`We can out-compete anybody -- on a free and fair basis'

Buck Fawcett doesn't like farm programs and one look at his milking barn tells why. On the periphery of a large round room, 60 feet in diameter, 24 cows turn slowly on a carousel. It takes 12 minutes for one of Mr. Fawcett's 750 cows to complete the circle -- enough time for one of two employees, dressed in white, to attach suction cups to the cow's udder, get her milked automatically, and let her exit gracefully before another cow enters and the procedure starts all over again.

``Our philosphy has never been based on a family-farm concept,'' Fawcett says. ``We try to maximize the efficiency of the whole operation.''

Fawcett's son, John, thinks much the same way.

``I think we need to be compassionate,'' he says. ``But I think the worst thing we've done in this country is we'll say: `Keep Indians on reservations' or `Keep farmers on farms,' because we're keeping them as a piece of history, something that should be in a museum, rather than something that is valuable, moving forward.''

What worries John Fawcett, though, is foreign competition. His apricot operation pays pickers $3.35 an hour -- twice what Turkish apricot growers pay their pickers per day -- and is much more restricted than Turkey in the use of pesticides.

``We can out-compete anybody,'' he says. ``But it has to be on a free and fair basis.''

Fair trade is on the minds of a lot of normally free-enterprise large-scale farmers these days. Government-subsidized agriculture abroad has relentlessly chipped away at US export markets.

Current US policy aims to reverse that, boosting US export subsidies in the hope that foreign nations will back down. This high-risk, shoot-it-out strategy concerns some observers and pleases others, who think farm-exporting nations will eventually be forced to the negotiating table.

However it happens, reforms of US domestic policy will require cooperation abroad, these experts agree.

``There has to be some internationalization of domestic farm policies,'' says Bob Frederick, legislative director of the National Grange. L. B.

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