U awards former professor honorary doctorate of law degree

Sam Kean

Willard Cochrane, agricultural adviser to President Kennedy and an architect of the modern food stamp program, received an honorary doctorate of law degree from the University last Friday.
Cochrane was a professor of agricultural economics at the University from 1951 to 1961 and again from 1964 to 1981. Currently, he is a professor emeritus.
Between professorships, Cochrane served as Kennedy’s chief agricultural adviser during the 1960 presidential campaign and later held a consultative position in the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
On top of helping design the food stamp program, Cochrane championed family-run farms with government control over food production, a system known as supply control.
Congress then adopted a compromised version of supply control. During its existence, Cochrane said farmers prospered because food prices remained reasonable and steady.
However, he said weak administration drove up costs and the federal government eliminated supply control with the 1996 farm bill.
Former USDA press secretary Rod Leonard said Cochrane advocated “the democratic process in American agriculture” by providing viable options for farmers.
Cochrane also made the University the premier agricultural economics school in the country, Leonard added. Many University professors from the program have served in the USDA, and current government officials still consult faculty members.
University economics professor Richard Levins wrote “Willard Cochrane and the American Family Farm,” a biography on the recent honoree.
He said Cochrane spawned the agricultural economics branch of the federal government. Levins added that all current discussion of how much control the government should have over agriculture economics has roots in Cochrane’s work.
Levins also praised Cochrane’s 1958 book, “Farm Prices: Myth and Reality” as a classic in the field.
In recent years, the realities of global marketplace have forced Cochrane to revise his ideas. He no longer advocates strict government control over agricultural supplies.
Instead, he focuses on battling oligopolies in agriculture.
“Bigness is the problem — and the power bigness brings with it,” he said, explaining that family farmers must face price-controlling firms on both the supply and sales sides.
The government should enforce antitrust laws, he said, to ensure more competition and lower costs for farmers. Otherwise, he warned, more family farms could disappear. According to an article by Cochrane, 4.5 million farms have been bought out since 1935.
Thus, he now pushes for smaller farmers to form a collective trade association to protect their interests.
For his continuing influence on agricultural policy in the United States, the University granted Cochrane an honorary degree.
The University grants honorary doctorates in science, humane letters and law. The law doctorate Cochrane received indicates significant work in public service.
At the reception ceremony, Levins said Cochrane thanked the crowd, which included many influential agricultural thinkers, and challenged them to maintain status as a one of the top departments in the country.

Sam Kean covers faculty and encourages comments at [email protected]