Radio Address to the Nation on the Farm Industry
September 14, 1985
My fellow Americans:
Recent economic reports confirm our economy is moving smartly ahead with solid expansion in the job market and inflation being held down. Our future looks good, but one group is still having difficulty. Far too many farmers are seeing hard times. Prices for corn, wheat, and soybeans have been weak and getting weaker. Demand for exports has dropped as production here and in other countries has steadily increased, and foreign suppliers have filled markets that once were ours.
Our great success in bringing down inflation has helped farmers by ending double-digit price increases for fuel, fertilizer, and other supplies, but there's been a down side. Many farmers took out loans in the late seventies when inflation was soaring, assuming the value of the land they were pledging as collateral would keep on rising. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. When inflation plunged, land values plunged, too. And when inflation stayed down, defying the experts' predictions, those loans farmers were carrying became more and more difficult to finance. How can we not open our hearts to these people in distress who mean so much and give so much to America? We know that, while farmers account for only 3 percent of the work force, farming and related industries generate $660 billion a year or almost 18 percent of our gross national product. We know that these industries are responsible for 21 million workers, nearly 20 percent of the work force. We can be thankful that agriculture, one of the few industries with a strong, positive trade balance, provides employment for 630,000 nonfarm workers through its yearly exports.
These facts and figures are convincing in their own right. Yet facts and figures don't tell the whole story. They don't convey the strength and nobility of values, the deep faith in God, and love of freedom and independence, the many years of hard work and caring for friends and neighbors that began on the farm and made America the greatest Nation on Earth. Farming is hard work, maybe the hardest. The strength of our farmers has always been the strength of their dreams for the future -- dreams that a son or a daughter working the fields, tending the herds, might decide to stay on that farm and be able to make a go of it. There is no price tag on traditions like these, only the stark realization that to lose our farmers would be to lose the best part of ourselves, the heart and soul of America. Well, we cannot let that happen. We cannot permit the dreams of our farmers to die. We must have compassion for these men, women, and their families, so important to all of us.
I'm asking Congress to join me in planting fresh seeds of hope for America's farmers. We might begin by seeing and avoiding the one threat that could make today's problems far worse. Some 300 protectionist bills await action in Congress. To enact them would be to invite certain retaliation against our farm exports, heightening the risk of a farm catastrophe which would send shock waves throughout our economy. Believe me, protectionism is farmers' enemy number one, and that enemy is stalking our gate. Let us work aggressively for freer and fairer markets. But more than that, let us have the courage to urge that more countries start doing what America has begun doing so well. Go for growth by adopting low-tax, free-market policies that will increase jobs, raise their people's standard of living, thereby strengthening demand for our products. Nations which have stagnated their economies with high taxes are weak importers, and this problem must be recognized.
We do not seek an America that is closed to the world; we seek a world that is open to America. We do not dream of protecting America from others' success; we seek to include everyone in the success of the American dream. I'm asking Congress to unite with me for intelligent policies that provide farmers needed help, without doing harm to the budget limitations adopted by Congress, and greater freedom for them to grow and sell their crops in the marketplaces of the world. By working in this spirit, we can avoid budget-busting legislation which repeats the mistakes of the past, legislation I would not hesitate to veto. We must meet our responsibility to America's farmers and pass a farm bill that provides hope, not measured doses of despair.
Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.