Abundance is a problem, but it may be the best kind to have

John Hopkin, who heads Texas A&M University's agricultural economics department, agrees that overproduction has created serious problems for American farmers. But he points out that slight changes could turn an oversupplies into an economically and politically painful shortage.

''Abundance is a problem,'' Professor Hopkin says, ''but of all the possible problems, abundance may be the best kind to have.''

Many farm-sector experts criticize Agriculture Secretary John R. Block for failing to use adequate government incentives to curb production. But Professor Hopkin says that ''had Block moved in strongly to achieve very heavy acreage reduction and then the weather had turned bad, this could have caused much greater problems, producing both a shortage of supply and much higher prices.''

To control the ''whiplash effect,'' whereby oversupply drives prices down and hurts farmers while shortages drive prices up and hurt consumers, ''there may be some costs that taxpayers, as consumers, ought to pick up,'' says Hopkin.

He and others say that periods of oversupply are the inevitable price of avoiding more serious periods of shortages. The answer, he maintains, is for the government to share the cost of an oversupply situation. By placing some of the burden on taxpayers, ''we can avoid having the full impact falling just on the producers.''

Kansas State University agricultural economist Barry Flinchbaugh agrees that farm problems are serious. ''We will in '82 experience three years of declining net farm income,'' he explains. ''You have to go back to the '30s to find a similar situation.''

But Dr. Flinchbaugh rejects special subsidies for agriculture as ''stopgap measures to get us past the next election.'' He says that ''what needs to be done for agriculture is . . . to keep inflation down and bring interest rates down, steps which require general economic policy, not specific agricultural policy.''

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