By Mike Surbrugg

NEOSHO, Mo. — Farmers planted corn for the third time that June as fuel prices soared.

Retail food and other prices also jumped.

There were movements calling for people to eat grain, not meat.

That was June 1974, recalled David Whitson, University of Missouri Extension agriculture business specialist at Neosho. It also was the year he went to work for the extension department in Joliet, Ill.

Whitson, 63, plans to retire Aug. 1. He came to Neosho in October 1997. He has family in Southwest Missouri and plans to remain in the area.

The University of Missouri plans to replace him with a youth specialist who has an agriculture background.

Whitson recalls 1974 as the year when gasoline prices jumped to $1 per gallon, and in response the federal government lowered the national speed limit to 55 mph to conserve fuel.

The late corn planting was hinged on farmers getting an extra three weeks before the first killing frost of fall. It didn’t happen; that first such frost came on Sept. 20.

“We had a mess,” Whitson said.

While farmers survived, there have been many other changes.

Not that many years ago, a farm where all the family income came from the land was common. Less than 20 percent currently meet this criteria, he said. At least one spouse often works off the farm to get benefits such as health insurance.

Continuing mechanization and other technology also has encouraged larger but fewer farms, he said.

Whitson said smaller farms can meet the challenge by carefully selecting and then producing for niche markets.

Whether baling hay or harvesting soybeans, the farm must make a profit or eventually it will go out of business, he said.

“Some succeed with luck and by golly, and others make decisions based on economics,” Whitson said.

He recalled a survey he did in Illinois. Survey recipients were asked to provide data on production costs. Some provided numbers to the tenth-of-a-cent but others made round number guesses, he said. Farmers need to know what makes and loses money and determine if their assets are moving up or going down.

Mike Surbrugg is The Joplin Globe’s farm editor.

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