• U.S.

National Affairs: To Keep ’em Down on the Farm

3 minute read

The new Democratic farm bill was a bonanza for farmers and a political candy cane for politicians. Probably few but farm-country politicians fully understood it, but no one would have any trouble recognizing its effects: <J The U.S. farmer, the nation’s most favored man, could continue his fat income-guaranteed wartime living. <lThe harassed U.S. housewife would find no welcome price slashes at her grocer’s, might even face some increases at her butcher’s, and on her milk bill. <jThe Secretary of Agriculture was the owner of a portentous power: within discretion and political possibility, he could raise support prices to 90% of paritywhenever he thought it desirable, or support any non-basic crop.

On five basic commodities—wheat, corn, rice, cotton, peanuts—the bill extended the present 90% parity support through another year. This would fall to 80% in 1951, to 75% the following year. But in either year the Secretary of Agriculture could set support prices above these figures at his own discretion, up to the magic 90% level. Tobacco, the sixth basic commodity, got support at 90% in perpetuity, or as long as the law is unchanged.

There was one new condition: farmers would have to accept marketing quotas on their crops if they wanted full support. There were other new features: price support for “certain non-basic” commodities —wool, tung nuts, honey, Irish potatoes and dairy products, including whole milk —were made permanent at levels up to 90%. Furthermore, the Secretary was “authorized” to support any other commodity he wanted. Even perishable fruit & vegetables will get some of his bounty—the bill set aside approximately $100 million a year from custom revenues so that truck farmers could get in on the grab.^ Farmers had long expressed dissatisfaction with the old parity 1909-14 base period. The bill provided a new parity formula, based on a time of even greater farm prosperity—the past ten years. To make this even more attractive, the concocters provided that federal wartime subsidies (paid to keep consumer prices below OPA ceilings) should also be tossed in the weighing pan, together with the cost of hired farm labor. This parity formula would give better prices to livestock and tobacco raisers. But it might not work for everything. So Congress thoughtfully provided that for the next four years, if the old formula provided a higher support price for any basic crop, that was what the farmer was to get.

As to the surpluses that would be forced on the Government (now calculated at $2 billion worth by the end of the next fiscal year), the bill provided that any of these foods liable to spoilage could be used in barter deals abroad. Failing that, they could be given to the school lunch program, to charities, or to the Indians. All they had to do was come & get it.

The bill was loudly hailed as a compromise victory for the proponents of flexible supports over those of rigid 90% support. In a way, it was−as long as the supports stayed flexible. If it was any consolation to the consumer, the bill that almost got through was worse.

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