The Curse of American Agricultural Abundance: A Sustainable Solution

The Curse of American Agricultural Abundance: A Sustainable Solution

The Curse of American Agricultural Abundance: A Sustainable Solution

The Curse of American Agricultural Abundance: A Sustainable Solution

Synopsis

Advisor to President Kennedy, consultant for foreign governments, and spokesman for family farmers everywhere, Willard W. Cochrane has been a leading expert on agriculture and its problems in the United States since the 1940s. In his straightforward style Cochrane analyzes the propensity for American agriculture to produce too much and the inability of our social and economic system to make effective use of that unending abundance. He then offers his vision for American agriculture in the twenty-first century. Cochrane looks at two periods in agricultural history: 1953-66 and 1997-2002. Structurally, technologically, and organizationally the two periods are as different as night and day, but in terms of the big economic picture--too much production pressing on a limited commercial demand with resulting low farm prices and incomes--they are mirror images of each other. With this understanding, Cochrane argues that Americans no longer need to farm fragile ecosystems with intensive chemical methods,make huge payments that result in fewer farms and higher farming costs, nor bear the environmental consequences of all-out production. Instead, he outlines a bold new strategy in which we can enjoy our abundance and focus our efforts on quality of life and protecting the environment in our rural areas.

Excerpt

When Willard Cochrane went to Washington to serve as chief agricultural economist with the Kennedy administration, he was already one of the nation's premier academic policy economists. He knew all too well the statistics on how surplus farm production had become a national problem. Even so, in the many years I have had the pleasure to be his friend, he has never mentioned those statistics. He prefers to tell of his horror upon first learning that the program he inherited from the Eisenhower administration was renting several abandoned movie theaters out west to store surplus wheat.

It is one thing to see statistics on how many bears are in the woods, and quite another to find one in your tent. the movie theater story, and many more like it, remind us that Willard Cochrane saw the bear of surplus production in his tent. It became a beast to be tamed at all costs. Those costs were very high, both for the nation and for Cochrane personally. Farmers rejected the Kennedy program of supply control in the 1963 wheat referendum. the political backlash gave birth to the "no holds barred, let the government clean up the mess” style of farm policy that we see today. Cochrane blamed himself for the program failure and returned to his University of Minnesota classroom in 1964 both sadder and wiser.

Nonetheless, he never gave up on his search for solutions. Because of his brilliance and his depth of experience, he found little comfort in the ideas most others found appealing. For example, he saw no panacea in the old liberal standby of giving surplus food to the world's starving nations. When Cochrane advised the government of . . .

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