AN INTERVIEW WITH OKLAHOMA PORK COUNCIL'S EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ON THE RIGHT TO FARM AMENDMENT (STATE QUESTION 777)
Next year, Oklahoma will be facing a very important decision on its agricultural and economic future. In November of 2016, the state’s citizens will vote on State Question 777 (SQ 777), also known as the Right to Farm Amendment.
This bill - similar to Missouri’s (2014) and North Dakota’s (2012) - would create permanent protections for farming and ranching in the state constitution. We recently sat down with Oklahoma Pork Council Executive Director Roy Lee Lindsey to discuss Oklahoma’s agriculture as well as SQ 777 and its potential impact on the state.
Mr. Lindsey began with the Oklahoma Pork Council almost two full decades ago, and in that time, he has seen significant change in the Council and its relationship with the state of Oklahoma.
“When I started, there was an internal struggle with who we were, and we were still learning. The industry was evolving. In 1992, there were roughly 190,000 hogs and pigs in Oklahoma and today that number is 2.4 million. We grew that number in a 10 year period, and that drastic change forced us to resolve some of the issues and challenges of unifying the association on one page. Also, the task of putting a face on the industry, especially in a state that places a heavy importance on other areas of agriculture such as cattle and wheat, was heavy. We want the public to see us (the pork industry) as their neighbors, because we are. We developed the We Care initiative, because our most essential function is to create opportunities and feed the world.”
The We Care initiative, one of the pork industry’s most useful programs, helps promote responsible farming practices while continuing to improve those methods. Lindsey describes the Oklahoma Pork Council as a membership organization that represents pork producers of all sizes, from small independents to large-scale organizations. He states that they are committed to excelling in this representation in order to constantly improve agriculture as a whole and “make Oklahoma the best place in the country to raise baby pigs”, which they accomplish through marketing and research fueled by the pork checkoff program, and public policy and advocacy through non-checkoff resources.
He is very proud of his time at Oklahoma Pork Council, where he says they have set the standard for promoting the pork industry among state pork associations:
“It took us from a group that people didn’t know a lot about, to an elevated level. Our board of directors is top-notch, understands our goals and objectives, and has kept us on task. We have really good funding support, a credit to the success we’ve had through our coordinated efforts. We’re the eighth largest state in terms of pork production and an integral part of nation’s pork industry, providing pigs to other states. Our twenty plus year track record in the state has helped us to be seen as a successful entity in Oklahoma agriculture.”
Aside from agriculture advocacy and successfully communicating with the general public, Lindsey (who has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Communications and a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Education) believes agricultural education will play an important role in the industry’s future: [audio mp3="http://protecttheharvest.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Roy-Lee-Sound-Bite-1.mp3"][/audio] Roy Lee Lindsey is proud of the success of the Oklahoma agriculture industry as a whole, but that success can be a double-edged sword. It means that Oklahoma is one of the most Ag-dependent states in the country. As he puts it, is the “backbone of the state”.
“Our jobs, economy, and well-being are reliant on agriculture. We have a great group of agriculture organizations who have unbelievable leadership, membership, and volunteers, giving of their time to make sure our communities are set. It takes a special type of person to do that. You know, we get farther removed from agriculture as a society, but our culture is directly tied to the farm and I think Oklahoma gets that.”
Because of this agriculture dependency, the state can be very susceptible to an outside attack on farmers and ranchers, especially as people become farther removed from how food is raised. He believes it starts with educating the public.
“We need to continually communicate with non-rural communities about our process, how we do things, why we do the things we do, the role we play in feeding the world. We’re a resource for these communities, and that importance must be properly expressed.”
That only covers one half of the problem. The other half of the problem is attacks by those who don’t believe animal agriculture should exist: [audio mp3="http://protecttheharvest.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Roy-Lee-Sound-Bite-2.mp3"][/audio] Roy Lee Lindsey, like many in the agriculture community, feels that State Question 777 will certainly help address these threats despite the feelings among a confused public about how much a Right to Farm amendment allows.
“ We believe the people best equipped to determine proper animal care practices are the people who do it every day, in consultation with state veterinarians, and SQ 777 places equal balance on emotion, science, veterinarian advice, and food producer experience. Agriculture will never have free reign. Farmers and ranchers have every incentive to raise food in the best manner possible to be the most productive they can be. With technology, the latest and greatest is the best. Most folks believe those are improvements, but for some reason not in agriculture. Why don’t we view agriculture the same way? Let’s embrace technology in all aspects of our life. I can’t feed the world with less than the latest technology.”
We asked Mr. Lindsey if he felt that without this constitutional protection, a situation such as in California (where animal rights groups called for strict cage requirements and received them with Proposition 2) could happen in Oklahoma:
“We’ve been preparing for the last several years in Oklahoma for a similar situation that arose in California. We saw very plainly there, they put an initiative on the ballot (same as is currently happening in Massachusetts) and it put the egg industry at a significant disadvantage, as well as consumers who wanted affordable protein. That very thing could happen here if there is no legal protection in place against outside special interest groups such as HSUS. This isn’t a question of food safety. It’s these groups, and states like California, that believe they know what’s best for the country when it comes to raising animals.”
Roy Lee Lindsey, and his fellow Oklahoma agriculture leaders, believe very strongly in State Question 777 and its ability to protect the producers who need it, as well as the rest of the state that relies on the food Oklahoma’s farming families provide: [audio mp3="http://protecttheharvest.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Roy-Lee-Sound-Bite-3.mp3"][/audio]
We thank Roy Lee Lindsey for his time and knowledge, and wish him and the rest of Oklahoma's farming and ranching community the best of luck as they continue to educate the public on the benefits of State Question 777 to the state's overall success.