WASHINGTON — Oklahoma Farm Bureau President Mike Spradling, making his annual trek to Capitol Hill this week, said Monday he is concerned about Congress' reluctance to tackle long-term farm policy and President Barack Obama's proposal to slash farm subsidies.
Spradling said Congress' foot-dragging has already meant that reductions to farm programs will be deeper than they would have been last year, since the budget baseline has been lowered.
“The longer we go, the less money we'll have to work with,” said Spradling, a pecan farmer and cattle rancher from Tulsa County who has been president of the Oklahoma group since 2007.
Spradling has a natural — and powerful — ally on Capitol Hill in Rep. Frank Lucas, the Oklahoma Republican who is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Lucas, of Cheyenne, got a long-term farm bill through his committee last year, but GOP leaders wouldn't bring it up for a vote.
That legislation drew opposition from some Democrats because of cuts to food stamps — the largest part of the farm bill — and from Republicans who object to government intervention in agricultural markets.
Congress passed a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill, and Spradling said Monday that it's possible the same thing will happen again this year.
In the budget he released last week, the president targeted direct payments and crop insurance subsidies to save billions of dollars. Direct payments, which some landowners receive whether or not they plant a crop in a given year, have long been criticized as wasteful, and the House and Senate farm bills written last year would have eliminated them.
Spradling said the agriculture industry is willing to give up direct payments “to do our part to balance the budget.” But, he said, the crop insurance cuts, particularly after severe and long-lasting drought in Oklahoma, could be tougher to handle.
Two years of drought have drained the resources of many farmers, he said, and some would have gone out of business without crop insurance.
While in Washington, Spradling said he is set to meet with the two new members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation, both of whom are more conservative on spending matters than their predecessors.
Reps. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, and Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, are “going to need a little bit of encouragement and education,” Spradling said. “Not to say they're ignorant of (farm policy), but they just haven't been exposed to it.”
Spradling said concerns about some proposed rule changes by the Obama administration have been allayed, at least temporarily. Farmers had been worried that the Environmental Protection Agency was going to impose tougher rules on dust and that the Labor Department was going to make it harder for young people to work on farms.
Farmers are now backing immigration reform, he said, that would give agriculture a reliable source of legal workers.
The longer we go, the less money we'll have to work with.”
Oklahoma Farm Bureau President