The Polk Progress was a Nebraska treasure that ceased publication in late 1989 after 82 years as a weekly newspaper. From 1955 until its last issue, the editor and publisher was the late Norris Alfred. In its last few months, the Progress had 900 subscribers in 45 states. Alfred was a remarkable Nebraskan with an uncanny eye for connecting the present with the future. Prairie Fire has collaborated with the Alfred family, the University of Nebraska School of Journalism and the Nebraska State Historical Society to locate and archive many of Norris's writings. We are capitalizing on our good fortune to present many of the Norris Alfred writings to our readership. We believe that his observations are as fresh and relevant to today's world as they were when originally written.
December 23, 1971
“Few things are growing faster down on the farm these days than corporate influence”—and—“Only 1 percent of the farms are incorporated.” Conflicting statements. Which to believe? The first is the opening sentence of an article in the Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star for Dec. 12, “Down on the Farm: Big Business” by Drummond Ayres Jr. of the New York Times. The second is a portion of a statement by Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz on “Meet the Press,” Sunday, Dec. 5.
We know the 1 percent statistic is misleading, perhaps purposefully. It equates a small farm of hundreds of acres with the thousands of a corporate farm. Also, according to the article, the statistic refers to “owned” farms. Some corporations lease their land and are not even listed as farms.
Rural readers in Nebraska may react with, “What does a New Yorker know about farming?” But, if Mr. Ayres has his facts straight, the place to look for what is happening “down on the farm” is in “the board rooms of New York, Kansas City, Los Angeles and other centers of big business.”
What is our concern in this corporate development is the obvious lack of love for the land—only a desire for what it can produce for profit. A man sitting at a desk; looking across a board room table; gazing out an office window at an urban scene; there can be no feel for the land. We are a romantic about land; in particular, the rolling prairies of Nebraska. What does a member of the corporate board know about the shape of a hill, the lone tree on a slope, the intimacy of a patch of sumac in a hollow, the long rows of a harvested cornfield angling together at the horizon? Acres are numbers to him—nothing more.
Farmers are also guilty of this insensitivity. Today’s farming practices force the land to produce more and more. At what cost? No one knows. They are reshaping their fields; destroying the wetlands; mining the underground water; pouring on more and more herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers—30-inch rows, double-rows on a listed ridge. Increase the yield, increase the yield. No one suggests limits. Yet, there are limitations. There are limits to all activities. Wisdom is knowing the limitations.
However, we’ll defend the farmer and his activities against corporate enterprise. At least the farmer is working his land intimately. He knows his soil, the contour of his fields, and has experienced the warmth of the sun on his back and the deep-freeze winter winds.
Corporate enterprise is destructive of individual initiative, whether in manufacturing or farming. It does not promote the democratic process; it hinders it. If it gains a stranglehold on agriculture, the initials for this nation will be USA, Inc.