"I took in a partner, and we farmed for 35 years. In only one year out of the 35 did we even do the arithmetic about the possibility of staying out of the farm program. I mean it was that [certain]. There just wasn't a question. The program was there; you took advantage of it
"Through the 50s and 60s at least, farm programs were an attempt to maintain price. And it was in that era that we began to make the price support contingent on taking land out of production. 'Being paid not to farm' is kind of the clever way of saying it. But as might be expected, every farmer took out his poorest land, and put more fertilizer and technology into the remaining acres. So, the production actually went up almost every year in that period.
"There's been a recent attempt to try to get away from that in the 1995 farm bill that said we're going to phase this out over a period of years. But then we had a drought. And so there were emergency payments and some of those and these are fixed payments for a period of five years to decline over, most of the fall off was in the last year.
"But in the current farm bill, part of those fixed payments are still in place. You get paid no matter what the price is. Part of the current program, commendably, is counter cyclical. That is there's support there if the price drops very low. There is no support if price goes on up. But there is In the current program there is no set aside requirement directly related to the program payments."
"The program has been kind of the art of political possibility. One of the crossovers that actually began in the 1950s was the deal to support commodity prices and to start offering food stamps to poor people in the United States. Those two go together. They're in the same bill. Every four or five or six years, Congress passes a bill that has these two components in it."
Question: "What's the relationship between the two components?"
"Well, it's a political trade off. If you have farm programs that are going to generate more [food commodities] than you really know what to do with you need an outlet for them. And you have an overlapping group of people who are sensitive to needs of poor people who want to who argue that nobody in the United States needs to be hungry at just piddling cost really. But it takes both those two groups of people to get special treatment for farmers and special treatment for poor people. And that's been the trade off since the program began in the 1960s. Every farm bill has had both pieces in it. The farmers are In some respects they're in it for what they can get from it. And the details of the programs represent political power as much as anything. The most powerful group of ag people in Congress are the rice and cotton people. Those programs have the biggest benefits. Tobacco probably and maybe peanuts were in that category until recently but, they finally have bought the tobacco people out, finally. And the peanut program is a little bit different. But it reflects the fact that Southern members of Congress, particularly in the Senate, tend to be there the longest, have the committee chairmanships and kind of excess power
"I have a notion that the effective ag spokesmen in Congress tend to be those people whose farming operations are big enough that the hired men do the work and the boss can go off and make speeches and attend the important political gatherings
"Less than 20 percent of the farmers are getting about 80 percent of the payments
"The effect of the programs for the most part was that you pretty much knew what the price level was going to be. That is, the price level didn't vary very much in most years from the support level. So, you knew what the crop was going to be worth. So that was kind of the beginning of the planning operation. And so, you were interested on the production side because they were essentially going to support the price on everything you could raise. Not always but Or on the cost side, what can you do to grow more stuff more cheaply? So it seems to me that that drove the two kinds of changes that probably were most prominent. The changes in technology, bigger machines, finding ways to use more herbicides, to cut down the number of field operations, increase the amount that each person could do. And it drove I think the change in fertilizer use."