Remarks at the Werries Family Farm in Chapin, Illinois
October 20, 1982
Governor Thompson, my friend Jim -- incidentally, I have to tell you something I did this morning. I knew they weren't going to give me enough time to get to a telephone while I was here to make any telephone calls or anything. But I'd read something in the paper -- that I did make a call -- two calls here to this area before I left the Oval Office this morning.
Two wonderful children, Lisa Million and Tim Hutchcraft -- and I know what you're all doing for them, those two young people of Murrayville who had that tragic accident. And I know the drive that has been started to help them out. But I think you'd like to know that this morning when I spoke to them I was speaking to two cheerful, plucky, courageous young people, and it just swelled my heart to be able to speak to them.\1\ (FOOTNOTE)
(FOOTNOTE) \1\The President called the 13-year-olds at St. John's Hospital in Springfield, Ill. Each had lost an arm in an October 18 accident during a hayride. Their arms were surgically reattached at the hospital.
Well, Larry, I appreciate the hospitality. This is quite a show you're putting on here. And what a pleasure it is for me to be back home in Illinois and in the district of my good friend Bob Michel. This is Jack Block's home State as well, and I know he's just as glad to get back here as I am.
Woodrow Wilson used to say about Washington that so many people who go there know so many things that aren't true, and so few people there have any idea of what the people of the United States are thinking about. Well, that's why I enjoy getting out of town. When I can't, it sure helps to tap the homegrown prairie wisdom of a couple of natives like Bob and Jack. It's also good to know that Jim Thompson is Governor of this great State. His leadership and judgment are key for the strong, secure future of Illinois.
Year after year, here in the Midwest you produce from your rich, black earth a bountiful harvest called the American equivalent of the oil riches in the Persian Gulf. The farmers of Illinois are among the most hard-working people anywhere. And to produce this abundance you carry an extraordinary burden for the Nation and the world. On behalf of the 231 million Americans whose cupboards you fill and for the millions more worldwide that you save from hunger, I bring you thanks.
You know, I once addressed a farm group in Las Vegas, Nevada, when I was Governor. And I've told this little story of what happened before, but you have to put up with it at my age. That's one of the problems; you tell stories over and over again. [Laughter] One of those fellows that was in Las Vegas for the action saw me, recognized me, and said, ``What are you doing here?'' And I told him. ``Well,'' he says, ``What's a bunch of farmers doing in Las Vegas?'' And that was a straight line I couldn't ignore. I said, ``Buster, they're in an occupation that makes a Las Vegas crap table look like a guaranteed annual income.'' [Laughter]
But with so much on the line in these difficult economic times, I know you need more than just a pat on the back. Things haven't been so good down on the farm in recent years. You've been hurting, and all of America has been hurting with you. If things are to go well for America, they must get better for the American farmer. To make America well again, to untangle the wreckage past big spending and big taxing made of our economy, we've got to make it profitable to be a farmer again.
From the moment that we arrived in Washington -- and thanks to the key support of leaders like Bob Michel -- we've been working hard to do just that.
The soaring cost of energy was one of the thumbscrews tightening the cost-price squeeze on the farm. We moved immediately to accelerate oil decontrol and dramatically increased our Strategic Petroleum Reserve to guard against sudden interruption again of our energy supplies. And I'm happy to tell you our reserve is now one of the largest in the world. And you may have noticed recently that in spite of what some of the screaming critics said at the time, who wanted the controls left on, gasoline didn't go to $2 a gallon. And the prices no longer lead inflation, but are actually helping to hold it down. This administration will ensure that our people and our economy are never again held hostage by the whim of any country or any cartel.
We also reduced the tax burden and reformed the tax code to make it more fair for all Americans. One reform I'm particularly proud of addresses a special problem for farmers: estate taxes. As I promised in the campaign of 1980, we're increasing the exemption so that by 1987, 99 percent of all family farms and estates will be exempt. And we eliminated it altogether for a surviving spouse.
And let me say that there's one other major promise of 1980 that we've also kept. We've lifted the weight of America's foreign policy from your already overburdened shoulders. We ended the Soviet grain embargo, as Jack just told you.
Our farmers, I know, are among our most patriotic citizens. I know you care about freedom and a strong America. But American farmers once had a 70-percent share of the Soviet grain market. When the embargo was imposed, the Soviets still got their grain, but they bought it from our eager competitors. Today, we've worked our way back to a 35-percent share, but we have a long way to go to regain lost ground. We still are suffering the loss of about 80,000 potential jobs; farm prices are lower; and our economy is weaker.
You have to fight the weather. You have to fight insects. You fight all kinds of natural disasters that can happen in farming. You shouldn't have to fight your own government. And you're not going to have to.
That embargo was bad foreign policy. It was bad domestic policy. And I'm proud that we were able to take it off. For every $1 billion in additional farm exports, our economy gains an additional billion dollars and 35,000 jobs in farm-related activities.
During the 1980 campaign, in a speech I made near here, I promised my personal support for expanding our agricultural exports. And that pledge remains a priority today. We're doing what must be done to increase our exports, restore our reputation as a reliable supplier, and regain our market share.
Next week, U.S. representatives will meet with the Soviets in Vienna to discuss additional grain purchases beyond the 8 million metric tons called for in our current agreement. And I've instructed Secretary Block to make available a total of 23 million tons in the coming year. The same assurances of reliable delivery that apply to the 8 million will go with the additional purchase of grain -- up to 15 million tons -- if the U.S.S.R. will buy the grain this November and provided the grain is shipped within 180 days of contract date. These assurances, of course, also apply to soybean and other agricultural exports.
Nothing means more to the health of American agriculture than restoring our reputation as a reliable supplier. To do this, we've committed your government to an export policy with three key points. First, there will be no restriction on farm products because of rising domestic prices. Second, farm exports will not be singled out as an instrument of foreign policy except in extreme situations, which I think you would all understand -- such as a war or something of that kind -- and then that would only be as part of a broad trade embargo supported by our trading partners. And, third, world markets must be freed of trade barriers and unfair trade practices.
Free trade is in all our interests, but because of foreign subsidies and protections, our farmers are being pitted against the economic strength of the national treasuries of other countries. All nations, particularly our friends in Europe and Japan, must be made to understand that trade is a two-way proposition. And Secretary Block has already announced our new blended credit program to encourage long-term growth for our farm exports.
I know you face a real uphill battle here on the farm. Sometimes you may wonder if anyone is listening to your problems. Well, I'm listening, and you have the ear of a very able advocate in the House of Representatives -- my friend Bob Michel. Bob is constantly fighting your battles and bringing them to my attention. Bob has also made me very aware of the high unemployment and the hardships here in the counties of rural Illinois.
And I know that this recession only adds to the challenge of soil conservation -- a challenge you confront very well in this exhibit today. Well, you're not alone. This administration is committed to working toward an effective soil and water conservation program to strengthen American agriculture. We've begun targeting Federal funds to areas with the most severe problems, which should make a real difference in our battle against erosion.
But I have an idea that if you were making more money from your crops, then more of you could afford some of this great new machinery that's on display. And if you bought more machines, companies like those represented here today could employ more people to make them. And a healthy chain reaction would ripple through our economy -- more food, more money, and more jobs. That's why I believe so strongly that the best farm program is one that returns prosperity to all sectors of the economy.
Now, I heard it said recently by someone on the other side that the economy was in a state of boom when I took office. Well, if they mean that was the sound the economy made when it fell off the edge and hit bottom, okay. [Laughter] But those of you in the real world, those of you who are not suffering from selective amnesia, might have another idea.
1980 wasn't so long ago that you're likely to forget a peak of 18-percent inflation or prime interest rates of 21\1/2\ percent. Unemployment was on a steady, decade-long, upward course. We were careening toward catastrophe. And yet some of our leaders are asking us to go back to the policies that caused all that. Today inflation is averaging 5.1 percent -- better than that in the last month or two, where it was down around 2 or 3 percent. And interest rates have tumbled to a 2-year low of 12 percent.
I don't have to tell a group of farmers what that means. You know that your costs went up only 2 percent this year, a marked improvement over the 8- to 10-percent jump the year before. I don't want to go back. Do you? Well, for every 1 percent that we drop those interest rates down on farm debt, net farm income goes up an estimated $2 billion.
Can anyone really believe that going back to double-digit inflation is a program for agricultural prosperity? Do you think those crippling interest rates were a program of compassion? Do you want to return to the spend and tax and borrow big-brother government that some of the hand-wringers are proposing? I don't think you do.
Yes, we're on a difficult road, but it's the one to a lasting recovery. And I can promise you today that with your help we're going to stay the course. Fresh evidence that our program is working will soon be felt in the farm community as interest rates continue to come down as the result of our economic recovery program. We're also able to bring down interest rates that farmers pay for their loans.
Today I'm happy to be the first to tell you that at 3:30 eastern time -- and that's right about now -- the Farmers Home Administration, which has already lowered its interest rates last month, will announce that effective November 1st they're coming down again. These reductions are possible because of a general move toward lower interest rates across all sectors of the economy.
In the farmer programs, the interest rates for farm-operating loans will drop from 13\1/4\ to 11\1/2\. Farm-ownership loans will be reduced from 13 down to 11\1/2\. Interest rates for limited resource farm operating loans will be lowered from 10\1/4\ to 8 percent. And limited resource farm ownership loans will drop from 6.5 to 5\3/4\.
Farmers who qualify for natural disaster loans will also benefit. The rate for production loans to farmers who need financing above the actual loss they suffered and who can't get credit elsewhere will be eligible for loans at 14 percent, down from the current 15\1/2\ percent. Borrowers who can get credit elsewhere but prefer to use Farmers Home disaster loans will receive a 14\1/4\-percent rate. The rate for actual losses remains at 8 percent.
Interest rates for single-family housing loans will drop from 13\1/4\ to 11\1/2\ percent -- except for those who can afford the rates charged by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and their rates will drop a full percentage point, from 13\1/2\ to 12\1/2\ percent. Loans for multifamily housing will drop from 13\1/4\ percent to 11\1/2\ percent.
All of these changes will help to breathe new life into America's farm economy, and they couldn't have happened if our recovery program hadn't brought down those skyrocketing interest rates of the past years.
Now, unfortunately, some are trying to make political hay out of the pain that you feel -- pain caused by 20 years of irresponsible management in Washington. Some even seek partisan, political gain in scare talk. But in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, ``The overwhelming majority of people in this country know how to sift the wheat from the chaff in what they hear and what they read. They know that the process of the constructive rebuilding of America cannot be done in a day or a year, but that it is being done in spite of the few who seek to confuse them and to profit by their confusion.''
That's just as true today. I'm not interested in playing the political blame game. It's not who to blame that's important; it's what to blame, and the American people realize that. We must keep our sights clearly focused on our goal, with a clear understanding of what got us into this mess and with a firm will to do what it takes to get us out. We've been sorely tested, but this great nation of ours has a deep reservoir of courage and strength to draw on. We Americans have never been quitters, and we aren't about to quit now. And together, we're going to make America great again.
Now, before I leave there's one more thing I want to do. It gives me great pleasure to honor the division of marketing of the Illinois Department of Agriculture for its contributions to our country's export expansion program.
Exports means jobs and profits for America's agricultural industry. But they also are an important ingredient in the battle against our nation's economic problems. Export expansion will come from efforts like yours that assist in promoting America's agricultural export. We appreciate the initiative that you've shown in developing a wide range of activities to promote Illinois exports. Congratulations for your extraordinary efforts and success in promoting American export trade.
And now it is my honor to present the President's ``E'' Award for excellence in export service to the division of marketing, Illinois Department of Agriculture. Thank you very much, and God bless you.
There you are, there you all are, and I'm proud and happy to be able to do that. Well, again, thank you all, and God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 2:17 p.m. at a site on the farm of Leland and Virginia Werries. Mr. Werries' son Larry is director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Following his remarks, the President watched a tillage demonstration, which was part of the 1982 Conservation Tillage Exposition. He then left the farm and traveled to Peoria, Ill.