June 25, 1984
Hello there. Good afternoon. I'm delighted -- please, sit down -- I'm delighted to welcome you, America's agricultural communicators, to the White House -- or, as Jack Block calls this, the South Forty. [Laughter]
And I'd like to congratulate you for holding your first Agricultural Communicators Congress. Your desire to work together and to share ideas and to help each other is in the fine tradition of America's farm community.
Agriculture has always been a sharing society. Pioneers helped each other cross uncharted lands and establish homesteads. In time of need a neighbor was always willing to step in and give a helping hand, and America's farmers and ranchers have never lost that wonderful spirit. You're carrying it forward.
Through you, farmers and ranchers share know-how and business concepts. You concentrate on what is right with agriculture and how to make it better. You're problemsolvers, community builders, and information sharers. And the accent is on the positive, on success. I don't mind telling you you're my kind of communicators.
You're helping to increase yields, develop new marketing strategies, improve agricultural services, and make genetic improvements in plants and livestock. In fact, you did it so well that the American agricultural community has a record of productivity and efficiency unmatched by any other in the world. Agriculture is a driving force in our nation's economy, and you can be very proud of what your industry has accomplished.
Our administration will continue doing all we can to help the farm community recover from past policy mistakes and economic difficulties. One of my first actions, as you know, in this job was to lift the Soviet grain embargo. And last August, we signed a new 5-year grain agreement with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union has agreed to purchase 9 million tons annually and can purchase up to 12 million tons without consultation. That's a 50-percent increase over the previous agreement. And this year, we've offered to sell them at least 22 million tons. As long as I'm President, our farmers will never again be asked to bear alone the brunt of our foreign policy.
What we're doing, and what we'll continue to do, is to pursue new export markets and work to remove export barriers. To promote exports, our administration, in the first 2 years, has authorized the largest credit guarantees in our history -- over $9 billion. Export trade leads are being sent electronically to U.S. exporters.
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. And I know that all of you join me in wishing Jack a very speedy and complete recovery and that he'll be soon -- either here or back out there on the road again.
But I believe these efforts are paying off. We've negotiated new import quotas with Japan that will lead to a near doubling of citrus and beef exports over the next 4 years. And just last month, we reached agreement on internationalization of the yen, an accord that should make our exports more competitively priced.
Last year we demonstrated our determination to counter export subsidies and recovered a 1 million ton wheat flour market in Egypt. 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. And, as you know, I signed contract sanctity legislation that gives farmers additional assurances that existing export contracts will not be abrogated. Let me assure you, now that we've regained our reputation as a reliable supplier, we intend to maintain that reputation.
At home we tackled the price-depressing surplus of 1981 and '82 that could have hung over the market for years by quickly stepping in with that Payment-in-Kind Program. We've moved closer to the point where the market, not the government, will be sending production signals to our producers.
On another front, we've doubled the funds provided for the Farmers Home Administration operating loans and have helped some 270,000 farm borrowers who couldn't get credit through commercial sources. Our Federal Crop Insurance Program dealt with 1983's severe weather problems by paying out $580 million -- that's an all-time high. And the Farmers Home Administration also provided emergency disaster loans at low interest rates and extended filing application deadlines. And we're determined to do all we can for the farmers hit hard by recent flooding in the Midwest. In fact, Secretary Block sent a team out this morning to assess the damage, and they're on site, right now, even as we meet here today.
And today we're hard at work on the 1985 farm bill. The Department of Agriculture is, and will continue, to actively solicit farmers' views on this bill. So far, they've accepted hundreds of pages of written recommendations and held listening sessions in Chicago, Atlanta, Syracuse, and Riverside, California. And I'm pleased to announce that the next session will be held on July 19th in Dallas, Texas.
All of these efforts are important, but not as important as our economic expansion. The month we took office, the prime interest rate was at the highest level since the Civil War.
They're all Democrat. Run! [Laughter] Every time I come out here, they take off [referring to the noise made by an airplane taking off from Washington National Airport]. [Laughter]
But considering that a fifth of farmers' cash outlays are for interest expenses -- that 21-percent rate that we inherited when we took office was a devastating blow. And inflation was just as cruel. In the 3 years before 1981, farm costs jumped an outrageous 45 percent. That was at $39.7 billion, and that was the largest 3-year increase in our history. And today the prime interest rate has fallen by nearly half; and we've knocked inflation down to around 4 percent -- well, as a matter of fact, for the last 3 months, it's been 3.6 percent.
But don't get me wrong, interest rates are still higher than you and I would like, and we're going to continue. And I think that to get them down, they just have to finally realize that we're serious about keeping inflation under control. There is no excuse for the interest rates being at the level they are right now, other than just fear of the future.
But we've restored our nation's basic economic health. And if we continue to pursue a sound monetary policy and work to put the Federal budgeting process in order, interest rates will drop more, and inflation will stay down. We all have a stake in making sure that government spending is brought down in line with government revenues. And that's why I strongly favor constitutional reforms to give the President a line-item veto and to mandate, by the Constitution, a balanced Federal budget.
Now, the critics are still with us, but they're the same critics who were wrong on inflation. They were wrong on unemployment; they were wrong on real wages; they were wrong on interest rates; and they were wrong about whether there'd be a recovery or not. In fact, everytime I hear them, I remember Robert Frost saying: ``The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment you get up in the morning, and doesn't stop until you get to the office.'' [Laughter]
Am I optimistic? Well, you bet I am. I believe our best days are yet to come. With faith, freedom, courage, there's no limit to what the American people can do and will accomplish. And that's always been the way of the American farmer.
So, once again, I want to congratulate you on your Congress and to thank you for what you're doing. I may beat this one [referring to the noise from another airplane taking off from the airport]. [Laughter] By sharing ideas with farm audiences, you're helping to keep our great nation and our farm community strong, prosperous, and free. And as I recently told the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, America's farmers have my pledge to see to it that the dream of a successful family farm remains a living part of the American dream.
Thank you again, and God bless you all. Thank you.
Note: The President spoke at 1:32 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House.