Semester of Graduation

Spring 2019


Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



In 1972, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Earl L. Butz commented, "The grain trade is one of the most fiercely competitive industries in this country;" yet to the general public, the grain trade is a largely unknown entity.[1]Sowing the Wild Oatsseeks to address some of the gaps in our knowledge of the grain industry created by the industry’s general invisibility and a lack of writing on the topic, particularly in reference to the latter half of the twentieth century. In the mid-twentieth century, a major investigation of the New Orleans grain trade sparked national changes affecting the entire United States grain industry. The Gulf port also played a central role in determining global grain prices and facilitating international trade, making it one of the most influential ports in the world. As journalist Dan Morgan succinctly puts it, “New Orleans is to grain what Bahrein is to oil.”[2]Through centuries of expansion and generations of employees, the secrecy of the industry allowed things to transpire that would have lasting effects once they were uncovered in the 1970s.[3]The whole system unraveled in less than a decade simply because a massive grain sale to the Soviet Union in 1972, conducted behind closed doors, led to suspicions of theft on the New Orleans docks in 1975. The story of the Louisiana grain industry is filled as much with fraud, explosions, theft, and threats, as it is with trade negotiations and crop news.

[1]James Trager, The Great Grain Robbery (New York: Ballantine Books, 1975), 160.

[2]Dan Morgan, Merchants of Grain (New York: The Viking Press, 1979), 313.

[3]According to Morgan, “the transformation of the global economy” at this time brought the gain companies to the forefront of public interest. In the succeeding decades, the scandals of the industry were quickly forgotten and the companies are just as elusive as they were in the early twentieth century. See Morgan, Merchants of Grain, vii.

Committee Chair

Charles Shindo