AFR Delegates Met Virtually WIth Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe to Talk Cattle Market Issues, Farm Stress and Rural BroadbandWed, 22 Sep 2021 05:36:29 CDT
American Farmers & Ranchers (AFR) Cooperative delegates were online from Oklahoma for the first two days of the 2021 National Farmers Union (NFU) Fall Legislative Fly-In September 21st. Participants lobbied virtually on behalf of the AFR membership.
AFR delegates met one-on-one virtually with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and with staff members of Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). In all three meetings, AFR delegates focused on three areas of priority—competitive markets, rural and agricultural infrastructure and climate and disaster risk protection for farmers and ranchers.
Congressional meeting with Senator Jim Inhofe
During the congressional meeting with Sen. Jim Inhofe, cattle market issues were top of mind as AFR delegates discussed increasing concerns over industry concentration and anti-competitive practices. As one AFR delegate candidly remarked, “These large companies that have 95% of our hook space are sure enough swimming in the profits from the sweat of our brow.” Another delegate simply said, “We would appreciate any help we can get.”
AFR delegates and Inhofe also discussed federal programs to help farmers and ranchers manage climate and natural disaster risks, with Inhofe recalling the devastating western Oklahoma wildfires of 2018. While AFR delegates were complimentary of all current federal disaster risk programs, the Livestock Risk Protection program was singled out as especially effective.
Another major topic of conversation is the farm stress issue plaguing American agriculture. AFR 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. One delegate who is a member of the AFRU Farm Stress Management Team asked specifically for additional and continued funding for the national farm stress program. He said, “Mental health is something that’s been pushed to the background, but it shouldn’t be any different than regular health checkups.”
The various challenges facing Oklahoma’s farmers and the agriculture industry as a whole dominated the remainder of the meeting. Topics included the desperate need for rural broadband access and significant praise for the CARES Act Meat Processing Grants and the recently-passed RAMP-UP provisions.
Representative Tom Cole Congressional Meeting
The congressional meeting with the staff of Rep. Tom Cole again began with cattle market dysfunction and industry consolidation as a whole. The AFR delegates outlined ways to help bring competition back to the marketplace, including Packers & Stockyards Act enforcement, the long-running U.S. Department of Justice antitrust investigation, the introduction of a contract library, and a hopeful compromise between Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) “50/14” bill and Sen. Deb Fischer’s (R-Neb.) “Cattle Market Transparency Act.”
“Competition basically no longer exists,” said AFR Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh. “If the laws aren’t adequate, we need to adjust them. But, they need to start with enforcing those laws.”
The AFR delegation was again complimentary of funding efforts to boost capacity in small meat processing facilities. They acknowledged there are still “plenty of delays,” but that the bottleneck has eased some and the funding has brought job opportunities and economic development to some rural communities.
The economic development conversation carried over into a discussion about the difficulties young farmers and ranchers face as they try to build a successful farming operation. The AFR delegation has many ideas of how to help young farmers and ranchers succeed, including low interests rates for beginning farmers, increased natural disaster risk coverage, and a reduced inheritance tax for existing farming operations.
The AFR delegation also discussed the rural broadband issue at length, citing several first-hand accounts of “searching for signal.” These anecdotes included daily challenges—such as choosing which family member gets to use the internet on a given night—and major decisions—such as young deciding between living in a rural community and moving to a large city for work.
“I see broadband as providing opportunities to rural America just like electrification did,” said AFR Cooperative Secretary Paul Jackson. “It’s absolutely necessity to empower rural America.”
Representative Kevin Hern Congressional Meeting
During the congressional meeting with the staff of Rep. Kevin Hern, the AFR delegation discussed a myriad of topics, including “Product of USA” and Country-of-Origin labeling, climate and disaster preparedness concerns, federal risk management programs for farmers and ranchers, rural broadband access, agriculture industry concentration, lack of competition in the cattle sector, and more.
The conversation kicked off with an issue that’s at the forefront of rural concerns in Oklahoma – broadband access. The disparity between those with and those without high-speed internet became very apparent during the Coronavirus pandemic when rural school systems and the students they serve felt the lack of bandwidth acutely.
One AFR delegate who works for a school system in northeast Oklahoma encapsulated the issue. “We fought that battle back and forth all year long and did not come up with a solution because the infrastructure just isn’t there.”
The AFR delegation wrapped up their conversation with Hern’s staff by again praising funding efforts for small meat processors throughout the state. Citing the 19 new facilities expected to be online by the end of the year, Blubaugh said, “This is a program that works.”
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