LAWnOld McDonald’snFarmnby Stephen B. MilesnA Call for a NationalnAgricultural PolicynNow, when world food supplies arenmore uncertain than they havenbeen for more than a century, thenUnited States badly needs a nationalnagricultural policy. While Congress andnits agricultural committees are puttingnthe finishing touches on another farmnbill to replace the one expiring, it is notnlikely that we’ll get what we need thisnyear, either. Instead, the 1990 bill isnalmost certain to be just another of thendozen or so patches on patches that ourn”farm bills” have been ever since thenNew Deal’s original Agriculture AdjustmentnAct of 1933.nIn the 57 years since then, the agriculturalnwodd has changed almost beyondnrecognition. The number ofnAmerican farmers has shriveled to ansmall fraction of the total labor force;nU.S. farm production may now notnonly be leveling off but even about tonshrink when good harvests are averagednwith an increasing number of bad years;nthe early governmental concern withnboosting farm prices has shifted to allowingnthem to sink so as to keep exportn”market share” and to prevent domesticninflation; farm exports, once of littlenconsequence in most years, have becomenvital both to the U.S. economynsaddled with a tremendous trade deficitnand to the wodd’s food-short countries.nincluding communist and emergingfrom-communismnones. Agriculturenhas become thoroughly bound up withninternational finance, energy policy, interestnrates, exchange rates, and inflation.nEnvironmental pollution has beennadded to a worsening farmland conservationnproblem; food-demand patternsnhave changed radically both at homenand abroad. Most important, worldnpopulation has almost quadrupled innthe last one hundred years, and foodnsupplies are wobbly except in northernnNorth America, southern South America,nWestern Europe, and Oceania. Agriculturendoes not mean “just agriculture”nanymore.nFrom the 30’s through the early 70’s,nfarm bills were moderately effective innmaking a more ordedy adjustment tonthe two trends of greater farm production/lowernfarm prices and a smallernon-farm population and labor force. Inn1875, farmers and farm workers wereneach growing enough raw materials tonfeed and clothe four people. A hundrednyears later, according to the currentnDepartment of Agriculture definition ofn”farmer,” each was supporting aboutnsixty at the American standard of living.n(If “farmer” were defined more rigorously,nthis figure could triple or quadruple.)nAt the same time, the number ofnfarmers on the farm plummeted, andnthe number involved in manufacturingnand selling farm “inputs” in the marketingnof food, fiber, and related servicesnsoared.nThe farm bills may have affectednthese trends somewhat, but not much.nTechnology, however, has had an enormousneffect. The agricultural technologynof the second half of this century hasnbeen called “The Green Revolution”:nacre-crunching machinery, hybrid corn,nsynthetic fertilizer, chemical pesticides,ngreatly increased use of irrigation, andnother devices and practices the USDAnlumps under the term “science power.”nWithout the Green Revolution’s whoppingnincrease in farm productivity, anU.S. population of 213 million in 1975nwould not have been remotely possible.nBut was it all technology and “sciencenpower”? Is it likely, or even conceivable,nthat this tremendous increasenwould have resulted if, instead of then1875-1975 century warming that camento include what some climatologists callnthe mid-20th-century climatic optimum,nwe had continued with the LittlennnIce Age that had begun in the mid-n16th century and ended in the mid-n19th? Or if the droughty 1930’s hadnbeen immediately followed by thendroughty (and weather-extreme)n1980’s?nThe undedying assumption of thenfarm bills was “yes.” So strongly weren(and are) most farm economists committednto technology that when a climatological/agronomicnreport warned thatnbad weather could and would reducencrop yields in 1974, it only drew a letternfrom then Secretary of Agriculture EarinButz scoffing at the idea that anythingncould dethrone man from his technologicalnsupremacy. Mr. Butz called attentionnto a 1965 USDA report thatnconcluded, “man has reduced variationnin yield in both good and bad weather.n… It seems logical to assume thatncontinued progress has been madensince that date, particularly in the use ofnfertilizers, improved cultural practicesnand . . . increased mechanism.”nWhat the secretary was really sayingnwas that since the beginning of thenGreen Revolution, the thousands andnmillions of years when man was dependentnon forces beyond his control, andnespecially on weather, had becomenhardly worth mentioning. “The patternnby which the future judged,”nMr. Butz said in essence, “is the lastnthirty or fifty years.” Reid Bryson, directornof Environmental Studies at thenUniversity of Wisconsin, finds thesenyears to have been “the most abnormallynwarm period in a thousand years.”nClimatologist Iben Browning wrote inn1975 that “We have to look backn65,000 years to find a period as temperatenas our own.”nThe USDA’s first prediction of cornnproduction in 1974 was 6.7 billionnbushels, 18 percent above the yearnbefore. (Stephen Schneider says in hisnbook Genesis Strategy, “The USDAnconfidently predicted a record cornncrop in the U.S. in 1974 up throughnmid-July, despite the well-publicizedndifficulties farmers experienced innplanting.”) Unfortunately, the 1974nweather followed the scenario of thenclimatological/agronomic report. Actualncorn production that year was 4.7nbillion bushels, 18 percent fce/ow 1973.nEven worse, 1974 proved to be thenyear that told American farm technologynworshipers, if any had listened, thatnthe mid-century climatic optimum andnAUGUST 1990/55n