The page 1 headline reads: “Will Farm Relief Be Worth Having in 25 Years?”
The year was 1932, when the A&P ad in the same issue of Farm and Dairy was offering three pounds of coffee for 59 cents and three cakes of Lifebuoy soap for 19 cents.
That was the year the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached its lowest point of the Great Depression, down almost 90 percent since 1929. Many rural residents had no electricity, no phone, no car and no indoor plumbing.
Farmers in 1932 were hard hit by the economic depression and price deflation. Large drops in commodity prices reduced the value of their goods, many couldn’t make their loan payments, and farm foreclosures escalated. Between 1929 and 1932, gross farm income dropped 52 percent and rural incomes were 40 percent of urban incomes.
Still, most farmers — the rugged individualists they are — were loath to seek public assistance.
What agriculture needs, said Cornell University economist George F. Warren back in October 1932, is “legislation that will be worth as much to agriculture 25 years from now as it is in this emergency.” He was speaking to an audience of Ohio agricultural extension workers in Columbus. The following year, the first farm bill, the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act, was approved.
Those are wise words for us 80 years later. What will serve agriculture in the future? Inasmuch as we immediately think of farm bill themes, Warren reminds us that nonfarm issues have as much bearing on our industry as crop insurance.
In 1932, in his home state of New York, Warren said farmers worked to get funding for local schools, and roads, and a reforestation program that took the poorest lands out of farm production (think highly erodible land conservation programs).
It is not 1932. It’s not even 1982. Today, we would champion health care, tax and immigration issues, in addition to education and transportation — as issues that affect agriculture long-term.
Today, we need more flexible credit for beginning and young farmers. U.S. farmers are a graying lot, and who can afford to start farming at today’s land and input prices?
Today, farmers should work to improve food availability here in the U.S., and for programs that bolster employment. Today, we need to respect thoughtful, not mindless, regulation.
Today, we should demand accountability and transparency at all levels.
Today, we want it all: a healthy environment, low taxes, cheap food, profitable agriculture community and a solid rural economy.
But if we looked long-term, what is it that would be “worth as much to agriculture 25 years from now” as it is today? I’d love to hear from you.
By Susan Crowell