sealPurdue Agriculture Briefs

July 1999

Fertilizer taxes are poor way to reduce chemical use

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Taxing agricultural inputs such as pesticides and fertilizer is often mentioned as a way to control the amount that farmers use. But Stephen Lovejoy, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University, and graduate student Chyi-lyi Liang found little correlation when they investigated how much taxation was needed to actually change farmers' habits.

"Taxes on inputs are a possibility that we often hear about," Lovejoy says. "Iowa already has a small fertilizer tax, and of course governments like to use taxes to control behavior, so this is something worth looking into."

The Purdue study examined the amount of tax needed to change farmers' use of the fertilizers nitrogen and phosphorus and found that a 500 percent tax would cut on-farm use by 8 percent. The study used computer models that used real-world data about crop prices, stocks and price elasticity to predict the effect of the green taxes.

"Although the models predicted an 8 percent reduction in fertilizer use, the environmental benefits would be even less than that," Lovejoy says. "An 8 percent reduction in fertilizer use isn't going to mean that there is a direct 8 percent improvement in water quality. The environmental benefits from that amount of input reduction would be very small."

On the other hand, the researchers say that such a large tax would have a large effect on the agricultural economy.

"Our model indicates that a 500 percent tax on fertilizer would cause a 30 percent to 50 percent reduction in agricultural labor, capital and land value," Lovejoy says. "However, the impacts in other sectors were extremely small, suggesting that major changes in the agricultural sector do not reverberate through the U.S. economy."

CONTACT: Lovejoy, (765) 494-4245;

Antique tractors can be dangerous, expert says

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Old tractors have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, as nostalgic farmers retrieve these old tractors and restore them to showroom condition.

Showing off old tractors is fun, says Purdue University farm safety expert Bill Field, but these antique tractors can become a source of serious injuries.

Field says that he understands the appeal of antique tractors -- he has two of them himself. But he says that they should not be used without special precautions.

"I own two old tractors, and each of them is a potential injury, because of the way they were built and the things that are exposed on them," he says. "For example, the most popular tractor is the old Ford 8N or 2N, and those tractors have a problem with rear overturns. None of them came equipped with rollover protective structures.

"Everyone takes pride in restoring these old tractors. There was a period of time when everyone was glad to send them to the salvage yard, but now people like to have them on the farms. They just need to recognize that these antique tractors are less stable, and more prone to overturns, which is the leading cause of farm fatalities. They also have more exposed moving parts. I would say that almost all of the deaths caused by tractor overturn in the past few years have been on older tractors."

Field says that one particularly dangerous practice is to use the antique tractors to mow along roads. "Some farmers like to use the older tractors for this chore. Part of the reason is that their main tractor is busy, and part of it is that they enjoy showing off the restored old tractor. But these old tractors have a high center of gravity, and if you take one of them on a ditch bank, there's a good chance that you'll flip it.

"Restoring old tractors is not only an important part of recognizing our heritage, it's also fun. But we have to remember that we need to use caution and take special steps if we are going to use these tractors like modern farm equipment."

CONTACT: Field, (765) 494-1191;

Butz donates $1 million to Purdue ag econ department

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A photograph of Earl Butz is available from the Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096, or at the Purdue News ftp site.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Earl Butz, former U.S. secretary of agriculture and dean emeritus of agriculture at Purdue University, has donated $1 million to Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics.

Butz said the gift is to show his gratitude to Purdue for a career that stretched from "cornfield to cabinet" and almost didn't happen.

Butz, who earned his bachelor's degree from Purdue in 1932, said he had planned to attend either Indiana University or DePauw, where he had full scholarships, until a county Cooperative Extension Service agent said he was traveling to Purdue and wanted Butz to accompany him. The visit changed Butz's mind.

"I might have become a lawyer or a school teacher somewhere, and missed the wonderful career Purdue gave me," said Butz, who turns 90 July 3.

The money, which he donated in May without conditions, will allow the department to pursue some internal priorities, such as supporting the Center for Agricultural Business or financing assistantships to attract the best and brightest graduate students, said Wally Tyner, department head.

"When Earl was department head, he brought us to national prominence," Tyner said. "With this gift, he helps us sustain that legacy."

Butz received Purdue's first doctorate in agricultural economics in 1937, and he joined its faculty that year as an instructor. He taught courses in agricultural policy, farm business and accounting, agricultural statistics, agricultural prices, farm finance, and farm management.

Butz was named head of the Department of Agricultural Economics in 1946. From 1954 to 1957 he took a special leave of absence to serve as assistant secretary of agriculture in the Eisenhower administration. He administered the marketing and foreign agricultural aid programs of the Department of Agriculture.

He returned to Purdue in 1957 as dean of agriculture, a post he held until his resignation on Dec. 31, 1967. He then became the dean of continuing education and vice president of the Purdue Research Foundation. He served in this capacity until 1971, when he joined the Nixon administration as secretary of agriculture, a post he held from 1971 to 1976 under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

He retired from Purdue in 1972 and still serves as dean emeritus of the School of Agriculture and as professor emeritus in the Department of Agricultural Economics. In 1973 he received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Purdue. Butz has worked as a public lecturer and consultant since 1976. He maintains an office in the department and works there daily when he is in the city.

CONTACTS: Tyner, (765) 494-4191; Butz, (765) 494-4304

Petritz named head of Purdue Extension

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A photograph of David Petritz is available from the Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096, or from the News Service ftp and Web sites.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- David C. Petritz will become director of the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service on July 1. Petritz, a 27-year veteran of Purdue Extension, now is assistant director and leads the agricultural and natural resources program.

"We're very excited to have Dave in this new role," said Dean Vic Lechtenberg. "Because of his many years working with the people of Indiana, Dave brings a strong understanding of the problems and opportunities Hoosiers face and of the Extension programs that stretch from farmers to families."

Purdue Extension is a cooperative effort among federal, county and state governments that puts research-based university expertise in every Indiana county. Extension educators work with youth and families, agricultural producers, civic leaders and businesses to address local issues. The programs include rural and urban land use, parenting classes, 4-H, economic development and environmental stewardship.

Petritz said his first priority will be to make sure that Extension's diverse clientele continues to be well-served.

"We work with a lot of different people in many different ways, from tutoring programs for at-risk youth to helping farmers and rural economies compete in a global marketplace," he said. "Our job is to help Hoosiers take charge of their future."

Petritz came to Purdue in 1972 as an assistant professor of agricultural economics working in farm management. He became a full professor and took over as assistant head for agricultural economics extension education in 1982. He became agriculture and natural resources program leader for Purdue Extension in 1989.

He succeeds Hank Wadsworth, who has served as the head of Extension and associate dean of the School of Agriculture since 1983. Wadsworth retired in June.

CONTACTS: Lechtenberg, (765) 494-8391; Petritz, (765) 494-8494

Compiled by Steve Tally, (765) 494-9809;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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