 9-11 in Washington, D.C., during the annual National Farmers Union (NFU) Fly-In. These programs promote leadership skills and technical training for the next generation of young agricultural professionals.

Kyle Minyard, AFR/OFU Cooperative member, and resident of Lebanon, Okla., was chosen to serve in the 2019-2020 class of NFU Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI).

BFI was established in 2011 in response to the changing demographic challenges facing the agricultural industry. The rising age of farmers and ranchers, and the scarcity of young and beginning farmers coming back to farm, were hurdles NFU wanted to try to amend with the implementation of the BFI program.

“This is a very good opportunity for me to be exposed to a varied of diverse organizations and farm operations,” Minyard said. “And to also meet with high-level policymakers that can help me make decisions on the direction we need to take with our farm operation.”

Through sessions hosted in Washington, D.C., California and Georgia, the program’s hands-on trainings address the many challenges beginning farmers and ranchers may face in their careers, as well as equip each leader with up-to-date technical and professional skills.

NFU’s expectations for each institute graduate is to become an inspiration to similar young entrepreneurs in their surrounding areas, and potentially become a candidate for their local or county board.

“This is an elite program, and we are excited Kyle was selected to serve in this year’s class,” Scott Blubaugh, AFR/OFU Cooperative President, said. “This program will help Kyle be a strong attribute for our organization, and also give him useful skills and tools to further his farming operation.”

Thirty-four FFA and Professional Agricultural Students (PAS) met in Washington, D.C. to have an interactive discussion about agricultural policy, and ways each young individual can be an entrepreneur in the agricultural industry.

Peyton Burns, from Kingfisher, Okla., and a former AFR Youth Advisory Council member, represented Oklahoma at the National Farmers Union (NFU) Raising Voices Summit. The Summit was held in association with NFU Fly-In, Sept. 9-11, an event farmers and ranchers meet with administration officials and members of Congress to discuss legislative matters affecting the country.

The Summit kicked off with a welcome from NFU President, Roger Johnson, who discussed the logistics of NFU Fly-In, and gave a background of NFU’s rich history.

Students then had the opportunity to listen to keynote speaker, Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Wheat Growers Association, about his experience in youth agricultural programs like 4-H and FFA, and how these programs prepared him for the position he is in today.

Following Goule’s speech, students participated in a policy panel, which focused on agricultural legislative issues. The panel consisted of Riley Pagett, representative for USDA; Matt Perdue, representative for NFU; Mike Stranz, representative for the House Agriculture Committee; and Mary Nowak, representative for the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

To wrap up the event, students were rallied by NFU Sr. Vice President, Rob Larew, who spoke about the impact each student can make in the following days at NFU Fly-In.

“We are excited Peyton was able to join us in Washington for NFU Fly-In and this renowned leadership event,” Scott Blubaugh, AFR/OFU Cooperative President, said. “Events like the Raising Voices Summit are great experiences for our youth to understand current legislative matters affecting our members and the country.”

Livestock shows are a staple of Oklahoma. The bond between animals and students, especially children, is an illuminating experience. Grand champion smiles were especially radiating from the Chisholm Trail Expo Center in Enid, Okla. during the second annual Gold Star Classic-AFR Special Needs Livestock Show.

On Sept. 12, twenty-five special needs students from the surrounding area, and 75 FFA and 4-H volunteers from across Oklahoma, came together for friendship, purple banners and Gold Star memories. Each Gold Star participant was paired with two youth volunteers who helped guide the students throughout the day.

“It filled me with great pride,” Sue Hileman, Burns Flat-Dill City School, Special Olympics coach, said. “Just to see all the caring that is out there, and those students with special needs being spotlighted is pretty awesome.”

The Gold Star Classic allows Oklahoma students with special needs the opportunity to interact with livestock animals in a petting farm environment before the livestock show. This year’s Petting Farm featured a horse, a calf, a baby goat, a baby sheep, and a pig.

For the livestock show portion, Gold Star participants exhibited a lamb or goat, along with their show buddies, in the show ring. This year’s Gold Star Classic judge, Marty Jones, interacted with each Gold Star participant and asked candid questions to help the audience learn more about each participant’s unique personality. Each Gold Star participant was awarded a gold medallion, a banner and a stuffed animal to remember this special day, as well as photos expressing their golden smiles.

“This is truly one of the best youth events in my opinion,” Vanessa Wiebe, AFR/OFU Cooperative Youth Coordinator, said. “The radiant smiles saw throughout the day from the Gold Star participants and our youth volunteers is just one reason why this event is such a moving experience.”

Wiebe said this event allows Oklahoma youth to showcase their passion for livestock and helps grow the act of service and leadership.