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When Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson took office two years ago, he announced his new farm program in much the same manner as a spinster discovering a new beauty lotion. Castigating the old rigid-price support program as costly and incompetent, Benson proposed a new flexible support idea which he claimed would cut wasteful surpluses while promoting farm efficiency. Answering Democratic criticism, he denied that his plan would lower prices for efficient and cooperative farmers.
Today, two years after the enactment of the Benson proposals, the Republican farm policy must be considered a failure. Not only have farm prices dropped to politically dangerous levels, but crop surpluses have not noticeably diminished. Although economic attrition may be justified by the fact that American agriculture is going through a period of readjustment, the Benson plan provides no long-range solution to the problem.
Benson's program has failed because the concept of a parity price fluctuating with the commodity surplus is based on traditional laissez-faire economics. The Secretary emphasizes the large, efficient farmer as the future occupant on an agricultural utopia. But it is the small, inefficient farmer who really needs government aid to finance a shift from surplus crops to those in greater demand.
The ill-fated Brannan plan, a proposal of the last Democratic Secretary, had many faults, but it recognized that the government must finance agriculture's readjustment to modern economic conditions. Distasteful as a continuation of high price supports may be, they are the cornerstone of any long-range solution to agricultural readjustment.
Continued price supports, however, are only the beginning in a drive for a self-sufficient agriculture. After insuring high prices, the Government should provide more long-term loans to small farmers unable to use private banking sources. Only by giving these farmers enough capital to finance production shifts can the nation obtain a truly balanced and independent agriculture.
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