For an old retired geezer, I seem to have a lot happening in my life lately. The most recent involved a trip to Lubbock, Texas — and there’s a story behind the trip that I want to share.
First, a confession: For the past 48 years I’ve led a double-life. One life that readers of this column identify me with is Milo Yield, my column-writing pseudonym.
My “other” life is my career life as Thayne Cozart — a professional agricultural journalist. A few long-time readers may still remember those days from February, 1974, when my wife and I and two associates launched FARM TALK newspaper in Parsons, Kan.
Our goal at the time was simple — keep our financial heads above water and create a stable source of income. We were successful. Long hours, hard work and dedication to the betterment of farm and ranch families and agribusinesses took FARM TALK from zero subscribers to more than 12,000 by the mid-1980s.
However, by the late 1970s, early signs of the upcoming “Farm Crisis of the 1980s” were beginning to appear. Commodity prices plummeted. Farm and ranch auctions began as a trickle and soon became an avalanche. Rural banks began failing or consolidating. Farmers’ grain stored in elevators was confiscated by lenders as collateral for unpaid loans.
On a personal note, I noted that both “successful” established and young farmers whom I’d written feature stories about were failing financially and their dispersal or bankruptcy auctions were appearing in the paper. I noted that these folks were highly educated about farming and ranching, were applying all the production and marketing advice coming to them from universities and financial advisers. And, yet, they were failing in spite of all their good efforts.
The reason for the “Farm Crisis” gradually dawned on me. The manipulated commodity markets seldom, if ever, offered a profitable price to be gained by producers — regardless of their production efficiency or marketing moxey.
That’s when the American Agriculture Movement — a grassroots movement across rural America demanding “parity” farm commodity prices — arose. Some of the originators of AAM were Texans. They were quickly joined by other leaders in other states. Soon hundreds of local and state rural protests arose.
From them, a tractorcade of protesting farmers and ranchers converged on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., urging the president and the congress to make an effort to bring the “Farm Crisis” to an end. Ultimately, our national leaders failed and the “Farm Crisis” was allowed to “wash out” hundreds of thousands of good farmers and ranchers and many of the agribusinesses that supported them.
From my vantage-point as a farm newspaper publisher, I could plainly see that the “Farm Crisis” was rapidly eroding my subscription base and my advertising base. So, I jumped into the AAM cause wholeheartedly, not tepidly, as many other farm and ranch publications did. I was determined to do as much as I could to see AAM succeed. I wrote and wrote, traveled and spoke, and learned and learned.
About that time that I learned, by accident, that there was a rural organization that had the solution to the “Farm Crisis.” That organization was the National Organization for Raw Materials (NORM). It’s economic research became the law of the U.S. in the years of World War II and up until 1952. During those years, the economy worked in perfect balance on earned income, not debt.
The crux of NORM is that all original wealth comes from the soil, or Mother Nature. NORM calls its research “Raw Material Economics.” Nothing happens in the economy until some raw material is grown or extracted from nature. And, early NORM leaders discovered that only with parity raw material prices — that is, prices in balance with the price of labor and capital — could the nation’s economy work profitably with a balanced business ledger.
It must be noted that 70% of all raw materials used up annually is food from the land or the oceans. Hence, agricultural commodity prices at parity is imperative for a successful national economy.
I’ll shorten this story to the basics. I joined NORM, became its communications director, and ultimately became its president. I sold the newspaper to concentrate on NORM’s agenda to get the nation back on a good economic track. Looking back, the effort was not foolish, it was needed, but it was foolish to think it could succeed against the powerful establishment. I’ll never be sorry for the effort made.
Ultimately, AAM and NORM shriveled from powerful entities to shells of their former selves. But, the goal of a balanced economy remains. And, the history and accuracy of their efforts remains as true today as ever.
During all my years in NORM (I’m still a member), I wrote thousands of articles and letters, gave uncounted speeches, and accumulated an abundance of supportive materials. They’ve sat in storage in my basement for decades.
In my recent efforts to downsize my life, I worried what I was going to do with all my NORM and AAM materials. Then suddenly a couple of months ago, “voila,” an old AAM and NORM associate learned of an effort by the archivists at the Special Collections Library at Texas Tech University to gather all the historical information it could on the American Ag Movement and interview the participants who are still alive. It’s a noble effort to not lose an important part of America’s rural and economic history.
The library archivists contacted me and eagerly wanted all my raw economics materials. They offered to pay for delivery by freight. I volunteered to deliver the materials in person. So, I spent a couple of months sorting through the “stuff” and ended up with 10 storage boxes of materials — enough to fill an SUV.
A week ago, my wife and I drove to Lubbock through wind and dust and delivered my “stuff” to the great folks at the Special Collections. They gave us a good tour of the historical library and showed us how my materials will be noted, cataloged, and merged with other related AAM materials.
And, so ends this little saga into my “parallel” life. I’ll have more to tell in the future. Until then, never give up faith. I know from personal experience that sometimes good things “just happen.”
Have a good ‘un.
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