Old man human nature and the government's farm policy have come to grips.
The same old acquisitive instinct which from time immemorial has made the individual seek to plant as much and reap as much as he can has apparently thwarted the plan which for several months has been in effect in American agriculture.
The government thought a farmer could be persuaded to limit the number of acres under cultivation, and he could be.
But somebody forgot to put a limit on what the farmer could do with each acre--that is, intensive cultivation through the use of fertilizer. Also nature and the weather man sometimes increase production beyond expectations even on a given number of acres. Then there were the chiselers, who, while in a minority, have nevertheless aroused the feelings of those farmers who cooperated wholeheartedly with the plan.
What can be done about it? The President is considering a plan of control which, if adopted, would mean telling every farmer not only what he can plant, but how much will be accepted from him when he comes to dispose of his product. Thus, at the cotton gin, if a farmer brings a supply in excess of a quota prescribed for him, he will have to take it back or pay a tax that will be prohibitive. This would cause a loss on the surplus of his crop. The idea would be to discourage him from doing it again.
If, of course, it works with respect to cotton, the same quota policy and tax penalty could be operated with respect to wheat or corn or any other farm crop. It may involve control of every plowed field and the 6,000,000 farmers of the country.
* * *
The President's view is that the farmers want some form of control, they are being asked by circular letter to say whether they approve the new scheme. If a large proportion of the farmers accept the proposal, it will be put into immediate effect.
There is, of course, some skepticism about such a far-reaching system of control. Secretary Wallace of the Department of Agriculture prefers a voluntary system of acreage control such as is now in effect. He thinks in a year or two those who have not cooperated under the present plan will be persuaded to join in and that coercive tactics would later result in a reaction that might upset the whole plan.
* * *
The issue has been brought to a head because in the south the government is going ahead with its cotton control plan with a million contracts, whereby farmers pledge themselves to cut their acreage by 40 per cent under the previous five-year average. Members of Congress report that there is a heavy business being done in the purchase of fertilizer, indicating an intention to stimulate production. Also there is a slowness to sign contracts, because farmers in some instances think they will gain more by staying out of the plan and increasing their acreage than by coming in and accepting the bounties or subsidies offered.
The fear is that several thousands of tenant farmers and share-croppers will be displaced and thrown into the ranks of the unemployed, with Federal or state or city governments forced to take care of them under some dole system. This is because with a cut in acreage there is no need for so many workers in the fields. It is believed this may affect 400,000 farmers and a large number of persons who are dependent upon them for livelihood.
The administration recognizes this situation and is asking the farmers in their contracts to give the exiles a plot of land which they can cultivate for their own sustenance and that they be permitted to cut wood for fuel.
* * *
These are only a few of the major problems growing out of the plans for artificial control of agriculture. "Bootlegging," is already carried on extensively in wheat and some in pork products. The farmers are allowed to grind' flour for their own use, but many of them have been selling flour so as to avoid the 30-cent processing tax. There's pressure on Secretary Wallace to put into effect a certain tax exemption on farm-killed pork. This, it is argued, is another provocation to "bootlegging."
* * *
Nor is there any solution as yet to the problem of disposing of the excess cotton which would be turned back on the producer at the cotton gin if the new tax on surplus goes into effect. Will it be surreptitiously sold? With a surplus be grown? Human nature thus far has resisted control almost everywhere, even in Russia, where the peasants from time to time have refused to give the government its full quota of wheat because they needed it for their food.
Government officials discuss all these difficulties frankly, but something has to be done to give the farmers money and keep them happy