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Napoleon and modern farm link draws support, criticism

Apparently, we aren't the only ones who wish Napoleon had been a bit more clairvoyant when he discussed the interconnected roles of agriculture and the military.

Several readers e-mailed to express displeasure at Senator Charles Grassley's attempt to link the general's military moxey to modern farm problems.

And one reader made an even better case than I could for supporting cotton's role in national defense. Tom Peeper from Oklahoma wrote:

“Our Army can't fight without cotton. Have you ever heard of gun cotton? Or cellulose nitrate? That is what makes the shell blast out of the end of the cannon. The quality of the cotton affects the speed and smoothness with which the shell leaves the barrel. That is darned important if you intend to shoot more than once. Cotton is critical to arming our artillery, as well as clothing them, and cotton quality is important. That is why, in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, the USDA started giving fertilizer to cotton growers. (Later they had to buy it, but did so willingly.)”

Best regards,

Tom Peeper

That's good to know and I was not aware of that contribution.

I had a note from a cotton specialist from the Southeast who praised my “simple eloquence.” I assume he meant that in a good way.

One reader wrote “bravo and amen,” covering both secular and religious contexts.

Pat Jones, with Texas WIFE (Women Involved in Farm Economics), from Lubbock where she and her husband David operate a nice cotton farm, wonders why elected officials don't do a little homework before they spout off about policy. She wrote:

“Ron, enjoyed your article. We just returned home from the Houston Livestock Show … where we viewed a large cotton display showing many edible products. It would pay our legislators to educate themselves on commodities before expressing their opinions. Cotton is a very versatile commodity, fiber, oil, etc. Keep up the good work.

Pat Jones


Not all responses were supportive, however, and we would be remiss if we didn't mention the negatives. Two readers from the Midwest took issue with what they perceive to be a bad marketing policy for cotton. An excerpt from a Missouri reader:

“I know about the problems rice and cotton guys are having with this, but I can't feel sorry for them when the rules they propose make me the endangered species. Maybe the war will end tomorrow, and maybe the deficit will disappear, and maybe this price rally in commodities will just keep going and we'll all be rich. But I think these payments will continue until the U.S. hits a rough patch and folks start losing patience with government spending.

Richard R. Oswald

Langdon, Mo.

Mr. Oswald and I exchanged several e-mails and I've found him to be a pleasant, knowledgeable man, even if he disagrees with me. We just don't gee haw on the importance of the present farm bill and the direction it should take. He did allow as how he enjoys wearing cotton jeans and shirts and boasted that he never owned a polyester leisure suit, a claim that, sadly, I can't make.

A reader from South Dakota, Brad Redfin, said, in part:

“Please allow us to avoid the nightmare cotton has descended into. Let us put a cap on payments and place a restriction on the unwarranted, self-destructive, unlimited government payment-driven production and resulting increased land and production costs. We might still be able to keep from driving our price into irrelevancy. We might still be able to maintain some level of serving an actual market, not a socialized support system.

I believe in production supports. But they must be handled with the caution and respect such things deserve, given the danger they pose when overused.”

We heard from cotton folks, University folks, the rice industry and several relatives who were just being polite. Meanwhile, the fight continues and those who have the ears of a congressman or senator (scary image, that) will do well to keep the pressure on in hopes of salvaging as much as possible out of a good farm program.


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