"The President appointed a committee that is to bring milk and honey to the famished agrarian. It looks like an awful simple problem they have to solve. All they have to do is get the farmer more money for his wheat, corn, and cotton, without raising the price to the man that buys it." - Will Rogers.
WILL ROGERS, one of my favorite philosophers, surely didn't realize what a prophet he was. I'm not certain of the date he wrote the little tidbit of sarcasm quoted above, but it had to be before 1935, the year he died in a plane crash in Alaska.
He could just as well have written it yesterday. Congress continues to wrestle with this dilemma: How do we keep agriculture viable without risking higher food costs? How do we allow farmers to make a decent profit without making food and fiber as expensive as it is in most other nations?
A cheap food policy, for as long as I can tell, has been the backbone of U.S. agricultural policy. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that. It makes sense for a nation so well-blessed with natural resources to maintain the most abundant, most affordable and safest food supply in the history of the world.
It makes sense for a nation that can produce the abundance of grains, fruits, vegetables and meats that U.S. farmers do to assure reasonable prices for its citizens.
The sad part, however, is that American farmers bear the brunt of the burden of supplying cheap food.
I sat in a small country cafe recently, enjoying coffee and conversation with another Oklahoman, this one a farmer rather than a philosopher (though he might qualify, at that) and we discussed much the same thing that Will Rogers lamented more than 70 years ago.
We agreed that farmers, for all their efforts, all their resources of soil, water and experience, reap few benefits from their enviable position of the most productive food and fiber producers in history.
We also agreed that the government has done much more to subsidize consumers over the years than it has to prop up farmers.
I've talked to dozens of farmers in the past quarter century who would prefer to have government out of their business. They get fed up with regulations, restrictions and promises that never seem to bear fruit. They tire of the bureaucracy that seldom has answers to their problems and rarely provides the services they need, when they need them.
And programs that accomplish little of what they were designed to address become obstacles to profit instead of avenues of help.
Fact is, government needs to be involved in agriculture. It's in the country's best interest for someone to take an active role in assuring that consumers continue to enjoy the fruits of this country's abundant natural resources.
Assuring self-sufficiency in our food supply is just as important a part of national security as maintaining a strong military. As a one-time student of history, I learned that no nation can ever be truly free if it can be held hostage for food. We can't ever abdicate our food production to foreign nations.
I'm not experienced enough, wise enough or political enough to figure out just what kind of program is best for modern agriculture. We've tried acreage controls, and, for the most part abandoned them. Conservation Reserve Programs help in some cases hurt in others. Subsidies cause all manner of alarms from farmers, consumers and politicians.
I am astute enough, or naive enough, however, to believe that answers exist. We have incredibly intelligent people in this country who are more than capable of figuring out how to make agricultural policy work for the good of consumers and farmers.
It may take, at some point, a strong dose of reality to move legislators off the status quo to begin looking for real, not political solutions.
Will Rogers had another interesting comment on farm programs that rings true decades later.
"Just read the Farm Bill. It's a political version of Einstein's last theory. If a farmer could understand it, why, he certainly would know more than to farm - he would be a professor at Harvard."
Farm policy ought to be simpler than it is.