OKLAHOMA CITY—President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced an additional $14 billion in Covid-19 relief for agriculture producers through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2) Sept. 18, 2020. During the pandemic, U.S. agriculture has lost billions to plummeting or volatile markets, sudden drops in demand, and supply chain weaknesses. CFAP is intended to support agriculture producers as they continue to face market disruptions and associated costs caused by Covid-19.

“Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers have been through the ringer,” said AFR/OFU Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh. “2020 has been a disastrous year, and it’s just the most recent in several years of market volatility that agricultural producers have suffered through.”

“Oklahoma producers, and their counterparts across the country, are continuing to face financial hardship. CFAP 2 will not erase the uncertainty or worry plaguing our farmers and ranchers, but it’s a step in the direction and we’re grateful for the assistance. Hopefully, this will put more producers back on sure footing so that those farming today will still be farming tomorrow.”

The first round of CFAP focused on market losses from January 15 to April 15 of this year; CFAP 2 will target losses from April 16 to August 31. Because of the target dates, winter wheat was overlooked in the first round. All classes of wheat are included in the second round, an inclusion that will no doubt help farmers in Oklahoma and throughout the Wheat Belt.

“Our state’s hardworking wheat growers were overlooked for direct payments earlier this year,” said Blubaugh. “I’m very pleased to see they’re included in this round of CFAP and will receive some relief. It’s good news, just as next year’s crop is going in the ground.”

Some Oklahoma cattle ranchers were also overlooked in the first round of CFAP payments. USDA was heavily criticized for an April 15 demarcation used to determine payments for livestock. Producers received 85 percent of actual price loss from Jan. 1 to April 15, but only 30 percent of expected losses from April 15 through the next two quarters.

Oklahoma cattle producers were hit hard by this dividing date. As live cattle prices plummeted in March and early April, ranchers scrambled to find ways to keep the stock they had intended to market during that time. Ranchers who managed to hold onto their animals felt punished by the much lower direct payment amount.

In an effort to correct the disparity between pre- and post-April 15 payments, the CFAP 2 payment rate for beef cattle is $55 per head. Payments are based on the maximum owned inventory of eligible livestock, excluding breeding stock, on a single date between April 16 and Aug. 31.

“Following a disappointing first round of payments for most cattle producers, CFAP 2 payments still fall short of much needed relief,” said Blubaugh. “We would much rather get our paycheck through the marketplace, but 2020 simply did not allow for that. We’re grateful for the second round of the program. But, I fear without further assistance, we may still lose some Oklahoma ranchers.”

The CFAP 2 payment limit is $250,000 total per individual or entity for all commodities combined. Corporations, limited liability companies and limited partnerships may qualify for additional payment limits. Producers can apply for CFAP 2 through their local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office Sept. 21 through Dec. 11, 2020.

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.

Representative Trent Kelly Congressional Meeting

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.

USDA Leadership Briefing

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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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.

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.

AFR members will have the opportunity to discuss key rural and agriculture issues during an informal dinner Aug. 7 at the Stillwater Community Center, 315 W. 8th Street. The event, which starts promptly at 6 p.m., is part of a series of eight sessions scheduled for Aug. 7-20 in various locations across Oklahoma.

“We want to use this informal, relaxed atmosphere to learn the critical issues on the minds of Oklahoma farmers and ranchers,” AFR President Terry Detrick, said.

The current agriculture economy, the farm bill, mid-term elections and international trade are among the issues expected to gain attention during the meetings.

“We’ll talk about all of these issues,” Detrick said, “and I am sure the weather will also be a frequent topic, as it is every time you get farmers and ranchers together.”

Detrick added, the issues discussed will lead to new and improved policies for the state’s oldest farm organization.

“The thoughts and ideas surfaced at these barbecues will be used by our members to formulate policies to be voted on at our annual convention in February,” Detrick said.  “These policies are important as they will guide our organization throughout the coming year.”

The meetings, two each day, will start promptly with the meal followed by discussions. There will also be staff introductions followed by brief comments. In addition to Stillwater, the schedule for the August meetings includes the following venues:

Tuesday, Aug. 7

  • Lunch in Muskogee at noon, Northeastern State University, Synar Room 147, 2400 W. Shawnee Street.

Thursday, Aug. 9

  • Lunch in Atoka at 12 p.m., Kiamichi Technology Center, 1301 W. Liberty Rd.
  • Dinner in Tecumseh, Crossing Hearts Ranch, 22214 Skagg City Rd.

Thursday, Aug. 16

  • Lunch in Watonga at 12 p.m., American Legion Post 125, 306 S. Noble Ave.
  • Dinner in Gate at 6 p.m., Gate Community Center, 210 West 4th.

Monday, Aug. 20

  • Lunch in Hobart at 12 p.m., Western Technology Center, 1000 S. Bailey Street.
  • Dinner in Duncan at 6 p.m., Red River Technology Center, 3300 W. Bois D’Arc.

 

For more information or to RSVP, please contact Bethany Andrews, bandrews@afrmic.com (405) 218-5531.

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The following statement can be attributed to Terry Detrick, President of AFR/OFU

“Farmers, ranchers and consumers need a strong farm bill that provides adequate protection and food security. Passage this week by the U.S. House of Representatives is a positive step forward towards providing certainty and security.  Low commodity prices and falling agricultural income make the farm bill more important than ever. We trust Congress will follow the process in a timely manner and pass a farm bill that benefits all Americans.

We look forward to working with the U.S. Senate to pass a farm bill that meets our needs, which include a robust crop insurance program, trade policies allowing market access and decreasing burdensome regulations.”