More than 80 Oklahoma Farm Bureau members and guests convened in Oklahoma City for the organization’s annual leadership conference Tuesday, Feb. 21.
Farm Bureau members kicked off the morning with Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who shared the importance of rural Oklahoma and the population shift to urban areas over the years.
“There has never been a more important time for Oklahoma Farm Bureau,” he said.
Pinnell also spoke about the immense growth of agritourism in Oklahoma, noting more than 2 million agritourism visits in the state this past year.
Members had the opportunity to learn more about State Question 820 – the upcoming vote to legalize recreational marijuana – from former Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb.
Lamb expressed that legalizing marijuana could lead to a number of societal problems, including homelessness, increased crime and the breakdown of the family.
He also shared with members how SQ 820 would not restrict natural resource usage like water and electricity – something that has already strained rural utility providers since the legalization of medical marijuana in 2018.
Farm Bureau members have strict policy against recreational marijuana and remain strongly opposed to the state question.
Secretary Blayne Arthur closed out the morning speaker lineup with an overview of agriculture in the state.
“I think it is the most optimistic time in agriculture,” she said.
Arthur touched on Oklahoma’s drought conditions and relief efforts, upcoming farm bill priorities and encouraged OKFB grassroots members to stay engaged in the policymaking process at the state Capitol.
“My hope is that wherever you are from that your state senator or state representative knows your name and that you are in the agriculture industry,” she said.
Over lunch, attendees heard from Senate and House Ag Committee chairmen Sen. Chris Kidd and Rep. Dell Kerbs as they discussed top agricultural issues currently moving through the committee process.
Members also heard from Emma Alexander, a field representative for Congressman Frank Lucas, as she shared more about the congressman’s involvement in discussions about the upcoming farm bill, noting the first full farm bill committee hearing is set for Tuesday, Feb. 28.
Mike Fina, chairman of the Oklahoma Broadband Governing Board, kicked off the afternoon with an in-depth discussion of the state of broadband accessibility in Oklahoma and the goals of the broadband board in the near future.
“Our agency goes away in five years, so we have to get our job done,” he said.
Fina, after having served on multiple statewide broadband committees, understands the lack of broadband internet in rural Oklahoma and the need for improvement.
“We learned that our broadband is insufficient at best,” he said of his work with the current broadband board.
Fina said the standard broadband speed in Oklahoma is a download speed of 25 Mbps and an upload speed of 3 Mbps – a benchmark that was set back in 2015.
“We use the internet completely differently than we did in 2015,” he said.
The Oklahoma Broadband Office seeks to provide symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 Mbps by the time the agency sunsets, Fina said.
He expressed the broadband office’s focus is on rural areas, noting the growing importance of high-speed internet access as farming equipment advances.
“If we want to keep the family farm, technology is the way to do it,” Fina said.
Andy Evans of the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center visited with members about the outlook of Oklahoma’s public schools and the implications of ad valorem protests on school budgets.
Evans cited the Oklahoma Supreme Court case Kingfisher Wind v. Wehmuller as a notable example of the effect ad valorem protests have on local school districts, as Kingfisher Wind, through intangible property rights, received a tax credit for 48% of their wind turbine assets, causing Kingfisher Public Schools to lose the same amount in tax revenue.
Evans noted the importance of finding an equitable solution to tax protests for both taxpayers and school districts as he recognized the right to protest ad valorem valuations is crucial.
“We do not want to put ourselves under the auspices of the county assessor,” he said.
Special guest Congressman Tom Cole spoke to attendees about his time in Washington, D.C., and the current hurdles the country faces, including the border crisis and American energy challenges.
Cole expressed his optimism as a new Congress gets underway and the Oklahoma delegation takes on new jobs, assignments and leadership roles.
“This delegation is probably the most powerful delegation Oklahoma has ever seen since Carl Albert was Speaker of the House,” he said.
He also shared with members an update on the Ukrainian war and his hopes for renewed American production opportunities, including automobile chips and pharmaceuticals.
Jerome Loughridge, senior vice president of operations at Oklahoma State University, rounded out the afternoon with an update on OSU’s veterinary medicine program, rural healthcare and the university’s nationally recognized research in unmanned aerial systems – an area he said is crucial to national defense efforts.
Loughridge touched on OSU President Kayse Shrum’s strategic plan for the university and her recognition of and commitment to OSU’s land-grant heritage.
“We are going to serve Oklahoma more innovatively than any land-grant university ever has,” he said of the university’s future.
The evening concluded with a legislative reception and awards dinner to honor 12 state legislators who received special awards for their service to agriculture and rural Oklahoma, including Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat, Sen. Lonnie Paxton, Sen. Darcy Jech, Sen. Chuck Hall, Sen. Brent Howard, Sen. Chris Kidd, House Speaker Charles McCall, Rep. John Pfeiffer, Rep. Jon Echols, Rep. Kyle Hilbert, Rep. Dell Kerbs, and Rep. Anthony Moore.