The Food Front


By HERBERT HOOVER, Former President of the United States

Delivered before the American Farm Bureau Federation, New York City, June 8, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 525-528.

I PROPOSE tonight to make a checkup on where we have got to on the food front. I propose to explore what happened during the 1942 food year. I shall theft examine the prospects before us for the 1943 food year. I shall from this experience and the world need state our problem. And I will make some recommendations for the future.

The strategy of the food front is second only to the military front in winning total war. It is of more importance than the military front in establishing peace. Total wars can be lost on the food front. Failure to recognize the importance of the food front has lost wars before now.

Through the glorious courage and ability of our Army and Navy we are making progress against a most cruel and mighty enemy. We grow stronger on the military front. We must now build up the food front. It should be reorganized again. Our job is not destructive criticism. It is to contribute constructive suggestions. The only thing that counts now is to win victory and secure the peace.

To those who are not familiar with food problems, let mesay that our food year is approximately from July when the harvest starts to the next July when it begins again.

We are still eating mostly on the 1942 production.

Newspaper headlines of official statements from Washington as to our present food year read:

"The most abundant harvest in forty-one years."

"Harvest per acre 12 per cent above all records."

"There are abundant food supplies."

"The ever-normal granary assures no shortages of food."

"Greatest food production in our history."

"We have more beef cattle, dairy cows and hogs than ever before."

"Food Administrator says food outlook is good."

This happiness and exultation in Washington did not seem to be reflected in the realistic land of housewives. A few quotations from many thousands of city press headlines over the last four months carry less enthusiasm.

New York City: "City facing first time in our history.""Less than 20 per cent of normal meat supplies for eightweeks." "Shops cannot supply the government ration." "Prices above ceilings." "1,055 black market convictions."

"Mayor comes to the rescue and imports 600,000 pounds of potatoes."

Thus the Mayor was lighting up the dark scene with one potato for every third person among the 7,000,000 people in New York. The headlines blazed for days over the Mayor's having "secured 1,000,000 pounds of meat." That nourished each person with a gorge of meat equal to the weight of two silver dollars for just one meal. The Mayor, however, was doing his best to keep up good cheer.

Boston: "A desperate food shortage." "Meat and vegetables non-existent to thousands of families." "Arrivals lowest in history." "Hundred indicted in black markets."

San Francisco: "Shortage meat and vegetables critical all along the coast." And even in the food belt we hear:

Chicago: "Shortage of meat, vegetables; black markets all about." "Housewives cannot find meat promised on ration cards."

In Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, Seattle, Omaha, St. Louis and a dozen other cities are headlines of the same import, "Scarcity," "Famine," "Black Markets," "Shops Closing; Cannot Get the Ration in Meats, Fats, Vegetables."

Somehow all this leads me to the notion that the situation is bewildering.

The statistics are also perplexing. The Department of Agriculture states that the extraordinarily favorable weather at last harvest gave us a 12 per cent greater yield an acre than ever before in our history. It shows a greater production of meats and fats than ever before in our history. Lend-lease says we are shipping under 10 per cent of our total meats and fats abroad. O. P. A. says it has rationed down meat consumption by 30 per cent. Seaboard city marketing officials say not half of the meat and fat ration is available in the markets. Perhaps some statisticians can tie these figures together. They might also try to tie up the potato figures. I am aware of all the explanations. But one thing is certain. If the statistics are correct, and I do not challenge them, then some bureaucracy is strangling the flow of food from the farmer to the housewife.

Recalls Crop Limitations

But underlying all this turmoil there is a fundamental disorder. It may surprise some people to know that in the seven years between the harvests of 1932 and 1939, through government restrictions, the acreage in seventeen leading crops harvested was reduced by 47,000,000 acres. These seventeen crops are about 95 per cent of our whole harvested area.

When lend-lease was passed in March, 1941, we undertook thereby a vast increased burden of food production. Yet payments to fanners to restrict production were not all removed for the two plantings of '41 and '42. By 1942 we had recovered only 9,000,000 of these 47,000,000 lost acres in the seventeen leading crops.

During the last year we were saved, and our Allies were saved, from disaster by the super bumper crop. It is not likely to be repeated soon.

However, we have eaten our way to the end of that super-bumper crop. We may, therefore, explore the prospects for the next food year that is now just coming on the horizon.

Two years ago, one year ago, six months ago you and I warned that failure to place food production on an equality with munitions would bring disaster. Last winter the Mid-West Governors, Congress, your organization, all of us, demanded drastic reforms in food control, increased man power for the farms and more farm machinery. We wanted to recover more of the 47,000,000 lost acres.

Following this, the Department of Agriculture issued a report on "farmers intentions to plant," indicating an increase of 4 per cent in the acreage the coming year over that of last summer. The implication of that figure to the public was a probable increase of 4 per cent of food over the super bumper harvest of last year. We vitally needed an increased production over last year. But to assure this with normal yields we should have had not a 4 per cent increase but a 15 per cent increase in planting. However, the use of this comforting 4 per cent figure led the country into a statistical paradise. And such is the power of statistics that the demands for reform were flattened out. We were told we were alarmists and something worse.

Some Reforms Won

We did secure part reforms. They were not accepted with the speed of light. But finally the War Department, after unkind remarks, gave concessions by deferring some farm boys from draft. The W. P. B. authorized a modest increase in farm machinery. One more agency was added to the eight separate and conflicting agencies dealing with food. It was all too little and too late.

Now let us examine what has become of this statistical paradise of increasing food supply. To present to you an independent view, I have canvassed the agricultural authorities in several leading farm states. These reports indicate that the 4 per cent increase is likely to vanish. And the indication is that we shall have a normal, not an extraordinary, yield like that of last year. If so, we will have a decrease in the national grain crops of anything from 10 per cent to 15 per cent from that of last year. The outlook for wheat and rye is certainly a decrease of 260,000,000 bushels less than 1942, or at least 26 per cent.

We have increased our flocks and herds beyond our ability to feed them without the lost 47,000,000 acres. The agricultural experts are estimating a shortage of 10 per cent to 15 per cent in full supply of feed for our animals during the next year. We can get some feed from Canada. But it appears that we will have about exhausted the surplus of feed of the whole North American continent during the next twelve months. Already we are feeding large amounts of wheat to our livestock and we are using it for industrial alcohol. By this time next year we will have a little surplus of bread grains beyond our own needs.

Where Blame Rests

Thus our supply of food is declining while at the same time the demand is dangerously rising. And these decreases cannot be blamed upon floods which have destroyed less than one-half of 1 per cent, nor upon the weather, for that promises about normal crops. Nor can they be laid upon the farmer.

The American farm folks are the most skilled farmers in the world. They produce more per person than any agricultural people on earth. They have done a heroic job in planting this crop with but little help. In January last they were promised an agricultural army of 3,500,000 city folks. But it has not arrived at the food front yet. They must be there before the harvest.

The blunt conclusion from all this is: (a) Our cities will have less food supply during the next winter and spring even than they had in the last few months; (b) We will notstarve; (c) We can, by better organization and by tightening our belts, continue to feed our allies; (d) If the war in Europe should come to an end within the next twelve months, we should have no consequential food supplies with which to meet three or four hundred millions of starving people.

Preparedness for the Harvest of '44

Remedy for the 1943 harvest year is now too late, as the planting is mostly done. We must begin to build up the harvest of a year from now. That is in 1944.

We still have time to redeem the situation. If it is to be redeemed, we must have far wider vision. We must have drastic changes in national policies.

We simply must take seriously certain elemental facts. We must realize that the major burden of the world's food front falls on the North American farmer and the American consumer. We must realize that in peace time on balance, we are a food importing country and today we are blockaded against many imports. We must furnish extra food to our military forces. We must ship large amounts of food to our allies to support them in the war. We must realize that there is a minimum level in food for our 130,000,000 civilians without impairing their physical and moral resistance.

And we have also pledged ourselves to hundreds of millions of people in the world that they will be rescued from the terrible famine which has been brought upon them by a monstrous enemy. Without this action there will be no peace.

We must realize that this food shortage will last for a minimum of four and possibly six years. These are stupendous burdens.

But we have an answer to Hitler.

We can ration down our own consumption further with good management. And we can make sure that we do not lose the war on the food front if we stop the degeneration in agriculture and bring in a far greater production in 1944. We must do it. Otherwise we are headed for a world trouble. We have the resources to do it.

As a foundation for 1944 we must get all that lost 47,000,000 acres back into cultivation. To do that, our authorities must decide whether they will spare the man power and farm machinery manufacture from other activities. And we must begin now or again it will be too late and too little.

Reform in Food Control

Organizing the food front means far more than just increasing acreage, man-power, and farm machinery. It also requires wise co-ordination, of prices of processors, of distributors and rationing.

A month ago, the press reported a spokesman of the? O.P.A. as saying "food prices and food distribution are out of control." It was denied by another spokesman next day. But the second spokesman had not discussed it with the housewives nor with the farmers. However, when we are fighting a war grief over spilled milk does not make more milk. Our question must be, where do we go from here?

There is only one course which will clear up this muddle of uncontrolled food prices, local famines, profiteering, black markets and stifled farm production. That is to abandon the obsolete methods now in use which were proved a failure in other nations, in the last war, or are copied from the British whose situation is wholly different from ours. We should start with the system which proved a success under the Americans in the last war and improve it.

And let me say this about food control while we were in the last war.

We steadily increased our food production. We shipped more food to our Allies monthly than is being shipped today. We had no local famines in the United States as we are having now. We had no black markets. We had a people zealous in a moral crusade to help win the war with food, instead of lots of people trying to beat the game. Including the Department of Agriculture, we had only 23,000 paid Federal employees connected with food. Today we have over 120,000. Moreover, food prices rose only 17.9 per cent in the seventeen months after we declared war in 1917. Washington statisticians admit a rise of 24.3 per cent in the seventeen months since Pearl Harbor. The housewives will admit a rise of at least 35 per cent.

I do not pretend that our methods were perfect in that war. We had to pioneer an unknown field. Results ought to be better in this war and not worse.

A Program

But what should we do now?

First. The first necessity is to consolidate all authority over food production and distribution under one single responsible administrator. There are too many cooks for too little food. Control of food is now divided nine ways over the Department of Agriculture, the O.P.A., the Lend-Lease, the Board of Economic Warfare, the Army, the Navy, the Man-Power Commission and the W.P.B.

The recent addition of the ninth wheel even though so able a man as Mr. Chester Davis as Food Administrator does not make a food administration. The food functions of all these agencies must be moved into his office. He must have the right to hire and fire. The Food Administrator must today be Secretary of Agriculture. And the importance of food in the outcome of the war and peace should be recognized by his appointment to the new Office of War Mobilization.

Second, Decentralize the work under state, municipal and county administrators. In no other way can farmers' and consumers' needs be adjusted to our varied local conditions.

Third. Increase the man power on the farms to a higher level than before the war and plant forty or fifty million acres more in 1944 than in this year. On this question of man power I offer a suggestion because we must have more skilled labor on the farms.

Public pressure upon our farm boys to join the forces is very great. They are not slackers and do not want to be called slackers. They do not want their gates painted yellow. They are doing a great and indispensable service. If we are to save this situation, I believe farm boys should be called to I the Army from the farms immediately after this harvest; that the farm boys should be called up from industry; that they should be given some military training. Then as many of them as are necessary should from time to time be ordered back to the farms with their uniforms. They should receive their pay from the farms, and not the Army. They should be subject to call in national danger. That would give dignity to their service. They could constitute a great national reserve both for production of food and the direct military effort.

Fourth. Agricultural machinery on an average lasts about twelve years. Theoretically about one year's supply or one-twelfth of our machinery has been used up through suppression of manufacture. It will also require great additions to handle this extra forty or fifty million acres in 1944.

Fifth. Abolish the system of retail and wholesale price ceilings. It begins at the wrong end. Price fixing in a great food-producing country must begin as near as possible tothe farmer and controls proceed from there on by regulation of the trades against profiteering. Prices rose less when this system was applied in the last war than they have under the present retail ceilings. We must regulate the Sow of water at the nozzle instead of chasing the drops from the shower.

This present price system is stifling farm production. It is nor stopping inflation.

Sixth. Ask the farmers to appoint their own war committee on prices and do a little collective bargaining with them in fixing prices. The so-called "parities" should be abandoned for the war. Prices to the farmer must include floors as well as ceilings. Prices should be fixed that will take into account labor and other costs, and above all that will stimulate production.

Such a revolution in the price system would save a few tens of thousands of policemen. It is difficult to catch an economic force with a policeman any way.

Seventh. Rations should be set to balance consumption to production. It only adds muddle to put the ration higher than the available supplies. And it brings great injustice, for some people get the ration and some don't. We should simplify the whole rationing business by over 50 per cent or 60 per cent. It can be done by decreasing the number and variety of articles rationed and by excluding all absolutely nonessential food from rationing.

Way to Check Inflation

It would certainly give a mighty lift of spirit to the housewife and to the grocer. Also, it would save some of their time for other war duties. Also a good way to check inflation is to let food luxuries go to the highest bidder. That would spigot off spare money and get it into channels where the 90 per cent profit taxes can bite into it.

Eighth. We should recognize that processing and distributing foods are righteous and necessary callings. Thousands of small firms are being driven out of business. It would help win the war if left-wing reforms in our food economy were suspended for the duration. We should establish war committees in all the processing and distributing trades. They should be given major responsibilities in keeping the flow of food moving to the right spots. They could greatly assist state and local officials in policing the trades. They too have sons in the war. They are just as patriotic men as lawyers and economists. They are the only people who know how. Their interest is to stamp out black markets. And their profits can be absolutely controlled.

Curb on Black Markets Enforce the condition of dealers' licenses so that they may deal only with another licensed dealer and then direct the railways and trucks to transport only for licensed dealers. This would stop most of the black markets.

Ninth. Such a system will avoid subsidies either to farmers or the trades or the consumers. Subsidies will not stop inflation. Subsidies are a delayed aggravation.

The New York Times properly says they "do not in the least deal with primary causes. They are like cleaning a room by sweeping the dirt under the bed."

And who is supposed to benefit by subsidies? It is supposed to be the worker, but the worker is also the taxpayer. So is the farmer. And taxes are sooner or later, increased by just the same amount as the subsidy. Subsidies consist of taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another with an illusion attached that the cost of living has been reduced. It is both more painful and more costly to take money out of the tax pocket than it is to get it out of the price pocket. A wage based on subsidy foundations will break down sooner or later. Moreover, subsidy money increases government borrowing and debt to the banks and that adds to inflation pressure. Far more serious, however, is the result to the farmer and the consumer. Price fixing based on any such concept will strangle production. Its operation in the distribution trades will clog the flow of commodities and will in the end increase prices and black markets. Likewise, subsidies can become a weapon of favoritism or of punishment in the hands of the huge bureaucracy. They will sooner or later lead to scandal.

If these broad lines, policies, and organization be adopted then food will flow naturally from farm to processor to wholesaler, to retailer and to the consumer. Prices will be better restrained. They will be lower, for the black markets can be blacked out. The housewives will have less trouble and worry. And above all, farm production will be stimulated, not stifled.

But over and beyond better methods of food control, we must absolutely assure the maximum production of America.

Let me say again that that is the only road that leads to the defeat of inflation, to decreased hardship in our homes, to assured support of our Allies and to peace for mankind.

If those in power and those not in power shall have wisdom, implacable resolve, a spirit of sacrifice, the field of America will blossom with an abundant life that will save vast human life in a world given to human destruction.