OALP XIX Seminar 7

We began the day at the Oklahoma State Capitol where we were greeted by Tommy Thomas from the Oklahoma Legislative Consulting Group. He spoke about the challenges agricultural and rural Oklahoma face, and encouraged us to be advocates for our industry. We spent the morning hearing from several legislators.

Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell shared his involvement in the Department of Commerce and Tourism in Oklahoma. Although not native to the agricultural industry, he emphasized agriculture’s importance in his role as lieutenant governor.

Rep. Dell Kerbs, House Agricultural and Rural Development Chair, explained how his committee is comprised of rural and urban members, which can offer a strength in agricultural policy. Rep. Kerbs stressed the importance of getting youth involved in 4-H and FFA programs to ensure a positive future for agriculture. Next, Rep. Kevin Wallace, House Appropriations and Budget Chair, spoke to us about the process of the state budget and budget issues. Lastly, Sen. Casey Murdock, Senate Agricultural and Wildlife Committee Chair, said he always is looking after agricultural producers’ best interests in his role. Having served as both a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Sen. Murdock indicated House and Senate members must work together to solve agricultural-related issues.

After our visit with the legislators, Trait Thompson, Oklahoma Capitol Project Manager, led us on a tour of the Capitol building.

Our next stop was Oklahoma Farm Bureau. We enjoyed lunch as Thad Doye, OFB Executive Director, welcomed us and shared some insight about the operations of OFB. The rest of the afternoon was spent learning about Oklahoma’s water resources from several professionals in the field.

First, Julie Cunningham from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board shared the mission and responsibilities of the OWRB. The OWRB works to manage and improve Oklahoma’s water resources, ensuring clean and reliable water supplies, a strong economy, and a safe and healthy environment. Additionally, the OWRB manages the Beneficial Use Monitoring Program and has several water quality programs, including the Lake and Stream Monitoring Program, Groundwater Monitoring Program and Water System Asset Mapping. Julie also shared several planning and management programs through the OWRB. Julie wrapped up her presentation by sharing about the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan, a 50-year plan characterizing water supplies, demands, options and public policy to meet the needs of all Oklahomans.

Next, Jeri Fleming from the Oklahoma Water Survey spoke about the various types of water rights, such as riparian, prior appropriation and hybrid systems. She explained how the state, federal and tribal governments regulate water resources in Oklahoma. We went into a discussion focused on the Clean Water Act, learning more about factors and legislative actions leading up to the Act and the overall importance of the Act.

Neal McCaleb, Chairman of the Board for the Chickasaw Nation Industries, offered us some insight into the Tribal Settlement, where the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, the State of Oklahoma and the City of Oklahoma City reached a water rights settlement. The settlement resolved questions about water rights ownership and regulations in the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations territories. Neal then explained the fixed-base filtration system, Filtra-Systems, used in the oil and gas, mining, automotive, chemical and water treatment fields. The filtration system utilizes walnut shell media filter technology, a natural product with high modulus of elasticity, affinity for oils and suspended solids, and a 20-year media life.

Rounding out our lessons about water, we heard from Gary O’Neill from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Oklahoma. Gary shared efforts in addressing the state’s water issues, which usually are conducted on a field basis with individual landowners. He described Oklahoma’s landscape as a jigsaw puzzle, with maximum water quality benefits coming from a completed puzzle. A completed puzzle means all stakeholders are involved in the process, posing its own challenges. Gary informed us about several agricultural water quality concerns, such as pathogens, sediment and nutrition. He concluded his presentation by sharing future plans for increased collaboration and partnerships, research efforts and improved technology standards. These plans all are geared toward the improvement of water conservation and resources in Oklahoma.

After leaving OFB, we ate a steak dinner at Cimarron Steak House. We wrapped up the day with the much-anticipated reveal of our international trip. We were read several clues, each giving us unique hints about the unknown destination of our trip. After a few missed guesses, we were excited to learn we will be traveling to Chile in February 2020!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Stacy Howeth, Director of Member Services and alumna of OALP Class XVI, welcomed our class to Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, OAEC, and introduced us to the statewide staff. Stacy presented a short video on the history of the OAEC.

Our next speaker was Chris Meyers, General Manager. Chris went over the Co-op basics and Co-op 101. He explained a true rural electric co-op and gave examples of consumer co-ops and other co-ops in comparison, such as credit unions. Chris explained that there are investor-owned utilities (IOUs) for profit, privately owned co-ops by stockholders, and municipal electric companies that are owned and/or operated by cities or towns. He went further into detail on the variations with line density. The examples Chris provided are IOUs line density is 38 consumers per mile, municipals have a density of 43, and rural electric density is at 5.8 with more miles of lines than any other provider but serve less consumers.

A few of the fun and interesting history facts that were presented to the class were as follows:

  • The first project was the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933
  • President FDR created the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935
  • The Electric Cooperative Corporation Act was signed in 1937
  • In 1953, the number of rural electric systems doubled
  • Today, more than 99% of U.S. farms have electricity
  • There are rural electric co-ops in all 77 counties of Oklahoma.

The third speaker was Anna Politano, Oklahoma Living Editor. Anna had a very interesting story to tell about how she came to be in Oklahoma and associated with the co-op. She also went into detail about the magazine itself and informing the class that there are over 335,000 Oklahoma Living Magazines printed. Anna presented very interesting stats about the rural electric co-cop. Anna also informed the class that that the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association was established in November 1962.  It was developed to bring electricity to rural counties. Below is a breakdown of those stats:


•           115,968 total miles of distribution line

•           640,932 total number of active meters

•           82.68% residential

•           2.9% seasonal

•           13.27% commercial

•           Approximately 2,856 employees

•           Contribute approximately $40 million annually to schools via gross receipts taxes

Our last speaker before the high voltage demonstration was Sid Sperry, Director of Public Relations, Communications, and Research.  Sid gave a very interesting presentation about the technology being used in the electric co-op industry. He provided a website that reflects outages and explained how the real-time outage information helps not only the co-op but the consumer as well.

Daniel Lofland, Energy Efficiency and Solutions Specialist at Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, was the lead presenter of the High Voltage Trailer Demonstration. Daniel and his crew did an excellent job in keeping the class’ attention while demonstrating the raw power of electricity. The frying of a hot dog was a great visual example of what can happen if a person is exposed to 10,000 volts of electricity. The overall demonstration was very valuable to our class.

Boyd Lee, Cordelle Elesner, Katherine Russell, and Hamid Vahdatipour from various co-ops were brave enough to trust the class members with test driving several variations of electric transportation. The class favorite was the Tesla car. Not only was the car fun to drive, it had a great response time and was luxurious compared to other electric autos. The electric bike was also a fun experience for several class members.

After lunch, the class listened to Diane Dickerson, Owner of Rock’n D Alpacas about her and her husband’s operation. She went into great details about the many products that come from the alpacas fleece after they are sheered. We learned about the different grades and qualities of the fleece and what the buyers look for in regards to quality. We also learned that female alpacas spit while they are pregnant. This is how many owners discover that the females are pregnant. The outing at the alpaca farm ended with many of the class members trying to “herd” the alpacas into an area to pet them. This was almost an interesting experience due to the fact that the herd was being encouraged to stampede because of a flock of Guinea fowl and a certain class member, who will not be named, chasing them.

Our last stop for the day before dinner was at the Blue & Gold Sausage Company where we were greeted by Co-Owner Brett Ramsey. Brett went into great detail of the history of the family-owned company. The history of how the company started and the financial support they provide to our local schools is amazing. Brett gave a phenomenal tour of their facility and kept the class entertained. Brett also provided some very interesting production stats for such a small family owned business. Between September 1, 2018 and April 12, 2019, the company produced and/or sold 3,260,000 pounds of sausage, 1,270,000 pounds of bacon, and 820,000 pounds of chicken tenders. This volume generates $5,145,900 in income to those groups and their programs. Roughly 70% ends up back in the pockets of local FFA chapters.

Our evening concluded with dinner at Pops which was sponsored by Jackie Listen of McClain Bank who is also an OALP alumnus from Class IX.  He spent most of the day with us.

Friday, April 12, 2019

OALP Class XIX had an exciting schedule of stops on the final day of Seminar 7. The first stop was to a diversified fruit and vegetable farm called Growing Paynes. The owner is Rita Wiedemann who is a fourth generation farmer/rancher. Rita was an incredible tour guide with a dynamic and entertaining personality and a true passion for her farming operation. We began our tour in a 90 foot long metal frame hoop house filled with rows of immaculate strawberry plants. Rita started growing vegetables in a hoop house and has continually grown and diversified her operation ever since. With an unconventional approach to agronomy practices and a “you don’t know if you don’t try” attitude, she has developed a thriving business that now includes several different fruits and vegetables, a renovated old dairy barn, and even a sunflower patch for local photographers. Just before our class picked our fill of delicious strawberries, Rita left us with the quote, “Increasing production with poor management doesn’t work; plant what you can manage.” It was obvious that she adheres to this philosophy because Growing Paynes is very well managed and a top-notch farm. I am sure many of the members of the class will be back to pick more of the great tasting strawberries!

The next stop of the day was the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, more commonly known as ODAFF. We immediately felt at home as we were greeted with rows of green winter wheat (and rye) and clumps of tall dormant switchgrass as we approached the building. The agenda for the rest of the day was full of influential and intriguing speakers. The first speaker of the day was the new Secretary of Agriculture, Blayne Arthur.  Secretary Arthur is an OALP Class XV alumna. She gave us the introduction to ODAFF which is a regulatory agency with more than 500 employees. She discussed some immediate threats to agriculture: policy derived from non-ag congressman, producer age, farm and ranch transition, rural broadband, and commodity price. Finally, she outlined the legacy she hopes to leave – provide an avenue for young adults to get back into agriculture and to elevate the importance of agriculture in Oklahoma.

Cheri Long with Ag in the Classroom was our next speaker. Cheri is the Farm to School Market Development Specialist for Ag in the Classroom and is an OALP Class XVI alumna. The mission of Ag in the Classroom is to train teachers how to teach students about agriculture. The staff has 50 years of teaching experience combined so they can relate to the challenges and obstacles teachers face in teaching agriculture and training students. Their flagship program is a three-day tour in the summer where teachers spend time on farms and ranches to get hands-on experience that they can take back to the classroom. Our class got a hands-on example of the lessons that can be learned from this program. Our class made a delicious strawberry parfait pie from the book Cook a Doodle Doo! using strawberries picked from Growing Paynes that morning. Ag in the Classroom has many industry partners to help them spread knowledge and they have over 300 lessons on their website.

Jerry Flowers is the Chief Agent of Investigative Services for the Agricultural Investigative Services for Oklahoma. Mr. Flowers gave an extremely entertaining and informative talk about his investigative unit. The unit was established in 2007 to protect the economically important agricultural industry of our state and it has nine agents.  Cattle and equipment theft make up the bulk of the reported theft in the state with anywhere from 1,500-3,000 head of cattle reported stolen every year. Oklahoma is in the top five states for equipment theft. The unit recovers between $4 and 6 million of property each year and boasts an outstanding 40-45% recovery rate on stolen property. The use of illegal narcotics is common with the outlaws that commit these crimes, with methamphetamine being the primary drug of choice. The investigative unit also investigates arson on farms and ranches and the theft of timber in the eastern portion of the state.

Andy James represented the state forestry service. Andy is the assistant fire management chief for the forestry service which was established in 1925. The service was established in response to rampant wildfires in the southeast part of the state due to logging. Since then the department has grown and now consists of 42 firefighting units with an array of equipment. The forestry service responds to fires all over the state and is a critical resource in preventing and controlling large fires like we have experienced in the state in the past several years.

We had the privilege of hearing Dr. Rod Hall speak just before lunch. Dr. Hall is the state veterinarian. We discussed many different challenges facing the state’s agricultural animals and how his department is working daily to mitigate those threats and challenges.

After a delicious lunch, we were given the opportunity to tour the labs in the ODAFF building. Tanna Harrington is the director of laboratory services and gave us a very thorough tour of the three floors of labs in the building. The highlight of the tour was the outstanding strength and design of the main elevator to hold 25 of our classmates and operate with ease. The inorganic section of the lab deals with water quality testing that may be potentially impacted by agriculture. For example, the lab tests samples taken by the OWRB around large pig farms to make sure that the lagoon liners are functioning properly. The next floor is the general chemistry floor. This floor deals with feed and fertilizer samples, macro- and micronutrients, and the analyzation of different feed stuffs. Next was the pesticide floor. These labs test for both formulation compliance and residue/pollution. Our final stop was the seed lab that tests for purity, germination, and noxious weeds.

The seminar ended with a lengthy reflection period that wrapped up a very informative session that was capped by a fantastic final day at Growing Paynes and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

We had a great week in Oklahoma City, and look forward to seminar 8 in Stillwater!

Sincerely ,

Lindsay Henricks, OALP XIX