ON THIS Memorial Day weekend, it seems appropriate to take a loftier look at agriculture as seen by a long-ago farm visionary.
A re-reading of Liberty Hyde Bailey's 1915 "The Holy Earth" produces some thoughts that should stimulate farmers and consumers along with environmentalists. The book, full of a worshipful fervor, was written by Cornell's first agriculture dean and has been reprinted several times, most recently in 1980. Here are a few of his nuggets:
"We seem to have overlooked the goodness of the earth in the establishing of our affairs. The earth sustains all things.
"But man prospers; and we know that catastrophies are greatly fewer than the accepted bounties.
"Not all the land is fit to be farmed. A good part of agriculture is to learn how to adapt one's work to nature, to fit the crop scheme to the climate and to the soil.
"Our dominion has been mostly destructive. We excavate and leave the earth raw and sore, choke the streams with refuse and dross, exterminate whole races of animals. We do not clean up after our work and leave the earth in order. All this destructiveness is uneconomic in the best sense, unsocial and immoral.
"Farming ceases to be an occupation to gain sustenance and becomes a business.
"We begin to see now the importance of a permanent land occupancy.
"I sometimes think that the rise of the culinary arts is banishing the fine old appreciation of fruits and vegetables in their natural form. The customary mashing of potatoes takes all the individuality out of the product and the result is mostly so much starch. We have bred a race of people that sees nothing to admire in a good and well-grown tuber."
The National Commission on Agricultural Finances (Cornell Professor John Brake is a member) has found that plenty of farm credit has been available, but it recommended that free market forces dominate farm credit programs and that they be kept separate from the nation's social programs.
"As a principle the commission agrees that government programs should not keep people in agriculture if their operations are not economically viable," the report said. But farmers forced from the land should be protected by a safety net and/or transition programs.
The commission also said that universal loan applications and accounting standards are needed, that risk-management alternatives should be studied to determine whether insurance or disaster payment programs are preferable and that additional tools to finance farm exports should be developed.
More regionally, the Farm Credit Banks of Springfield and affiliated associations reported $3.9 million in profits for the first quarter of 1989 on loans of $2 billion to growers in New England, New York and New Jersey. Careful management during the early part of the decade enabled some producers to expand. At the same time, the Springfield banks experienced a reduction in problem loans.
A USDA study shows that while our American farms feed us so well, the owners of our 2.2 million farms increasingly have to rely on off-farm income -- city and factory jobs -- to stay in business and feed themselves. In fact, in half the years since 1979, off-farm income has exceeded farm family income from farming operations. More and more, dual careers are becoming the mode. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting that in another decade another 300,000 farms will have disappeared and farm ownership will become more concentrated.
Barnyard Gossip -- A virus called Abby that shows great promise as a destroyer of the gypsy moth is being field tested this summer by USDA researchers at Beltsville, Md. . . . A tour of Pennsylvania dairy farms July 11-14 has been scheduled by Cornell Cooperative Extension. Gary Bigger of the Batavia office (420 East Main St.) is accepting reservations for the $235 all-expense exploration . . .
The latest 822,000 New York dairy cow census continues the record setting downtrend. In April '85, the count was 920,000 and way back in 1933 when per cow production was much lower, New York had 1,387,000 milk cows . . . New York Farm Bureau has alerted the Public Service Commission that Niagara-Mohawk's proposed time-of-use rates may hurt small-scale dairy farmers who are not able to adjust their milking times. Farm Bureau also is telling Congress that hiking estate taxes also could hurt family farm owners . . .
Until now, Americans have been selling about $3 billion worth of farm products to Canadians and buying $2 billion of Canadian farm goods. The tariffs on both sides have usually been less than 10 percent. The effects of the gradual removal of those tariffs as provided in the free trade agreement and the shrinking gap between Canadian and American currencies will bear watching . . . A Cornell farm goods survey shows that prices of milk cows, corn, oats and potatoes are higher than in April of 1988, but that steers, cull cows and hogs brought less . . .
Alfred State College has given its first "Outstanding Service Award" to former Assemblyman Don Cummings of Wellsville who helped secure finances for the college . . . The pear thrip, the tiny insect that feeds on maple leaves, appears expanding its feeding forests south and heading toward Boston, entomologists say. Pear thrips have damaged Vermont maple stands . . . The nation's winter wheat crop is put at 1.43 billion bushels, about 8 percent below last year's and the smallest in a decade.