Leaders of the striking farmers, infuriated that Congress recessed for Easter without approving an emergency farm bill, vowed yesterday to target for election defeat members of Congress who oppose the bill.
Spokesman for the American Agriculture Movement said they are creating a number of political action committees to raise funds to use this fall against lawmakers who oppose higher government price guarantees to farmers, and to support candidates who support the farmer's price demands.
The farm activists, who have been in Washington since mid-December demanding higher prices for crops and livestock, suggested their campaign activities will be a result of some eye-opening exposure to the ways of power politics in the nation's capital.
"I found out that every major corporation has an office here for lobbying. If this is the way the game is run, to have bucks in your pocket . . . then we'll play it that way," said Rick Rodgers of Klamath Falls, Ore.
In a press conference at the Department of Agriculture, the striking farmers said that on an "individual basis, they will set up campaign fundraising commitees to increase pressure on Congress for quick passage of an emergency farm bill.
"Our members may be few, but the margin of victory for many congressmen is not so great that they can ignore the farmers. American agriculture can either elect or defeat if we put our minds to it, and I can assure you we will put out minds to it," said Wayne Peterson of Holabird, S.D.
Peterson conceded, however, that farmers - once a powerful voting bloc - no longer command the response at the polls that they did a half century ago.
In 1933, there were 6.6 million farms, and more than 25 percent of the population lived on them; today, there are 2.7 million operating farms, inhabited by less than 4 percent of the population.
"But we're learning every day . . . this is really the first time the congressmen have gone home, and they are not going to be allowed to lie to their constituents like they always have before," said Rodgers.
The farmers said they were particularly angered because the House, at the urging of Agriculture Committee Chairman Thomas Foley (D-Wash.), rejected a move to commit its conference members to a "flexible parity" plan introduced in the Senate by Bob Dole (R-Kan.).
The plan would provide higher price guarantees to wheat, feed grain and cotton producers who reduce their productive acreage up to 50 percent.
"I live very close to Mr. Foley's district and I'm going to see to it and it is told to him and his constituents exactly how he delayed the chance for agriculture to get any real benefits for this planting season," Rodgers said.
The American Agriculture Movement had called on members to plant only half their land this year, to drive up prices. Spokesmen yesterday also acknowledged what they termed a small but growing number of farmers who have begun to plow under winter wheat planted last fall for the 1978 harvest.
"If we have to destroy something to wake people up, then that's what we'll do," said Peterson.