Wed, 21 Sep 2022 13:46:56 CDT
Recently, Governor Kevin Stitt issued a drought declaration that activated the Emergency Drought Commission, which has been in place since the last major drought in Oklahoma. There has never been money available for the Commission to allocate, but that changed in the most recent State Legislative Session when $3 million was earmarked for this Commission if drought conditions warranted it.
The Commission consists of State Secretary of Ag Blayne Arthur, Oklahoma Conservation Commission Exec Trey Lam, and the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Julie Cunningham.
Farm Director, KC Sheperd, got the chance to catch up with Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture, Blayne Arthur, at the first meeting of the Emergency Drought Commission, which allowed ag groups and producers from around the state of Oklahoma to come and voice their needs and concerns.
Janet Stewart filled in for Trey Lam at the meeting and shared a proposed plan for the 84 districts which was met with a little pushback, but included $30,000 per conservation district, 90/10 cost share and more, including additional funds for the worst areas that had more applications and need a 60-day application process. This proposed plan will be looked at during the next meeting.
“We had some great public comment today and we are really appreciative of that,” Arthur said. “We heard from our ag groups who represent all of the folks impacted here in the state as well as some legislators who joined us here today. I think water was at the top of everyone’s list but also acknowledging the need that exist for livestock producers short on hay and pasture and also the point of, there is three million dollars, but that is not going to be enough, so how can we look at ways to stretch that money as far as possible.”
These funds discussed at the meeting are different from funds someone may receive from their FSA office.
“The dollars that we discussed today are state dollars that the legislature appropriated to the emergency drought commission, so the dollars the folks would get at their FSA office, those are federal dollars. We want to make certain farmers and ranchers know they are eligible for both of those, but if they haven’t been into their county FSA office, they certainly need to make time to do that and get signed up for those programs.”
At the meeting, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission took the time to talk about their general plan and ways to aid producers.
“I certainly appreciate the Conservation Commission took some good time and had some good thoughts about what cost share looks like, covering so many different topics that they know exist out there,” Arthur said. “They are in all areas of the state and work with producers a lot, so I certainly think there are a lot of good things in that plan. I think there are ways we can make it better.”
Arthur said the people who have been impacted the most this year need to be a top priority.
“My opinion is to prioritize the areas that have been impacted the most by the drought because they are suffering different challenges than some folks that have caught this moisture that we had over the summertime,” Arthur said. “It seems like a long time ago now, but certainly some areas of the state are greener than other areas and those really dry spots I think need to be prioritized.”
Arthur also talked about immediate priorities versus long-term priorities. The toughest decision, she added is deciding what immediate priorities are with so many livestock producers having to decide whether they will be able to stay in the business or not.
“I never want to speak for the legislature, but I feel like their intent was for us to make certain that producers, livestock producers, are able to maintain their business as much as can be done,” Arthur said. “So, looking at that immediate need, but also I think there are some great things we can do that can address some immediate needs that also will help in the future.”
Arthur also talked about what is next for the commission board.
“The next steps are that everyone will take all this public comment that we have received and work through that and discuss internally with our staff at the different agencies,” Arthur said. “We are going to schedule our next meeting as soon as possible.”
Arthur said initially the next meeting was going to be on October 7, but there is a desire to have it at an earlier date, so they will be looking into that.
“Our goal as a drought commission will be to make some firm decisions at that next meeting,” Arthur said. “Of course, that is a public meeting, so anyone is welcome to attend and be there if they would like to then once we decide on that, then actually get dollars moving out the door to producers.”
Click the LISTEN BAR below to listen to KC Sheperd and Ag Secretary Blayne Arthur talking about highlights from the first Oklahoma Emergency Drought Commission.