Birth Control for Wheat
W. A. MACLEOD
Editor's Note:-The author of this article is publicity director for Canadian Co-operative II heat Producers, Ltd.
(iCanadian Wheat Pool). Maclean's will welcome brief letters of agreement or disagreement with the viewpoint presented.
IS THERE TOO MUCH wheat in the world? And if there is, is birth control for wheat wicked? If it is not wicked, is it possible? Or is it necessary or wise?
Some people fly into a passion at the very suggestion of wheat reduction by any means except natural disasters. They sincerely believe that it is immoral for the farmer to think of cutting down deliberately his wheat acreage so long as there are still millions of hungry people in the world - -even if they will not or cannot buy the wheat.
Others who profess to be more reasonable deny that there is any wheat surplus; or if there is it will disappear when Eurojie has a crop failure, or when currency is stabilized, war debts are cancelled, or tariffs lowered. Anyway, they insist that if there has to be wheat reduction it should be in other countries, not in their own.
There are shouts from Australia that the resourceful Aussie “cocky” should increase his wheat acreage until European, Canadian and Argentine competitors, with higher production costs, are forced to grow less.
There are cries from Argentina that it is most unfair to ask that country, with its mild climate and vast areas of wheat land, to reduce its wheat crop just because Canada and the United States have piled up a surplus which they cannot get rid of; that Argentina should increase its wheat acreage instead of reducing, and fight the wheat battle out to the bitter end.
There is clamor in Canada at the very idea of this country, the bread basket of the Empire, growing the best wheat in the world, paying any attention to the unpleasant rumors that there is more wheat for sale than the world wants to buy. Canada should continue to grow more and better wheat, we are told, and ultimately we will push Argentinean, Australian and European wheat growers out of the picture. While the price the farmer receives for his wheat may be important—it certainly is to the farmer—they say that it is far better for the country as a whole that the farmer should continue producing all the wheat he can grow, regardless of what he gets for it. God intended Western Canada to be a great exporting country. It is flying in the face of Providence to curtail wheat acreage, and Nature can be depended upon to do away with a burdensome surplus by sending drouths or grasshopper plagues whenever world supply is greater than world demand.
Exactly the same arguments used to be heard across the border, but a wheat acreage reduction policy is now in full swing in the United States. Between eighty and ninety per cent of the wheat farmers of that country have agreed to reduce their wheat acreage fifteen per cent for their 1934 crop, and to make what further reduction Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace deems necessary for their 935 crop, this reduction not to exceed another fifteen per cent cut. The farmers reducing their acreage will receive this year and in the two succeeding years the regular ojien market jirice for their wheat, together with a bonus of about twenty-eight cents a bushel for the amount of wheat domestically consumed, estimated at five-eighths of the crop; this sum being secured by a processing tax of thirty cents a bushel on all wheat ground for sale in the United States, two cents a bushel being estimated to cover the cost of administration.
Furthermore, twenty-two of the principal exjxirting and imjxirting countries at a conference in London came to the unanimous decision that it was necessary in the best interests of all countries that wheat supplies should be adjusted to world demands; that international co-operation was the only solution of the world wheat jiroblem; that dumping of wheat below cost of jiroduction was hurting both consumer and producer and should cease. An exjxirt quota for exjxirting countries was agreed ujxin for two years, each exjxirting country to work out for itself the best method of adjusting its production to the quota agreed upon; imjxirting countries promising to encourage greater consumjition of wheat, and to relax their tariff barriers and milling quotas when world wheat jirices have come back to somewhere near the cost of production, and when farmers in imjxirting countries are not menaced by floods of cheap wheat thrown on world markets by exjxirting countries in suicidal comjietition for a declining demand.
The World Wheat Agreement
A BRIEF REVIEW of the state of things which brought about the London Wheat Conference and the World Wheat Agreement, might be considered somewhat after the order in which the old Scottish clergyman outlined his sermon on the text, “The devil goeth about like a roaring lion.” “We will first consider, brethren and sisters,” he said, “who the devil he is; secondly, where the devil he is going; and thirdly, what the devil he is roaring about.” “The devil he is,” then, is an excess surplus of between three and four hundred million bushels of wheat above the normal carry-over, due to unusually good crojis in exjxirting and importing countries in 1927 and 1928 and a series of good crojis then and since in Eurojie. which has jiersisted uji to the present. This surplus cannot be sold or given away so long as world production is greater than world demand. It should not and will not be destroyed. Therefore, the nations of the world have decided on a reasonable measure of birth control for wheat until world stocks of wheat are down to normal jirojxirtions.
“The devil he is going.” If nothing is done and surpluses continue. Nature is going to solve the problem in her own leisurely way, by the bankruptcy of a sufficient number of farmers in all the exjxirting countries so that they will be unable to grow any more wheat. This is a tedious and disagreeable jirocess for all concerned, since it is difficult to starve a farmer, and he can continue to add to the surplus of farm products long after he is technically insolvent. Control of jiroduction to meet demand in ordinary industry is jiracticallv automatic the factory shuts down when the orders fail off and the warehouse is full but jiroduction on the farm continues so long as the farm machinery and the harnesses and the farmer and his family's clothing can be held together.
Thirdly, “What the devil lie is roaring about." Why all this alarm, when an attemjit is made to adjust the exjxirt and production of wheat to the quantity that world markets will absorb, at a price that will enable the producer to continue growing wheat without mining himself and ultimately losing his farm, or any equity he has in it, in the process?
Is it the consumer in importing countries who fears that he will starve if the world surjilus of wheat is allowed to comedown to normal figures?
It cannot be the consumer, for in all imjxirting countries, and in most of the exjxirting countries as well, the domestic jirice of wheat is kept by government regulations considerably above the level of what is called the “world price.” The consumer in imjxirting countries should get cheajx*r and better bread when world jirices rise, because the Wheat Agreement sjiecifically provides that when world wheat jirices have advanced to sixty-three gold cents jx*r bushel and have remained at that minimum for four months, wheat tariffs in importing countries will start to go down, and with more high-grade wheat in the flour the loaf will be better and cheajier.
At the adjournment of the World Economic Conference the Right Hon. J. Ramsay MacDonald, Prime Minister of the world's jirincijial wheat market, had the following comment to make:
"There was universal agreement that the world wholesale jirices of primary products would have to be raised. For one reason or another, they have fallen well below economic levels until the fields are going out of cultivation, or, if cultivated, bring only a wretched harvest of losses. There are jieople who tell the consumer that these higher prices are all to his detriment. Never was there a more shortsighted view than that. The consumer cannot live on bread which is cheap by reason of the ruin of agriculture.”
Imjxirting countries have erected all their barriers of high tariffs, quotas, milling restrictions, etc., against cheap wheat. There may still be a few jieople so ill informed or so jirejudiced as to believe that the reason importing countries raised high tariffs against cheap foreign wheat in 1930 and 1931 was that, several years before, they had become alarmed that they might be held up to ransom by the Canadian Wheat Pools and the American Farm Board corailing all the wheat for exjxirt from these two countries.
It was confidently affirmed -and a great many peojile who should have known better fell for the fallacy—that European countries, to jirotect their consumers from being starved by this continent "held up to ransom" was the jxijiular phrase had embarked on the policy of home production of wheat, with vast expansion of acreage, so that their consumers might have abundance of bread. What they actually did was to raise their tariffs and milling quotas of domestic wheat to practically prohibitive heights for the benefit of ! their producers when the price of wheat went down and not when it went up. And j the consumer, in whose interests this was j supjx)sed to have been done, ate soggier bread and jxiid higher taxes. Wheat acreage in Europe is only slightly above pre-war acreage. In France it is still about three million acres less than the pre-war wheat acreage, and European governments are already becoming uneasy at the size of their wheat subsidies, which cannot go down until world wheat prices go up, and consumers are beginning to grumble a little more than usual at the quality of their bread. In this topsy-turvy economic era we are living in. when the price of wheat falls, less is sold. One exporting country, it is true, may still ■ sell more wheat than a competitive exporting country by entirely ignoring production costs in marketing its grain, but less wheat ¡ moves into world trade when prices are I below production costs, because importing countries raise their tariffs still higher or increase the milling quota of domestic wheat to ninety, ninety-nine or one hundred I per cent when world prices go on the toboggan.
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Are producers of wheat enthusiastically in j favor of the World Wheat Agreement, or j would they prefer to have things left as they j are? An emphatic "no” answers both j questions.
A Gleam of Hope
THE PRODUCER cannot be satisfied I I w ith a situation which has brought him i to the verge, or over the brink, of bankj ruptev. But no producer in any industry is ! pleased at the prospect of narrow ing markets for what he has to sell. There are very few i farmers so philosophic that they would not prefer bumper crops on every acre that ¡ they could seed, rather than controlled crops on smaller acreage, even if the smaller ¡ crops yielded a larger margin of profit. A policy of straight acreage reduction, voluntary or compulsory, is so repugnant to the practices of the average fanner that it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to enforce, unless there was some very definite return in the shape of hard cash, for the land taken out of cultivation. This is the plan adopted in the United States; but, j while the milling industry over there is j unhappy over the processing tax, there is no j evidence that the United States consumer has run amok at having to pay a cent more for his loaf to give the farmer twenty-eight cents a bushel more for his wheat. But the fanner on the whole is a reasonable and reasoning human being, and if he has sufficient proof that the market for his wheat is limited, and not unlimited as a few people still believe, he will adjust his operations accordingly.
It is not a pleasant prospect. We all hope ! it may be only an emergency measure, and dread the thought that it may have to be faced as a permanent policy. In Western Canada especially, there are large areas j peculiarly adapted by soil and rainfall to the growing of high quality grain. We would much prefer that European countries should reduce their wheat acreages. We would much prefer to have the United States go out of growing any wheat for export and import some of ours: to have Australia devote more land to sheep and Argentina to flax. But we cannot compel these countries to change their policies to please us.
Furthermore—and there are many interests that this will not please—if the wheat farmers of the chief exporting countries sow less of their land to wheat, with the hope or the promise that they will get a better price for the smaller quantity they will have for sale, a large majority of them will want to be sure that the increased price will go to them and not to speculators who gamble with their wheat. They will want to know how their wheat is to be marketed ; and as the total quantity their country can export is fixed by the agreement, at least a substantial percentage of wheat producers will question w hether there is any necessity for selling this wheat nine or ten times over from the time it leaves the farm till it is delivered to the consumer.
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There are difficulties involved in fitting in farm practice with smaller wheat fields. A farm cannot be shut down like a factory by oiling the machinery and cutting off the power and firing the help, ready to start again full blast when the orders pile in. Weeds will flourish if the land is left idle. It takes a considerable amount of money and a great deal of hard work to get a good catch ot grass on the great wheat plains; and, unfortunately, cattle, hogs, dairy and poultry products are no more profitable than grain crops at prevailing prices.
There are ten million pounds of surplus butter in Canada for which a satisfactory market cannot be found. When cattle are selling for one cent and one cent and a half a pound at central markets and when a calf of 200 pounds brings a larger net return than its mother weighing half a ton, there is not much inducement to shift from grain growing into livestock.
But these adjustments can be made, and will be made if they must. More acres under summer fallow, a few acres in sweet clover or brome grass, a few more in oats and barley to build up a surplus of feed on the farm for the periodical drouths and insect plagues that are inseparable from grain growing where the highest quality wheat is produced —and the thing could be done. A little more leisure on the farm would be a gain and not a loss.
Wheat Control is Inevitable
"THE SUGGESTION offered by the CanI adian Wheat Pools for carrying out Canada’s part in the Wheat Agreement is that the quota plan adopted for each country be carried back to the individual farmer, who could grow as much wheat as he liked, store what he could not sell on the farm, but could only market his fair quota, based on his average crop in normal years, for the two years that the Wheat Agreement is in force. Fanners are not likely to reduce their wheat acreage voluntarily if they see their neighbors increasing theirs. But if they can market only a certain quantity they will not want to grow more than that quantity. As business organizations operating by far the largest grain handling concern not only in Canada but in the world, the Wheat Pools are deeply concerned at a world situation which compels a reduction in their handlings and their earnings. But the Wheat Pools are not mere elevator companies interested only in the profits that can be made out of grain. They are the farmers who grow the wheat, and their only reason for existence is to endeavor to get a living return for the member who is the Pool, to return to these members or hold in trust for them any profits made out of handling their grain, and to handle this grain or market it efficiently and honestly.
There is more than a gleam of hope in twenty-two nations accepting the principle of co-operation instead of destructive competition in dealing w ith the wheat problem. There is a promise of slowly broadening markets as importing countries improve the quality of their bread, encourage consumption and discourage uneconomic wheat production.
What has brought about this right-aboutface order to the wheat producers of the world?
War, and the fear of war; birth control of bread, and birth control of population.
Europe’s wheat production was knocked galley-west by the Great War; overseas exporting countries greatly expanded theirs. Now Europe is back to more than pre-w'ar acreage with higher than pre-war average yield, due partly to favorable climatic conditions but largely to improved farming methods and more general use of commercial fertilizers. When Europe was fighting or licking her wounds, she wanted all the wheat that exporting countries could grow. Now’ she only w-ants a little to round out her own home-grown supply and wre can do what we like with w’hat we have left over. The fear of w’ar hangs like a threatening thundercloud over every European country and influences strongly their agricultural policy. Importing countries have agreed not to expand their wheat acreage and to encourage greater consumption. But they will not decrease their acreage under wheat, and we can’t make them until they feel reasonably sure that the yelping of the dogs of w’ar at their doors will not again make them dependent on the food that they can grow at home to feed their owm people. They are determined to keep their farmers solvent and producing, regardless of what might happen, and the consumers in importing countries have to eat dearer, less palatable bread, and pay more taxes besides for the government subsidies to wheat growers.
“In the countries wherein products are staple articles of diet,” Sir Albert Humphries stated recently at Regina, the centre of the world’s largest hard wheat area, “the consumption per head of the population is either stationary or declining.”
There is evidence of birth control of population in all the principal wheat-importing countries. What Mr. C. W. Peterson, of Calgary, at the recent World Wheat Conference at Regina called “the preposterous outbreak of procreational insanity,” which doubled the world’s population in a hundred years, is giving way to a steady decline in birth rate which suggests a practically stationary population for Europe before the end of the present century.
If this is the world wheat situation which has brought about the World Wheat Agreement, is there any solution offering any better way of escape from certain ruin than to try to carry the agreement out?
Is birth control of wheat wicked? Not when consumers, no matter how hungry they are, cannot get more or cheaper or better bread when wheat is cheap than w’hen it is dear, and the farmer cannot get as much for his grain as it costs to grow it.
Is birth control of wheat possible, necessary, or wise? It is possible but difficult; it is necessary because it is inevitable; it is wise to accept and make the best of what is inevitable.
Bonded Felt and Metal
AT THE Mellon Institute of Industrial ^ Research, in Pittsburgh. Dr. A. W. Coffman has succeeded with the aid of heat and pressure in cementing felt and metal together into a single sheet. This new felted sheet will enable engineers to obviate the ring hitherto inseparable from metal. By saturating the outer felt surface with paint, lacquer or a film of resin, corrosion is prevented.
It has been hard in the past to protect metals against acid fumes and gases. The new felted metal holds out the promise of such protection. By combining asbestos felt with metal and saturating the felt with the proper material, a fireproof sheet is obtained.
Such is the nature of the bond that a felted metal can be sheared, bent, corrugated, rolled and drawn as if it were plain steel.—New York Times.