Published June 1975 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd America Needs a Grain Policy Although three years have passed since America signed the disastrous wheat agreements with Russia, the United States is still without a national grain policy. And lacking an effective policy could spell more trouble for the American taxpayer in the years ahead. The wheat deal was announced on July 8, 1972, and allowed Russia to buy, largely through American loans, $750 million worth of American wheat-20 percent of the total 1972 crop -over a five-year period. To the surprise of the U.S., the Soviets chose to exercise almost their entire option in the first year, with the result being a near doubling of the cost of a loaf of bread for American consumers. More disturbing than the wheat deal itself, however, is the fact that little has been done to avoid a repeat performance. The U.S. is still without a central gathering place for information on the world grains situation; and responsibilities for exporting American grains are still shared-and uncoordinated- by the State Department and the Department of Agriculture. A central location where information can be gathered and analyzed would result in farmers being better informed than they were in 1972. Although suppliers of grains knew of the massive failure of Russia's wheat crop, farmers were kept in the dark. And since they had no national forecast on which to base their planting, they were unable to adjust the size of their crops to meet both the Russians' demands and our own domestic needs. Consolidation of responsibilities could prevent a recurrence of 1974, when Russia requested additional wheat from America. Despite Congress' action to avoid another deal like the one in 1972, and despite the President's rejection of the subsequent request, the Department of Agriculture still had the power to sell the Soviets an additional 1.2 billion tons of wheat. And consolidation of responsibilities could halt the current practice of drawing up trade regulations which, one expert says, "protect the interests of the traders at the expense of farmers, taxpayers, and consumers." Obviously, a national grains policy is needed and needed now- in order to keep the Soviets from taking the bread off American tables.