Blog: All things Rep. W.R. Poage from Waco, Texas

What is the meaning of this?

Quicker than one might think, Puerto Ricans will move from emergency ready to eat meals to imports of corn, wheat and rice. Now, my screen shows vivid portraits of an agricultural economy dead—rotting livestock corpses on the screen. Now there is an economic opportunity to consider an efficient future—a new farm economy and a rational food import policy. Now is the time to plan. What model should be used? A distinct figure comes to mind. W.R Poage, once the autocratic chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Standing on the floor of the House, his 1974 defense of isolationist New Deal policies in the form of the Sugar Act defeated. Here I am trying to clarify why an agriculture policy based on government control does not work.


October 2017, ubiquitous countryside scene in Puerto Rico. Dead livestock.
Whatever the future brings, the reality is that Bunge, Cargill et al. will be supplying Puerto Rico’s human and revived livestock population with essential corn, rice, and wheat.


Flawed though the marketplace may be, under regulated with far too often the pretense of competition by oligarchs—a term currently confined to Russia, but applicable to the corporate few—yet nevertheless the marketplace is the best tool we have. As Frank Norris noted in the Octopus, the reality of modern agriculture is that farmers must make their planting decisions based on the price determined in the commodity pits of Chicago. This is our best hope.

As the FT has reported, global low commodity prices (among other factors) have placed Bunge and other international grain and soybean trading companies in economic distress. I am convinced that Puerto Rico’s catastrophe represents a likely global future of high commodity prices as high protein wheat farmers face drought in the US and disruptions in the energy sector globally— petroleum is, after all, the single largest raw material in agriculture—result in likely agricultural scarcity even in the developed world. Whatever the future brings, the reality is that Bunge, Cargill et al. will be supplying Puerto Rico’s human and revived livestock population with essential corn, rice, and wheat. I am trying here to describe the players and suggest that now is the time for Puerto Rico to establish a new and economically enlightened food and farm policy.

Here is another post in my effort to urge policy makers and the financial community to consider the opportunity Puerto Rico’s catastrophe represents.


By way of explanation

In January of 1974, I began a job as a newsletter editor writing about the problems of migrant agricultural workers. This was a subject area where I had what theologians term a calling. The calling had come to me like the sound of a trumpet at Thanksgiving Day 1960 at the home of my grandmother Celia Pell in Boro Park, Brooklyn.

Edward R. Murrow entered the living room/dining room from the cherry wood television cabinet Bubbie dusted off lovingly once a week. He said:

“This is CBS Reports Harvest of Shame. It has to do with the men, women, and children who harvest the crops in this country of ours, the best-fed nation on earth. These are the forgotten people, the under-protected, the under-educated, the under-clothed, the under-fed. We present this report on Thanksgiving because were it not for the labor of the people you are going to meet, you might not starve, but your table would not be laden with  the luxuries that we have all come to regard as essentials. We should like you to meet some of your fellow citizens who harvest the food for the best-fed nation on earth.”


Enter Bob Poage, the autocratic Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee

In June of 1974, W.R. Poage entered my life the way the Rubicon entered  Julius Caesar’s life. The exact date was June the fifth. The occasion was Chairman Poage’s introduction on a chaotic House floor. Rep. Bella Abzug of New York, wearing her trademark wide-brimmed hat, reigned her fellow legislators loudly with epithets not fit to print in The New York Times.

The occasion was renewal of the Sugar Act of 1974 (as amended)–a piece of New Deal legislation tracing its roots to first One Hundred Days: FDR’s 1933 attempt to save the American farm. At the time, I was totally focused on the provisions of the Sugar Act that related to agricultural workers rather than understanding the legislation in which those provisions applied. As I had written only a month before, these were some of the workers protected [sic] by the legislation–migrant workers from Jamaica cutting sugar cane in Belle Glade, Florida:

“The photograph  shows  migrant farm workers on their way to work in Palm Beach County, Florida. This truck was traveling at 55 miles per hour for over 5 miles. On the left of the two-lane highway is a canal filled with 30 feet of water. There is no shoulder on the right large enough to support a truck….
“On January 7, 1974,  employees working for Okeelanta Sugar, Division of the Gulf and Western Food Products Corporation. were hurt in an accident when their truck tuck turned over. 
Alphege Morris, 39 years-old from Jamaica, was killed, and 86 workers were injured-82
of whom were treated in the local hospital emergency room. “


Have you ever had a vision?

It is 2:56 A.M. Twenty-minutes ago, I had a vision. I sat upright in my bed and said aloud, “W.R. (Bob) Poage, Waco, Texas.”

Has that ever happened to you?


About the W. R. Poage Legislative Library
The W. R. Poage Legislative Library, located adjacent to the Moody Memorial Library and Jones Library on the campus of Baylor University, is a special collections library and research facility that is part of the Baylor Libraries system. The building was dedicated in 1979 in honor of Congressman W. R. “Bob” Poage, Baylor alumnus and retired public official whose career spanned over 50 years. The facility houses the Baylor Collections of Political Materials, the Graduate Research Center and the Bob Bullock Archives.



October 2, 2017. A defining moment in my life took place in the summer of 1974 after Bob Poage said this: “Aerodynamic engineers cannot tell you why the bumblebee flies,” the autocratic chairman of the House Agriculture Committee said on the floor of the House of Representatives, “but it does. I cannot tell you why the Sugar Act of 1848 (as amended) works, but it does.”


This vote on the floor of the House of Representatives on June 5, 1974 forever changed my life. Go figure.


















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