Congressman Frank Lucas shared a national agricultural policy update with Oklahoma Farm Bureau members in a discussion with OKFB President Rodd Moesel during OKFB’s Leadership Week.
Lucas offered insight into the top issues on the horizon for farmers and ranchers including the new administration, climate programs, meat processing capacity, farm income and the future of trade.
Working with new Secretary of Agriculture
With a new administration comes a new leader at the helm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack is not a new face to agriculture. The former Iowa governor served as the secretary for eight years during the Obama administration.
Though he has concerns about the secretary’s focus on his home state’s corn and soybeans industries, Lucas said he is eager to work with Vilsack again.
Lucas worked closely with Vilsack in writing the 2014 and 2018 farm bills, so he is confident in working with the secretary on a number of issues, Lucas added.
Creating climate change initiatives for ag
With a new president in the Oval Office, Lucas mentioned the administration’s conversations around new climate programs for farmers and ranchers.
A rancher himself, Lucas emphasized his belief that new climate programs for farmers and ranchers should be voluntary and incentive based.
“Use the carrot to encourage good things, do not use the stick to try to beat the people economically into submission,” Lucas said about creating climate legislation.
As the new administration looks to create climate solutions involving agricultural producers, Lucas reassured Farm Bureau members that Vilsack understands farmers and ranchers’ need for incentive-based programs.
Expanding meat processing capacity
The fire at the Tyson plant in Holcomb, Kansas, along with disruptions in the meat industry during the COVID-19 pandemic drove Lucas and Rep. Collin Peterson to author the RAMP-UP Act, a bill to help expand processing capacity by making a path for smaller meat processing plants to move to the federal inspection process and sell products across state lines.
Lucas said having USDA food safety stamp allows for more trade opportunities across state and international lines, which expands Oklahoma’s marketability of meat.
Forecasting commodity prices and payments
Over the past two years, a large part of U.S. farm income has been derived from various government payment programs including the Market Facilitation Program and Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
Though Lucas said he hopes farmers and ranchers will not have to rely on these payments for much longer as commodity prices increase, he reiterated the critical role of farm programs for Oklahoma farmers and ranchers who often face weather extremes.
“I have tried to explain to my colleagues that sometimes, as in the early part of the last decade, it did not matter that calves were worth $1,300 per head and did not matter that wheat was at a record high,” Lucas said. “If you do not have anything to sell, it does not help. We still like to have that safety net there.”
Predicting the future of trade
Lucas said he is hopeful the Biden administration will continue to focus on international trade to open more markets for America’s high-quality agricultural commodities.
“USDA is still about making sure we have the ability to raise the food and fiber in this state and country and the ability to sell our surplus into world markets,” Lucas said.