NORMAN— American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) Cooperative set legislative policy for the upcoming year at the 116th Annual AFR/OFU Convention Feb. 12-13. With a partially virtual format, this year’s policy changes were primarily focused on 2021 Special Orders of Business. Each year, these “special orders of business” address recent, current or future issues of significant importance to rural Oklahoma and agriculture at large.
Adopted AFR/OFU policy is truly grassroots—proposed policy begins as resolutions at the local and county level. Because of this approach, the organization’s policy document represents members’ interests from across Oklahoma. While the organization focused on special orders of the business this year, these policy statements were still a result of resolutions brought from local and county organizations from across the state.
“The AFR/OFU policy process is a model of grassroots legislative efforts in action,” said AFR/OFU Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh. “Because many of our policies originate from resolutions crafted in our local and county organizations, AFR/OFU members know their voices are heard at the state and national level.”
This year’s additions to AFR/OFU Special Orders include:
Broadband: “We support greater access to high-speed broadband internet in rural Oklahoma. We support a consistent and transparent per-pole attachment fee to promote adequate broadband service to rural Oklahoma.”
For far too long, rural Oklahomans have known the challenges associated with lack of access to reliable high-speed internet, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated those challenges. With public schools across the state teaching virtually, rural students are increasingly put at risk of falling behind their urban counterparts. The same is true for rural businesses as they compete for market share in the digital age. The 2021 AFR/OFU Policy Committee supports a multi-level and transparent approach to illuminating rural areas with broadband internet service.
Minimum Negotiated Trade: “We support the exploration of minimum negotiated cash trade as it relates to the fed cattle industry. We encourage thorough research on the implications of a national or regional mandatory minimum to the concept of true price discovery in the marketplace.”
Over the last two decades, the number of cattle sold on a negotiated cash basis (i.e. through an auction barn) has diminished significantly. The percentage of cattle sold through negotiated cash sale is now so small, some industry experts warn the beef cattle industry lacks a market baseline. In light of this, the 2021 AFR/OFU Policy Committee strongly encourages urgent and sincere research on the potential for requiring large meatpackers to purchase a minimum percentage of their cattle inventory through the cash market.
Ag Sales Tax Exemption: “We support the state agriculture sales tax exemption and oppose regulations that increase or cause undue burden on agricultural producers during the ag tax exemption application process.”
Due to the many significant barriers to building a successful farming or ranching operation, including additional hurdles for young or beginning producers, the 2021 AFR/OFU Policy Committee feels strongly that adding tax expenses or even a difficult application process to obtain tax exemption was an unnecessary burden for Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers.
In addition to these new special orders, several special orders from last year were retained. The 2021 AFR/OFU Policy Committee felt these retained orders were not only still relevant, but of extreme importance.
Packers and Stockyards Act: “We demand the enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act in regard to the anti-trust issues surrounding the packing segment of the beef industry in the United States.”
Four major packing firms control more than 80 percent of all beef slaughtered in the United States. Because they have such an overwhelming market share, these corporations are poised to influence and potentially manipulate U.S. beef prices. This issue has been at the forefront of beef industry discussion since August 2019 and was on full display during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. In an effort to limit the potential for antitrust behavior in what is most certainly a year’s long battle, the 2021 AFR/OFU Policy Committee demands proper enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act.
Truth in Labeling Standards: “We oppose the use of food product labeling that misleads consumers, including the use of ‘Product of USA’ labeling. We demand the USDA enforce truth in labeling.”
Cattle or beef that is imported into the U.S. and undergoes further processing or handling at a USDA-inspected facility can be labeled “Product of the United States.” Because this practice can mislead consumers, and be detrimental to U.S. beef markets, the 2021 AFR/OFU Policy Committee opposes the practice and demands increased truth in labeling. The Committee concedes this issue will continue to be a concern for the foreseeable future.
Electronic Animal Identification: “We support a producer’s voluntary application of technology, age verification and trace back methods which can enhance producer profits. We support current non-electronic animal identification methods. We oppose any mandatory electronic animal identification requirements, whether mandated by state or federal authorities.”
Citing strong concerns over market manipulation, producer autonomy and data security, the 2021 AFR/OFU Policy Committee has chosen to continue a strong stance again mandatory electronic animal identification. This special order is also include in permanent organization policy.
Right to Repair: “We support farmers and ranchers having the right to repair their own equipment and cause to be repaired through third-party non-manufacturers. We further support access to service manuals, product guides, on-board diagnostics and other information to identify and repair machinery, parts and software.”
The increasing difficulty of repairing late model farm equipment is a growing concern to farmers and ranchers statewide. The inability to conduct on-farm repairs adds unnecessary production costs and labor hours to what is already a stressful season for producers. As one of the most discussed topics in this year’s policy sessions, this special order is also include in permanent organization policy.
This year, two previous special orders were updated to include more specific language:
Education: “We support the Oklahoma State Legislature continuing to address the crisis in public education funding. No public school should be funded at a lower per student rate than any charter school.”
Healthcare: “We believe Oklahoma should make increased access to healthcare in rural areas a priority and work to preserve rural hospitals. We recommend reopening any structurally-viable rural hospitals that are currently closed.”
Citing concern over the health of Oklahoma’s rural institutions and the impact declining schools and hospitals can have on a rural community, the 2021 AFR/OFU Policy Committee has outlined the organization’s commitment to these institutions as they face increasing challenges to operating. Additionally, the Committee voices an urgent interest in reopening rural hospitals that are structurally viable.
The 2021 AFR/OFU Policy Committee also doubled down on its support for the Farm Stress Management program spearheaded by National Farmers Union and other national agriculture groups. The program is designed to help agriculture producers cope with the financial and emotional stress that currently accompanies much of production agriculture.
The 2021 AFR/OFU Policy Committee also included several new commendations in this year’s policy book:
“We commend the American people, especially first responders, frontline healthcare workers, and medical researchers, who played a part in combatting the first global pandemic in more than 100 years.”
“We commend our AFR/OFU Farm Stress Management team members—Brent Brewer, Terrell Coffey and Rick Shelby—who act as “farm stress first responders” for fellow producers throughout Oklahoma.”
“We commend former Chairman of the House Ag Committee Colin Peterson (Minn.) for his years of exemplary service to the agriculture community and ag policy at large.”
Each year, AFR/OFU selects policy committee members from across the state. The appointed individuals are an accomplished and diverse group representing the broadest spectrum possible of the general AFR membership. This year’s committee members include Bob Adrian, Tahlequah; Kara Barger, Pawnee; Tim Bates, Mutual; Joel Carpenter, Erick; Andy Cunningham, Rosston; Ed Fite, Tahlequah; Ashley Hawkins, Antlers; Hope Hutchings, Hendrix; Jerry McPeak, Warner; David Misener, Elk City; George Roberts, Holdenville; Dillon Travis, Maramec; Ron Vick, Okemah; Gary Vinson, Allen; Tom Way, Lawton; and Jennifer York, Durham. Jordan Shearer, Laverne, chaired the committee.