Farmers feel budget's pinch, but many agree with Reagan goals

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Edie Dahlsten, a young woman who works closely with her husband, Larry, on their grain and hog farm in Kansas, knows times are hard for farmers -- and likely to get harder. But she is convinced that farmers will give President Reagan more time to ''prove his theories.''

After comparing present conditions with what she has heard about conditions during in the 1930s, Mrs. Dahlsten says, ''This is probably one of the toughest times that agriculture has gone through, but I think most of the farmers are saying they will stick with the Reagan program, with the hope that there will be an upturn at the end.''

The Dahlstens have watched neighbors forced to close out this year, selling land and machinery ''at prices half what they would have been a year ago.''

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But Mrs. Dahlsten expects farmers to vote Republican this November as they did in 1980. Farmers will wait out the hard times for at least another year, she says, because ''we've been used to tightening our belts for 25 years and we know that just because there's a new administration isn't going to turn things around that rapidly.''

The nation's largest farm organization, the Illinois-based American Farm Bureau Federation, takes a similar stand. Texas Farm Bureau executive director Warren Newberry explains that Farm Bureau members like the Dahlstens agree that ''our real problem continues to be inflation and high interest rates, and unless you get that under control everything else is in vain.''

The Reagan administration's proposed 1983 budget calls for sharp cuts affecting agriculture. Farm Bureau assistant national affairs director Grace Ellen Rice is critical of proposed cuts in export promotion and soil conservation programs. She also criticizes the projected federal deficits.

Randy Russell, an assistant in the US Department of Agriculture's economics division, says he expects continuing Farm Bureau support for the administration, even though the new round of Reagan budget cuts will hurt the already hard-pressed farm sector in the immediate future. Farmers face an expected drop in federal price support payments from this year's $6.4 billion to $1.8 billion under the proposed 1983 budget.

The farmers' concerns, Mr. Russell argues, are ''interest rates and inflation , which are part of what's going on in the overall economy.'' He says they ''support the budget's goal of reducing the size of government and its role in agriculture because its part of the overall scheme to reduce federal spending.''

Moreover, Russell says, farmers will be rewarded by ''growth in the economy this summer and fall.''

DeVon Woodland, who farms 400 acres in Idaho and is president of the National Farmers Organization, isn't convinced. ''There have to be other ways,'' he says, ''to get a hold of inflation other than balancing the budget on the backs of American farmers.'' He blames the nation's current level of 9 million unemployed directly on government policies that he claims have forced 10 million people to leave farms over the past 20 years in search of city jobs.

Continuing ''a cheap-food policy,'' Mr. Woodland argues, will continue to mean depression for the nation's largest industry, agriculture. The direct result, he adds, is recession for the rest of the economy.

David Senter, national director of the radical American Agricultural Movement agrees. ''You can visit with every single farm organization with the exception of Farm Bureau,'' says Mr. Senter, ''and they will all say that we are in a depression. . . . Agriculture can help solve the problems in this country, but only if we set a reasonable price for farm products.''

In reply to Farm Bureau and Reagan administration support for free trade and letting the market determine price, Senter argues that ''We have got to move in the direction of fair trade, rather than continue unemploying our people and exporting our natural resources by producing food at below the cost of production.''

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