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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lauch Faircloth, July 16, 1999. Interview I-0070. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Role of federal government in American farming industry

Faircloth describes the role the federal government played in limiting, then expanding agricultural production during the Great Depression and World War II. The government's influence continued during the postwar boom in production as North Carolina politicians ensured federal support for North Carolina farmers. Faircloth thinks farm subsidies are equivalent to welfare.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lauch Faircloth, July 16, 1999. Interview I-0070. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JM: Can you sketch the way the expanding federal agricultural policy complex began to have its shaping effect on the economy? What is your perspective on the ways in which federal agriculture policy has had its impact on the North Carolina farm economy? LF: Well, you have to back to why it started. When Roosevelt came into office, Henry Wallace was the Secretary of Agriculture. He had been an Iowa professor and a very, very socialistic man. I'm not trying to label Henry Wallace with some bad name, because he was not. But he was very socialistic. What you don’t realize and what we don't realize was that the Depression had hit such depths by the time that Roosevelt had come into office, that in desperation a lot of people had turned to or thought they turned to embrace Communism. If you think Communism is bad, try staving to death. This is hell. What else is out there? They started something called the Agriculture Adjustment Act, which was nothing but a euphemism for welfare for farmers. They destroyed crops and finally got around to strict allotments controls and paid people to kill little pigs and not let them grow up and kill calves and not let them become cows and dairy cows. It was a well-intended but pitiful program. They started the thing in '36 and along about 1939 to'40 they began to get all the infrastructure and order to make it work. Then hell, along came the war effort and there was a shortage of everything. We went from hiring farmers to kill pigs and not letting them become adults to meat rationing in a very brief moment there really. It was quick time. Then we went through a period, I'd say, from '40 to '46 of encouraging people to produce all you can. What was the term? Produce “hedge row to hedge row.” Hell, people plowed up golf courses. England did, and maybe some in this country. Had to have the food. I never could figure out why it took more food during a war than it did [in other times], but it obviously did. Then we came along and started--. Immediately when the war was over, magically we needed less food again. There began to be these surpluses because of the increased productivity from farms. So many things came into being that just converted the whole thing. One man on a tractor was doing what twenty-four people with a mule could do and twenty-four mules could do. You created a surplus that compounded itself. Number one, you didn't need the feed to feed your mule. It took a lot of corn to feed the mule. It took a lot of corn to feed twenty-four mules. You didn't need any of it. Your corn was hybrid seed and new seed, better [seed]. You went from a thirty-bushel an acre crop to a hundred and twenty-five [acres] to a hundred and thirty [acres]. This was true with wheat and the other crops. And at this point you did see a massive expansion of the fruit and vegetable industry. All of a sudden people became more sophisticated and canned peas were not considered a vegetable. That's when the programs came back strictly on tobacco. North Carolina was extremely powerful in this. Of the major committees in the House--. You can check the exact figure I'm saying, but this is close enough, we had eleven congressmen at the time and headed a tenth of the major committees -- the standing committees -- in the House, particularly agriculture. [North Carolina] totally dominated it. When you've got ten committee chairmen from one state, you don't ask what's going on, you tell. That went from Muley Doughton in the mountains to the man from Nashville, Harold Cooley. With Harold Cooley as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, do you have any question about why tobacco was so, or peanuts? So many of these North Carolina commodities became entrenched in controlled programs because it could supply a lot of money to a lot of farmers and assure them of a high standard of living. I would say the dominant influence of the House members on the control of agriculture, and the Congress as a whole, contributed to the programs. [The farm programs] are far outdated, but you have a mindset in the Senate and the Congress today that absolutely say they have to stay there. They have gone from a way to help the farmer to a way to assure the re-election of the politicians. Grassley, Harkins, Wellston, Pat Roberts, they're just absolutely mesmerized with trying to continue these farm programs. They pass the so-called “Freedom to Farm” bill, but it'll never be enforced. As long as we have elected officials, we'll have agricultural welfare.