U.S. Deputy Sec. of Ag Visits Oklahoma

image of Merrigan, Peach, Pope and Thralls
U.S. Deputy Sec. of Ag Kathleen Merrigan, standing at right, listens to a question posed by Sac and Fox Second Chief Cheryl McClellan, seated at left. Seated behind the panelists’ table, from left, are state Sec. of Ag Terry Peach, OACD Executive Director Clay Pope and OCC Executive Director Mike Thralls.

U.S. Deputy Sec. of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan visited Oklahoma on May 13, 2010, to talk with Oklahoma farm and tribal leaders about current USDA programs and services and needs to be addressed in the next Farm Bill.

Her first stop on Thursday morning was at the Pioneer Telephone Cooperative headquarters in Kingfisher, where she announced recipients of loans and grants that USDA is providing through Rural Development programs to spur economic development and create or save jobs in rural areas. Pioneer Coop is also a recipient of funding through the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP). As a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Pioneer was awarded $1.81 million BIP loan and a $1.78 million BIP grant earlier this year. The cooperative will use the funding to design, engineer, and construct a fixed wireless broadband network that will extend from Kansas to the Texas border along the western quarter of the state.

Kerrigan then traveled to the Jack Stuteville farm in Kingfisher County for a “closed barn door” roundtable discussion with farmers and farm organizations leaders. State Sec. of Agriculture Terry Peach organized the roundtable and invited Oklahoma Conservation Commission Executive Director Mike Thralls, and Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Clay Pope to participate.

Thursday afternoon Kerrigan made a visit to a meeting of the Oklahoma Tribal Conservation Advisory Council in Shawnee. She was accompanied by Janie Hipp from the U.S. Sec. of Ag’s Office of Tribal Relations. Chickasaw Chief Bill Anoatubby and Sac and Fox Second Chief Cheryl McClellan were among tribal leaders in attendance, along with members of the Kiowa Nation Tribal Conservation District. Peach, Thralls and Pope participated in a panel discussion with Kerrigan, as did Ron Hilliard, Natural Resources Conservation Service state conservationist; Francie Tolle, Farm Service Agency state executive director; and Ryan McMullen, Rural Development state executive director. Pope is a member of the advisory council, as is OCC Assistant Director Ben Pollard.