Remarks to Agriculture Officials and Farmers on the Drought Situation in Du Quoin, Illinois

 

July 14, 1988

 

The President. Thank you all. Governor Thompson, Secretary Lyng, Mr. Krone, and all of you ladies and gentlemen. I think I should tell you that, you know, the Commander in Chief can dictate the uniform of the day, and I see somebody didn't tell Senator Dixon about it. [Laughter]

 

Senator Dixon. I've got it off now. [Laughter]

 

The President. Well, you have it off? Well, then there are still a couple out there in the audience, but if they're cold, why, I wouldn't want to order them to -- [laughter].

 

When the Governor was telling you about Christmas trees, that might be an expression -- a little unusual for some of you. What he was talking about was a question I was just asked when we were with the press down here before we came up here, and that was about -- right now in the Congress a number of amendments are being proposed on the agricultural bill. I have to tell you that agriculture -- I have to tell you that there is bipartisanship as I haven't seen it too often in Washington there about this particular program. And there may be some fine amendments that belong on the bill, and so forth. But also every once in a while it does become a Christmas tree, with people trying to attach things that really have no bearing on the main purpose to a bill they know is going to pass, in order to get those in effect where they couldn't get them on their own.

 

And this is what we mean by a Christmas tree. And it's what I meant earlier when I responded to the press question with the idea that I hoped they wouldn't pass. And I shouldn't make it that blanket because there are very possibly some worthwhile amendments. But we have more bipartisanship, as I said, than we've had in a long time there with regard to your problem.

 

I've just inspected the corn and soybean crops of Herman Krone's farm, and before that, we came in surveying the area by helicopter. And the situation on the ground, I'm sorry to say, is as bad as I expected. Secretary Lyng has been giving me regular briefings on the drought conditions in each State and the farm crisis that it's caused. But I wanted to see it for myself, and I thank all of you for showing it to me. What I saw was not a pretty sight -- stunted corn, sparse bean fields, withered plants starved for water, struggling to push their way up.

 

Having been born and raised in this part of the country, the State of Illinois -- I think, if they had Lake Michigan on there, I would know for sure -- I think that my home is in the blue part, but I went to college in the orange part. There was a -- I know how these fields would usually be at this time of year. There was a marker in the cornfield back there showing how tall the corn should be and that was getting up around 8 feet, and instead, it sort of came up to about here with the top tip of any one of the leaves on me.

 

I know this farm and other areas of the country were blessed with rain this week, and we're grateful for it. It was enough to wet the surface and turn the dust into mud. And it may have helped buy some time, but it hasn't solved the problem. And for many farmers, time has run out. From Montana to Texas, from California to Georgia, and right here in Illinois, farmers face the worst natural disaster since the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. The heartland of America desperately needs more rain. Now, we can't make it rain, but we can help to ease the pain, and that's what the Federal Government will do. Currently 1,973 counties in 38 States are eligible for Federal emergency agricultural programs. And our administration is developing further measures, working with farm State Governors and the Congress on a bipartisan basis. And with water levels on the Mississippi River at historic lows, the Army Corps of Engineers is hard at work to keep the river open and keep the barge traffic moving.

 

There's an old story about Mark Twain. It isn't too sensational, but since it involves a rainstorm, I thought you might like to hear it. Mark Twain was leaving church one Sunday morning with a friend, and it began to pour. And his friend asked Twain, ``Do you think it'll stop?'' And Twain looked up at the sky and says, ``Well, it always has in the past.'' [Laughter]

 

I think we can say the same thing about the drought. Will it end? It always has in the past. But the question is: When will it end, and how much of the crop can be saved? Whoever talked about putting something aside for a rainy day was not a farmer or a river pilot or a grain elevator operator. We're all praying for a lot more rain and for the end of this drought. I want to let you know that we will do everything that we can.

 

I'm calling today for Congress to act quickly on comprehensive drought relief, disaster relief for all farmers for all crops, including appropriate forgiveness of advance deficiency payments and relief for all nonprogram crops. I'm also directing Secretary Lyng to lead a fact-finding team which will visit places around the country that are suffering from the drought. They'll see and hear firsthand what the drought is doing to crops and livestock, and report back to me.

 

Well, I'd like to thank the Krone family for their hospitality. And I'm very glad to have had the chance to meet with all of you. And when I return to Washington, I'll take with me what I've seen today, and I will remember your courage, your faith, and your resolve during this difficult time.

 

I can't, because I know it isn't proper for somebody to say did you hear the funny thing I said? But I've been tempted beyond my strength on the basis of something here to close with. Some years ago, before I was in this job, I had been invited to address the National Farm Bureau meeting which was being held in Las Vegas, Nevada. And on the way there to the hall, where everyone was assembled, one of those sharpers that was there for the gambling recognized me and said, ``What are you doing here?'' And I said, ``Well, I'm addressing the National Farm Bureau.'' And he said, ``What's a bunch of farmers doing in Las Vegas?'' And I couldn't help it. I said, ``Buster, they're in a business that makes a Las Vegas craptable look like a guaranteed annual income.'' [Laughter]

 

Again, thank you all, and God bless you all.

 

Note: The President spoke at 11 a.m. at the Illinois State fairgrounds. In his opening remarks, he referred to Gov. James R. Thompson; Secretary of Agriculture Richard Lyng; Herman Krone, a farmer from Perry County, IL; and Senator Alan J. Dixon of Illinois. Prior to his remarks, the President toured Mr. Krone's farm. Following his remarks, the President traveled to Davenport, IA.