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A 100-year-old newspaper tells us how things have changed since 1919

A local farmer made quite the discovery when he was remodeling an old house. The house was stuffed with old newspapers, used as insulation. One copy was in pretty good shape, dated May 1919. One hundred years ago. My things have changed. Or, have they?

Bruce Hansen says today, a farmer gets about 7 cents for every loaf of bread sold. He’s a little frustrated commodity price haven’t increased much. His proof? He found a 100-year-old paper with the prices listed.

“Things were different back then,” says Hansen. “Horses, archaic appliances, just a whole different world. I found a quote for wheat prices. I thought, what the heck? I wonder in 100 years how much wheat prices have changed. Well, in a century, it hasn’t even quite doubled! I knew it would be surprising, but I was astounded.”

Hansen says in 1919, the prices for a bushel of wheat were $2.26. A century later, it’s $4.48. It didn’t quite double, in 100 years!

“Disbelief! I could kinda’ see it coming. I thought it quadrupled or maybe tripled. I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.

An agriculture economics professor from the University of Idaho says Hansen is right on target. Garth Taylor says American food prices are cheaper than ever in the history of mankind. We only spend 8 to 10% of our income on food. But in other countries, they spend 60% of their money just to eat. He explained why America’s commodity prices have stayed so low.

“The parity index. In 1910, it was 100%. Meaning in 1910 farmers received 100% of their input costs,” he said.

The relative prices received by the crops versus what they pay for input, fertilizers, labor and horsepower. The standard was in 1910 was 100 percent. We’re now at 30%. Farmers getting less than 30% what they have to pay for their inputs today.

“To compare, if everything had doubled in 100 years, a postage stamp would be 4 cents,” says Hansen. “A stay in a hotel would be 4 dollars. A one day stay in the hospital would be 20 bucks.”

Obviously, all those prices greatly increased over the century. Basically, Hansen just wants to bring this information to the public’s attention, because he’d like people to just thank a farmer once in a while.

“I’d like them to recognize the role ag has played in phenomenal living.”

Hansen says his father cringed when he said he wanted to farm. For all the tough times, he still loves his career choice.

“It’s hard to put into words the joy of watching something grow. Working with the soil, seeing the miracle of nature. It’s soil, sunlight, water. It’s rewarding.”

Hansen says fertilizer and other chemicals have helped farmers, but he still maintains it’s not sustainable.

Prices for food in another 100 years? He says it’s anybody’s guess.

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