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Excerpts from the Press Conference

July 07, 1936

THE PRESIDENT: Let us talk agriculture. I have here some pretty up-to-date charts which I think Steve (Early) can take out to the Press Room and pin up so that you can see them.

They show pasture conditions on June 1—the black belt is the extreme drought—and the conditions on July 1. See what a difference there is. This here (indicating) is the statement of rains from July 1 to 6, so that the three of them give you a pretty good idea.

The general situation is that while there are still drought conditions in the Southeast, that is to say Southern Kentucky, Northern Tennessee and Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, they are not our principal problem. There are also drought conditions, as I said before, in Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas which have been slightly relieved in the last two or three days.

The principal problem is, of course, in the Northwest, especially in the Dakotas, Eastern Montana, Northeastern Wyoming and extending now into Northeastern Minnesota.

There are, all told, in all of these drought areas, including the Southeast and Southwest, about 204,000 families who need some form of immediate cash relief. The bulk of them are, of course, in the Northwest.

We have worked out a fairly comprehensive plan by which we are putting 50,000 to work at the present time, on W.P.A. jobs. These 50,000 are doing useful work, chiefly in the following forms: first, digging wells, in other words getting down to water; and, second, building earth dams, so that when rains do come they will not all run off all of a sudden; third, building farm-to-market roads. Those are the three principal forms of actual relief work. Those workers are being paid weekly wages, and will continue until snow flies. In other words, they will be taken care of with actual work until it is impossible to work outdoors in that area.

Q. May I interrupt to ask you what the weekly wage is?

MR. AUBREY WILLIAMS: About $15 a week.

THE PRESIDENT: About $15 a week. That will keep them going and, in a good many cases, will take care of some of their needs into the winter. I shall not say through the winter, but into the winter.

Q. Has that payment started?

THE PRESIDENT: In Minnesota they are going to work at the present rate of 800 new workers a day. In North Dakota it is 2,000 new workers a day; in South Dakota 2,800 new workers a day; and in Montana, Eastern Montana, 400 new workers a day.

Q. Does your chart show a breakdown for the Southeast as against the Northwest in the number of sufferers?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't think so. The great bulk is of course in the Northwest.

Q. Mr. President, those are chiefly wheat States, are they not?

THE PRESIDENT: Mostly wheat, yes.

Q. Isn't the wheat ready for harvest?

THE PRESIDENT: No, there isn't any to harvest. It just isn't thereto harvest.

MR. WILLIAMS: The spring wheat crop has been hit so hard that very little of it will be harvested in this area.

THE PRESIDENT: The wheat crop will be about 15 percent of normal.

Then, number two, we are taking care of 50,000 families with subsistence loans and subsistence grants. That is part of the regular Resettlement work, but this work is in addition in other words, these are new people. Then of the 200,000 that are already on subsistence loans and grants, there are 70,000 there; so that gives you a total of 150,000 who are either being taken care of or are going to be taken care of in the course of the next few days at this rate of putting them on. The program will be actually under way probably in a couple of weeks.

That leaves a gap, which still has to be filled, of about 34,000 families, and we are working toward that end.

Now, the cattle problem. I shall take that up first. Cattle are going out of that area, as a private enterprise, in fairly large volume; but the price is holding up. Individual cattle raisers who have fair-sized herds are able to move their cattle out quite satisfactorily at the present time, to move them out to market or to feeding, one or the other.

The people who find it difficult to handle the situation are chiefly the small cattlemen, the individual fellow who has only eight or ten or fifteen or twenty head, and with him it is principally a problem not only of getting them out, but of keeping some title in them. In other words, we don't want him to lose all of his breeding cattle for next year or lose his immediate title. That is why we are going to use every effort not to buy cattle ourselves and process them for food. We prefer to loan the money to those individuals and let them ship the cattle out as feeders. They would retain the title to them.

You know the process: You send the cows out to somebody else who has grass, for instance in Western Montana and Idaho, and you pay that man so much a month a head. I think the usual price is a dollar a head a month or something along that line. You retain the title to the cattle you ship out. They are not immediately processed. That also gives you an opportunity of retaining breeder stock for next year.

The wheat acreage this year, mind you, is nearly 10 percent higher than the average wheat acreage from 1928 to 1932. Now, that explodes a great many stories, doesn't it? It explodes lots and lots of stories, especially the ones written for political effect. Ten percent more wheat acreage in the country this year than for the average of 1928 to 1932. Of course the yield is going to be way below the average. That is caused by the drought, but the actual acreage planted to wheat is nearly 10 percent higher than the average of those years.

Q. What were those years?

THE PRESIDENT; 1928 to 1932. The same thing is true of corn acreage. It is up over last year; and so is the wheat acreage. In other words, the shortage is not due to any decrease in acreage. Write that down. It is due to drought.

Q. What are the payments for crop curtailment?

THE PRESIDENT: Soil conservation, in other words, putting in a rotation of crops.

Q. I meant how much will go to those States in these payments?

THE PRESIDENT: Turning it into pasture land and vice versa. I cannot tell you the actual figure.

MR. TUGWELL: We would have to look it up.

Q. These farmers will get money?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes. . . .

Now, as part of the program, we also have to encourage the harvesting of forage crops in order to take care of those cattle which have not enough feed in the drought area. We do that without any decrease in benefits for the people who did not plow their land but turned it into a feed crop.

Q. Is that a monetary encouragement?

THE PRESIDENT: No, they have their contract—they have their benefit contract. It is not a contract—you know if they go in for diversified farming, they get so much of a bonus. They get the same bonus if they cut their forage crop and ship it into the drought area, no more.

Q. Will that be enough feed for the cattle?

THE PRESIDENT: We hope so.

Q. Tell us about Mr. Farley. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: Then, there is another thing we might as well explode. I'm afraid somebody back there is not interested in farming. I shall come to the other feature; it is all right.

Q. Before we get into this, can you tell me in dollars what this is going to amount to?

THE PRESIDENT: No, not yet. That is too much spot news. Let us look at this thing from the immediate angle.

Q. Does this fund come from W.P.A. money?

THE PRESIDENT: It comes from all kinds, W.P.A., Resettlement, Surplus Commodity Corporation, etc. Now, what I do want to point out is this: Up there in the Northwestern area there have been stories, as usual, that we are going to take everybody away and depopulate the country.

Q. You would not take them away, would you?

THE PRESIDENT: We are not going to take them away at all. Nobody ever had any idea, in his sane moments, of depopulating the country. What we are going to change is what might be called the economy of the country. The country is going to support a population. As wheat land, no; it is not working because the water table drops down 8 inches a year. The result is the water runs off and the surface blows away.

We figure that a proper use of this country will support, perhaps not quite as many people, but very nearly. There are lots of human beings today who can remain there if they will do the right thing. For instance, if we can get grass back there, it means that the acreage will be used more and more for cattle. People have to look after cattle. There are certain places out there, certain valleys, where the water table has not disappeared, where you can grow vegetables, truck and small crops that take human beings to look after them. There are certain areas which can be and should be forested. It will take human beings to look after that.

What we are working on is a plan to avoid a continuation of what we have been through now for the last three or four years. The Federal Government has spent somewhere around $300,000,000, and, just so long as we do not change the economy, we are going to have to spend money year after year, unless the cycles change. We are going to have to take care of people on relief if they keep on with their present economy.

What we are trying to do is to work out a program that will keep the great bulk of the population out in the same area and at the same time make it unnecessary to spend each year millions of dollars to keep them from starving.

Q. For how long a period did you say that $300,000,000 has been spent?

THE PRESIDENT: In the last three or four years, 1933, '34, '35 and'36, four years. . . .

I considered going out there this week but what I wanted to do was to get this program actually under way. It will take another three or four weeks before it is under way.

The chief need will come, of course, in the winter and what we are working at now is to give these people work and provide for fall planting and for taking care of their cattle. It is a program that will take a month or six weeks to get under way.

That is why I am planning some time in August to go out to this Northwest dust bowl to look over the situation and see how these plans now adopted are working out, to take a look-see trip to see how it is going, because it is a very important national question.

If this drought area spreads or is allowed to spread, it will necessarily move around. It will move east and south into Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and we have to stop it from coming east and south and west.

Q. Mr. President, what States do we understand you will visit, personally visit?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, probably the Dakotas and possibly Minnesota.

Q. Any political speeches on this trip?

THE PRESIDENT.' No, certainly not. . . .

Q. Do you have any plans for Quoddy after the present money has run out?

THE PRESIDENT: Only that I am working very hard in the case of Quoddy and the Florida Ship Canal to use the existing plant so that it won't lie idle.

Q. The existing plant?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, the existing plant. In the case of the Florida Ship Canal we are negotiating with the University of Florida for the use of the buildings down there for—I think they call it an Extension Service Course.

Q. That would be a short-term lease?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

Q. Does that mean that you are abandoning the Ship Canal?

THE PRESIDENT: Have to. The same with Quoddy.

Q. How about Quoddy? Do you think you can use the buildings up there?

THE PRESIDENT: I cannot tell you yet, but I am working very hard to find a useful occupation for the buildings.

Q. We will probably have to rent them.

THE PRESIDENT: There is a very good hotel in Eastport.

Q. I did not see one.

Q. Do you mean the Quoddy power project is abandoned?

THE PRESIDENT: I cannot devote any money to it. How can I?

I don't know. . . .

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/208933

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