Last year, I wrote in favor of establishing a Midwestern dairy cartel (“One Man’s Idea is Another’s . . . ,” Vital Signs, August 2001). As a call for controlling one’s regional, economic, and cultural destiny, it was well received. As a matter of economics, however, it was not a very practical idea. A man can dream of establishing an OPEC in the heartland, but there are certain dreams that are better left unfulfilled.
In reality, bigness and corporatization—if not downright Stalinist collectivism—are already happening in the Midwest farm culture, particularly in dairying. Everything that is anti-free market takes place when a small farm goes under or gets swallowed up by a giant agribusiness, cartels notwithstanding. At least my OPEC was made up of hard-working small businessmen and their families—hardly lazy sheiks or corrupt generals and politicians living off their oil wealth.
If the answer is not a cartel or some regional price compact, however, then what can turn the tide in favor of family farms and the structures they support, economically and culturally? And not just for dairy but for all of agriculture and agrarian life as well?
Larry Swain doesn’t seem like a rebel. There’s no...