Oklahoma agriculture in trouble
The setting for the beginning of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau story was certainly grim. Farmers were dealing with the results of the stock market crash, the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. With farm prices falling to starvation-level, farmers were in trouble. In fact, the number of Oklahoma farms had declined 17 percent between 1935 and 1940, a loss of more than 36,000 farms. The average debt on a farm was $2,185.
First efforts for a farm organization
The first effort to develop a farm organization began before most of these circumstances had materialized. During World War I and shortly after, nearly every Oklahoma county had a County Farm Council to serve as an educational organization to distribute new farming practices and ideas from agricultural colleges and experiment stations.
W.A. Conner and George Bishop were both fundamental in the creation of a similar organization on the state level in 1919: Oklahoma State Farm Council. This Council participated in the development of a national farm organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation. However, after the wartime need for such organizations dwindled following the end of World War I, interest in the newly-formed Council was soon in the past.
It wasn’t until the growing farm problems were magnified by drought and depression in the 1930s that the farm organization movement began to gain ground. Clarence Roberts, editor of The Oklahoma Farmer-Stockman, became the voice of such movement.
The Oklahoma Farmers Emergency Association
It all began with an act of the United States Supreme Court. Three years after Congress approved the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, a law intended to provide parity prices, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. Farmers across the nation were frustrated and confused.
In response, Roberts called a meeting to create the Oklahoma Farmers Emergency Association with the first objective as persuading Congress to enact another farm program to replace the AAA.
Roberts and his secretarial staff wrote more than 5,000 letters to farmers, urging farmers to contact their senators and representatives to plead for a new farm program. Within a week, farmers were writing several letters to Washington. Newspapers publicized the movement, and after farmers from a few other states began to write as well, Congress enacted the “Corn and Hog Program.” The success of the new organization encouraged farmers to continue to meet, sometimes with more than 150 attendees.
Roberts pushes for an Oklahoma Farm Bureau
However, even after such an inaugural political success, Roberts did not abandon the idea of an Oklahoma Farm Bureau to replace the OFEA. In December of 1938, Roberts took an unofficial delegation to the AFBF convention in New Orleans with the hope that they would understand the importance of developing their own Farm Bureau and affiliating with such an influential organization as AFBF.
Unfortunately, the trip did not produce rapid results as Roberts had hoped, and it would be three years before the organization was functional. However, Oklahoma Farm Bureau would soon be on its way.