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Fighting for Food in 1960?

SOUNDING "MORE LIKE A HOWLING DERVISH than a prophet," as a jeering Boston newspaper puts it, Mr. Henry A. Wallace recently told the Williamstown Institute of Politics that the world would face a food shortage in five or ten years, and that it would become so acute by 1960 that "nations in their scramble for food and markets will find another blood-letting the only solution for the problem." However, the same Boston paper remarks that evidences of excitement are not necessarily a proof that a man is not a prophet, and the New York Times informs us that Mr. Wallace, who, by the way, now edits Wallace's Farmer, went on to qualify his grim predictions of war and famine. According to The Times, he recognized that they "did no take into consideration the possibility of the discovery of new synthetic foods, which may change the outlook." Continued Mr. Wallace:

"There is always the chance of finding some mechanical way of taking the energy out of the sun and using it to combine carbon dioxid and water to make sugar and starch. Personally, I think that the chances of a really revolutionary discovery of methods of manufacturing synthetic food are exceedingly remote."

But assuming no cheap method of making synthetic food is discovered, this agricultural authority believes that the population of the United States will continue to grow until it reaches the 200,000,000 mark. In his opinion the rate of growth is likely to be checked by further reduction of immigration and the practise of birth-control. As he now sees it:

"The probable ultimate situation will be a population of 200,000,000, of which 160,000,000 will be town and city people, and 40,000,000 farmers. This assumes that the farmers of 100 years hence will be 30 per cent. more efficient than the farmers of to-day, and that the city-dwellers will live more largely on foods of cereal, vegetable and dairy origin."

Mr. Wallace's predictions regarding the United States are what chiefly interest the press, and we find the editors revealing sharply contrasted opinions. Among the papers supporting Mr. Wallace's views is the Boston Globe, which avers that "Mr. Wallace is merely citing a ponderable truth," and tells us:

"Since 1920 this country has had an 'agricultural problem' of. extreme and growing gravity. Wild fluctuations in wheat prices; repeated and brazen profiteering through speculation in food- stuffs ; bankruptcy in the West through large areas—so the story has developed. Last spring, tor instance, one market manipulator 'cleaned up' millions by selling wheat on paper. Meantime, flour prices are up 40 cents a barrel for consumers, while the farmers continue to be discontented and indignant."

"In one year we have had a 25 per cent. shrinkage in wheat acreage. Latest estimates point to a wheat crop 200,000,000 bushels below last year's. That is, we are barely growing a domestic supply this year; which means that imports of wheat are possible. But Mr. Coolidge, acting under the flexible tariff provisions, has boosted the tariff on incoming wheat. So any imported wheat will make very expensive bread. The tariff also keeps purchases high for the farmer, while he has to sell in an unprotected market. The failure of the Government to help solve the agricultural problem prolongs his discontent, and sharpens his sense of injustice until he is driven from the land. How long can this continue before its effects come home to city populations? "

Reminding us that Mr. Wallace's father was once Secretary of Agriculture, and that Mr. Wallace himself "was an expert in the Food Administration during the war," the Toledo Blade attaches grave consideration to his theories, and says:

"Population has been increasing throughout the New World, in Europe of the Old World, parts of Asia, and at least the southern part of Africa. So far agriculture has been able to care for this increased population by cultivating more acres and, to a certain extent and in certain sections, increasing the yield per acre. But studies recently made indicate that most of the highly productive land has been put under cultivation. The greater part of that which is left for the pioneering farmer is poor land, land that can never make a rich return, and land whose cost of cultivation would exceed the value of the products. Much has been made of the promise of intensive cultivation. But there is a strict limit to such possibilities."

Moreover, the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune adds to the volume of comment in Mr. Wallace's support by reviewing a recent newspaper article by Prof. Edward M. East of Harvard University, who "points out that in the last fifty or seventy-five years a decided change has taken place in the diet of city-dwellers, due to economic conditions." As we are told,

"Referring to a hotel menu card of about 1850, Professor East finds more than fifty kinds of meat and game offered for one meal, the diner having the liberty of ordering a number of them. To-day the menu card in the same hotel would have only a half-dozen kinds of meat, and the diner would order only one, or a little fish or game."

On the other hand, the Associated Press circulates a dispatch from Williamstown; in which we read:

"The United States can support a population of 350,000,000, and by applying German methods a population of 574,000,000, it was asserted at the Institute of Politics to-day by Prof. R. J. McFall, of the agricultural economics department, Massachu- setts Agricultural College. He declared that, contrary to the Malthusian doctrine, the world would be able to feed itself indefinitely."

As confident, if not more so, is the Omaha Bee, which remarks that "the world has not nearly exhausted its capacity for producing food," and continues:

"If the fence corners and roadsides in Nebraska were cultivated as are the fields, enough could be produced to support the entire population of the State, and leave the rest for export. If Nebraska corn-fields brought forth as liberally as those of Vermont, the yield of corn would be three times what it is. Add a single bushel of wheat to the acre in Kansas, and enough is produced to feed 250,000 people on bread. So the comparison might go on indefinitely."

Source: Literary Digest - September 5, 1925




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