Get ready for some numbers, big numbers, and the story of Bud Rank.
Rank sits atop 1.2 billion pounds of dry milk, 867 million pounds of cheese, 370 million pounds of butter, 413 million bushels of corn, 185 million bushels of wheat, 4.7 million bushels of barley, 46 million bushels of grain sorghum, 7.5 million bushels of soybeans, 39 million pounds of honey, 73,000 bales of cotton and enough rice to keep America in chow mein through eternity.
That's a partial inventory of Uncle Sam's food storehouse. Rank's job puts him in charge of all this and more.
Everett (Bud) Rank is a successful California farmer who came to Washington early in 1981 to help President Reagan get government out of agriculture, as they like to say, and to put those elusive theories about free markets to work.
Neither of those things has occurred, and Rank, in the process, has inherited what is shaping up as the biggest government intervention in agriculture in many a moon.
As the administrator of the Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS), Rank oversees crop loans and subsidy payments to farmers, and stores and tries to sell the massive surpluses being accumulated by the Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC), over which he presides as executive vice president.
And now, as an extra assignment, Rank and his ASCS staff are in charge of drawing the blueprint and administering the new payment-in-kind (PIK) crop reduction program offered by Secretary John R. Block as a way of curbing overproduction and improving farm prices.
Congress passed up the chance to legislate the program into existence last year, but Reagan announced in Dallas yesterday that the administration is going ahead with it anyway.
The irony here, of course, is that an administration that came in decrying federal meddling in the barnyard has embarked on perhaps the most ambitious government intervention in the farm sector in more than a decade to try to straighten out supply-demand imbalance and pump up the limping agricultural economy.
The figures at the top of this story give an idea of the magnitude of the problem. Those commodities were acquired by the CCC under the various price-support programs that the USDA administers on behalf of farmers.
The agency that Rank heads is a vital organ of USDA. Always highly political, the ASCS is made up of 16,000 federal and county employes who administer crop and facility loans and some conservation programs in 2,730 counties.
Rank got involved in this as a farmer in Fresno County, where he raised cotton, almonds, tomatoes and grain. He was chairman of his local ASCS committee for 10 years and then became state chairman in 1969.
That led to a chance to join the Nixon-Ford administrations, when then-agriculture secretary Earl L. Butz made him ASCS western region director. He held the job between 1974 and 1976, but it didn't thrill him. "The day I left Washington was the happiest day of my life," he said recently. "I had no desire to return."
But Reagan's election brought Rank an offer to leave his farm again, and he took it. "I believed in Reagan's goals and I wanted to be of assistance," he said. "Actually, I rather enjoy being here now because we've got a chance to help farmers, putting the PIK program together."
That, however, doesn't mean he has changed his basic thinking, Rank cautioned. "The American farmer wants market opportunities and minimum government interference," he said.
He says he thinks props, allotments, quotas and market controls make farmers inefficient and lead to improper competition among them, although his own success in farming might seem to belie that.
But for now the first item of business is finding some way to get farmers out of today's dilemma of overproduction and low prices, while at the same time curbing the growing costs of support programs (more than $12 billion this year). And, as Rank concedes, the real world is always a little different than the world of theory.
"My disappointment is in seeing the plight of the farmer and realizing that the situation can't be changed by just waving a wand," Rank said.