Farmers Fight FlinchbaughA Photographic Essay
In January 1980, Kansas State University (ksu) professor of agriculture Barry Flinchbaugh made one of the most provocative statements of his career. As the Midwest began to enter a farming crisis that would devastate profits and families, Flinchbaugh delivered a keynote address at the 109th annual banquet of the Kansas Board of Agriculture that defined his tenure as a farm economist. “The farm family of the 1980s,” he proclaimed, “will have to get more actively involved in the political arena if it is to remain the dominant structure in American agriculture … farmers cannot remain independent and disperse and survive in such a concentrated economy.” What many would interpret as a fatalistic, anti-family-farm declaration sparked activism throughout the farm crisis’ early years. This backlash culminated in 1986 when Flinchbaugh commented in a university lecture that Kansas farmers exaggerated the agricultural crisis since, according to his calculations, at least seventy percent of all landowners were “doing quite well and weathering the storm.” Farmers throughout the state read his remarks in local newspapers, including reports in the ksu student-led Collegian, and descended on campus to picket. These photographs depict the activists’ journey to the ksu campus, how farmers refashioned their tractors as political treatises and used them as “tractorcades,” and their various protests at ksu.
David D. Vail is an assistant professor in the Richard L. D. and Marjorie J. Morse Department of Special Collections and serves as public services archivist at Kansas State University. As both historian and archival specialist, his specialties include environmental history, agricultural history, history of science and technology, and public history. Vail also holds an ancillary position with Kansas State’s geography department and serves as a member of the Kansas Humanities Council Board of Directors.
These photographs are reproduced courtesy of the Morse Department of Special Collections, Kansas State University Libraries. Quotations come from “Flinchbaugh Delivers Keynote Address at Kansas Agricultural Meeting,” K-State News, Jan. 1, 1980; Collegian, Apr. 30, 1986. [End Page 28]
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