Soybean South

 - From the Editor -

Summer Of ‘73

By Carroll Smith

When my grandmother passed away in 1998, my father showed me the small almanac-type books that she bought during the year that each of her children was born. He gave me his.

It was interesting to look at the ads and read about the events that occurred back in the 1930s. Most everything – especially prices – had changed in one way or another from the world in which we live now.

Last fall, while reading a short article in the New York Times, I was reminded of another long ago year that I hadn’t thought about in a while – 1973. Just for fun, and to refresh my memory, I Googled “events of 1973” to see what would turn up.

Here are a few of the items that I ran across while browsing the Net:

• The average cost of a new house was $32,500.

• The average income in the United States per year was $12,900.

• A gallon of gas cost 40 cents.

• A dozen eggs cost 45 cents.

• Some popular films that hit the big screen in 1973 included Deliverance and American Graffiti.

• Stevie Wonder, John Lennon, Rod Stewart and Diana Ross were popular musicians, and folks at home were watching “The Partridge Family,” “M*A*S*H” and “The Waltons.”

• The Watergate hearings began in the U.S. Senate, and President Richard Nixon told the nation, “I am not a crook.”

• The Mississippi River reached its peak level in St. Louis during a record 77-day flood.

• In January, the July 1973 soybean futures hit the $5.00 mark, whereas in the five previous years, the price ran a little over $2.50 per bushel.

My parents were farming at the time, and Mom recalls all of the local producers wringing their hands and wondering when and at what level to book their beans.

They had seen the price double and wondered how much higher, if any, it could go. My brother, who was four years old at the time and frequented the coffee shop with Dad, told all of the men that he was “booking his beans” for $8.

Some probably laughed goodnaturedly at his bravado, while quietly wondering to themselves what it would actually feel like to deliver $8 beans. Others around the room held whispered conversations that they had heard that $10 beans might, m i g h t be a possibility.

Then on June 5, 1973, the unimaginable happened in U.S. agriculture – July 1973 soybeans set the all time high at $12.90 per bushel!


For the next couple of years, soybean farmers enjoyed the high prices that had occurred as a result of Russia raising its soybean imports from about 300,000 tons in 1972 to 700,000 tons in 1973.

A few years later, bean prices dropped, pretty much stayed consistently low, and memories of the glory days of the mid-70s faded.

Then the newspaper article I mentioned earlier brought them rushing back. It said soybean prices are high again – really, really high. After 35 years – a generation ago – farmers are in awe of today’s bean prices.

To better understand what’s going on in the current environment, read Joe Carney’s article “Bean Prices Stun Industry” on page 8, in which the Memphis marketer explains how we got to this point and what to do now that we are here.

Although I don’t think we’ll ever see a gallon of gas cost 40 cents again, at least today’s soybean prices prove that history can repeat itself.