Remarks at an Agricultural Forum in Decatur, Illinois

August 20, 1984

Thank you very much, Roger Miller. And I want to thank Dwayne Andreas for his hospitality at ADA [ADM], where I've been able to see American agribusiness at work.

And my greetings to Governor Thompson and Senator Percy, who've been with me here on the visit so far today. I hope that I'll be able to continue for some time extending greetings in Illinois to Governor Thompson. I hope that I will be able to extend those greetings on a daily basis in Washington for some time to Senator Percy. That means both of us have to live in Washington. [Laughter]

But I was thinking of the importance of Senator Percy's returning there, because when I think of the position we would be in if we did not have what we have had in the Senate -- well, I don't think we would be having the expansion you spoke of at such a level.

I have to tell you how impressed I was -- and once again, nostalgia started flowing when, coming in on Air Force One, I was seeing those rows of corn, those cornfields and the soybeans stretching out there as far as I could see from the plane. I was going to say something about the importance of -- I know anytime that I head toward a rural area anymore, I have to find out in advance, now, do I go there and commiserate about the floods or the drought? [Laughter] But I find neither here, that you've had some pretty good rainfall and that, while all of the State couldn't say this, you were doing pretty well in this area.

I do understand something about farmers' problems. I remember some years ago when Ezra Taft Benson was the Secretary of Agriculture, and he was out in a time of hardship meeting with some farmers and hearing some of their problems. And one particular place, there was one man that was really giving him a bad time. His complaints were numerous, and he was going on about them. And, finally, Ezra turned to a staff member and looked at some notes that were shown him, and then turned back and said, ``Well, now, wait a minute. You didn't have things all too bad here. Last year you had 29 inches of rain.'' And the man said, ``Yes, I remember the night it happened.'' [Laughter]

But I do thank you for making us all feel so welcome here, quite a bit more welcome than the first time I visited this distinguished university. It was back in 1929. I was playing right guard on Eureka College football team. Night football was quite a rarity. As a matter of fact, I think we might have been one of -- possibly the first of the games of night ball. The lights were not up to the same standard that they are today. Millikin's colors being blue and white, they appeared on the field with blue and white jerseys with circular white patches here. And the ball was white -- [laughter] -- because of the dimness of the lights. We were there in our dark maroon jerseys. And I just want you to know that -- I'm a little embarrassed to say this -- the score was 45 to 6. The 6 was Eureka's. [Laughter]

I found that I was playing, also, opposite in the line of someone that is a citizen of your area of some prominence, George Musso, now in the Football Hall of Fame, after 8 years all-pro tackle. You played both offense and defense in those days, and George outweighed me 100 pounds. [Laughter] And I decided that I wasn't going to go over him. [Laughter] I wasn't going to go through him. And I remember once I was going around him, and I ran into our tackle on the other side coming around him on the other side. [Laughter]

Well, anyway, I still remember back, also, when the Chicago Bears used to be the Staley football team here in Decatur. And it seems to me they had a better record before they moved than they've had recently. [Laughter] There must be something catching about the winning spirit in Decatur. I hope it's very catching.

You've always been innovators. In fact, I remember when John Beall invented the cornsheller back in 1875. I was just a small boy at the time. [Laughter] And you've never given up when the going got tough. I'm convinced that what you're doing will be a victory for all America. If people want to see the country at her best, if they want to see the bright light of adventure and innovation and hope bringing economic growth, security, and human progress to people throughout the world, let them come here to the heartland and to Decatur, Illinois. They'll see miracles being created from America's abundant renewable resources by the men and women of Archer Daniels Midland and A.E. Staley.

It wasn't long ago that we were being told that our best days were behind us. The crippling inflation, the record interest rates, and the energy crisis were so severe they would destroy the greatest heritage of our past -- our faith and hope that have always brought us the harvest of a better future. Well, here in the land of Lincoln, I'm afraid you didn't listen very well to those cries of gloom. The progress -- and I've heard described on my visit to those plants here today -- I've just heard described, would inspire your countrymen and fill their hearts with pride.

From corn and soybean processing that produce food products to feed a hungry world, to exciting research and production in hydroponics, to your pioneer work in ethanol that increases demand for farm products, creates new jobs, and leads to greater energy security for our country -- it's all happening here, because here in America's heartland, you are on the cutting edge of progress.

When we took office in 1981 only 75 million gallons of ethanol fuel were being produced. This year more than 450 million gallons will be produced, requiring more than 180 million bushels of corn. It just goes to show, there's no limit to what free people can do when the gloom-and-doomers stand aside and get out of the way.

In our Food for Peace efforts, the United States has delivered over 27,000 tons of food a day to recipient countries for three decades. The value of these U.S. farm products exceeds $33 billion -- more than $3 million each and every day. And who could put a pricetag on the good and simple virtues of decency and generosity that are the heart of Food for Peace and of the people who support it?

Sometimes I wish more attention were paid to facts like these. They underline one of the most compelling lessons of the 20th century: Capitalism, not socialism, is the most progressive, revolutionary, and powerful economic force for good in the world today. For only where freedom lives is economic growth strong, does opportunity thrive, and are the forces of human betterment always at work. Socialist countries are held down by a gravity of their own making. In America -- something like a rocket shooting to the stars.

Agriculture is a driving force in our economy, and leaders like you can be proud that you have a record of productivity unmatched anywhere in the world. From our first day in office, we have been trying to help the farm community recover from past policy mistakes and economic difficulties.

We know that the Federal Government has an important role to play as a partner to the farm community -- and not a senior partner. I think the gist of that role is to help farmers do what they can't always do on their own: seek out new markets -- as you indicated -- counter unfair trading practices for our trading partners, promote research, provide a measure of protection from erratic weather and natural disasters, and create a proper environment for supply-and-demand forces to allocate resources efficiently.

We began by insisting that the Department of Agriculture represent farmers first, which wasn't always true in the past. And representing those interests has led to several changes that I believe give us hope for a brighter future.

The first was ending a cynical, wrongheaded, totally unfair grain embargo. I remember someone who now says he was opposed to that embargo privately, but he was speaking a little differently in 1980. He said the grain embargo was a strong, absolutely crucial action that would force the Soviets to pay a heavy price for their aggression in Afghanistan.

I guess it's difficult to see the world clearly when you're scrooched down behind the American farmers. [Laughter] We, of course, know that it was they -- or, I should say, you, who paid the heavy price, not the Soviets. They're still in Afghanistan.

Farm prices declined, and our entire agricultural marketing system -- elevators, barge lines, railways, millers, and exporters -- was disrupted. The embargo cost farmers 17 million tons of grain sales to the Soviet Union. But the greatest loss was the loss of American credibility around the world as a reliable, long-term supplier.

Now, I know it hasn't been easy, trying to make a comeback from that situation. But, make no mistake, we are coming back. In 1980 we had weak defenses, a weak economy, and that grain embargo that filled your bins and emptied your wallets. In 1984 we have stronger defenses, a stronger economy, and grain sales to the Soviet Union -- the country our critics say won't deal with us -- of over 20 million metric tons since last October. And if they want to buy more, we'll sell more.

We've reached an agreement with Japan that will open up their markets to American beef. We expect that our beef exports to Japan will virtually double over the next 4 years. We eliminated huge crop surpluses, and we expect the value of farm exports to be up nearly 10 percent over last year.

As we've moved to revive these markets overseas, we're strengthening the greatest market of all, the American market, with a powerful, noninflationary expansion, as you've been told.

In the 2-year period of 1979 and 1980, prices that farmers had to pay shot up nearly 30 percent -- one of the worst 2-year increases in history. And the purchasing power of farmers' net income plummeted 42 percent in 1980. But in a period of 1982 and 1983, farm cost levels increased only 7.3 percent, the smallest 2-year increase in 15 years. And we believe net farm income in 1984 will be the highest since 1973.

Interest rates are down, although I couldn't agree with you more -- certainly not down enough. And credit burdens are still too heavy, largely because of high interest loans during the late seventies. The value of land that the farmers use as collateral for their loans has dropped. But we're hopeful on interest rates, because we haven't succumbed to the quick fix. So, inflation has dropped to about 4 percent or less, even as our economy has expanded with terrific power. If we can keep inflation down -- and confidence is building that, indeed, we can -- then I'm convinced interest rates will come down more.

I want to reaffirm my absolute determination to protect the tax reforms we've made -- accelerated cost recovery to stimulate business investment; personal tax rate reductions, which have benefited many family farms; indexing to prevent inflation from pushing taxpayers into higher tax brackets; and estate tax changes, increasing the exemption to $600,000 by 1987 and, of even greater help, abolishing the estate tax for a surviving spouse.

We will resist any and all tax increases. Our plan is to simplify the tax system -- make it more fair, easier to understand -- and to bring your personal rates further down. Our agenda is an agenda for growth and opportunity for all Americans.

Now let me discuss briefly today another issue of enormous importance to the farm community. As you know, my opponent made a big promise to the leadership of the AFL - CIO. He pledged his support for protectionist legislation called domestic content. This would force foreign and domestic manufacturers of automobiles sold in the United States to build their cars with an escalating percentage of U.S. parts and domestic labor.

He couldn't have been thinking of American workers when he made his promise, because, as the Congressional Budget Office itself pointed out, domestic content would destroy far more jobs than it would save. It would add substantially to the cost of a new car. And the cost of protectionism for one group of workers would be passed on to another group down the line.

And if domestic content passed, every other industry would become a target for foreign retaliation. Dick Gallagher, president of the Iowa Soybean Association, said: ``We cannot afford a major surge in world trade protectionism that could be triggered by the domestic content bill.'' He's right. A true friend of farmers would renounce immediately his or her support for such misguided legislation. Our administration is determined to create jobs the right way, with economic growth, technological innovation -- and we've created 6.4 million new jobs in the last 19 months.

You know, Albert Einstein once said that ``Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by individuals who labor in freedom.'' And freedom is what we're trying hardest to preserve and strengthen -- for you, your children, and your children's children. And without freedom, we will surely fail. And, again, I can only tell you that all of the discussion that is going on today -- increasing taxes is not in anything in our mind. We have no plans to do such a thing. Others may have taxes as a first resort. For us, they are only a last resort, a last, desperate resort. Now, with this freedom, we can remain an inspiration to all the world and unlock the golden door of progress for years and generations to come.

Now, gentlemen, I'm going to take back all that I've heard here today, because we are having a comprehensive study made. Jack Block has been out all over the country, as you know, listening to farm leaders. He has over a thousand pages of written testimony on these problems, and we now, for the first time, as you know, in a great many years, are faced with redrawing the government farm program. And we will be doing that on the basis of all of the input and the information that we have been receiving from around the country. So, I assure you that all of the concerns that you mentioned will be getting our deepest consideration.

And I want you to know that I feel just as closeminded about protectionism as I sounded a moment ago about taxes. I am not in support of protectionism, and I know that it is a two-way street. It can be used against us. And we have been working with our friends and allies in the other industrial States. And I think we are making some sizable progress, as I mentioned, with regard to the one incident of Japan.

Yes, we believe in free trade, but only if it's fair trade. And that will be our policy.

I thank you all for welcoming us to your city and to this university. I thank you for your kindness, and I thank you more than anything, because whether you realize it or not, you are the ones that brought about this return to the America that I think we all know and remember so well, not the America of the doomcriers. Without you, without the people, none of the gains that we've made could ever have been accomplished. And so, I thank you for making America the great and good Nation that it is.

Thank you. God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:46 p.m. in the Richard Treat University Center at Milliken University. He was introduced by Roger Miller, president of the university.

Prior to the forum, the President was given a tour of the Archer Daniels Midland processing plant by company chairman Dwayne Andreas and other executives.

Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.