The High Point Enterprise from High Point, North Carolina on August 4, 1974 · Page 52
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The High Point Enterprise from High Point, North Carolina · Page 52

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High Point, North Carolina
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 4, 1974
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Page 52
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ISC High Poiitlilt Enterprise, Sunday, August 4,1974 ^^ M^. Agriculturalist Plays Pioneer Part In Detente By GORDON HANSON Associated Press Writer COON RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) -- R o s w e 1 I G a r s t chuckles noiselessly when he recalls . t e l l i n g N i k i t a Khrushchev: "You know, for a peasant, you're a damned poor horse trader." Garst, now 76, expected an a r g u m e n t . B u t t h e t e m p e s t u o u s R u s s i a n premier was in the best of moods visiting Garst's Iowa farm and responded with a grin. That visit 15 years ago was part of the pioneering role Garst believes he played in the development of detente between the United States and Russia. Today the tenacious Garst is again dealing with the Russians and again telling them how to farm better. Since 1972, he's sold the Soviet Union 1,300 tons of hybrid grain sorghum seed. He's trying to convince the Russians that hybrid grain sorghum will grow well in cold, northern Russia. Garst remains gregarious and vocal despite removal of a cancerous voice box in 1963. Now he speaks by nuzzling a battery-powered device into the deep folds of his throat. As he slowly exhales, his thoughts pour out in a flat, metallic monotone. _ "I turned what might have been a tragedy into a damned nuisance," he said, lifting the clasp on his bolo tie and exposing a dime-sized hole at the base of his throat, through which air passes. Garst began trading with the Soviet Union! he said, "because I thought there should be more communication between the two countries." He packed his order book and went to Russia and Romania in 1955, and sold about $1 million worth of hybrid seed corn. Hybrid seed corn had been a passion with Garst since 1930. Convinced that it would produce greater .yields than the old open-pollenated corn, he and a friend founded Garst Thomas Co., now one of the world's largest hybrid seed corn operations. Garst toured the Midwest in the 1930s, c o n v i n c i n g farmers to switch to hybrid seed corn. He was just as convincing with the Russians in 1955; The trading venture reached an apogee on Sept. 23, 1959, when Khrushchev, his wife, daughters and an entourage of hundreds visited the Garst farm a mile east of Coon Rapids, They, came to view what Communist nations considered unorthodox farming methods that might bolster their flagg i n g agricultural efforts. Khrushchev was deposed in 1964 and died in 1971. "I never went over to Russia nor corresponded with anybody during that period," Garst explains. "I wouldn't have wanted to go to the Soviet Union and not see Mr. Khrushchev after he had been demoted. It would have been embarrassing to him and to the people who demoted him." But ..in 1972 .he urged R u s s i a ' s a g r i c u l t u r e m i n i s t e r , V l a d i m i r M a t s k e v i c h , to t a k e a r e f r e s h e r c o u r s e i n American farming methods, and the minister accepted the invitation.' , " I ' v e e n t e r t a i n e d delegations from Chile and the Soviet Union in the same day," Garst says of his current efforts. "I don't care about their politics or their religion. All I want to do is help people who want to learn." He said delegations that flock to his central-Iowa farm to view his farming methods "all have one thing in mind: they want to eat better." Garst delight? in receiving agricultural delegations of any size. "1 have a 17-year-old boy coming here. His father is the best geneticist in Hungary. The boy wants to take a peek at American agriculture and mechanization. "We have them all the time. The Germans are coming soon and a French delegation." His prevailing concern, he says, is that agriculture can't provide sufficient world food unless backward nations are taught, modern f a r m i n g methods and have access to hybrid seeds with their special growth characteristics. Garst admits to being out- · spoken. "I'm always giving advice to someone." Khrushchev was no exception. Garst discussed keeping farm land in good shape by heavy fertilization, not crop rotation. But he also talked politics with the former Russian premier. That's when he made the "poor horse trader" remark. ,, "I then pointed out to him that the U.S. was spending 10 per cent of its gross national production on armament, I pointed out that we had at least twice as great industrial productiveness as the Soviet Union. I said if he was going to compete with us in armament, he had to spend 20 per cent of Russia's gross capacity. "He countered: 'How would you like to have American air bases surrounding your country?' "I said about as follows: 'I t h i n k you ought to be amused. Besides, -you are making great progress and in my opinion, our maintenance of air bases is a waste of American funds and energies.' "He didn't argue. He only said: 'I never had anybody s u g g e s t t h a t i t w a s foolishness before, but you make a pretty good case of it.' " Garst isn't a big man physically, perhaps 5-feet-lO, but he's the most important man in Coon Rapids, a Corn Belt town of 1,381 persons. He greets visitors at the door to his modern office, part of the mainstreet headquarters of the sprawling Garst Thomas Co. Garst's thinning, defiant gray hair, rumpled shirt and beltless trousers hitched high by suspenders are mis- l e a d i n g . H i s h a w k l i k e features are age-softened, but he retains a tempered, imperious manner and an air of confidence that he is equal to any meaningful challenge such as coexistence with Russia. A f t e r K h r u s h c h e v ' s death, Garst began pressuring the Agriculture Department to have Russians visit America. He argued that there had been great advances in American farming methods in recent years, particularly in mechanization and use of farm chemicals. He believed the Russians should see and perhaps utilize them. W h e n t h e R u s s i a n d e l e g a t i o n , l e d b y Matskevich, came to Des Moines, Garst met them, gave them ten 50-pound bags of hybrid grain sorghum seeds and told them how to plant and harvest them. The Russians may have' had grain sorghum already, he said, '''but if they did, I knew it was not hybrid, or it had just been recently developed and wasn't as good as ours." ·Conducting a tour of. his properties, Garst steered his car with one hand and held the vibrator to his throat with the' other as he carried on a conversation. His enterprises are akin to an empire in these parts. The Garst name is on a dozen signs and buildings. "We run the bank and we farm on a very large scale," he intoned as he drove out of town, ignoring attempts to pin down how large "very large scale" is,. He said his "two very active sons, Stephen and David," are involved in, production of agricultural chemicals, among other endeavors. There are hybrid grain sorghum and corn seed production plants In Coon Rapids and Garden Clfer, Xan. There is a building where crushed corn cobs are mixed with nutriepts to replace hay. and grass as cattle feed. A general store on the corner "is in Mrs. Garst's name." He talks at length about complicated feed formulas and processes to derive fertilizers. .rfNIj/""'^ ^·*#j M O P ON THf Corn Is Business The cob pile is serious business for farmer Roswell Garst -- although he's been known to shy cornhusks at newsmen on occasion. Garst is shown leaning against a sign at his hybrid seed business in Coon Rapids, Iowa. 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