George W. Stone, longtime Oklahoma Farmers Union president and state agriculture leader, died May 26 in Purcell. He was 101 years old.

Stone leaves behind a legacy of family farm leadership that will be difficult to match. His long and storied career helped shape American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union (AFR/OFU) and Oklahoma agriculture through much of the last half of the 20th century.

Stone’s AFR/OFU career spanned more than 64 years, a tenure that ultimately included leadership roles at the county, state and national level. He is the longest serving OFU president to date, guiding the organization from 1956 to 1980. He later served as National Farmers Union president from 1980 to 1984 and later as a dedicated OFU board member.

Stone left his first career as a Baptist minister in 1952 when a throat condition made it increasingly difficult to preach. That same year, he became a full-time servant of the OFU membership. He had already begun to gain prominence in the organization, first as secretary of his county Farmers Union for a time, then as chaplain for the entire state. Following time spent in various organization roles, he was elected to his first term as OFU president in 1956.

Stone commanded respect with his tall frame, strong oratory abilities and unwavering convictions. He guided OFU through unprecedented expansion during his presidency, doubling OFU’s membership count and overseeing the construction of two new, larger OFU headquarter buildings. He also relaunched the insurance company and grew it into a viable entity with more lines of coverage. He is credited with shifting OFU’s trajectory from a fraternal brotherhood to a professional business organization.

Stone’s upbringing on his family’s diversified farm near Byars, Okla., never left him. His early years working on the farm led to an extreme work ethic few could match. In fact, his drive is still frequently mentioned at AFR/OFU headquarters some 50 years later.

His upbringing also led to a passion for family farming. During his presidencies, the importance of preserving the family farm and the opportunities and challenges that come with it was ever present. His legislative efforts always came back to reducing corporate involvement in farming and the continuation of the family farm system of agriculture.

Stone’s strong oratory abilities and passion for agriculture made him a formidable figure and, when he communicated, lawmakers listened. He successfully lobbied at the state and national capitols and testified before various Senate and House Agriculture Committees for beneficial farm programs and equal treatment for farm families. He worked with more than half of Oklahoma’s governors and traveled the world on behalf of agriculture, meeting with national and international leaders including every president from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush.

Through National Farmers Union’s membership in IFAP (International Federation Agriculture Producers), Stone traveled to 65 countries to represent American agriculture. He even traveled behind the Iron Curtain to meet with insurance companies throughout Europe, including the former Soviet Union.

Stone retired from full-time service to Farmers Union in 1984 and felt the familiar pull of the family farm once again. He and his wife purchased a working farm near Stratford, Okla., just a few miles from where he grew up and settled in to raised cattle, sheep, Bermuda sprigs, hay and peaches.

While continuing to farm, Stone remained involved in OFU. He served on the organization’s board of directors for a total of 12 years, guiding the organization he had such a strong hand in shaping. He also continued to craft organization policy at state and national Farmers Union conventions and fight for the family farm at legislative fly-ins to Washington, D.C.

Stone received many accolades over the years, including Oklahoma State University’s “Diploma of Distinction” in 1980 and Oklahoma Baptist University’s “Outstanding Alumni Achievement in Agriculture, Business and Public Service” in 1981. He received AFR/OFU’s highest and rarest honor, the OFU Meritorious Service Award, and reached the pinnacle of Oklahoma’s agricultural industry when he was inducted into the Oklahoma Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2000.

Stone fully retired from OFU leadership in 2010 when he completed his last term on the board of directors. In February 2020, he attended his last AFR/OFU event—the 115th AFR/OFU State Convention. He gave the invocation at the organization’s annual banquet as the interim chaplain, the role that started his career with Farmers Union. He had come full circle at an event that was just 15 years his senior.

The Stone family’s involvement in Farmers Union reaches beyond the George Stone years. His grandfather became a member in the early 1900s, his father was an OFU insurance agent, and until recently the sixth consecutive generation of the Stone family held AFR/OFU memberships.

OKLAHOMA CITY—U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) April 18, 2020. The program is intended to support America’s farmers and ranchers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The agriculture industry, already reeling from trade war fallout, has lost billions due to plummeting prices, sudden drops in demand and supply chain weaknesses.

“I am very disappointed in USDA’s CFAP relief plan,” said AFR/OFU Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh. “Agricultural producers across the nation are suffering through unprecedented market upheaval. Amid record losses and incredible market turmoil, USDA’s plan is an ineffective mess.

“Congress must provide additional funding to the agriculture sector immediately to avoid irreparable harm to America’s farmers and ranchers. If lawmakers fail to act now, our nation’s producers and our food system is in certain jeopardy.”

CFAP provides two forms of assistance—$3 billion in purchases of agriculture products, including meat, dairy and produce, to provide for those in need through food banks, community programs and faith-based organizations and $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers, funded through the $9.5 billion CARES Act emergency provisions and $6.5 billion in Credit Commodity Corporation (CCC) funding.

The $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers will include $9.6 billion for the livestock industry ($5.1 billion for cattle, $2.9 billion for dairy, and $1.6 billion for hogs), $3.9 billion for row crop producers, $2.1 billion for specialty crops producers, and $500 million for other crops. The payment limit is $125,000 per commodity, $250,000 total per individual or entity.

“These amounts will be woefully inadequate for all commodities,” said Blubaugh. “Oklahoma agricultural producers were hopeful, but this program provides no real relief. Secretary Perdue has proven he’s out of touch with producers; I fear we will lose a lot of farmers and ranchers because of it.”

The $5.1 billion allocated to cattle producers is especially concerning. Following years of market volatility, they have spent the last few months fighting large meatpacking companies over possible market manipulation and other antitrust violations. There is an open USDA investigation addressing the concerns.

“Agricultural economists across the country have shown losses to be three times that of the CFAP payments to cattle producers,” said Blubaugh. “$5.1 billion may not even keep producers on their farms and ranches, much less prop up an entire industry. At best, this ‘relief’ will pay a little bank interest. It’s merely a Band-Aid on a much larger wound.”

According to USDA, producers will be compensated with a single direct payment determined using two calculations: 85 percent of actual price loss from Jan. 1 to April 15 and 30 percent of expected losses from April 15 through the next two quarters. USDA expects to begin CFAP sign-up in early May, with producers receiving payments by early June.

AFR/OFU Cooperative is a membership services organization established in 1905 as Oklahoma Farmers Union. AFR/OFU provides educational, legislative and cooperative programs across the state and serves as a watchdog for Oklahoma’s family farmers and ranchers and rural communities. The organization is actively supportive of the state’s agricultural industry and rural population with membership consisting of farmers actively involved in production agriculture and non-farmers adding their voice in support of AFR/OFU principles.

AFR members will have the opportunity to discuss key rural and agriculture issues during an informal dinner Aug. 7 at the Stillwater Community Center, 315 W. 8th Street. The event, which starts promptly at 6 p.m., is part of a series of eight sessions scheduled for Aug. 7-20 in various locations across Oklahoma.

“We want to use this informal, relaxed atmosphere to learn the critical issues on the minds of Oklahoma farmers and ranchers,” AFR President Terry Detrick, said.

The current agriculture economy, the farm bill, mid-term elections and international trade are among the issues expected to gain attention during the meetings.

“We’ll talk about all of these issues,” Detrick said, “and I am sure the weather will also be a frequent topic, as it is every time you get farmers and ranchers together.”

Detrick added, the issues discussed will lead to new and improved policies for the state’s oldest farm organization.

“The thoughts and ideas surfaced at these barbecues will be used by our members to formulate policies to be voted on at our annual convention in February,” Detrick said.  “These policies are important as they will guide our organization throughout the coming year.”

The meetings, two each day, will start promptly with the meal followed by discussions. There will also be staff introductions followed by brief comments. In addition to Stillwater, the schedule for the August meetings includes the following venues:

Tuesday, Aug. 7

  • Lunch in Muskogee at noon, Northeastern State University, Synar Room 147, 2400 W. Shawnee Street.

Thursday, Aug. 9

  • Lunch in Atoka at 12 p.m., Kiamichi Technology Center, 1301 W. Liberty Rd.
  • Dinner in Tecumseh, Crossing Hearts Ranch, 22214 Skagg City Rd.

Thursday, Aug. 16

  • Lunch in Watonga at 12 p.m., American Legion Post 125, 306 S. Noble Ave.
  • Dinner in Gate at 6 p.m., Gate Community Center, 210 West 4th.

Monday, Aug. 20

  • Lunch in Hobart at 12 p.m., Western Technology Center, 1000 S. Bailey Street.
  • Dinner in Duncan at 6 p.m., Red River Technology Center, 3300 W. Bois D’Arc.

 

For more information or to RSVP, please contact Bethany Andrews, bandrews@afrmic.com (405) 218-5531.

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The following statement can be attributed to Terry Detrick, President of AFR/OFU

“Farmers, ranchers and consumers need a strong farm bill that provides adequate protection and food security. Passage this week by the U.S. House of Representatives is a positive step forward towards providing certainty and security.  Low commodity prices and falling agricultural income make the farm bill more important than ever. We trust Congress will follow the process in a timely manner and pass a farm bill that benefits all Americans.

We look forward to working with the U.S. Senate to pass a farm bill that meets our needs, which include a robust crop insurance program, trade policies allowing market access and decreasing burdensome regulations.”