OKLAHOMA CITY—American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) delegates continued lobbying for Oklahoma agriculture on the fourth day of the 2020 National Farmers Union (NFU) Fall Legislative Fly-In Sept. 17. Participants lobbied virtually on behalf of the AFR/OFU membership.

AFR/OFU delegates met one-on-one virtually with Rep. Markwayne Mullin and Rep. Tom Cole’s legislative staff. In these meetings, AFR/OFU delegates focused on solutions to the nation’s meat processing woes and everyday challenges rural Americans face, both during Covid-19 and beyond.

Representative Markwayne Mullin Congressional Meeting

AFR/OFU delegates’ congressional meeting with Mullin was a productive back-and-forth conversation. AFR/OFU President Scott Blubaugh kicked off the meeting by thanking Mullin for his public comments regarding U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue earlier this year. It was apparent that both Mullin and AFR/OFU delegates felt Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers need all the help they can get, particularly in regard to the beef industry consolidation issue.

From there, the meeting quickly turned to a detailed discussion of what cattle producers have endured the last several years and during the Covid-19 pandemic. The incredible amount of consolidation in the beef, pork and poultry industries, coupled with foreign ownership of much of the meat packing industry, made for an easy argument for better enforcement of antitrust legislation already on the books.

AFR/OFU delegates thanked Mullin for his work pushing for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments, but both parties agreed the arbitrary April 15 demarcation punished cattle producers who were able to hold animals over in hopes for a better market. As one AFR/OFU delegate stated, “They penalized us for making adjustments to try to keep the animals.”

Another AFR/OFU delegate kicked off the discussion on what help can be provided for small producers who directly market their products by suggesting an increase in slaughter capacity through Oklahoma’s small and mid-size processing facilities. The recent Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry (ODAFF) CARES Act grants extended to some of these processors were discussed at length. Blubaugh reminded the group, that while this is an excellent opportunity for many of the state’s smaller processors, it further increases the urgent need for additional state meat inspectors. “We’re moving at rapid pace to build capacity within Oklahoma, but it won’t do much good if we don’t have more inspectors.”

The second half of the Mullin congressional meeting was dominated by the rural broadband issue. The disparity between those with versus those without high-speed internet has proven to be a significant barrier to rural schools as they strive to provide equal education for all. One AFR/OFU delegate outlined the challenges rural schools have encountered as they try to educate students with unreliable internet service and clearly stated, “Slow or unreliable internet is NOT good internet.”

Mullin confirmed and agreed with the magnitude of the rural broadband issue. He reminded AFR/OFU delegates of the significant role government played in connecting rural Americans by electricity and then by telephone, and the role government will have to play in connecting rural America through Private companies cannot justify investment in “end of the line” projects because they will never be a positive return on investment. Mullin was frank, saying broadband simply will not happen without government assistance.

 

Representative Tom Cole Congressional Meeting

The congressional meeting with the staff of Rep. Tom Cole was a shorter, but still productive conversation that centered on issues exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the lack of rural broadband and the vulnerability of rural healthcare, CFAP pandemic relief payments were top-of-mind for AFR/OFU delegates. AFR/OFU delegates strongly encouraged Cole to push USDA to correct the disparity in payments between pre- and post-April 15.

One AFR/OFU delegate spoke in detail about the funding challenges today’s farmers and ranchers face. The pandemic has layered more trouble on top of several rough years for agriculture and many people are struggling to hold their farms together. Like many Oklahoma agriculture producers, this delegate uses outside income to supplement his farming operation even in good years. He commended Congress on the CFAP payments, but said it’s just barely keeping producers afloat. He was recently forced to sell land that had taken him a lifetime to procure. “You’re going to see more and more people have to make those choices on whether they’re going to go forward.”

As with other meetings, AFR/OFU delegates hit the meat processing consolidation, antitrust concerns and cattle market issues hard. They also covered at length the urgent need for funding for both state and federal meat inspectors and the need to keep Farm Service Agency (FSA) local offices open and available to producers. The epidemic of farm stress mismanagement throughout American agriculture was also a major discussion point, as well as 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. Blubaugh state he didn’t see any drawbacks to the potential program. “We know someday the world will need that grain and when we do need it, that soil will be better than it’s been in a century.”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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OKLAHOMA CITY—American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) delegates are looking forward to an effective week on Capitol Hill as they participate in the 2020 National Farmers Union (NFU) Fall Legislative Fly-In Sept. 14-18. This year, delegates will head to their computers instead of Washington, D.C., as they lobby virtually on behalf of the AFR/OFU membership.

AFR/OFU Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh will lead the team of delegates as they meet one-on-one with members of Oklahoma’s legislative delegation. The AFR/OFU efforts will be mirrored nationwide as Farmers Union members from every state organization meet with hundreds of members of Congress by videoconference and phone to highlight challenges our nation’s farmers and ranchers are facing and outline priorities and goals for future legislation.

In addition to congressional meetings, the Oklahoma delegation will also hear from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials about current events, opportunities and other work the Agency is doing on behalf of farmers. They will also receive briefings from the leadership and staff of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Agriculture.

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.

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Legislation addressing the shortfall in federally-inspected meat facilities was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives July 2. The bipartisan legislation would allow for more small-scale processing facilities to engage in interstate shipment of meat products and ultimately provide more processing capacity nationwide.

The “Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants” (RAMP-UP) Act, sponsored by Reps. Frank Lucas (R-OK), Collin Peterson (D-MN), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), would provide grants of up to $100,000 to small-scale meat and poultry processing facilities to upgrade to federal inspection, which would allow their products to be sold across state lines. Current federal regulation prohibits interstate shipment from non-USDA inspected facilities.

“I am thrilled to see the RAMP-UP Act introduced to Congress,” said AFR/OFU Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh. “Small-scale ‘mom and pop’ processing facilities are an integral part of Oklahoma’s and the nation’s meat processing industry. Unfortunately, these smaller facilities often can’t afford to upgrade to federal inspection. This legislation will help break down that barrier and provide small processing facilities access to additional markets and increased revenues.”

Through the RAMP-UP Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) could dole out up to $80 million in Commodity Credit Corporation dollars to small-scale meat and poultry processors over a four-year period. In total, the grants would be available to a minimum of 800 custom meat and poultry processors or state-inspected processing locations nationwide that wish to alter their facilities to meet the federal inspection requirements.

“The RAMP-UP Act is an excellent solution to one piece of the multi-faceted meat processing issue,” said Blubaugh. “America’s meat production and processing industries are in dire need of repair and it’s going to take true bipartisanship to accomplish the change we need. I’m encouraged to see both Frank Lucas and Collin Peterson taking leading roles. The current state of our meat supply chain is not only a national security issue, but also a fairness issue. Cooperation is the only way to bring increased security, fairness, and ultimately relief to our nation’s farmers, ranchers and consumers.”

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.