Remarks at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield
August 12, 1986
Thank you all. Governor Thompson, Secretary [of Agriculture] Lyng, ladies and gentlemen: It's good to be back home where I grew up, in the great State of Illinois. But, you know, I think that as Commander in Chief, I have the same prerogatives as a general, and generals can dictate the uniform of the day, and I'm going to do just that.
[At this point, the President removed his jacket.]
Now, you know, at the fair, I've been struck by all that's new -- new techniques on farm management, new crop hybrids. It sort of reminds me of a story. I always find something that will remind me of a story. [Laughter] It's a new kind of an agricultural item. There was a fellow riding down the road, doing about 55 miles an hour, as is legal -- [laughter] -- and happened to glance out the side and saw a chicken running alongside beside him. And he couldn't believe it. So, he stepped it up to about 65, and the chicken kept right up with him. And finally, he was up to 70, and the chicken then spurted and went out ahead of him and crossed the highway in front of him and went down a lane. Well, he screeched to a halt and turned down the lane himself and found himself at a farmyard. And there was a farmer standing there, and he said, ``Did you see a chicken go by here?'' The fellow says, ``Yep, it's one of mine.'' ``Well,'' he said, ``Am I crazy, or did that chicken have three legs?'' The farmer says, ``Yep. I raise them that way.'' ``Well,'' he said, ``why?'' ``Well,'' he says, ``I like the drumstick, Ma likes the drumstick, Junior came along and he likes the drumstick, and we got tired of fighting over them, so I raised them with three legs.'' And the fellow says, ``Well, how do they taste?'' He says, ``I don't rightly know. We haven't been able to catch one.'' [Laughter]
It's important for a President to get away from Washington every so often -- away from the special interests and big government mentality, out among the people that don't believe that government is the only industry in the world. And there's no better way to experience the true America than to visit a State fair -- the happy, expectant faces of the 4H-ers and Future Farmers of America, that I just spoke to a few minutes ago, and the sight of so many families enjoying themselves together. It puts me in touch with the basic American values of faith and family that we're working so hard back in Washington to defend. It's even sort of taken me back to my early boyhood here in Illinois. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you've given me a gift today. And for that, my friends, I thank you.
Just a few years ago things weren't too good for America. Inflation and interest rates were soaring. Economic growth was virtually nonexistent. And in the world at large, our foreign policy was marked by weakness and self-doubt. Since taking office, our administration has rebuilt America's defenses and earned anew the world's respect. I just have to believe that any nickel-and-dime dictator or terrorist will think twice now before tangling with the United States of America. On the economic front, you may remember that critics made fun of our economic program just a few years ago. In fact, they made fun of it, calling it Reaganomics. Now, what's happened? Well, inflation and interest rates are down. Yes, there are still problems, but we've seen 3\1/2\ years of economic growth, the creation of 10\1/2\ million new jobs -- just 1,650,000 of those in the first 7 months of this year -- and the falling of oil prices. Probably the most convincing proof that we have a solid economic recovery, though, is that those same critics aren't calling it Reaganomics anymore. [Laughter] I'd kind of come to like it. [Laughter]
But I've come here today to talk about a subject on my mind and yours, the state of farming in America. Last month, I visited South Carolina and learned for myself the effects of the drought -- the stunted corn, the burnt-out soybeans, calves so weak that they could barely walk. And just a few moments ago, I met with some of those Illinois farmers who've donated hay to this drought-stricken region, others who've donated their services in transporting it and helping load it. That's the way Americans respond in a crisis, by sticking together. And I know you'll join me in applauding these generous farmers from Illinois. And let me tell you, when I was in South Carolina, I had the opportunity to be with some of those beleaguered farmers there as we met the planes that had brought in loads of hay from Illinois, where this whole thing started in response to the plea of your Governor. [Applause]
Well, to provide further help to farmers in the Southeast, I have asked Agriculture Secretary Lyng to create a Federal drought assistance task force, a task force that will help provide long-term support to those so affected by this drought. Dick Lyng will extend to those farmers the assistance and encouragement that they so need. Here in the Midwest there's no drought. There are problems all the same. Storage is scarce. Certain types of interest remain high. Prices for some farm goods are falling. Farm communities find machinery dealers in trouble and banks under pressure.
Well, let me be clear: We're talking about more than statistics like crop yields and land prices. We're talking about a way of life -- a way of life nurtured and sustained by the soil -- the oldest way of life that Americans know. And, my friends, America has too much at stake in her farms -- too much history, too much pride -- not to help in hard times. I give you my promise: The Nation will see the farmers through. There are three fundamental ways that we're working to help: supporting farm income, cutting farm costs, and expanding farm exports. Our income programs are intended to see farmers and farm communities through the years we're in now, some of the hardest of the hard times. But, ultimately, we want to get government out of farming so that our farmers can achieve complete economic independence. Right now, while some of our farmers are hurting, government has a responsibility to lend a hand, especially since government-imposed embargoes and inflation did so much of the damage in the first place. Through target prices, support loans, and other programs, our administration has provided more support to our nation's farmers this year than did the administrations of the last five Presidents all put together.
Because this year alone, we'll spend more on farm support programs -- some $26 billion or more -- than the total amount the last administration provided in all of its 4 years. Consider our new conservation reserve program. This year we, in effect, leased some 4 million acres of marginal farmland -- fragile land that was undergoing rapid erosion. By the end of next year, that figure will rise to nearly 10 million, and when the program is complete to almost 45 million acres. That's 45 million acres out of production and protecting the environment -- 45 million acres conserved for future generations, not used to force crop prices down in our time. As I mentioned a moment ago, with bumper harvests here in the Midwest, storage is scarce and some producers fear lack of space in elevators or farm bins will make their crops ineligible for price supports. Well, I've directed Secretary of Agriculture Lyng to make certain that grain unable to make it into usual storage, even grain that is simply stored on the ground, remains eligible for price support loans. Farmers need these harvest loans, and we intend to see they get them, regardless of problems with storage that are beyond their control.
Turning now to farm costs, you'll remember that back when inflation and interest rates were running at historic highs, virtually every farming necessity cost more -- the seed the farmer planted, the fuel he put in his tractor, the tractor itself, and the loan he took out to pay for everything to begin with. Well, today farm costs are still too high. I know in particular that interest rates on farm loans are running several points above those on most other kinds of loans. But with taxes lower, the economy growing, and inflation below 2 percent, farm costs have started down. As a matter of fact, inflation for the last year has been 1.7, but in the last few months it's actually been lower than zero. Now, down is exactly where we're going to keep farm costs going. One of the measures that'll help most in this regard is our historic tax reform, now nearing final approval by the Congress. The Senate-approved reform is expected to lower or eliminate Federal income taxes for the majority of Americans. But just as significant, it should discourage those who make their money elsewhere from using agriculture as a tax dodge and driving farm costs up. It's time we gave farming back to farmers.
And this brings me to our efforts to expand your markets, perhaps the most important aspect of what we're doing to help move toward a farm economy of genuine profitability. The economic expansion we've created is contributing to the expansion of the world economy as a whole, increasing the world's ability to purchase American farm goods. We've worked with our trading partners to moderate the value of the dollar, and we're fighting protectionist legislation in Congress that would lead to retaliation, and usually that retaliation is directed against America's farmers. Yes, there is such a thing as unfair trade, but you don't fix it by inviting our trading partners to take a snipe at American agriculture. But perhaps our most dramatic initiative to expand farm exports involves the decision I made earlier this month.
On August 1st, we announced that under the export enhancement program, we would enable the Soviet Union to complete its purchase of some 4 million metric tons of American grain at competitive prices. Now, for some, this has been difficult to understand. After all, the Soviets are our adversaries, and I've never been accused of being naive about that. The truth is, I didn't make this decision for them; I made it for the American farmer. If that grain isn't sold to the Soviets, most of it will be stockpiled, costing the taxpayers and depressing grain prices here at home. So, the grain will be sold at the same price the Soviets would pay to buy it from one of our foreign competitors. Meeting world competition this way is fair to American taxpayers, fair to our trading partners, and -- most of all -- fair to you, the American farmer.
Yes, times are still hard, but they've begun to get better. And maybe that's the most important message I have to give to you today, the message of hope. You know, back in those towns where I was a boy -- towns like Tampico and Dixon -- and, you know, because my father was always looking for a better job, I'd be honest with you if I added in there a brief time in Chicago, time in Galesburg, time in Monmouth, Illinois, back to Tampico, and then to Dixon. But in a lot of those towns you couldn't walk to the end of main street without glimpsing the farmland beyond, the pastures with their livestock, the fields planted with corn. No matter where you lived in towns like Tampico, you weren't far from plowed ground.
Even in those days, American farming was as productive and advanced as any on Earth. And think of all that's happened since. New breeds of livestock and strains of crops, new machinery and management techniques, per-acre production of virtually every farm crop you can think of is up. The farming spirit of neighbor helping neighbor remains strong, as Operation Haylift and the Illinois farmers who have participated in it make clear. And the kind of farm that holds a place of such esteem in our hearts and history -- the family farm -- remains strong. Times may be hard, but American farms -- family farms -- will pull through. They'll pull through because of growing markets -- in just the next 3 years, the number of people on Earth will grow more than enough to populate another America -- and because, my friends, American farmers are the most innovative, productive, hardworking, and efficient on Earth. And that's why I'm proud to be their President and to stand with them -- and with all of you today.
Thank you very much for your patience and listening. God bless you all. Thank you.
Note: The President spoke at 10:53 a.m. at the fairgrounds.