Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

January 17, 1936

THE PRESIDENT: What is the news?

Q. That is what we would like to know.

Q. What is the handout?

THE PRESIDENT: There isn't any. I have to work it out.

Q. There is still a lot of speculation on your attitude toward the bonus.

THE PRESIDENT: I suppose there is. There was last year and there was the year before. This is the third year.

Q. What is the reply?

THE PRESIDENT: There was speculation last year and there was speculation the year before. This is the third year.

Q. Shall we guess the same way we did last year? (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: You are too obvious, Stevie (Mr. Stephenson). . . .

Q. Do you care to discuss the breakdown of the London Naval Conference for background?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think I can. I think you have practically everything there was; the various statements made by the British and by the Americans and the Japanese cover it pretty well. There is not anything much which can be added. It is quite clear. . . .

Q. Mr. President, would you care to talk on farm relief if we point out that you are not replying to Mr. Hoover?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I would just as soon do that. As a matter of fact what I was reading over when you came in were two things: first, the Soil Erosion Act of 1935 and, second, the statement I made and gave out on October 25th of this past year. I think probably the easiest thing to do is to read the statement of October 25th over, because that gives you a pretty good picture, a pretty good lead as to what the objective has been for a long time. In other words, this isn't anything new.

This statement of October 25th last year referred to the broad policy in relation to agricultural adjustment; and of course on that I want to point out again that adjustment does not mean only adjustment downward, it means adjustment upward as well. If a man takes a quarter of his acreage out of one crop and puts it in another crop, he is adjusting one crop downward and adjusting another crop upward. It is an adjustment that works both ways.

I said there were two points and, mind you, this was away back in October.

The first was to carry out the gains already made, thereby avoiding the danger of a slump back into the conditions brought about by our national neglect of agriculture. The second, to broaden present adjustment operations so as to give farmers increasing incentives for conservation and efficient use of the Nation's soil resources.

(Reading) "The time may come when the Triple A will prove as important in stimulating certain kinds of production as it has been in removing recent burdensome surpluses.

"Tens of millions of acres have been abandoned because of erosion. This jeopardizes both consumer and producer. Real damage to the consumer does not result from moderate increases in food prices but from collapse of farm income so drastic as to compel ruthless depletion of soil. That is the real menace to the Nation's future food supply and has caused farmers to lose their homes. It has hastened the spread of tenancy. It lies at the root of many serious economic and social problems besetting agriculture.

"Already the adjustment programs have made important gains in conservation and restoration of soil fertility. Many millions of acres which farmers have signed contracts to divert from surplus production"—this, of course, was when the contracts were legal—"are being devoted to legumes, pastures, hay and other crops which fertilize the soil and protect it from blowing and washing away.

"The long-time and more permanent adjustment program will provide positive incentives for soil conservation."

And then I spoke of the more simplified and more flexible program of the future and how it can serve to iron out the succession of extreme market gluts and shortages which in the past have wrecked the structure. And I said further, "I can think of nothing more important to the permanent welfare of the Nation than long-time agricultural adjustment carried out along these lines."

That was true last October and it is true today with the exception of the contract method of soil conservation.

The Soil Conservation Act seems to point out a way to carry out the broad purposes; so we are proceeding on that theory.

Q. Does that not also contain a contract method?


Q. Doesn't that permit the Government to lease land?


Q. And thereby withdraw it from production?

THE PRESIDENT: The bill says at the beginning, "It is hereby recognized that the wastage of soil and moisture resources of farm, grazing and forest lands resulting from soil erosion is a wastage of national welfare, etc. The Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to conduct surveys relating to the character of soil erosion, the preventive measures needed, to carry out preventive methods, including but not limited to engineering methods, changes in use of land, to cooperate and enter into agreements with and to furnish financial or other aid to any agency, Government or otherwise, or any person subject to the conditions necessary, to acquire lands or rights or interests therein by purchase, gift, condemnation or otherwise, whenever necessary for the purposes of the Act." The rest is administration. . . .

Q. Does the present statute provide you with sufficiently broad legislative . . .

THE PRESIDENT: It may be necessary to amend very slightly to clarify one or two of the provisions. It would be a very simple amendment.

Q. How do you raise the money for this?

THE PRESIDENT: On that we haven't anything as yet.

Q. Do you propose to amend the Act to provide for additional payments to farmers?

THE PRESIDENT: You mean this Act?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: As I said, very, very slight amendments.

Q. If you lease the land from the farmer and thereby withdraw production, the rental money you pay to the farmer would be about the same thing as the benefit payment under the A.A.A.?

THE PRESIDENT: That would depend entirely on the character of the land. It would not be in every case.

Q. Any estimate of the cost of this program?


Q. In case a man had any submarginal land on his farm at all, this would not give you the means for leasing it?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but his land might be running out. It might not be submarginal today, but it might be tomorrow.

Q. Or some time in the future?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. One of the things that needs clarification, speaking about amendments: Obviously the purpose of this is to prevent the loss of soil fertility. Now, of course, very few of you know anything about farming (laughter) but you can imagine perfectly well a field—let us bring it down to a field—where there isn't erosion in the sense that the soil is running off of the field into the creek. In other words, it is not something that, when it dries, you can pick up in your hand. Nevertheless, that same field may be having a condition where the chemicals in the soil are being carried away. You can't pick up those chemicals in your hand.

So, soil erosion, when you come down to a matter of actual fact, may be in one of two forms, the tangible thing that you can pick up in your hand, such as a handful of mud, or it may be the chemicals that are being washed out of the land. For instance, you take Hyde Park: It is an entirely different proposition from down in Georgia. In Warm Springs, Georgia, the soil itself actually washes off the cultivated fields and eventually you get these great furrows, gullies. At Hyde Park we don't get any gullies except on some of the higher hills. But if I don't rotate crops at Hyde Park, if I keep on planting corn year after year in the same field, after a while I don't get any corn crop. There are two causes, the first being that the corn itself takes the minerals out of the soil, and the second is that when that land is never put back into pasture, the chemicals in that particular field run off with the rains. That does not make a gully because chemicals are almost intangible; you cannot pick them up in your hand.

That is one of the questions with respect to this bill-whether it clearly enough states that soil erosion is not limited to the physical running off of the soil in the form of ground. Is that clear?

Q. On the other basis of interpretation, there would be erosion on every farm in the country.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, possible erosion.

Q. Wouldn't it be actual, because you can't keep growing the same crop on any land without having it deteriorate?

THE PRESIDENT: That is perfectly true.

Q. As a practical proposition, who will determine, and how, what land is eroding and what is running away?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, the same people who are doing it now, the county agents helped by the State colleges of agriculture. Put the entire system under the Department of Agriculture.

Q. Would you care to state whether you believe this program would be better in the long run than the original A.A.A.?

THE PRESIDENT: If you read the October 25th statement you will see that this is carrying out what A.A.A. started to do, which was supplemented by the Soil Erosion Act. It is nothing new; no new policy. It is carrying out what we started two years ago.

Q. Have you any estimate of the number of acres of crop land which will be taken out of commercial production?

THE PRESIDENT: Probably not any. In other words, as I said before, if you have a hundred acres all planted to one thing and if you take twenty-five acres and devote them to something else, that does not take them out of production. If you put a field into pasture, that does not take it out of commercial production.

Q. With the exception of these minor amendments to the Soil Erosion Act, you do not expect to ask for legislation on the subject?

THE PRESIDENT: On the farm end of it. I am not talking about the tax end. That is a different thing. I think we can probably get by with these small amendments and with appropriations.

Q. You will have to ask for new taxes?

THE PRESIDENT: That is an entirely different subject.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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