TODAY WE PRINT, on the opposite page, a defense of the Senate farm bill, and a response to our criticism of it, by Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.). Since our readers may not have the statistical tables imediately at hand, we will add a few words of explanation about some of the figures that the senator, and other supporters of the bill, are using. They are quite right in saying that net farm income in 1973 was $33 billion. That was the peak of a curve shaped roughly like the Matterhorn. It was in 1972 that the Nixon administration sold most of the U.S. grain reserves to the Soviet Union and, when there were droughts and bad harvests throughout most of the world the following year, American grain prices soared to levels of which even the wildest speculators had never dreamed. Then, as crops returned to normal in other countries, prices in later years drifted back down.
Unfortunately, there were farmers in this country - a minority, mostly young men - who bought overpriced land and expensive equipment at the peak of that curve. They now yearn for those 1973 prices to come back and help them make their heavy payments. That is roughly what the Senate bill is designed to do - by curbing farm production and creating short supplies to force prices up.
When Sen. Dole says that farmers' real purchasing power is lower than at any time since the Depression of the 1930s, he is using an obsolete figure. There was a period last summer when that statement was briefly true. Grain prices dipped sharply in midyear, but since September they have been rising steadily Farm prices, and farmers' income, are now significantly higher than they were a year ago.
If the Senate bill were enacted, its first victims would be other farmers. The bill would help only the grain producers - and the major consumers of grain are other farmers in the livestock, dairy and poultry businesses. The livestock industry is only now recovering from the severe damage done to it by the 1973 surge in food costs. The Senate bill would also mean that American grain could not be sold abroad without export subsidies running to hundreds of millions of dollars.
President Carter has said that he will veto the Senate bill if it gets to the White House. It's possible that Congress will choose to pass it along to him anyway, and let him deal with those farmers who have been pushing for it. But our own guess is that most farmers, like most other Americans, understand perfectly well that sudden swings in prices, and radically unstable markets, always bring distress to both producers and consumers. There's legislation that can bring reasonable stability to farm and food prices, at levels that mean prosperity to farmers. It's not the bill that Sen. Dole is talking about. It's the farm bill that Congress passed last summer, and it's now taking effect.