OKLAHOMA CITY—American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) hosted National Farmers Union (NFU) President Rob Larew on a tour of Oklahoma Nov. 10-12. The tour showcased Oklahoma agriculture through a variety of farms, ranches and agribusinesses and provided AFR/OFU leadership and Larew an opportunity to visit one-on-one with the state’s agricultural producers.
“We are thrilled to be able to host NFU President Rob Larew this week in the great state of Oklahoma,” said AFR/OFU President Scott Blubaugh. “A showcase of Oklahoma agriculture is really a showcase of the best America has to offer. We’re proud of everything our state has to offer the industry.”
The Oklahoma agriculture tour was a chance to introduce Oklahoma to the national organization president, but also an opportunity for Larew to interface with local farmers and ranchers as NFU ramps up for a new legislative session under a new administration.
“Farmers Union is really proud of our grassroots, producer-driven policy,” said Larew. “Being out here, talking directly to farmers, and finding out exactly how policy concerns are translated on their operation really helps tell the story.
“It helps us more effectively push for issues when we know them really well. I can talk to members of Congress, but when I can tie an issue back to a real farm example it’s just all the more valuable in selling that message. For me, this has been an invaluable experience.”
While in Southwest Oklahoma, the tour focused on seed, cotton and peanut production with visits to Apache Seed & Supply, Farmers Cooperative Mill and Elevator, and Lasley Family Farm.
Apache Seed & Supply is a diversified crop operation near Apache that produces forage and cover crop seed, as well as commodity and contract grains. The no-till operation uses no irrigation and relies on capturing and retaining rainfall to provide moisture for crops. While touring the facility, owner Alan Mindeman, Larew and Blubaugh discussed issues surrounding seed production in southwest Oklahoma, such as potential regulatory concerns and the increasing need to control feral hog populations. They also talked about the seed operation’s noticeable increase in demand, as well as the demand shift to cover crop mixes as regenerative agriculture grows in popularity.
The Farmers Cooperative Mill and Elevator is a cotton gin built in 2017 near Carnegie. The modern facility handles double the capacity of older gins and has proven to be an incredible asset to area cotton producers. The appearance of a new gin of any size is rare; the last one built in Oklahoma was more than 20 years ago. Barry Squires, president of the gin’s board, led tour attendees through the plant, covering changes over time and improvements in efficiency when compared to older cotton mills.
Lasley Family Farm, a fourth generation peanut operation near Eakly, markets value-added products to consumers. The Lasley operation is fully integrated; it grows, shells, roasts and packages the peanuts that go into the farm’s sweet treats and peanut snacks. The family farm operation also raises peanut seed for Oklahoma Foundation Seed Stocks (OFSS). Tour attendees were saw the Lasley kitchen in full operation as employees prepared candy for consumers. Owner Dale Lasley also taught them about different generations of peanut harvesting equipment, including a discussion on the shift from solar drying to heat drying peanuts.
While in Southwest Oklahoma, tour attendees also visited the Fort Cobb Locker Plant, a small-scale state-inspected meat processing facility. While in Fort Cobb, the group met with area producers. Larew spoke to the farmers and ranchers about the continuing need for friends of agriculture in government. He voiced concern over in-fighting in the agriculture community and addressed the ever-present industry consolidation question. In addition, he covered more specific issues such as pesticide application and direct marketing opportunities and concerns.
The southwest portion of the Oklahoma agriculture tour ended with the Oklahoma Rural and Small-Town Table of Common Interests “Consolidation in the Beef Industry” issues forum at Redlands Community College in El Reno. Speakers at the event were Larew, Blubaugh and beef market analyst Corbitt Wall. Former Oklahoma Governor David Walters and Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Michael Kelsey also addressed the group.
While in Northern Oklahoma, the tour focused on purebred and commercial beef production and no-till agriculture with visits to Blubaugh Angus Ranch and Shelton Family Farm.
Blubaugh Angus Ranch is a sixth-generation farming operation near Tonkawa that specializes in purebred Angus breeding stock and direct-to-consumer Angus beef. The Blubaugh family also produces wheat, alfalfa, milo and soybeans. During the visit, Blubaugh and Larew discussed challenges and opportunities in the purebred cattle sector, cattle industry concentration concerns, and future conservation opportunities for Oklahoma’s producers.
Shelton Family Farm near Vinita is home to Sara’s Grassfed Beef. AFR/OFU Board Member Jim Shelton and his wife Sara own the operation, which provides direct-to-consumer quality grassfed beef products while limiting environmentally-negative inputs. The Sheltons also raise commercial crossbred cows and crossbred stocker cattle. During the visit, the group toured various pasture locations and discussed grass-fed beef production and pasture and resource management.
While in Tonkawa, the tour group met with area producers over lunch. Larew spoke to local farmers and ranchers about the continuing need to work together, especially in light of the bipartisan nature of agriculture issues. He also talked about the next Farm Bill and how Americans want solutions now more than ever. He reminded producers of their ability to influence legislation and pushed them to never miss an opportunity to voice which policies are working or not working for their farm or ranch.
Larew also talked at length about the current farm stress issue and emphasized his belief that America’s farmers and ranchers are resilient and can rise to meet current challenges. He assured producers that Farmers Union would be there to help wherever possible, saying “When times are difficult and challenging, that’s when Farmers Union is at its best.”
While in Vinita, Larew and Blubaugh addressed local farmers and ranchers. The leaders highlighted the lack of rural representation in Congress. The message was consistent and clear from both men—agriculture must find allies, even if those allies are urban lawmakers. Also, the industry’s issues are significant enough that bipartisanship is a must. As Larew put it, “In agriculture, we can’t afford to not work across the aisle.”
While in Northeast Oklahoma, the tour focused on large-scale produce production and small-scale beef processing with visits to J-M Farms and Quapaw Cattle Company.
J-M Farms is a family-owned mushroom producer near Miami that provides 25 million pounds of fresh mushrooms to the Midwest and Southwest. At the facility, the tour group learned about the composting process and how the farm maximizes its yield with careful management. They also discussed how Covid-19 shifted demand and caused labor, time and packaging issues.
Quapaw Cattle Company’s new meat processing facility near Miami provides a place for Quapaw Cattle Company and other local cattle producers to process their beef for direct sale to consumers. The facility is known for its transparency and is an excellent example of how small-scale meat processing can thrive, provide jobs for area residents and contribute to the surrounding economy. As expected, discussion at the facility centered on the current need for additional processing capacity and the direction of the industry as a whole.
The Oklahoma agriculture tour wrapped up in Oklahoma City with a dinner celebrating a successful week. Larew and Blubaugh summarized the week’s discussions with Oklahoma producers and pointed out that the number one issue over the last few days has been concentration, both in beef processing specifically and agriculture as a whole. They also spoke on the current lack of rural representation in Congress and the upcoming change in administration.
In addition to the agricultural tour stops during the week, attendees also visited historic sites such as Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in Oklahoma City and the Pawhuska area, which is a relatively new intersection of agriculture and American popular culture. AFR/OFU leadership and Larew also met with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., and Cherokee Nation Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner in Tahlequah and with Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur in Oklahoma City.
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 industy 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.