And Ongoing series ...
In November 1921, an article in the Arizona Republic made an appeal: “Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘If we don’t hang together, we shall all hang separately.’ To a farmer this new-old proverb means agricultural co-operation, and agricultural co-operation means only one thing, and that is Farm Bureau . . . whose aim in existence simmers down to getting a fair percentage on money and labor invested and risks taken.”
Cooperatives allowed farmers to sell a specified quantity of their crops for a guaranteed price, and they could bargain with distributors and railroads for fair rates and prices. The Arizona and county Farm Bureaus were instrumental in helping set up many co-op associations, including the Pima Cotton Growers’ Association, the Roosevelt Hay Growers’ Association, the Potato Growers of Coconino County, and livestock associations in Navajo, Apache, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties, and many more. And in 1921 Arizona Farm Bureau members successfully lobbied for the cooperative marketing bill which established the legal framework for co-ops. Arizona was one of the first sixteen states to pass such a cooperative marketing act, a Farm Bureau effort to standardize marketing nationwide.
The biggest issue facing co-ops was shipping rates on railroads. Farmers regarded railroads with suspicion. Highways were too primitive and motor vehicles too slow and unreliable to make truck shipment feasible over long distances. And in many parts of the country, the single railroad in the area held an effective monopoly. One way to combat high rail freight rates was through cooperative marketing. A striking example of the power of a co-op in dealing with the railroads occurred in the mid-twenties. The Salt River Valley cantaloupe crop in the summer of 1925 generated gross sales of $3 million. But railroads charged growers $1.48 million to ship the crop east. That, along with other charges for icing the shipments, meant that the melon growers barely broke even. That same year, citrus growers, who had a strong co-op, bargained as a group and receive d a much better rate.
Proving the Early Power of Legislation and Lobbying
Another weapon against freight rates was legislation. One analyst in 1922 noted that while farm prices for many products had fallen forty percent below those obtained before the World War (pre-1917), railroad rates had risen up to eighty percent over the same period (Henry C. Wallace, “The Farmers and the Railroads.” Lowering rates became the national Farm Bureau’s highest priority, along with supporting road improvements and the opening of waterways such as the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Mississippi River system, which act as important alternatives to railroads. In 1923 the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) successfully lobbied the Interstate Commerce Commission for $1 million in freight rate cuts.
The AFBF helped pass a farm credits bill through Congress that created a fund of $666 million in one of the first short-term farm credit programs. AFBF also took a stand against “government price-fixing for agricultural commodities, which has heretofore failed to serve the purpose for which it was created.” Co-op marketing offered “the most practicable means of stabilizing agriculture on a profitable basis.” The issues of price supports and government-set quotas would wax and wane for the better part of the century, becoming especially contentious in the 1950s and ‘60s. Farm Bureau would remain a consistent advocate for free, competitive markets, with minimum government support except in times of disaster.
The Arizona Farm Bureau also had its share of wins, including appropriations to reduce numbers of pests such as prairie dogs, gophers, rabbits and coyotes, and to help prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis. Other Farm Bureau policies that were passed included a fruit and vegetable standardization act, an egg grading act, and increased budgets for county agents. But Farm Bureau lobbying could not secure the creation of agricultural inspection stations at the state’s borders. Border inspection would become another long-running saga.
Representative of its early focus on protecting and advancing a prosperous agriculture industry, a high point for the Arizona Farm Bureau was a 1929 study done for the AFBF that showed the battle for fair railroad freight rates was not over. The research found that railroads were using freight rates to subsidize passenger service and would often ship produce in a zig-zag pattern to justify higher charges.
“Farmer Brown” Became One of Arizona’s Best Promoters Even Speaking on National Radio
Land value has always been a concern to farmers, since, even in the 1920s, it was often the basis for credit needed for a farm operation. The issue in Arizona was the lack of population, and lack of demand for the land, which held down its value. In the mid-1920s, the entire state had a population of 400,000 people, but farmers were hoping for a continuing influx of new residents. The ideal, they considered, would be to encourage new farmers, “preferably experienced” who wanted to buy land, which would lead to “more intensive agriculture on smaller holdings.” And the key to attracting those farmers was seen as tourism. As a well-known Arizona character put it, “People encircle the globe in order that they may breathe Arizona’s air and grow strong in its remedial sunshine.”
That well-known character was the Arizona Farm Bureau’s first vice-president and second president, C.S. “Farmer” Brown. Brown was born in Utah in 1874 and began farming in the Tucson area in 1914. He is sometimes credited as the first president of the new Arizona Farm Bureau, but other sources give that honor to Dr. James C. Norton of Phoenix, a former state veterinarian.
In any case, “Farmer” Brown (he unofficially adopted the nickname about this time), became a widely known spokesman on agricultural issues and Arizona. Though lacking a formal education, Brown was a constant seeker of knowledge from books, lectures, classes, and life experience. He was also a writer and speaker of some gifts. By 1925 he was featured on national radio programs originating at station WLS in Chicago, where he shared his “Arizona Philosophy.” A few years later his column, “Farmer Brown’s Philosophy,” appeared in the Arizona Producer. It was discontinued after a few months (replaced by “Uncle Jack, the Bee Doctor”), but Farmer continued to find outlets for expression on agricultural topics. During the early 1930s, he became a national spokesman for Farm Bureau, touring the country to appear at fairs and picnics. Long past what some consider the age of retirement, Farmer was still active and still learning. The year before his death (age 88) in 1962, he took a course in public speaking.
Labor Issues Show Common Theme Running Through the Decades
Many of the farm labor issues of recent years have very deep, and familiar, roots. A common theme is that the politics and federal policy on immigration and employment change, and agriculture deals with the changes. In 1924, new U.S. laws drastically reduced immigration from southern and eastern Europe. However, Mexico and Latin America were not affected by these restrictions. Farmers in the Southwest and elsewhere began encouraging and recruiting Spanish-speaking immigrants, and U.S. border policy facilitated this. Not all the workers were Mexican. In 1926, for example, 500 “Porto Rican” laborers were employed to help with the cotton harvest in Arizona.
Once the full effects of the Great Depression became apparent, the attitude toward imported labor changed, resulting in the precipitous deportation of over 300,000 Mexican laborers and family members. This labor force was largely replaced by a domestic supply: unemployed single men and dispossessed families from the Midwest and South. When the military and industrial demand of the Second World War strained every sector of the economy, the U.S. and Mexico cooperated in creating a guest worker, or bracero program, again welcoming Mexican labor.
The longer-term effects of these tides of workers included the permanent relocation of many American families to the West, and the growth of a Mexican American population determined to assert their claim to the U.S. as their home. As these groups and others, including Japanese and Filipino immigrants, put down roots, many became part of a new generation of farm managers, farm owners, and agricultural business entrepreneurs.Previous historical article: In The Beginning ...