SQ777 Will Empower Corporate Agriculture, Hurt Family Farms

The following is from our partner at Oklahomans for Food, Farm & Family and is an opinion piece from Dr. Beckham, an educator and rancher in Blanchard, Oklahoma:

In addition to my educator role, I also have a cow-calf operation in southern Garvin County on Rush Creek. As an educator and rancher, I believe State Question 777 or “Right to Farm” has implications for public schools and local farmers/ ranchers.

Supporters of SQ777, which is an amendment to our State Constitution, say that it guarantees us — family-owned farms and ranches — the “right to make use of agricultural technology, the right to make use of livestock procedures, and the right to make use of ranching practices.” Many family farmers and ranchers and other opponents of SQ777 say that we already have those rights, I know I do.

Kim Barker, a family farmer from Fairview, Oklahoma, says “My family’s been on the farm for 123 years, five generations. I’ve got the right to farm, that’s not what this is about. [SQ777] is not written for farmers by farmers, it’s written by corporations for corporations, and not Oklahoma corporations, but out of state and even international.”

Barker goes on to say that SQ777 will not protect him or other family farmers, but will empower corporate agricultural interests at the expense of our family farms and ranches. The real agenda of those behind SQ777 becomes clear in the second part of the question, where it declares that these rights get “extra protection” that not even all other constitutional rights have. This extra protection, it states, would be a limit on lawmakers’ ability to interfere with the exercise of corporate rights.

As an example of an international corporate farm which is supporting SQ777, one must take a look at Seaboard Foods in Guymon, Oklahoma. In 1998, Time magazine published “The Empire of the Pigs,” an article by investigative journalists Donald Bartlett and James Steele that chronicled “how an extremely resourceful corporation plays the welfare game, maximizing the benefits to itself, often to the detriment of our local farmers and ranchers.

A case of misappropriation of land by corporate farms is documented during the 1930s Dust Bowl. Corporate farmers, then known as suitcase farmers, swept into western Oklahoma and the Oklahoma panhandle during the 1920s, taking advantage of unregulated wheat farming practices and generous federal subsidies – all in the name of corporate profits and corporate welfare. Of course, we now know the economic damage caused by these suitcase farmers was catastrophic and Oklahomans almost did not recover. These corporate farms ended many of our family farms and ranches, in more ways than one.

My grandfather, Virgil Beckham, lost his life in November 1933, when a wall of sand and wind hit him and his mule. The mule, spooked by the sudden sandstorm, dragged Virgil to death – as his arm was wrapped tightly with the lead rope. There is naturally “no love lost” between my family and corporate farming methods.

In 1979, I helped a friend, B.T. Ferguson, build a pig farm down on Rush Creek, south of Lindsay, Oklahoma. It wasn’t long, however, before corporate pig farms put him completely out of business. This is what corporations do – they enter an area, and then proceed to run all competitors out of business, whether it’s local business owners, family owned farms and ranches, or even our local public schools (in the case of State Question 790).

As a matter of fact, SQ777 and SQ790 are closely related, in that SQ777 is designed by corporations to destroy our family farms and ranches, while SQ790 is designed by corporations to destroy our public schools. I’ll be voting “NO” on both bills.

As a matter of fact, I’ll also be voting for the Senate and House candidates who oppose SQ777 and SQ790. How would one know which candidates oppose these bills and which ones support these bills? Simply ask them. One candidate has already answered the question of his stance on SQ777. Tim Downing, during a Blanchard Citizens United forum, answered by saying, “It is up to a vote of the people, but I plan to vote yes. I support farmers.”

Whether one is for or against SQ777, I hope this information (other than “Right to Farm”) provides some clarity as to whether to vote YES or NO on November 8.


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