You know, I've always thought that when we Americans get up in the morning, when we see bacon, eggs, toast, and milk on our breakfast table, we should give thanks that our farmers are survivors. You are the real miracle workers of the modern world — keepers of an incredible system based on faith, freedom, hard work, productivity, and profit — a system that feeds us and sustains millions of the world's hungry.
This was President Ronald Reagan's message to America's struggling farmers on October 15, 1982. It's a message worth remembering on its 35th anniversary, as we are again facing difficult times in farm country.
While a lot has changed over the past 35 years, President Reagan made several points during this special radio address that still ring true.
For example, the need for sustained credit and cash flow to farmers:
Like any small businessman, a farmer lives or dies on his ability to sustain an adequate cash flow, and when that cash flow is reduced to a trickle…a farmer sometimes has no option but to shut down his operation. Add to all this your bumper crops, and we understand why the cost-price squeeze is so bad and threatens the survival of agriculture, America's bedrock industry.
He also stressed the importance of exports:
Nothing is more crucial to the long-term health of agriculture than restoring this nation's reputation as a reliable supplier of agricultural products around the world.
And the importance of leveling the playing field on the global scale:
If other countries can't understand an evenhanded approach is in everybody's best interest, if they're not willing to play by the rules of the game, then let there be no mistake: We must and we will counter with strong measures of our own to permit American farmers to realize the benefits of their extraordinary productivity.
President Reagan said government's proper role is "to act as friend, partner, and promoter of American farmers and their products."
I want with all my heart to see your burdens lifted, to see farmers who have given so much to America receive the rewards they deserve. As Dwight Eisenhower once said, ‘Without a prosperous agriculture, there is no prosperity in America.'
Ask any longtime farmer, and they will tell you that rural America hasn't seen the kind of economic downturn its currently facing since the late 1990s and, before then, the farm crisis President Reagan navigated during his Administration.
They'll also acknowledge that a few things have put us in a much better position to weather the storm.
One of the most important developments is a strong farm policy, which kicks in when prices are low and provides needed risk management tools like crop insurance.
While crop insurance might not make a farmer whole, it does provide a degree of needed protection to help them pick up the pieces. And combined with other policies in the Farm Bill, it gives lenders confidence to provide farmers the capital they need to make ends meet – so growers are planting and harvesting instead of selling the farm.
A continued commitment since Reagan's era to open new overseas markets and hold foreign countries accountable for trade abuses has likewise improved conditions for America's resilient and resourceful cultivators. This year, U.S. agriculture expects a trade surplus of $20 billion.
That's important, because as President Reagan said, those who "produce the food and fiber essential to life itself are carrying tremendous burdens – sometimes impossible burdens."
Wise words to heed as lawmakers begin writing a new Farm Bill and charting a course for the future – a hopeful future that President Reagan so eloquently summed up in his address all those years ago:
God has blessed us with a strong spirit and rich soil. With His help and yours we can make America once again the source of all the dreams and opportunities she was placed on this good Earth to provide.