The Politics of Food Supply, Chapter 4:
Shifting Agricultural Coalitions - Sliding Back toward the Free Market, 1945-1975
The slow retrenchment of federal agricultural supports for the 30 years post-WWII was driven by "dynamics within agriculture," but politics also played a role. Republicans took the White House in 1952 for the first time in 20 years, and policies shifted slowly back toward deregulation. "With Republicans in control of the executive branch, the USDA, and the House and Senate agricultural committees, a dramatic policy shift might have seemed imminent." Opposition from both parties, though, slowed change. Congress, it seemed, could not reach a consensus on the direction of agricultural policy, nor could presidential administrations.
Several waves of change occurred in the decades after WWII:
"The period from 1945 to 1975 can be divided into three shorter periods, each marked by an important change in agricultural policy. First, price supports were reduced and made flexible between 1945 and 1954. Second, production controls were weakened between 1954 and 1964. Third, both price supports and production controls were significantly changed in the early 1970s."
|PL 480 created the Office of Food for Peace.|
By the late 1940s, the corn segment of the farm bloc had begun opposing acreage restrictions. Additionally, the Farm Bureau began calling for flexible price supports that would change with market prices. "In its official policy statement, the Farm Bureau stated, 'we do not consider it the responsibility of the Government to generate profitable prices to any group.'" Such flexibility was opposed by wheat and cotton segments, which continued to champion price supports and supply management. The cotton-wheat coalition prevailed until 1954.
The corn sector fought production controls across the board, not just for itself, due to both a desire to keep livestock feed prices low, and because it feared competition from other feed crops. Cotton producers, for instance, were turning to growing soybeans on the land from which it was restricted from growing cotton. Soybeans are a feed crop that could compete with corn. Without limits on cotton production, such alternate production would be unnecessary for cotton growers. It must be noted that the Corn Belt was also home to 64-70% of U.S. hog production. As is the case today, corn was grown primarily for livestock, not human, consumption. Use as hog feed combined with increasing meat consumption prevented for corn the surpluses that wheat and cotton were experiencing. "Coupled with the emerging livestock complex, which rested on intensive and industrial production methods, this increasing consumption of animals made supply management policy less necessary for feed grains, especially corn."
|Corn production in the U.S.|
|Hog production in the U.S. Notice any correlation?|
Wheat and cotton segments' support of production controls, however, waned after 1954, ultimately resulting in further retrenchment by the mid-1960s. Wheat interests moved away from rigid and toward flexible production controls as a result of PL 480, which had created a market for wheat surpluses by increasing export opportunities. "Food aid secured markets for U.S. wheat by changing diets and agricultural production in periphery nations. With exports expanding, U.S. wheat growers could increase production rather than trying to control it." Likewise, the cotton segment's interests shifted when it moved away from cotton and toward soybeans. By the time of the 1964 Cotton-Wheat Act, corn, wheat, and cotton were once again aligned in policy preference - this time in wanting to move away from the support and control policies each previously promoted.
Two primary factors made the passage of the ACPA in 1973 possible:
"First, the world economic context reduced the need for production controls or price supports, at least in the short term. Exports of cotton, wheat, corn, and soybeans flourished [as a result of PL 480]. Second, the cotton-wheat coalition suffered from a decrease in power. Southern planters had become large commercial farmers, losing their hold over regional politics and the Democratic Party. This made it much less likely that the cotton segment, even in an alliance with wheat, could get the farm program of their choice as they had in the past."Ironically, the supply management policies so long supported by southern Democrats ultimately undermined their political power.
That corn producers gained prominence in determining the direction of U.S. agricultural policy in the 1960s, and have not yet let go, is evident in our supermarkets. Corn's superiority strikingly clear in this setting. One aisle offers all fresh produce and dairy products, another half an aisle offers meats, and one more presents wheat in its various forms. And in the ten to fifteen aisles in between, corn reigns supreme. Even those products not made of corn contain it in some form. Staters who eat processed foods eat a lot of corn. Even the meats offered are arguably corn products, given that most livestock animals are fed corn-based diets. Meat, then, could really be said to be processed corn.
|Corn. (And, yes, a lil rice and wheat. But there's corn in there, pretty much always.)|
I am keen to learn more about PL 480 and its use of food aid to bolster U.S. exports. It should be noted that U.S. food aid, so frequently touted as a great humanitarian effort, was embarked upon not out of some expression of generosity and caring but to support the profitability of U.S. crops. While I too would love to believe that we, as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, provide food and other aid to "developing" countries out of the goodness of our hearts, this has simply never been the case.