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Jack Ranger

Tapping the Wall Street Wire

(9 June 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 23, 9 June 1947, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Big Business Farmers

I see where the National Council of Farmers has told the House agricultural committee that farmers should help themselves before calling on the government for price supports and curbs. It seems to me that the farmers for the past five years have been helping themselves – to everything in sight. I speak only of the big farmers, of course.

There used to be a time when the nation’s farm population lived on relatively small one-family farms, and for the most part made a bare living. They were royalty rooked by the railroads, the grain elevators, the fertilizer sellers, the farm machinery manufacturers, and the politicians.

They are still taking a rooking from Big Business – but many farms are today themselves Big Business. From time to time this column has published statistics in the growth in the size of farms, the decline in the number of farms and the farming population, the increase in the farm holdings of the banks and insurance companies. The number of wealthy businessmen in the cities who today own farms is very large. The trend toward the purchase of farms by businessmen began in the depression 1930’s, when Roger Babson and other Big Business “thinkers” urged such a step as a refuge from the coming revolution.

The newer fear of atomic warfare and of a coming depression has speeded the trend. For instance, almost all the farms surrounding Chicago are how in the hands of business and professional men from the city. The bidding for farms has been so spirited that the real farmers complain that land prices have been driven too high. It is probable that the same trend exists outside other large cities.

Together with this situation is the trend to larger and larger “factory farms,” owned and operated by Big Business. It is these farms that produce the major portion of food for the market.

The Census Bureau recently announced that the value of farms jumped more than a third from 1940 to 1945, to a total of $46 billions. The value of farm output far more than doubled in this period, from $7.8 billion to $18.1 billion. “Farm population decreased sharply,” stated the bureau, the 1945 count being 23,558,488 farm dwellers. The average farm in 1945 was 194.8 acres, compared with 174 acres five years earlier. The number of farms declined from 6,096,799 to 5,859,169. The number of tenant farmers dipped from 2,361,271 to 1,858,421. The number of family workers and hired hands declined more than 1,000,000, to a total of 8,373,239.

Farm efficiency has jumped more than 50 per cent in the last 20 years. Compared with the era just after the First World War, a farmer now gets half again as much corn for one hour of work. He gets two and a half times as much wheat. He gets a third more milk.

While the poorer farms – and they still are in the majority – remain poor, the big wealthy farms have made a killing in recent years. Food prices have soared 145 per cent since mid-1939, almost double the percentage advance in prices of manufactured products. A lot of the increase has come since the end of the war. Food is now half-again as expensive as it was in the spring of 1946. In the first four months of this year, farmers received a $7.5 billion return from farm products and government payments, up 22 per cent from the same period last year, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. The increase came primarily from increased prices, as government payments Were only 40 per cent as great as,in 1946. Cash receipts from livestock and products in the first four months are expected to total around $5 billion, or 40 per cent above 1946. Prices for meat animals are averaging about 55 per cent, and cash receipts 50 per cent greater than last year. Prices of dairy products are about one-third higher.

The index of prices received by farmers reached an all-time high of 280 by mid-March, while the index of prices paid by farmers also reached an all-time high of 229 at the same time. The Department of Agriculture expects that prices Of farm products will remain relatively high for the fest of the year, “due to the strength of basic sources of demand” – that is, to government buying for foreign relief.

The Wall Street Journal reports that its survey of the nine major agriculture areas indicates that the well-off farmers are on a “buying binge,” while city workers everywhere are having to pull in their belts. The durable consumers’ goods that city workers cannot afford to buy – the home freezers, refrigerators, washing machines, console radio-phonographs, airplanes, automobiles – are the items most sought by farmers.

In 1939, the 30.6 million people living on U.S. farms received cash income of $8,684 billion – or 12.3 per cent of national income. By 1946, farm income had climbed to $24,744 billion – or 15 per cent of the national figure. This percentage gain, observed the Wall Street Journal, was all the more remarkable because total farm population fell 5,000,000 between 1939 and 1946 while national population was increasing.

Affluent farmers have got out from under the old mortgages. In Wisconsin, mortgages have been whittled down between six per cent and seven per cent for each of the past few years. The total farm mortgage debt in that state has been reduced from $346 million in 1941 to a 1946 figure of $258 million – the lowest in 30 years.

From the viewpoint of cash farm receipts, the richest farmers, as might be expected, are those running the factory farms in California. California farmers accounted for eight per Cent of the total national cash farm receipts. Other prosperous farm states are Iowa, 7.4 per cent of the total cash income; Texas, 5.6 per cent; Illinois, 5.8 per cent; Minnesota, 4.2 per cent, etc. Ten states shared 48.8 per cent of the national farm cash income, which gives you an idea of how concentrated is farm prosperity.

The top layer of U.S. farmers is rolling in dough today. Like the ardent capitalists they are, they are charging all that the traffic will bear. Furthermore, their short-term future appears bright. Wall Street, motivated by its aim to buy off the revolution in Europe and Asia, is going to continue to ship huge quantities of food abroad. These heavy government food purchases constitute an assured: market for the farmer.

But the day of reckoning will be an awful one. It will come when government food purchases stop. The domestic market will be glutted with all sorts of grains, meats, vegetables, dairy products, which, at government-inflated prices cannot be absorbed by the masses in the cities. When those days come, you will see the political ties between the workers and the majority of the farmers – progressively loosened with the coming of the war and the decline of the Farmer-Labor movement – tightened again. On the other hand, the big farmers will more and more become the political appendage of Wall Street, and will be used to advance many Big Business proposals against the people.

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