July 24, 1984
It was too hot to keep you waiting out here. I'm sorry that I'm a few minutes late.
I thank you for that warm farm welcome, and I'm delighted to be with those of you who represent America's bedrock industry. Agriculture is a driving force in our nation's economy, and the Future Farmers of America are working hard to keep it that way.
I know that you'll be meeting with our Secretary of Agriculture, Jack Block -- or have you done that already and am I way behind? He'll probably spin a few of his stories. And Jack was a Greenhand of the Knoxville, Illinois, chapter of FFA. But we both like to put on a blue denim jacket whenever we get the chance, and I remember some -- once, years ago, having an experience.
Now, I'm a rancher -- I've got a ranch. But I had an experience that taught me how little a great many people know about farming. You know, most people just think that you put something in the ground, stand back, and wait for it to grow up -- it's that easy. And I guess maybe I was guilty of some of that, even with a ranch, because with all that space and everything, I got the idea that why shouldn't we have our own eggs for breakfast. So, I put in a battery of chickens and everything, and it was just great. We did have our own eggs. And they only cost me $1.65 apiece. [Laughter]
But all of us, I think, know that God has blessed America with a vast and a fertile land. But it's ingenuity and muscle and sweat that have made our farms the envy of the world. And the last thing our farmers need is government getting in the way and making the job even tougher.
You know, there's a story about a young fellow who was -- well, he was a city fellow, but he hired out to work on a farm during the harvest season. And the first morning, everyone was up before dawn, and the new hired hand and the farmer made their way out toward the -- in the dark -- toward the oat field. Neither one of them said a word on the way out, and finally the city fellow asked what kind of oats they were going to cut, wild oats or tame oats. And the farmer was a little surprised, and he said, ``Well, tame oats, of course.'' And the kid said, ``Well, why are we sneaking up on them in the dark?'' [Laughter]
Well, that's about as much, as I say, as some people know about what past policy mistakes and economic difficulties meant to our farm community.
Our record of agricultural productivity is unmatched anywhere in the world. And it didn't come about thanks to double-digit inflation. In the 3 years before 1981, farm costs jumped an outrageous 45 percent, and that was nearly $40 billion, the largest 3-year increase in our history. And today we've knocked the wind out of inflation. For the last 3 months, it's been running at 3.3 percent.
Our farmers and our ranchers don't produce the most wholesome and varied foodstuffs known anywhere as a result of 21 1/2-percent interest rates. When we took office, that's where the prime rate stood. I know that some of our critics have very short memories, but you and I know that a 21 1/2 -percent interest rate is a devastating blow to an industry that spends a fifth of its cash outlays on interest expenses. Well, we've cut them by 40 percent. But don't get me wrong, they're still too high, and we're not going to stop until we get them lower. And one of these days -- and I hope it's very soon -- some people will wake up and realize that not only is inflation firmly under control, but we intend to keep it that way.
And with signs of future price trends pointing to low rates of inflation as far as we can see, I can't help believing that there's no excuse for interest rates being where they are. We can all understand why, if there is inflation, you have to get back in interest if you've loaned money, you have to get back the loss of the value of that money over the period of the loan due to inflation, plus your earnings on it. But the interest rates today are outrageously high, and they cannot have any excuse in inflation for their being at that level.
In 1982 nearly one-fifth of the world's agricultural products was shipped from American ports. That didn't happen -- thanks to grain embargoes and protectionism. The grain embargo was a cruel, painful blow, and it was terribly unfair. And that's why one of my first actions on this job was to lift that embargo. And as long as I'm here, our farmers will never again be made the scapegoats for a foreign policy of weakness and indecision.
What we're doing and will continue to do is move in a positive direction, pursuing new export markets and working to remove export barriers. Our trade teams have been continuously on the go in search of new markets. Jack Block has been knocking on doors all over the world, and he's going to keep on knocking.
His efforts are paying off. We've negotiated new import quotas with Japan that will lead to near doubling of beef exports and a 54-percent increase in citrus exports over the next 4 years.
On another front, we've demonstrated our determination to aggressively maintain exports, including a strong American challenge to the European Community's subsidy program. As a result, the European Community has joined us in serious discussions in an effort to solve some of the problems caused by their subsidized exports.
Now that we've regained our reputation as a reliable supplier, we mean to maintain that reliability and that image. And today, at home, we're hard at work on the 1985 farm bill. The Department of Agriculture will continue to solicit farmers' views on this important bill. So far, they've accepted hundreds of pages of written recommendations and held listening sessions around the country. The latest session was held just last week in Dallas.
Now, you know, I don't get a chance to talk enough to the farm community to suit me. You represent the best in America. Our farmers and ranchers have always honored and lived by the values and traditions that make America great: faith, family, neighbors helping neighbors, hard work, free enterprise, and independence. We can touch the spirit of America in our farm communities. And, again, much is owed to the Future Farmers of America.
FFA is giving more than a fine start to young people like yourselves. By cultivating traditional values, leadership skills, and patriotism, the Future Farmers of America ensure the strength and vitality of our country.
Before I close, I want to say a few words about the thousands of volunteers and private industry sponsors who are reaching out to America's future. FFA has some 14,000 adult teachers and State advisers -- good, caring Americans who are offering a gift that'll last a lifetime: the gift of opportunity. That's all made possible because of the generosity of the private sector. This year business and industry are expected to give over $2 million to provide incentive awards to FFA members. In fact, your State Presidents Conference in Washington wouldn't have been possible without the support of the Chevrolet Motor Division of General Motors. And I'm sure that Bob Burger, general manager of Chevrolet, who is with us today, is very proud of what his organization is doing.
You all deserve to be very proud. With your help, our young people will be ready to meet the challenges before them and turn them into opportunities for their families, their community, and for America.
I have to tell you just one more farm story before I quit. [Laughter] Maybe you know this one about the old boy that had taken over some creek bottom land. And it was rocky and covered with brush. Cleaned the brush; he got rid of all the rocks and hauled them away, and then he planted. And he really had a beautiful garden there. And one day at church he asked the minister to come back with him after the sermon and take a look at what he'd accomplished.
Well, the reverend arrived, and he looked, and he said, "Those melons, oh my, God has certainly blessed this land. I've never seen anything so wonderful. And look at the corn. I've never seen anything as tall as that. God certainly has been good to this place.'' And he went on that way, until finally the old man, who was beginning to shuffle a little bit, said, "Reverend, I wish you could have seen it when the Lord was doing it by Himself.'' [Laughter]
Well, I know you won't be caught in that kind of a spot. But thank you all very much for being here. God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 1:31 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.