Farm policy has changed, as has grain storage
The granary was a great place to play, Mychal Wilmes says, even though it no longer was used for corn storage.
The chicken flock devoured the table scraps that were dumped on the floor like ravenous beasts. Waterers were refilled and the oyster shell supply checked before we moved on to the granary.
The tin-sided building, which was six steps high, held oats, a seed cleaner, and a rust-colored, hand-powered corn sheller. The sheller spit kernels too slowly for the impatient youths who operated it.
Winter’s deadness left us ornery and, though we dared not utter the word, bored. We had grown tired of sliding down the pasture’s steep hill. Fun was in the works when we fetched two pails of oats from the granary and scattered it on the ground beneath the yard light to make a circle with dead ends made inside it. Mother said — when Dad objected — that the oats were not being wasted because the chickens would find it in spring.
The granary was a fine playhouse, though some shrieked when they saw mice move among the sidewalls or floor. We imagined ourselves pioneers, the brave people who built log cabins and sod houses, and fought scoundrels bent on stealing their land.
My sister — for reasons that remain a mystery — took a liking to me. She purchased a toy gun and gun belt, and white hat, which made me a good guy in our cowboy games. The good-guy role lasted only until an older brother took it over.
Pioneer life was much more difficult than what our child-like reality thought. Forty-six percent of babies born in 1800 did not survive five years. The death rate has now fallen to 7 per 1,000 births. The hideous cholera outbreak of 1870 and the Spanish flu of 1918 temporarily reduced the downward trend.
The granary, of course, was of no use for storing ear corn. Dad depended on corn cribbing for that. Grain storage technology rapidly changed a few years before soybeans started becoming a major cash crop.
The U.S. government got into grain storage structure building in the late 1940s, after World War II grain demand slipped and production increased. Congress rewrote the farm bill, but kept support for grain, dairy and other commodities at 90% of parity. The policy encouraged production and — with the help of new aeration technology — grain storage construction boomed on farms.
The Ever-Normal Granary era, which held that government would store commodities when prices were low and sell it when it was high, took root.
The 90% of parity policy ended in 1954 with the Eisenhower administration, when conservation took a larger role in farm policy. Congress established a flexible parity program and established a Federal Land Bank. The Land Bank program paid farmers a fixed per-acre amount for land taken out of corn, wheat, peanuts, rice and tobacco production.
The government’s cost was huge — it purchased $1.5 billion in surplus commodities in 1953-54, which equates to $12 billion in today’s dollars.
Many farmers grumbled because Eisenhower had promised during the election campaign to protect 90%of parity, but the American Farm Bureau and corn growers pressed for change.
Eisenhower defended his policy switch on the grounds that something different had to be tried, because farmer net income was less than 50% of what their city counterparts earned.
Parity price supporters then and now defined parity as prices farmers received from 1909 to 1914, when the industry experienced its golden age. The parity formula compares all farm-related costs to income received to establish the price index.
The National Farmers Organization and to an extent the National Farmers Union support 100% parity to achieve long-lasting agricultural prosperity.
Critics counter that setting parity based on turn-of-the 20 th century economic conditions would be impractical given technological and commodity yields.
The debate concerning parity and policy belongs to the history books. The farm policy created in the first half of the 20 th century had the good intention of supporting farmers’ income.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.