The View From Rural Route #8
A friend found in a file the bottom one-third of a daily afternoon newspaper that featured a photo of corn being planted on her family’s land in April in the Kaw Valley in 1980.
The exact date was nowhere to be found in the clip, but there was a reference to a Monday as if it were the day before, and part of an article describing that Howard H. Baker Jr., the Senate Republican leader “came to Pennsylvania to endorse (Ronald) Reagan and campaigned with him through election eve. So, it’s pretty clear the issue had come out on a Tuesday election day for the primaries. It added, “Kennedy campaigned from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh on Monday, urging Democrats to ‘give Jimmy Carter a surprise on primary day.’”
Another cutoff article described how some “community countries” were threatening Iran that if the hostages (remember that ordeal?) were not released by the end of May, the measures proposed by the community (presumably the European Community, as it was often called then) would have “real teeth.” Those teeth didn’t work, because the hostages’ releases came only months later with the election of President Reagan.
Cash wheat in Topeka was selling for $3.65 a bushel; yellow corn, $2.40 a bushel; milo, $4.16 a hundredweight; and soybeans, $5.36 a bushel. The Dow Jones industrial average had fallen on Monday 4.27 points to a two-year low (the economy, one might recall, was awful in those days with high inflation rates and high interest rates), but had rebounded the next morning by 11 a.m. to 777.13 (what a number).
Gasoline had gone up again in the March just ended to an average $1.23 a gallon, the edition reported. Some of us old timers recall that just 10 years earlier, gasoline was often about 30 cents a gallon. That winter had been cold, and President Carter delivered his version of fireside chats wearing sweaters as if to lead us in ways to save on our fuel bills. Carter was a one-term president, the hostage and energy crises usually said to have contributed the most to his 1980 defeat. What few say today is that Carter was unpalatable to many important centrist Democrats, including Sen. Scoop Jackson, who is credited by some as saving the nation from a hard left turn and Carter brand of socialism.
Bert Lance, another piece of an article indicated, had just been tried in Atlanta on 19 counts of bank fraud, and the jury was without a verdict when they recessed after two hours and 20 minutes. Lance had been Carter’s budget director earlier.
In the local corn planting story, written by me, a farmer not in the photo said he was cutting back on input expenses and family living expenses to fight the cost-price squeeze that seemed to have begun worsening since the Soviet grain embargo. Carter had launched that embargo on Jan. 4, 1980. Also, the article noted that the government had announced that growers intended to plant 3 percent more acreage that spring than in 1979, when a record crop of more than 7 billion bushels was harvested. Today’s corn crops are just about twice that.
The 1980 summer’s heat and lack of rain devastated most non-irrigated corn and soybeans in Kansas. It was a bad year for many farmers in a bad time, and by 1985 it would be clear that the nation had fewer farmers, larger farms, land values cut by half, huge farm debts, fewer farm cooperatives and more reliance on ag technologies.
Jim Suber is an award-winning farm, ranch, and rural life columnist residing on Rural Route No. 8, Topeka.
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