THE WIZENED old gentleman brushed the sweat off his tanned forehead and looked hard at his friend. "You know, Flavius, I just can't make it anymore. Every time I take my stock to market, one of the big boys undersells me and I take a loss." Flavius nodded and said, "Yes, I know." Swallowing hard, he added, "That new property tax pushed me back in the red — just when I thought I was going to break even! My broker is coming out this afternoon to look over my land. I guess it's just a matter of time before that big conglomerate down the road swallows me up." Sound like farmers today? Well, consider. The setting is actually in the late stages of the Roman Empire! History reveals, not surprisingly, that taxes, big business and foreign competition eventually forced small Roman farmers out of business. And as internal corruption and other restraints shackled Roman agriculture, other national problems ground the country down until... of course, you know the story.
History Repeating Itself
Today, a popular bumper sticker seen widely in the Midwestern United States reads: "Farming is everybody's bread and butter." And in this mechanized, material-oriented Western world, there is no truer statement! Many have heard the joke about the little girl, who upon visiting a farm for the first time, asked her mother why these people didn't just buy all their food at the grocery store. Few realize today that the Western agricultural world is gripped in a prophetic crisis nearly-parallel to the Great Depression of the 1930s! Look at the situation in the United States — a nation widely considered to be the breadbasket of the world. Chemical fertilizers were hailed as the miracle of the century in the 1950s and 1960s. Farm production doubled and tripled from the artificial stimulants. The only problem was that nobody thought the world would ever run short of oil — the main element of chemical fertilizers. Or that fuel-guzzling power tractors would ever have shortage problems with the thousands of gallons they need — every year. Dean Kleckner, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, commented on the problem this way: "All these economic problems have culminated to make this the most serious crisis on the farm since the Great Depression." In the United States, the typical view of the farmer is of an old sage peering out from a tattered straw hat. But in reality, the individual American farmer must be a sophisticated businessman armed with multiple tens of thousands of dollars in equipment that may include computers and complex testing gear. The dollar value of the equipment needed to start a farm would boggle most minds. Buying two tractors, a combine to harvest the crops and related equipment costs more than a good-sized farm did 15 years ago. And can you imagine paying the interest at today's rates on the loans to purchase all that equipment? Now you can begin to see what farmers face when drought strikes, or when grain lies unsold because of an international grain embargo. And on top of all this, urbanization of the United States now claims territory roughly the size of Connecticut every year! A former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture observed that an area of fertile farmland the size of Illinois has already been paved over, and an area the size of Indiana will soon be counted lost unless urbanization is slowed or reversed.
Do We Realize What's Happening?
William Jennings Bryan once said, "Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country." Will we follow the route of the Roman Empire? Already super powerful agriculture conglomerates account for fully 80 percent of all gross sales, while only comprising 20 percent of all U.S. farms! And what's tragic is that more than half of the nation's farmers are forced to subsidize their incomes. The average individual U.S. farmer only earns 50 percent of his income from his farm! And if that's not enough, farm families cannot control their own product! International sales are carefully controlled by the government. While one can see the strategic need for this control, problems exist. For instance, the early 1970s' grain sale to the Soviet Union was miscalculated. So much grain was sold that an artificial feed shortage was created. Since livestock farmers are unsubsidized by the government, they had to absorb the higher costs through their unprotected pocketbooks. The whole world needs to be concerned about the prophetic problems faced by the American farmer, who supplies much of this world with food and agricultural products. Today, one third of the prime 400 million acres in the United States are used for export production. America exports 60 percent of its wheat, more than half of its soybean crop and almost one third of its annual corn (maize) yield. A major portion of the poor nations of the world survive only because of this major ability of the United States to export foodstuffs. Accordingly, a Roman Empire situation in America, where the farming economy would collapse, could spell disaster for much of the world!