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Betting The Farm On Free Trade

Bob Stallman is at the center of a storm over the future of American agriculture

Across the midwest, rural radio stations are airing ads that feature a famous quote from President Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the cornfield." The ads are sponsored by the National Farmers Union, a group representing family farms, and it's no secret that the Washington pencil-pusher being targeted is American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.

Even Stallman, who grew up on a 1,100-acre rice and cattle farm in Columbus, Tex., ruefully calls himself "a cell-phone farmer." But it's not his pinstripe suits or corner office overlooking the U.S. Capitol that get the goat of the NFU. It's the way Stallman is dividing farm country by leading the 5.6 million-member Farm Bureau, the nation's most powerful agricultural lobby, in a strong free-trade direction. Stallman favors low worldwide tariffs and a cut in government handouts, reasoning that large-scale, mechanized, and superefficient American farmers can export their way out of the commodity glut dogging the industry.