Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1978

Author: Jimmy Carter  | Date: August 14, 1978

Columbia, Missouri
Remarks to Members of the Midcontinent Farmers Association.
August 14, 1978

Senator Talmadge, chairman of the Agriculture Committee and a true friend of American farmers everywhere, and of consumers as well; Senator Eagleton, who has a very strategic position as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee and who watches over farmers throughout the country as if they were his own children, who does such a superb job; Senator Danforth, a very courageous man who represents this State as well; Congressman Ichord, who has welcomed me to his own district; Congressman Burlison, who in the Appropriations Committee in the House also keeps a watchful and a constructive eye on the lives and well-being of American farmers; Congressman Skelton, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee; Congressman Gephardt; Congressman Coleman; Congressman Taylor; and I want to say just a word of condolences and regrets from my wile and me to Congressman Dick Bolling, with whom I talked yesterday morning, who had a tragedy in his family when his fine wife, Jim, passed away; my good friend, Governor Teasdale, and President Fred Hinkle, who represents you well and who’s been a very fine counselor, for me and for previous Presidents, who share the responsibility that I have; and to the delegates of the Midcontinent Farmers Association assembled here in such great numbers to represent yourselves and your neighbors so well:

I’m grateful that you extended me this invitation. And I’m glad to come and to talk to you about two basic subjects. One is agriculture, and we’ve made good progress in this respect in the last year and a half since I’ve been in office. The other one is also of equal importance to farmers, and that is inflation.

Sometimes it takes a great problem to arouse someone to take strong action, that’s slow in coming. I tried to think of a story to illustrate this point. The Sunday before last my Sunday school teacher told about a young man who went to work for an insurance company, and his boss called him in the first week and said, "It’s importantthat you get out and work hard and really sell these policies, because they’re good for the customer, they’re good for our company, they’re good for you." He said, "If I feel like it, I will." At the end of the week, he hadn’t sold any policies. So, his boss said, "We don’t have any place for you around here."

For about 3 or 4 weeks he wandered around looking for a job, and he couldn’t find one. And finally, he found a buddy in a bar, and he said, "Why don’t we go and rob the local bank?" And so, they made up very careful plans to violate the law and to give them some spending money at the same time. And his buddy said, "Look, when we come out of the front door of that bank, you’ve got to run like mad, and don’t slow down." And the young fellow said, "Well, if I feel like it, I will." [Laughter]

Well, he came out of that bank with a sackful of money, he ran about a block, kind of lackadaisical. And a policeman caught him by his collar, and he was tried and put in a penitentiary. The next morning the warden called him down there and said, "Well, you’re a new prisoner here, and here’s a cotton sack. We all work around this prison." He said, "I want you to go out in that field, and when you come in tonight, I want you to have 150 pounds of cotton in that sack." The fellow looked at the warden and said, "Well, if I feel like it, I will."

So, he came in that night; he had 25 pounds of cotton in his sack. And the warden called his biggest, strongest guard over and said, "Take this fellow in the back room and work him over." The next morning the new prisoner kind of hobbled up in front of the warden—two black eyes, knots on his head, couldn’t see very well-and the warden said, "Well, here’s your cotton sack. I want you to go out in that field; when you come in tonight, I want you to have 150 pounds of cotton." The fellow said, "Boss, if it’s in the field, I’ll get it." [Laughter]

This is the kind of determination that we all need to address important issues. But sometimes it takes a little persuasion, a little crisis to bring to us the importance of our future actions.

I feel at home with you today. Both your State and mine have produced Presidents who were raised on the farm. We Presidents, from Missouri and Georgia, have another similarity, too. We both have kept the same sign in the Oval Office, the famous sign that reads, "The buck stops here." It’s a constant reminder of the great opportunities and the difficult responsibilities of the President of the United States.

Although President Truman followed a career that took him away from farming, his attachment remained strong to the land and to the people who work it. And so has mine.

When I took office a little more than a year and a half ago, the farm economy was in bad shape and apparently was headed for a serious depression. It was one of the greatest problems that we had to face. The American farmer has a right to expect two things that you were not getting then: a stable and secure income and access to adequate credit at reasonable interest rates. And all Americans, on and off the farm, have a right to expect one big thing that nobody is getting today: a dollar that will still be worth as much tomorrow as it is now.

Not long ago, some of your neighbors, maybe even some of you here today, came to visit us in Washington, on tractors and with goats. Some of you may even have visited Bob Bergland’s office, although I understand he was out at the time. The rumor is that he went out through the window. [Laughter] But we could understand clearly the message that was brought and the message that was on the heartsand minds of the farmers who stayed at home.

Things have changed for the better since then. The new programs passed by Congress have now begun to take effect. Net farm income in 1978, this year, will be up about 25 percent over last year-that’s income above costs, an increase of more than $5 billion. Beef prices should be strong and relatively stable for the last half of this year, and Glenn Grimes of the University of Missouri has said that the general price of cattle will be very strong for the next 3 or 4 years. If demand stays high, which we expect it to do, stable prices, sustained, even increasing herd sizes, and adequate domestic meat production is important for farmers and also for consumers.

Our decisions have been sound, careful, and well considered. I will not permit any more expansion in beef imports this year. I will not permit unrestricted beef imports next year. And I am strongly and permanently opposed to any price controls on meat or other farm products.

Last year, in spite of low unit costs, which you well remember, we set a record for American farm exports—$24 billion-and American farmers will export even more this year than ever before in our history. We are now opening new trade offices in key foreign trade centers to promote farm exports. The time for uncertainty and for unpredictable, government imposed embargoes on farm exports is over.

When those embargoes were imposed in the past, without notice to American farmers and without notice to our customers, it hurt us in two severe ways. One was that American farmers lost income. And secondly, those customers began to turn to other nations where the supply of vital farm products was more certain.

We know, also, that a successful multilateral trade negotiation agreement must include improved access in foreign markets for American agricultural products. We are doing everything we can—in trade negotiations, extending credit; trade promotion, to strengthen agricultural exports even more.

America’s agricultural productivity and the family farm structure are among the greatest accomplishments of Western civilization. But our agriculture will remain the wonder of the world only so long as we remember a basic fact: The person most competent to make a farmer’s decisions is not a bureaucrat in Washington or anywhere else; it’s the man or woman on the farm. That’s why I will always protect the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922, the basis for this organization.

I want to go as far as I possibly can to get the Government out of the farm business of America. That’s why the first few months after I took office, I spent more hours working on the 1977 food and agricultural act, I believe, than on any other single piece of legislation.

The effects of that bill, carefully considered and passed by a wise Congress interested in you, are now being felt in record net farm income all across the country. This bill will mean fair return for farmers, reasonable prices for consumers, and a stable farm economy throughout the next 4 years.

The farmer-owned grain reserve gives you farmers a chance for better profits through a strong voice in agricultural markets. You, and not the grain dealers, can now decide the best time to sell your products, to bring profits to you and not to them. We’ve already helped farmers to build seven times more farm storage than American farmers did in 1976. In Missouri, you built 10 times more farm storage in 12 months than you did in 1976.

We are still working on legislation that will give farmers the financial resources toproduce efficiently and to get the fair and stable income that you deserve.

Secretary Bergland and I are working with congressional leaders, including those on this stage, to consolidate the several farm disaster protection programs into one effective and efficient program.

Just last week, I signed the Agricultural Credit Assistance Act of 1978, the most substantial reform of our farm credit program in more than 40 years. You will see the beneficial effects the next time you need a loan. And the American taxpayer is protected by eliminating unnecessary Government interest subsidies. These are good ideas, and they are already starting to do the job that they were supposed to do for you.

I was able to see at first hand how Congress was capable of putting national interest above the special interests in finding solutions to long-neglected agricultural problems. But another long-neglected problem is proving much more difficult to solve. It’s equally important to you. Inflation is the biggest threat we face, and we must all work together to control it.

Inflation robs all Americans of the dollars that you work so hard to earn and to save. I want to give you some straight talk—as Harry Truman would have given—about why we have inflation, and what the American people, my administration, and most of all, the U.S. Congress must do to fight it.

As long as most Americans expect inflation to continue, it will. That kind of thinking will never end unless labor, management, and government join together to act responsibly and with restraint.

I will continue to make the Federal Government do its part. For one thing, we are rooting out waste in Government, and I pledge that we will continue to do so. We are getting control over Government programs that have mushroomed out of control for the last 40 years. No one before has ever really tried to figure out which one of these programs works and which one doesn’t.

Now every one of my Cabinet members and agency leaders has begun to use zerobased budgeting, a system in which no program is taken for granted, no matter how long it’s been in existence. Each program must prove its worth from the ground up every year. The benefits of this new system are beginning now to be felt.

I’ve also ordered them to cut paperwork and redtape, burdens that weigh on all Americans. As a result, last year we cut Government-imposed paperwork by more than 10 percent. And we’re going to match that figure again this year.

One good example that you and I know very well, and which I used to dread seeing come in the mail, is the 22-page booklet which we’ve had to complete every few years for the agricultural census. We’ve now chopped it to 4 pages. And it will still give the Commerce Department every bit of census data that they need. I know how confusing that census questionnaire was. I heard about one farmer who was asked in one of the questions how his family was broken down by sex. He thought quite a while and said, well, it hadn’t happened yet, but he had an uncle who had a drinking problem. [Laughter]

One of the most difficult jobs I have is to cut down paperwork, to cut down on forms, application blanks, reports that come in to the Federal Government.

I’ve now required that regulation writers go to school, that the regulations be issued in simple English language, and that the people who write the regulations sign them. This is making an impact.

I’ve also ordered every Cabinet Secretary to discard regulations that are no longer necessary; and if one’s been required every week, to change it to 3months; if one’s been required every 3 months, to change it to annually. One result is that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, has now proposed eliminating more than 1,000 burdensome and unneeded regulations.

The most important contribution, however, that the Congress can make to streamline the bureaucracy is to pass my civil service reform program. We need a civil service system that rewards the competent and the dedicated employee, that disciplines those who will not work, and which lets managers manage the Federal bureaucracy. My civil service reforms will do exactly this, while protecting even better than now the legitimate rights of Government workers.

These are the tools that I need to manage the bureaucracy and to make Government work. I hope that you will urge your representatives in Congress to pass the civil service reform. The Congress hears from the special interest lobbies. They need to hear from you.

Another major goal: We must cut the Federal budget deficit, and that is exactly what we are doing. In fiscal year 1976, when I ran for President, the Federal deficit was $66.4 billion. In fiscal year 1978, the first budget that I prepared, we had cut it down to $51 billion. Next year, fiscal year 1979, the Federal deficit will be down into the forties of billions of dollars. And my goal for the next year, fiscal year 1980, is to bring the deficit down to the thirties of billions of dollars. We are making progress. I need your help. We are determined to succeed.

We are cutting unnecessary spending. We are being more careful in the preparation of the budget. And I will achieve part of this goal by limiting the pay increase of Federal workers to 5 1/2 percent and by freezing executive salaries at zero percent increase this coming year. But they should not be required to have to sacrifice all alone. Labor and industry must cooperate in a strong and effective effort to slow the spiral of inflation. You, the farmers of our country, must help.

I’ve asked industry and labor to hold down wage and price increases below the average increase of the last 2 years. Congress must help to control inflation with every vote and with every decision. Unnecessary spending must be stopped. Public works legislation now being considered would spend hundreds of millions of dollars more than it should on expensive pork barrel projects that we do not need and will give us thousands of extra Federal bureaucrats.

The fight against inflation becomes nearly impossible when the pressures of special economic interest lobbies are successful. These lobbies care absolutely nothing about the national interest—as long as they get theirs. We will never win the fight against inflation unless we help the Congress to resist these pressures.

The hospital cost containment bill is a perfect example. Intense lobbying by the medical and hospital industry defeated the hospital cost containment legislation in the House Commerce Committee, although the vast majority of Americans and the vast majority of Members of Congress are appalled at the astronomical rise of hospital costs in recent years, costs which have been rising and are still rising at more than twice the national inflation rate. This bill would save the Federal Treasury $19 billion over the next 5 years and will save the American people $56 billion in 5 years. How does that affect you on hospital cost for your family? That’s about $800 for every family in this country—$800 that your family will have to spend because the special interests so far have won the fight.

The United States Senate will soon be taking up this cost containment legislation. If Congress really wants to demonstrateits concern about inflation, it will pass hospital cost containment legislation this year. And if you really care, you will let Congress know what to do.

Another good example of important anti-inflation legislation is airline deregulation. One price that has gone down in the last year is the price of an airline ticket on overseas flights. That price has gone down because of policies set by my appointees to the Civil Aeronautics Board. We need to let those policies be embedded in the law so that domestic airline fares can also be reduced by competition under the American free enterprise system. The airline deregulation bill is an important way to get prices under control.

All of these issues are important. But in closing, I want to point to one issue more important than all, by which, no matter what else it does, the 1978 Congress will be measured, and that is its action on the most important and crucial problem, that of energy.

There is a huge and unchecked hemorrhage of American dollars flowing overseas, caused by our oil imports. More than half of American oil now comes from foreign countries. Imports are up more than 800 percent in the last 6 years, from $4.7 billion in 1972, to an incredible $42 billion today.

Oil imports in dollars are almost twice as great as all agricultural exports. This hurts our dollars. It costs Americans jobs. It robs us with unnecessary inflation and leaves our economy and even our national security at the mercy of a foreign cartel.

After more than 15 months of discussion, debate, and delay, it is time for Congress to pass a national energy plan. It’s time for the American farmer to be assured of a reliable supply of oil products and natural gas. And time is running out.

Our Nation will be seriously damaged if Congress does not act this year to give us a national energy policy. I have great confidence in the United States Congress, and we all realize that a good partnership between the President and the Congress is necessary if the needs of our country are to be met.

When the Congress cooperated with me, with Secretary Bergland, with you and others, in passing the 1977 farm legislation, we proved that we could work together to find good solutions to tough problems. And now that farm bill, as you can see on your own farm and in your own family, is beginning to do the job it was supposed to do.

We must do the same thing with energy, with civil service reform, with hospital costs, with airline deregulation, and with trimming Government spending and controlling the Government bureaucracy.

We must put public interest above special interest. Only then can we beat inflation.

I, as President, need your help as American citizens. I need the help of your elected representatives. And I need it now.

This is the challenge we face together. We cannot fail our great Nation.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:03 a.m. in the Hearnes Multi-purpose Building at the University of Missouri.

Following his remarks, the President attended a reception for Missouri State and Midcontinent Farmers Association officials in the Hearnes Multi-purpose Building.


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Chicago: Jimmy Carter, "Columbia, Missouri Remarks to Members of the Midcontinent Farmers Association.," Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1978 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter, 1978 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.2303 1420–1424. Original Sources, accessed February 25, 2024,

MLA: Carter, Jimmy. "Columbia, Missouri Remarks to Members of the Midcontinent Farmers Association." Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1978, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter, 1978 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.2303, pp. 1420–1424. Original Sources. 25 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Carter, J, 'Columbia, Missouri Remarks to Members of the Midcontinent Farmers Association.' in Public Papers of Jimmy Carter, 1978. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter, 1978 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.2303, pp.1420–1424. Original Sources, retrieved 25 February 2024, from