The Agricultural Engineer's World


By WHEELER McMILLEN, Editor-in-Chief of Farm Journal and Farmers Wife

Delivered before the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, June 21, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 624-626.

THE world is growing hungry in this year of global bloodshed and destruction. Before the sun shall shine again upon an era of peace, the world will grow hungrier. Stark starvation is already the prospect for millions of children and of adults.

For most of the areas of the earth this will not be the first time that the threat of famine has alarmed cities and countrysides. Starvation has been recurrent through all the generations of man.

Indeed, never yet in recorded time has there been a single day when every healthy individual on earth has been able to obtain three square meals. Perhaps it is true to say that in America are the only people who have never in their history experienced a famine. Our record is a little less than perfect, for not all Americans have been shown how to earn their share of our plenty.

In full view on the one hand is the luxuriant willingness of nature. On the other is the staring fact that the human race has never been far ahead in the contest against starvation, and time after time has fallen behind. Is there something fundamentally wrong with the species of man when, after uncountable centuries, he has not found how to keep himself provided with so basic an essential as food? The more one looks at this fact the more astounding it becomes.

More than two billion human beings walk the earth today. Most of them walk in poverty. Scant of food, they live in need of better clothing, of decent sanitation and health, of suitable homes, of proper education, to say nothing of living without facilities for recreation and ease.

As a basis for discussion one might assume that there were, before this war, 100,000,000 people in the world who enjoyed a scale of Irving comparable to that of the most favored third of Americans. One might further assume that such a scale represented a fairly ideal abundance of human satisfaction, so far as present knowledge permits. A very rough conclusion could then be drawn that the ability of the human race to produce goods would have to be multiplied twenty-fold to permit a universal consumption comparable to that which many of us regard as still somewhat less than wholly satisfactory.

Whether the expansion should be twenty-fold or ten-fold, the probability is that most humanity would cheerfully settle for ten per cent, and would consider that a millennium had arrived if enabled to earn and consume an additional twentyper cent of food and other goods. To live twenty per cent better certainly would be to live in abundance for a large majority of the present generations of people; it would be beyond any hopes they have ever cherished.

The foremost interest of every family in the world is food, closely followed by the other essentials of living, such as clothing and shelter. No family in chronic want of those basic necessities can be much interested in other matters. The hungry man with a hungry family is not likely to turn his mind to problems of world federation. He is not likely to be particular about the kind of government in his own country, so long as it will promise him food.

After all the generations of his time, the common man has not solved his food problem, although it is the first of his responsibilities. Neither has it been solved for him by his leaders and rulers.

Ever since the tribes began to organize, chiefs and kings, prime ministers and presidents have assumed certain responsibilities for their followers. They have assumed to say by what rules men shall live and when they shall risk their lives in war, but they have not provided that he shall always eat. The statesmen have not solved the food problem.

As recently as a month ago they were holding a forty-four-nation conference about it at Hot Springs. The cheerful announcements handed out from there did not claim to have solved it. Perhaps the fact that they discovered the existence of such a problem was, for statesmen, an advance.

Today the world's poverty in food, and in all good things, is mounting, because the world is engaged in war. The energies of millions of men are engaged in killing and in preparing the means of killing. The worldwide failure of statesmen has resulted in worldwide destruction and impoverishment.

It is not my desire to be too severe upon the statesman for his failure to solve the problem of satisfying man's wants. His principal fault has been his tendency to get in the way of those who can produce; that, and his tendency to demand for his particular purposes too large a portion of his country's production. His medium is government, which man must have and which, as Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, is a good thing but, like fire, must be watched.

Through the organization of government a few aids to production can be channelled. Government can finance research which would not otherwise be accomplished. It can

conduct education which is an all too much neglected function both of government and of private enterprise. It can operate those proper regulations which prevent the unfair individual from taking advantage of the reasonable or the weak.

There is one great contribution which government can make to production. To keep the account straight, this must be stated correctly. There is one great contribution which people must require that their government make to production.

That contribution is liberty.

I do not mean the kind of freedom that is quartered and labelled. I do not mean freedom either multiplied by four or divided by four. I mean the broad personal independence which leaves man free to work, to live, to decide his destiny within his capacity; the kind which offers him the incentive of reward and the choice of his way of life; the kind which does not bargain with him at the rate of so much freedom for so much government check.

I do mean the simple, undiluted, unfractioned liberty which leaves off only where the just rights of others begin.

Once the prerequisite of full liberty is established, from out the mass of men there will gradually emerge those who can solve the problems of production. Here in this continent, under freedom, inspired by the natural motives of a free economy, the vision of a genuine abundance has been glimpsed by man for the first time in human history—a vision that will be an assured and an evergrowing reality as long as its foundation of liberty stands unimpaired.

Plenty for man, plenty of food and of the innumerable riches of nature, has been the gift to humanity of a type of individual unique among his kind.

Ever since the primitive anthropoid noticed that the stars change their places in the heavens there have been philosophers, but the philosophers with all their theories failed to lead man to the realm of plenty.

Ever since one tribe of men discovered that another tribe had more than they, military chieftains have come forward. But the generals with all their clubs and cannon and stratagems have always left the earth with less than it had before.

The politicians have worked their ways to eminence and power and renown, and have beguiled the historians to write their fame in imperishable print. Nevertheless, hunger still presides over a wider realm than the greatest of kings or statesmen.

In free America, and never until there was a free America, came the flowering of that type of man who held the key to abundance for his fellows on earth. He holds that key

Before liberty was proclaimed in 1776, before it was established at Yorktown, it was truly launched under the constitution, men of his type were unsafe wherever they lived. They were subjected to inquisitions, taunted by the philosophers, or executed, as was LaVoisier, by the statesmen.

When liberty prevailed, this man emerged. He has no theories, no stratagems, and little guile. He was free to prove that his was truly the key to production and plenty for mankind.

Who is he? He is the man who builds his case on proved or provable facts. In plain modern English we call him either a scientist or an engineer.

Theories, and poverty for those over whom the theories held dominion, have been associated through all the centuries. Only those theories have been productive of national wealth or social advance which have coincided with provable facts.

Wherever crops are planted according to superstitions andtheories, poverty-yields result. Crops fertilized with facts provide output in plenty.

A marked distinction may be noted, incidentally, between a theory and a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a theory which a scientist may accept until he can establish the facts to prove or disprove it. A theory is usually an idea which its advocate forever seeks to prove and to which he will cling even in the face of facts.

The engineer and the scientist are producers of plenty. They arm themselves with facts. They are production men.

I wonder if the time may not be coming when the hungry world can be persuaded to lay aside its faith in theorists and to place its trust in fact-men.

Facts, once enough of them are assembled, can conquer poverty. Theories will only perpetuate it.

The facts that man requires are simply the facts of nature. Whenever he discovers new facts about the matter of which the universe is made, the new facts about the laws which govern that matter, he enlarges his productivity. The engineer and the scientist have organized the facts of nature into the power that has enlarged man's muscles until the work he can do now produces in multiples of his past output.

The world's hunger today is the consequence of failure to make universal use of the facts that already have been established.

The agricultural engineer, supported by his fellows in agronomy, in animal husbandry and by his associate appliers of facts, has the answers to age-old problems which neither statesmen nor their philosophers nor their generals have yet discovered. He can feed the hungry.

The business of the agricultural engineer is to augment the cornucopia of plenty. In every department of his profession, his efforts are bent toward adding to the supply of food and to the abundance of agricultural wealth, toward reducing the effort and cost of its production, toward improving the quality and distribution of the harvest.

The agricultural engineer is engaged with improving the plow that turns the soil, with better tools of cultivation, with implements for a more perfect harvest. He built and has steadily improved the tractor. For the first period in human history the hard work of food production no longer depends entirely upon the muscles of men and animals.

Seizing upon the magic force of electricity, the agricultural engineer has adapted its flexible light and power to hundreds of methods that multiply the muscles and ease the toil of farmers.

The agricultural engineer drains the swamps and sloughs and turns them into the richest of agricultural land. He taps the stored waters of the mountains, levels the floor of the desert, and creates vast new areas of blooming farms. He builds terraces which restrain the impoverishing onslaughts of erosion, and preserves the fertile topsoil of the centuries so that it may feed the hungry of the future.

He designs the barns and storehouses and processing sheds, improves the fences and work structures, all for the greater abundance of food for the world.

In the institutions of practical education he shares his knowledge of productive ingenuity with youth, and inspires his students to devise means for greater prodigies of production.

I have not overstated the functions of the agricultural engineer. I have merely tilted the emphasis over toward the true objectives of the activities which are listed in the prosaic prospectus of your profession.

When a statesman of the usual sort finds himself in charge of a country after this war has ended, he will likely either start the chain of events which will lead to another war, or he will tax the people to desperation and renewed [b ]

There is little hope for the world in repeating the theories of the past.

Perhaps it would be wiser to put the agricultural engineer in charge. He would hire no economists, no philosophers, and few lawyers. He would put tractors to humming in the valleys. He would store up the waters, drain the swamps, run a grid of highlines, analyze and fertilize the soil, send for the best-bred strains of crop seeds, and by the second autumn probably would have created a farm-surplus problem! That problem, however, would be temporary, because, until world production has been doubled and redoubled many times, a surplus of one commodity can only mean that not enough of some other commodity has been produced to earn the medium for exchanging the two.

I do not mean to be facetious. I am in dead earnest in asserting that when production, multiplied production, is the foremost need of the human race, common sense demands that the kind of men who understand the arts of production must come into larger authority. The engineers and scientists may not be equipped to administer all the duties of governors, but governors ought to do no less than to encourage the engineers and scientists to go to work on this old earth and make her yield up at least enough to satisfy the physical hunger of the human race.

The copious and exuberant blunders exhibited by the bureaucrats of Washington have sanded the gears of our own food production machine until, now in the time of the greatest need, we face the possibility that even with two kinds of money it will be hard for the urban family to find a square meal. After irreparable damage has been done, Washington is only now beginning to discharge a few of the theorists and to put an occasional engineer or other fact-man into small authority. Unless in the administration of our own country there comes soon to be a reasonable regard for the factsof nature, and a reasonable respect for the engineers and scientists, we in rich America are in danger of retrograding into the lower levels of want and hunger.

If an engineer were called upon to design a food production agency for this country at war, he would surely not go at it as has been done. He surely would not put nine drive wheels in nine different areas of the government, with a separate driver for each wheel, nor would his drive wheels be shaped so as to be indistinguishable from the brakes. Yet it is with some such fantastic contraption that the federal aspects of food production are being managed. Until the food-powers are centered in one competent man, production will be hampered and there will be less food with which to meet our obligations.

A modern war is bound to be won by the side with the greatest resources of men and materials and with the ablest and freest technologists. The only certainty of a durable peace may also rest with the technologist. It is demonstrable that his are the only skills which will produce in abundance the food and goods which are the desire of mankind.

Poverty, the lack of food and goods, may not be the only cause of wars. I will venture, however, that a substantial increase in production in all lands will guarantee peace more firmly and for longer than any other course that will be proposed. The technologist possesses and knows how to use the facts to bring about such an increase. Virtually every area of the earth has more resources than it has used. There is always the air, the rain, the sunshine and the soil from which to manufacture the raw materials of wealth.

The great statesmen of tomorrow will be those who give a free hand to the technologist and the businessman, with encouragement to produce enough to foreclose forever on hunger and want.