Thursday, March 01, 2012

I've started reading Caro's [four? - the first volume claims three, but you know how trilogies' waistlines expand once they sit down to the dinner table] volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. These two sentences, wrote about the Texas Hill Country, have to be the saddest things you can possibly say about agricultural land:
It was rich because it was virgin. And it could only be virgin once.

But then, how often can something like that be said of the land the southern smallfarmer encountered on their slow-motion pillage across the continent? They lacked science, and prudence, and made up for it with passion. And I don't like this business about homesteads not being subject to foreclosure or bankruptcy - this chapter is entitled "the Trap", but that little detail about Texas Homestead law just screams "trap" to me. You can't own something if you can't lose it, and you can't learn from your folly if you're protected from its consequences. I guess you can lose the land you bought in the normal course of events, but then, that means in a failure, you're left with forty or a hundred and fifty acres and an operation that requires three hundred or three thousand acres to actually turn a profit - depends on the local conditions, really.

Speaking of conditions, before this, I was reading Pietrusza's book on the 1948 elections, and while talking about farming agitation about prices, and Dewey's failure to answer those concerns, he points out that corn prices had dropped suddenly in 1947-8 from $2.50 a bushel to $1.60, or thereabouts. Current corn futures as of this moment is $6.58 a bushel. Think about that - the inflation-adjusted cost of a 1948 bushel of corn was ~$22. Admittedly they were also averaging 38 bushels to the acre instead of today's 168 or so, but damn, that's an expensive baseline for feedstock.

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