NORMAN, Okla. — American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) set legislative policy for the upcoming year at the 117th Annual AFR Convention Feb. 11-13. Policy topics ranged from production agriculture and rural Oklahoma to topics addressing urban areas and the U.S. as a whole. Key issues included concerns over the proliferation of medical marijuana grow facilities, dysfunction in the fed cattle market, and agriculture’s “right to repair,” as well as consumer-related issue like truth-in-labeling for food products and public school funding. Additional significant directives included antitrust enforcement and farm stress management.
Adopted AFR 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.
“The AFR policy process is a model of grassroots legislative efforts in action,” said AFR Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh. “Because many of our policies originate from resolutions crafted in our local and county organizations, AFR members know their voices are heard at the state and national level.”
Each year, organization policy includes “special orders of business” that address recent, current or future issues of significant importance to rural Oklahoma and agriculture at large. Two of this year’s additions to the AFR Special Orders reflect major points of discussion during convention proceedings:
Medical Marijuana: “We recognize the production of medical marijuana is an evolving industry in Oklahoma. In light of this growing influence, we recommend special attention be given to developing policies that protect Oklahoma’s rural citizens, landowners and communities, and that enforcement of said policies be funded through increasing the amount of permit fees.”
In some parts of Oklahoma, the proliferation of medical marijuana grow facilities has strained rural resources and created challenges for farmers, ranchers and rural citizens. While supportive of individuals’ rights to participate in the new industry, the 2022 AFR Policy Committee encouraged steps be taken to mitigate any negative impact on rural resources or the ability of Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers to produce agricultural commodities in proximity to medical marijuana grow facilities. The Committee felt strongly enough about these challenges that an entire section of the organization’s policy document has been dedicated to the issue.
Fed Cattle Marketing: “We support an increase in the amount of the negotiated cash trade percentage as it relates to the fed cattle market… To address the issue of captive supply in the fed cattle industry, we recommend that no one of the major four beef packing companies may purchase more than 25% of their weekly slaughter needs from any one feeding entity.”
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 2022 AFR Policy Committee supports urgent and sincere efforts to increase competition in the fed cattle market and to encourage large meatpackers to purchase a minimum percentage of their cattle inventory through the cash market.
Other additions to 2022 AFR Special Orders include:
Local and Regional Food Systems: “We encourage development of local and regional food systems within the state of Oklahoma, including the formation of distribution cooperatives and tribal partnerships using upcoming USDA grant dollars designated for local and regional food systems.”
Over the past several decades, the U.S. food supply chain has been encouraged to condense into fewer companies processing food in fewer places. The fragility of this concentrated system was proven in 2020 during the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic. While progress has been made, the 2022 AFR Policy Committee felt strongly that further steps should be taken to shield Oklahomans from the negative effects of disruptions to the U.S. food supply chain.
Oklahoma Agriculture Lien System: “…We support modernizing the lien recording and removal system, with an emphasis on a timely electronic automatic system housed in one entity…we support reducing the window for lien removal to 14 calendar days after loan pay-off and assessing a significant fine to ensure compliance…”
Oklahoma’s agricultural producers are experiencing undue challenges related to significant delays in the removal of discharged liens. These delays can cause difficulty in the procurement or management of financial resources and can place unnecessary strain on farmers’ and ranchers’ relationships with their banks and other places of business. The issue has been prevalent enough among members of the agricultural community that the 2022 AFR Policy Committee felt it necessary to place in this year’s AFR Special Orders.
Oklahoma Fencing Laws: “We support a review and possible update of the 1910 Oklahoma fencing law by the Oklahoma legislature… We support a modernized pre-determined arbitration process for resolving estray livestock complaints. We support strong financial penalties for owners of “repeat offender” trespassing livestock.”
Oklahoma’s fencing laws have not been updating since 1910. The 2022 AFR Policy Committee encouraged efforts be made to not only update the state’s fencing laws, but to also create a framework for farmers and ranchers to resolve issues with negligent livestock owners.
In addition to these new special orders, several special orders from last year were retained. The 2022 AFR Policy Committee felt these retained orders were not only still relevant, but also 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. With such a controlling interested in the marketplace, these groups are poised to influence and potentially manipulate U.S. beef prices. The 2022 AFR Policy Committee felt very strongly that not enough progress had been in limiting the potential for anti-competitive behavior, and that antitrust enforcement is still one of the most urgent issues facing American agriculture.
Truth in Labeling Standards: “We demand the USDA enforce truth in labeling. We oppose the use of food product labeling that misleads consumers. To qualify for ‘Product of USA’ labeling, livestock and poultry must be bred, born, fed, harvested and processed within the borders of the United States.”
Currently, 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 2022 AFR Policy Committee strongly opposes the practice and demands increased truth in labeling.
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. The 2022 AFR Policy Committee was concerned that this issue continues to grow and complicate equipment repairs for Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers.
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. With public schools across the state often 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 2022 AFR Policy Committee continued the organization’s support for a multi-level and transparent approach to illuminating rural areas with broadband internet service.
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 2022 AFR Policy Committee confirmed the organization’s commitment to these institutions as they face increasing challenges to operating.
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… We support all public education-designated revenue from ad valorem taxation and any other common local, state, or federal government funding remaining in the public school system and not being transferred by voucher or any other method.”
Similarly to rural hospitals, rural public schools are vital to the survival and growth of rural communities. The 2022 AFR Policy Committee remains urgently concerned about the prospect of funds being diverted away from rural Oklahoma’s public schools in favor of any other classification of non-public education.
DPS Licensing System: “We support improvements to the Department of Public Safety’s driver licensing system to encourage shorter delay times and greater efficiency in general with the implementation of REAL ID, especially for CDL license renewals. We encourage the State of Oklahoma to allow private, independent tag agencies to continue operating and discourage the reduction in the number of independent tag agencies across the state.”
The ability to obtain CDL licensing is vital for individuals working in Oklahoma’s farming and ranching industry. The 2022 AFR Policy Committee is concerned about any efforts to reduce access to CDL licensing or localized general driver licensing.
The 2022 AFR 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.
Each year, AFR 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; Brenda Wiedemann Chapman, El Reno; Rene Crispin, Putnam; Ed Fite, Tahlequah; Susan Gosa, Seminole; Jerry McPeak, Warner; David Misener, Elk City; George Roberts, Holdenville; Barry Squires, Carnegie; Dillon Travis, Maramec; Lee Vick; Okemah; Gary Vinson, Allen; and Tom Way, Lawton. Jordan Shearer, Slapout, chaired the committee.
AFR Cooperative is a membership services organization established in 1905 as Oklahoma Farmers Union. AFR 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 principles.