In The Know: Small farms near generational breaking point

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that small farms in Oklahoma may be near a generational breaking point, with farmers reaching an average age close to 60 and few young people entering the field. Steve Thompson, the executive director of the state Department of Environmental Quality for the past 11 years, announced that he is retiring Oct. 1. Democratic legislative leaders said they oppose a special session at a cost of more than $30,000 a day to revamp a law tossed out recently by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, but they would support one to find a way to prevent Insure Oklahoma participants from losing health coverage.

 The OK Policy Blog discussed why “middle-out” economics matches American values and economic reality better than the “trickle-down” theories being pushed by state leaders. NewsOK reports on how furloughs caused by automatic federal budget cuts are affecting Tinker Air Force Base employees. An economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City said Oklahoma’s economy is still performing well, but growth is leveling off.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of farms in Oklahoma where the principal operator is at least 65 years old. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for Economic and Policy Research examines how America’s low-wage workers are more educated and experienced than ever before, but they have not received wage increases to match.

In The News

Small farms near generational breaking point

The same forces causing the closure of Conrad Farms, a popular Bixby vegetable grower since the 1940s, are endangering the foundation of all American agriculture. The three Conrad brothers – Vernon, Eugene and Melvin – are in their 70s and ready to retire. The Conrad family’s younger generations are not interested in continuing the operation, and the high cost of land and production are an almost insurmountable barrier to beginning farmers. The confluence of urbanization, smaller families, longer life spans and higher start-up costs has pushed agriculture to a generational breaking point.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Head of Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality announces retirement

The executive director of the state Department of Environmental Quality the past 11 years is retiring. Steve Thompson will retire Oct. 1, it was announced Monday. Thompson joined DEQ as its deputy director in 1993 when the state Pollution Control Department was folded into the agency. He previously worked for the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department, leading the natural resources section.

Read more from NewsOK.

Democratic legislative leaders oppose possible special session

Democratic legislative leaders said Monday they oppose a special session at a cost of more than $30,000 a day to revamp a law tossed out recently by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. House Minority Leader Scott Inman and Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage questioned the urgency in calling lawmakers back to pass legislation supported by business interests to restrict civil lawsuits. Inman said several House Republicans could join Democrats in voting down an emergency clause that would make a measure take effect as soon as it is signed by the governor.

Read more from NewsOK.

Trickle-Down hasn’t worked. It’s time for Middle-Out economics.

In 2006, Governor Brad Henry signed what may have been the largest tax cut in state history. In some ways, it mirrored the tax cut approved this year under Gov. Fallin. The top income tax rate was ratcheted down over several years, with a final reduction depending on a revenue trigger. Yet the 2006 tax cut did something else – it increased the standard deduction to match federal levels, which eliminated income taxes for some 45,000 low to moderate-income families and lowered taxes for Oklahomans at all income levels.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Furlough days hit Tinker employees in their wallets

It’s been five days since Greg Ross has seen his daughters. Ross, 37, of Oklahoma City, swore he wasn’t going to be one of those dads who was never around. But that was before Congress’ inability to reach a budget deal caused 14,000 civilian employees at Tinker Air Force Base, including Ross, to start taking furlough days this month as part of cuts known as the sequester. Ross and his wife, Denise, have been struggling to make ends meet with reduced income because of the furlough, so Ross took a second job delivering pizzas. Economic experts warn the furloughs could hurt Oklahoma’s economy.

Read more from NewsOK.

State economy still performing well, but leveling off

Oklahoma’s economy continues to perform better than the national economy, although both have leveled off lately, said Megan Williams, associate economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. First quarter gross domestic product numbers originally were positive nationally, but are revised twice and have been less optimistic, showed 1.8 percent growth in GDP, Williams said. That number is down from the original 2.5 percent estimate. Even with those findings, Williams said the national economy is getting better. The reasons for the decline, she said, are a drop in consumer spending, a decline in exports and a decrease in government spending.

Read more from the Enid News and Eagle.

Quote of the Day

They may have a hard time convincing Oklahomans of the urgency of fixing a problem they created … at significant expense to the taxpayer rather than taking the time and putting it on the agenda for next year if it needs to be addressed.

-Oklahoma Policy Institute Director David Blatt, on talk of convening a special session to pass legislation supported by business interests to restrict civil lawsuits, after a previous attempt was thrown out by the Oklahoma Supreme Court (Source:

Number of the Day

19.7 percent

Percentage of farms in Oklahoma where the principal operator is at least 65 years old.

Source: USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Low-wage workers: Smarter, older, and underpaid

As we documented in an earlier post, the current value of the minimum wage is too low by every available historical benchmark. But, given the age and educational upgrading of the average low-wage worker over the last three decades, the level of the minimum wage is positively awful. Economists generally believe that older, better-educated workers should earn higher wages than younger, less-educated workers. An older worker typically has more experience and on-the-job training, both of which increase skills. Education – whether it is a high school degree, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or more – also increases workers’ skills and should be rewarded in the labor market. The falling value of the federal minimum wage, however, has failed to recognize substantial increases in the education and training of the workforce.

Read more from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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