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State

Website offers drought resources to area farmers

The Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Team has created a website in order to help area farmers impacted by the severe drought and heat of the past few months. The site includes maps, forecast information and hay listings in an effort to provide drought related resources.

By visiting www.beefextension.com and clicking on “drought resources,” famers can find over 50 links to information ranging from cattle management to tax information for livestock and crop lost due to the weather. The website also has updated information on the current burn ban and the regulations involved.

Nearly 1 million pounds of food distributed in Canadian County

Last year more than 85,000 hours of service was donated, resulting in a savings of over $1 million in labor costs for the food bank (Courtesy Photo/Oklahoma Regional Food Bank).

It was a recording setting year for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma as 46.2 million pounds of food was distributed throughout the state during the past year.

During Fiscal Year 2011, the food bank helped feed hungry families through 825 partner agencies and school agencies. A total of 53 counties are served by the food bank, including Canadian County, where 971,897 pounds of food was distributed.

“We distributed 27 percent more food this year than the previous year,” Rodney Bivens, executive director of the Regional Food Bank, said.  “In June alone, we distributed more than 3.6 million pounds.  Yet, many are still struggling with hunger.”

According to a released from the food bank, Oklahoma is the fifth hungriest state in the nation and nearly 600,000 residents are food insecure. Each week the food bank is able to help feed more than 90,000 people with the majority of those served being children, senior citizens and working families.

However, as the amount of hungry families grows across the state, so are the financial challenges faced by the food bank. Costs for food and distribution continue to increase and food bank officials say it’s difficult to keep up with demand.

“Unfortunately, the cost for food, boxes, packaging materials and just about everything we use to distribute food to people in need has gone up,” Bivens said.  “Last year, we had more food leaving our shelves than we had coming in – and that’s a scary trend.  We distributed 2.4 million pounds more in Fiscal Year 2011 than we received.  If this trend continues, we will only have a ten to 15 day supply of food, as opposed to our 45 to 65 day supply.”

Because of the need the food bank is reaching out to local residents for donations and financial support. Bivens said the food bank’s administrative costs are less than 4 percent of the total budget, meaning 96 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to food costs and distribution.

Volunteers are also needed. Last year more than 85,000 hours of service was donated, resulting in a savings of over $1 million in labor costs.

For more information, call (405) 972-1111 or visit www.regionalfoodbank.org.

Local counties included in disaster declaration

Farmers in Canadian and Kingfisher counties are eligible to be considered for federal assistance following a disaster declaration issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Gov. Mary Fallin asked the USDA to issue a disaster declaration last month in order to help farmers suffering from wildfires and drought. The USDA announced today that 74 Oklahoma counties will be covered. Nowata, Craig and Ottawa counties are not.

According to a USDA release, a Secretarial disaster designation makes farmers in designated counties eligible to be considered for federal assistance from the Farm Service Agency (FSA). That assistance includes FSA emergency loans and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program. Farmers in designated counties have 8 months from the date of a Secretarial disaster declaration to apply for emergency loan assistance. Farmers interested in requesting additional information should contact their local FSA office.

The Canadian County office is located at 1625 Highway 66 in El Reno. The Kingfisher County office is located at 1600 S 13TH St. in Kingfisher.

Following the disaster declaration announcement, Fallin said the move by the USDA will give much needed assistance to local farmers who have suffered through one of the worst years for drought on record.

“The weather has made this an extremely tough year for Oklahoma farmers,” Fallin said. “This declaration will help those who have been hard hit by drought and other bad conditions to get the assistance they need.”

Okarche man charged with insurance fraud

An Okarche man turned himself into authorities last week after facing a felony charge of embezzlement following an insurance fraud investigation.
William Liebl, 30, is charged with defrauding an Oklahoma couple by skimming part of their insurance premium payments while he worked as an insurance agent in Edmond. An investigation by the Oklahoma Insurance Department’s Anti-Fraud Unit uncovered evidence that Liebl accepted more than $2,000 in annual premiums for auto and home insurance coverage and transferred portions of the payments into his personal bank account, rather than applying it to the victims’ insurance policies.
According to investigators, the victims were told their insurance policy had been canceled due to nonpayment when they attempted to collect for home damage following a hail storm.
Based on that evidence, one felony charge of embezzlement was filed against Liebl by the Attorney General’s Office on June 29 and his insurance license was revoked by the Insurance Department. On July 14, Liebl turned himself in at the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s office.
Insurance Commissioner John Doak said the charges were proof that the state is serious about cracking down on insurance fraud.
“I am committed to making Oklahoma a very dangerous place to be for insurance criminals,” Doak said. “Each and every prosecution that we pursue should be another warning that the Oklahoma Insurance Department’s Anti-Fraud Unit is serious about fulfilling my zero-tolerance policy toward insurance crime.”
Randy Brogdon, Deputy Commissioner of Fraud and Consumer Affairs at the Oklahoma Insurance Department, commended his officers for their work in the investigation.
“The investigators in OID’s Anti-Fraud Unit are highly trained, experienced and dedicated to protecting Oklahoma’s consumers from insurance crimes,” Brogdon said. “Their hard work to root out the bad actors makes Oklahoma’s insurance market safer and better for consumers and honest insurers alike.”

Governor issues burn ban for 45 counties

After weeks of burn bans declared by cities and counties across western Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin has declared a ban on all outdoor burning for 45 Oklahoma counties, including Canadian County.

“The number of wildfires we have had over the last few months is extremely tough on our state firefighters,” Fallin said Thursday in a release. “It’s a drain on their resources as well as a physical drain. Anything that can be done to minimize fires will help to keep both our firefighters and the public safe. I’m asking all Oklahomans to be vigilant and to do their part in preventing fires.”

Oklahoma Forestry Services, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, recommended the ban based upon an analysis of fire activity, wildland fuel conditions and the predicted continued drought as criteria for recommending the ban. Canadian County had already been under a burn ban since last month and the governor’s ban will ban outdoor burinign until further notice.

Unlawful activities under the ban include campfires, bonfires, and setting fire to any forest, grass, woods, wildlands or marshes, as well as igniting fireworks, burning trash or other materials outdoors.

Government officials address Piedmont crowd, discuss deficit

State Insurance Commissioner John Doak honored (L-R) Jacob Maloney, 17, Caleb Maloney, 14, and Jake Kisling 14, for their efforts in helping the community following the May 24 tornado. Doak, and several other state and federal officials were in attendance for a legislative breakfast hosted by chamber and school board members.

State and federal government officials were in attendance for Thursday’s legislative breakfast, including a representative from U.S. Sen. Tim Coburn’s office that said the Oklahoma senator would be unveiling a “buffet-style” budget reduction plan next week.

“Sen. Coburn is going to release next week what I call a buffet of (budget) cuts,” Craig Smith, a representative with Coburn’s office, told the crowd. “It’s going to be $9 trillion worth of cuts for the next 10 years. We are going to lay it out for our citizens and colleagues, saying here are ways to make cuts and you can pick and choose like you are going through a buffet.”

Congressional leaders and the White House are currently involved in a debate on whether to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2. GOP leaders have argued that the debt ceiling should not be raised unless major cuts are made to the budget in an effort to reduce the deficit.

“There is a lot of political rhetoric…and there is going to be a lot of high drama,” Smith said, specifically addressing President Obama’s statement this week that social security checks could be delayed if the debt ceiling is not raised.

“You will hear a lot of comments like that but the reality is I think there is money available there to do some shifting and make our (payments),” Smith said.

A representative of U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas’ office was also in attendance and said the looming debt ceiling deadline was a concern because it could cause a government shutdown.

“Of course I don’t want that to happen as a government employee and I don’t think you should either, because it could affect things like social security, which the president mentioned,” Shawn McDavid said. “Likewise, we know trillion dollar annual debts are not sustainable.”

McDavid also said seven town hall meetings scheduled for next week across the state have been canceled as Congress will not be taking a planned recess in an effort to work out a deal with the budget.

State Insurance Commissioner John Doak spoke briefly and gave special recognition to a group of local students for their efforts in helping a Piedmont family clean up their property following the May 24 tornado. Caleb Maloney, 14, Jacob Maloney, 17, and Jake Kisling, 14, were issued a certificate of appreciation from the state insurance office.

“I think your community and your school should be very proud of these young men,” Doak said. “I have a son that is 12-years-old and I have told him about what you did. When we catch young men, or women, doing what is right we want to support them and let them know they can make a difference.”

Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, addressed the crowd at Thursday's legislative breakfast in Piedmont.Doak challenged the students to continue giving back to their community and possibly consider a future in public service.

Doak also said his office had been very busy in the recovery efforts of the tornado and that many new programs he helped establish were already making a difference.

“We established a Catastrophe Team…I think it is actually meeting the needs, making sure that things happen quickly,” he said. “We want to find better ways for debris removal and getting adjusters in here quickly. Getting boots on the ground to make a difference in getting your claims paid quickly is our goal.”

Also in attendance at the legislative breakfast were Sen. Ron Justice, R- Chickasha, Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, Canadian County Commissioner Phil Carson, County Sheriff Randall Edwards and County Assessor Matt Wehmuller.

The legislative breakfasts are held quarterly at city hall and are hosted by members of the Piedmont school board and chamber of commerce.

Area wheat harvest worst in years

Wheat production across the state was down this harvest season and the Okarche area was especially hit hard with production at its worst level in years due to the drought and hail.

According to a representative with Plain Partners in Okarche, harvest collections this year were 30 percent that of a normal harvest season. Nearly 300,000 bushels were collected by the Okarche grain elevator.

Rick Brueggen, a representative of Plain Partners said the conditions were the worst he had ever seen.

“This is the worst year I have ever seen and I have been here for 25 years,” Brueggen said.

Last year’s crop was also down following a severe hail storm but crop levels were even lower this year.

Doug Hauser, an agent with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau in Kingfisher County, said the past few years have been some of the worst he has seen in his 20 years with the bureau but higher wheat prices have offset potentially devastating results.

“With the prices being as high as they are, I think people have handled things fairly well,” Hauser said. “If prices were lower you might see more farms being sold and guys looking for other jobs, but the wheat price has helped a lot.”

Hauser also said the weak American dollar has helped the agricultureindustry in many ways and that many farmers have been able to benefit from federal subsidized insurance that has made insurance more affordable than it typically would be.

“Premiums are fairly high but many are subsidized by the federal government,” Hauser said. “Most of the guys would not do it if it wasn’t subsidized.”

The combination of hail and drought have made the past few years especially tough on local wheat production but Hauser said patterns of poor weather are typical and that the hope is that things will soon swing back to normal.

“As a whole we have had a pretty tough three years,” Hauser said. “It was an exception if someone had a 25 bushel crop or better but many this year lost practically everything.”

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