Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 27, 1976 · Page 124
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 124

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 27, 1976
Page 124
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CONTINUED party can count on having the farm vote in its pocket. Nor, in this year, will these farmers vote for anyone who opposes the sale of their wheat, corn and soybeans to the Soviet Union or any other customer around the world. And they have few moral qualms about improving foreign diejs, including those in Communist states. "If we really believe we are all citizens of one world, we are selling foodstuffs to fill hungry stomachs," Lee R. Schuster,41, operator of a farm north of Kansas City, Mo., declared. "It doesn't make much difference to me whether that hungry stomach happens to live in a dictatorship, under communism, or in a democracy." Exports of U.S. grain and soybeans are selling records--nearly $22 billion in 1975--generating an agricultural trade surplus of $12.5 billion. Of that, the U.S.S.R. accounted for nearly $1.2 billion. Though the nominally conservative farmers have some nagging doubts about the wisdom of selling food and · know-how to Communist states, they are primarily businessmen. v Computers, too One finds them at polished desks studying computer printouts of their operations or making marketing decisions over their Kansas City and Chicago Boards of Trade commodity printers. For men like Garst and Schuster, farming is mostly managing capital, making multimillion-dollar decisions. Others ride their tractors. Schuster admits with a grin he would be a disaster in a wheat field. In a field or an office, however, to a man they are shocked by what has occurred in their industry in the name of national interest. They worry that they are too few in number (only one person in 23 now lives on an American farm) to wield political or economic clout. And they see a national tendency toward a "cheap food" policy. They fear this could mean reduced exports. The success of George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO, last August in persuading the President to halt grain shipments to Russia and Poland is cited repeatedly as supporting evidence. It was the third Presidential export embargo in as many years. Since then the U.S. and U.S.S.R. have concluded an export agreement. By its terms, the Soviets will purchase 6 to 8 million tons of grain annually--more if it is mutually agreeable--over the next five years. A similar but larger agreement is in effect with Japan. Those pacts may flatten wild fluctuations in the grain market. Farmers have adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward them. Five-year pact However, men like Oren Lee Staley of Rea, Mo., longtime head of the militant National Farmers Organization, . molded in the pattern-of labor organization, remain furious at.Meany. "Meany should stay in the field of labor management," he asserted hotly. "He had no business sticking his nose into the agricultural field. He was completely out of place. Farmers didn't like it then--and they don't like it now." Staley claimed Meany's actions cut "farmers' wages 25 percent in 60 days. Consumers and farmers have a direct mutual interest," said Staley. "The consumers have an interest in an adequate supply of food. Farmers have an interest because consumers are their customers. But consumers have to understand that, to ensure an adequate supply of food, they have to pay farmers their cost of production, plus a reasonable profit." Steve Shirley, "who, with his father Virgil and other family members, operates a sixth-generation Missouri River Oren Lee Staley resents interference in agricultural matters by labor leaders like George Meany, leader of the AFL-CIO. bottomland farm at Hardin, Mo., agreed the grain embargo was ill- advised, because "we were not short of anything, especially wheat." For his part, Shirley is identifying with the consumer. His wife, Los Angeles- born-and-reared, has pointed out to him her parents do not have ground for even a small vegetable garden. Shirley was sympathetic: "I know something of their problems. They and millions like them fight inflation. They wonder how they're going to make ends meet. So do we. This is no one-way street." Virgil Shirley, now phasing out of management of Greenacres, the family- farm corporation, after nearly 50 years, recalled a Caribbean cruise with 650 Easterners: "They were amazed when I told them there is only 4 cents' worth of wheat in a loaf of bread." Lee Schuster, a former student at Purdue University of Agriculture Secretary Earl L. Butz and a booster of Butz's farm policy, raises grain on 3000 acres. But he regards Schuster Farms primarily as a producer of protein, because all Wrg/7 Shirley and his family, who have been farmers six generations. They say they have same problem as consumers: fighting off inflation. Lee Schuster typifies modern agribusinessmen, is more at home at a desk than on a tractor. of that yield and more goes to feed hogs and chickens. "I am a net-deficit grain producer, which puts me in the same position as a city worker," he explained. "With our hog and poultry (egg-laying) operations, 70 pe'rcent of the cost of doing business is buying feed, mostly grain. When I talk about the necessity of moving grain into world trade, I am beating the drum for competitors of mine, be they American housewives, Soviets, Chinese or Western Europeans. They - are all competing with me for grain. Long-term interests "It is a position contrary to my own best short-term interests. But I know that if we create a climate in this country of long-term cheap food supported by long-term cheap grain, we are defeating ourselves." Schuster, however, believes agricul- lure has taken the wrong approach in bringing its story to urban America. "We have to make the housewife believe she finds value in our products," he said. A similar selling job--this time to convince any national administration that exporting grain is good not only for farmers but for the nation's economy-has been undertaken by several farm organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation. One of those assigned that task was John Junior Armstrong, a Muscotah, Kan., farmer and president of the Kansas Farm Bureau. His state normally produces 25 percent of the total U.S. winter wheat crop. Visits President But in two recent visits with President Ford, Armstrong came away at least partly convinced that the President ordered his moratorium on grain sales to Russia and Poland to avoid export- control legislation "because Congress was in that mood." Armstrong mused: "We have had three embargoes in three years. This indicates, when there is enough pressure from the American public, those in power try to put the brakes on food prices. We are in an era of consumerism; consumers have. the power to bring pressure on those holding office." That delicate and complex interplay of economics, self and national interest, and morality was summed up by Curly Felton, of Maryville, Mo., a country squire of the old school: "I trust the Soviet Union just as far as I would a rattlesnake," he remarked, "but I also feel we should go ahead and sell them food. "We should at the same time not be taken down the primrose path of coexistence without the armor to protect ourselves. If there was any way to limit the food to Russia when she goes into Africa, I would do it, but I don't think we can. If we don't sell to them, the Russians will buy someplace else."

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