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Introduction, Export-Import Status, Farm Imports (1935)

The Drought and Current Farm Imports - 1935 - Section 1

Section one from the 1935 Booklet Issued by the WPA covers topics on agricultural products and their impact on the current economy; factors of our Export and Import status; and imports in 1923 as a base year.


Agricultural imports into the United States have become a factor in the news of the day.

The United States has always been one of the great bread and meat baskets of the world. Its agricultural industry has been on a broad export basis. When the morning paper tells of a boatload of corn from the Argentine landing in Baltimore, people naturally wonder why this should be true.

The quantity may be trivial in relation to the amount of corn produced and consumed in this country. The event may have no permanent significance. But American producers and the public in general ask why it happened and what were the conditions which made the United States even temporarily an importer of grains.

How much wheat, corn, rye, barley, meats, and other agricultural products is this country actually importing at the present time? Has it imported such commodities in other years?

How much of the same commodities is it exporting? Is there any reason to believe that the present importations, even though relatively small, mean a change in its status as an agricultural exporter?

Has there been any adjustment in tariffs which facilitates imports at the present time? What are the basic causes for the present imports? These are the questions which must be answered if one is to understand the current export-import situation.

Some American producers are also questioning why there should be imports of agricultural products under any circumstances. It is their contention that the United States should take whatever steps are necessary to prohibit entirely the importation of agricultural products grown in this country. Would this be a wise policy? Would it really react to the benefit of American producers?

In seeking the answers to these questions, one needs to examine the background of this country's position as an exporter and importer of agricultural products.

I. The Export-Import Status of American Agriculture

The United States has always imported large amounts of coffee, tea, cocoa, spices, bananas, silk, rubber, sugar, vegetable oils, and certain other products which are grown not at all or (as in the case of sugar) in limited quantities in the United States.

It may surprise some people to learn, however, that this country has generally imported small amounts of almost every agricultural product, including those which it exports in much larger quantities.

For instance, during the years 1930 to 1933, the United States imported annually an average of nearly 6 million dollars' worth of un manufactured cotton, more than 15 million dollars' worth of grains and grain products, and nearly 5 million dollars' worth of meats.

There are several reasons for these imports. Certain special types of products, such as cotton of a particular staple, are not produced in the United States, but are needed in domestic manufacture, and hence are brought in from abroad.

Secondly, there is the geographic reason that certain areas in our own country, deficient in a given commodity such as meat and adjacent to the borders of other countries, find it more advantageous to import some of the commodity at the prevailing duty rate than to pay the long freight hauls in our own country. Another reason has to do with conditions abroad at a given time.

Other producing nations, with excess crops in a given year, and faced perhaps with the loss of their usual foreign markets, are able to send a portion of these products into the United States over tariff duties.

A final reason, and the most important with respect to present increased imports, is that short yields in the United States, due to conditions beyond human control, create a temporary need for foreign products.

Imports Rose in 1923

In 1923, because of particular conditions, there was a considerable rise in the importation of grains. The United States imported during that year 4 million bushels of corn, 7 million bushels of oats, and 13 1/2 million bushels of wheat. (This wheat was duty paid, for domestic consumption, and did not include wheat bonded for milling and re-export.)

During the same year this country exported 163 million bushels of wheat and many times 4 million bushels of corn in the form of meat products. Thus it will be seen that the imports of these grains were only a small fraction of the exports, and a much smaller fraction still of the domestic production. In 1923 the country produced 759 million bushels of wheat, 2,875 million bushels of corn, and more than a billion bushels of oats.

The point to be noted, however, is that agricultural products which are produced in export quantities in the United States are nevertheless also imported in varying small quantities from year to year.

Table 1, prepared by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, gives the average of such imports for the 8-month period, July to February, over the decade 1924-34 for our major agricultural commodities, as compared with 1934-35 imports for the same period.

It will be noted that the United States imported, on the average, 366,000 tons of feeds and fodder (that is, oats, barley, rye, corn, wheat for feed, hay, oil-cake and meal, and so on) for each 8-month period over the 10 years indicated.

It imported, among other products, 75,000 tons of fruit, exclusive of bananas, more than 50 million pounds of meat, 480 million pounds of vegetables, 97 million pounds of dairy products, and more than 13 million pounds of eggs and egg products, on an average, for the same 8-month periods during this decade.

Thus it is evident that imports of competitive agricultural products have not been limited to the recent period.

TABLE 1.—Imports of certain groups of agricultural products, July to February, 10-year average, 1924-25 to 1933-34, and 1934-35

TABLE 1.—Imports of certain groups of agricultural products, July to February, 10-year average, 1924-25 to 1933-34, and 1934-35

Foreign Agricultural Service Division. Compiled in the Bureau of Agricultural Economics from official records of the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce.

Index to Part I of the Current Farm Imports 1935 Booklet

  1. Introduction, Export-Import Status, Imports in 1923
  2. Current Imports, Relative Volume and Corn Imports
  3. Adjustment of Oats, Barley, and Rye; Meat Imports; Slaughter of Animals
  4. Butter Imports, Reduction in Tariffs, Present Situation
  5. Should Imports be Prohibited, Export Basis, Agricultural Exports
  6. Exchange of Goods, AAA Programs, Livestock Programs
  7. Drought Shortages and Excess Crop Acreage
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