Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Broadcasters and Editors on the Food Security Act of 1985 and the Farm Credit Amendments Act of 1985

December 23, 1985

The President. Well, thank you, Secretary [of Agriculture] Block. And as you've been told, I've just come from the White House, where I signed the farm bill, which is formally called the Food Security Act of 1985. I also signed a farm credit act, which promises to have considerable impact on various farming areas throughout the country.

Before I tell you about these bills, I want to mention one thing that's personal. I don't mind saying that, because of your letters and what I've been told and seen myself, few things have made a greater impression on me the past few years than the problems of the farmer. My guiding thought throughout our efforts to put together a truly helpful farm bill has been: We're nothing without the farmers. They're the backbone of this country. And everything we do to help them helps our country and its future. So, with all that in mind, I signed the bills this morning, and now I want to tell you about them.

The 1985 farm bill is, in my opinion and the opinion of a bipartisan majority in the Congress, a clear and obvious improvement over existing farm programs. Perhaps the most helpful thing it does is establish predictable long-term policies so that our farmers will be able to make realistic plans for investment and production. The farm bill gives the Secretary of Agriculture the flexibility he needs to maintain farm price supports at levels that reflect the realities of the market. This will help put our farmers back in a more competitive position in world markets. With this bill, we hope to ease American agriculture away from the heavy hand of government and toward a more market-oriented system. We're trying to free farmers from the influence and directives of government and encourage them to produce for the public market basket and not for government storage bins. The bill also contains income supports that will ease the problems that occur during the transition to a market economy.

The farm bill is comprehensive. It includes some very good conservation measures and provisions to train food stamp recipients. But there are problems with the bill, too. It continues the truly unhelpful Federal involvement in the dairy industry. It also expands government intervention in the area of export subsidies. In fact, the bill mandates subsidized export sales, meaning citizens of other countries could pay less for American grain than American consumers. Now, these provisions are totally counterproductive, and we'll be working with the Congress to make appropriate changes next year.

The second bill I signed today is the Farm Credit Act Amendments of 1985. This will enable the farm credit system to pool its resources and reorganize with an eye to improving their ability to supply reasonable credit. It will make for a stronger farm credit system with a stronger oversight setup. It also provides a backstop system of Federal assistance should that ever become necessary. The whole point of all this retooling is to help rural Americans who rely on a steady stream of reasonable credit.

I want to note here that the farm bill of 1985 is not exactly what we wanted, but in government you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You can't let your desire for a superior product lead you to kill a bill that's really pretty good. We worked closely with Congress on both these bills. And, as I said, a majority of Republicans and Democrats in both Houses came together to declare these bills the very best they could do. And we've accepted their honest efforts.

I believe that the 1985 farm bill will bring about a long-awaited rebirth and renewed opportunities for American agriculture. It is clear that Congress has heeded the message that our farm policies need fundamental reforms. This bill begins that reform. I believe that these two bills will help lead to a healthy, sustained recovery for those who are engaged in the proud and peerless way of life called American farming. This is the season for new beginnings. And I truly believe today marks a new beginning, a new season of hope for all of American agriculture.

Thanks for listening. And now with the help of the people of the USDA here, we are able to have a sort of satellite news conference. And I guess, Jim Johnson, I'd better throw it back to you.

Mr. Johnson. Thank you, Mr. President. We do have some farm broadcasters and farm editors and writers out on a telephone hookup with us, and so, let's go to those questioners. Our first stop will be in Chicago -- Orian Samuelson with WGN. Orian.

Q. Thank you very much, Jim. And, Mr. President, thank you for this opportunity. My question deals with cost, Mr. President, because your administration has been concerned about cutting the budget and budget deficits. How do you reconcile that concern with spending $52 billion -- $2 billion over your limit -- on a government farm price support program?

The President. Well, because this is what is necessary if we're to do the job. And I would have to tell you that we have -- in this administration, in these last few years -- while we have been trying to reduce government spending elsewhere, we have spent more with regard to the farm problems than has ever been spent by any American Government heretofore. This particular bill, the $52 billion, is over a 3-year period. And it's true, we had set the figure at -- as we said -- $50 billion. But we believe that we can live with an increase of this particular amount. But, also, it is necessary if we are to solve the farm problem in the right way. And that is, as I said in my remarks, to get farming more market-oriented and less of a heavy hand of government. But since it's government that's been responsible for many of the farmers' problems, it's also only fair that government now not just abandon but make an effort to help the farmers through this transition.

Mr. Johnson. The next questioner -- we'll be going to Philadelphia and Lane Palmer with the Farm Journal. Lane, your question, please.

Q. Thank you. Mr. President, during the congressional debate on the farm credit bill, there were many questions about whether they were talking about enough money or whether they could move it quickly enough to where it's needed. What confidence do we have that the farm credit act really will solve the financial problems being faced by farmers?

The President. Well, we believe that these bills do contain what is necessary to help them. For example, the farm credit bill. The program that we're helping supplies a third of the total credit to farmers in the United States. And we have made that program more practical now and brought it together where the resources can be directed to the points of greatest need. And I think that, based on our previous experience with things that didn't work too well, I think that we now have a farm program that has eliminated many of the faults of the past and that will bring farming, as we say, back out into the market economy. But recognize also that, with regard to our fights against deficit spending and all, that nothing could be more helpful to that than to take a great industry like agriculture and make it more independent and more capable of realistic earnings and growth.

Mr. Johnson. Our next questioner will be from Indiana -- New Palestine, to be exact. The Rural Radio Net -- Dan Modland. Dan.

Q. Mr. President, earlier this year, Secretary Block came to Indiana to unveil plans for the conservation reserve. Now that this program is part of the farm bill, what will it mean to American agriculture?

The President. Well, I know that farmers themselves have been very concerned over, for one thing, the erosion of topsoil, which could wipe out great sections of agriculture, if allowed to continue at an excessive rate. And what this program does is make it possible for farmers to take marginal land out of production so that you don't have that erosion. I remember some time ago when a farmer friend of mine in Illinois sent me some snapshots about erosion. They were in the winter, and he was talking about the practice of plowing and leaving the ground exposed, all plowed up, and then the winds would come in the fall and the winter and so forth. And it would be wind erosion was taking this away. And I handed those snapshots over to Secretary Block and said, ``What are we going to do about this?'' The snapshots were taken after snowfall, and they were taken in two areas: in an area where there was not plowing of the land, to lie there all through the winter, and where it had been done. And what the snapshots revealed was that -- in one set of photographs the snow was dark gray; in the others the snow was white, and it was a pretty good example of what wind erosion was doing in those particular areas. So, I think that the farmers, themselves, are going to be the first to benefit from this setting aside of marginal land and knowing that we are saving some of their precious topsoil and hanging on for any future need.

Mr. Johnson. The next questioner we have will be from Illinois -- Bill Kilby, Courier Journal, from Jacksonville, Illinois. Bill, your question, please.

Q. Mr. President, the big question bouncing around my area at the present time is: Will this farm legislation benefit the small family farmer, or will it simply further subsidize the large-scale farming operations?

The President. We believe it will help the family farmer. I can turn to Jack to see if he's nodding yes here on that. It will, and it's aimed at doing precisely that. Bill, I hope you'll forgive me of a little nostalgia and a little reminiscence here -- when I saw Jacksonville, Illinois, as your home there, and the Courier Journal -- my last college football game was played against Illinois College in Jacksonville on a very cold winter day with a frozen field. It isn't a happy memory, particularly because we lost. [Laughter]

Mr. Johnson. The next question we have will be from Wichita, Kansas -- Larry Steckline with the Mid-America Ag-Net and KSN - TV. So, Larry, your question, please.

Q. Thank you, Jim, and thank you, Mr. President, for this opportunity. Mr. President, is the farm credit act that you signed this morning just an institutional bailout for the farm credit banks or will this bill really help farmers?

The President. Well, this bill will help farmers in the sense that here is a combined source for about one-third of all of the farm credit in America. And it has been managed in such a way that it was scattered and there would be some parts of it with plenty of funds but in an area where there was no demand for them; while in other areas, the way it was locally managed, there wasn't enough for the problems at hand. This has now been brought together under a single administration. And it is now set up so that the money can be directed from all of the resources to wherever it might be needed most. And we think that this, as I say, since it provides a third of the credit that farming needs, it is going to now be able to be much more practical and much more effective.

Mr. Johnson. I'd like to point out that the fact is that we've gone through five questioners and time is about out. President Reagan does need to leave very soon. Before we do break away, though, I would turn to Secretary Block and see if you have any comments to make at this time with President Reagan right here.

Secretary Block. Well, my only comments would be that we're just delighted that the President would come over here. And Mr. President, as you talked about those snapshots of that soil erosion -- I remember well that Cabinet meeting when they came across the table to me. And I do believe that we have done something about soil erosion in this legislation that I'm proud of and I know you are, too. Not only the conservation reserve, which will take this erosive land out of production and set it aside for future generations, but also in this conservation package there's included a provision that effectively says that we believe in conservation so much in this country that if we provide farm program benefits to farmers in future years out there, those farmers are going to be obligated to protect the land. They're not going to be allowed to abuse the land as long as the Government is providing that kind of helping hand. I don't think that's too much to expect, and I think it's also part of this process of trying to save this land for future generations.

It's a pleasure to have you with us, Mr. President.

The President. Well, pleased to be here. And I'm glad to have you help me out on that answer. [Laughter]

Secretary Block. You did it just right.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. at the Department of Agriculture via the Department's AGNET Farm Network. Jim Johnson was Chief of Radio and Television at the Agriculture Department.