THE PRESIDENT: Sorry to keep you waiting, but the Secretary of the Treasury was over, as usual, this morning.
Q. You are kept busy.
THE PRESIDENT: The Japanese Admiral is coming to see me this morning. Steve will tell you all about him.
Q. Are we going to have a war? (Laughter)
THE PRESIDENT: I haven't any real news, but I suppose you would like to have me talk a little bit about the two other measures. Entirely just for background, the general thought has been this: that even if we can get through the three measures-banking economics, the economy bill and the beer bill—we still shall have done nothing on the constructive side, unless you consider the beer bill partially constructive.
There are two other matters that I would very much like to get started while the Congress is here—both of them constructive. The first is a definite effort to put people to work. And the way I would put it is this: Like all very big projects, it is in a sense experimental, therefore we do not want to launch it on too big a scale until we know how practical it is. Probably I will send up a message. I can't tell you the exact date, but tomorrow if everything goes well.
The idea is to put people to work in the national forests and on other Government and State properties on work which would not otherwise be done; in other words, work that does not conflict with existing so-called public works. I cannot give you the details of it now. All I can tell you is that I am working with the Director of the Budget now, to see if we cannot keep the appropriation for it—new money— down as low as we possibly can. We think we can pay for a large part of it out of unexpended balances—money heretofore appropriated for other purposes, which would be a very distinct help to the Treasury.
The other measure is not only a constructive measure but an immediate one, for if it does not go through at this time, it might as well wait until next winter. That is the effort to increase the value of farm products. The reason for haste on that is perfectly obvious, for if we defer consideration of it until April we probably would not get it through until May or the end of April anyway, and by then a large part of the crops would already be in the ground. If we are going to have it apply to this year's crops, it ought to be put through immediately. Again I cannot tell you the details of it because they are still working on it.
Q. Does that include the principal crops?
THE PRESIDENT: I think, entirely off the record, it will be somewhat along the lines of leasing and certain features of the Smith Cotton Bill.
Q. Leasing? You mean taking marginal land out of the production column?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, for the reduction of acreage. . . .
Q. Anything in plans for putting people to work, does that include a vast public works program?
THE PRESIDENT: I knew you were going to ask me that question and I am not ready to answer it yet, for this reason. This is entirely off the record. There are quite a lot of people who would like to see the bill made an all-inclusive bill; in other words, a big public works program, like the Wagner Bill that failed in the last Session, or a modification of it along the La Follette-Costigan lines. I don't know yet whether the bill will be made all-inclusive or whether it will be confined principally by the main thought of putting people immediately to work on natural resources.
Q. Isn't it the program of the Administration to put through that Wagner Bill for unemployment relief?
THE PRESIDENT: There is enough money in the R.F.C. for direct aid for municipalities for unemployment relief to last until May; therefore it is a grave question as to whether that is the kind of emergency that ought to keep the Congress here.
Q. How many men would be used on the forestry plan?
THE PRESIDENT: On the national forests, the Forestry Bureau says two hundred thousand men.
Q. What do you mean by the national forests? What are the national forests?
THE PRESIDENT: There is the Shenandoah Forest, the Big Smoky; there is quite a lot of Federal land in Pennsylvania, some in New Hampshire and, of course, there is a very large acreage out west.
Q. What do they do, cut down trees or plant trees?
THE PRESIDENT: The easiest way to explain it is this: All through the East where, of course, unemployment is relatively the worst with far more people, nearly all of the so-called forest land owned by the Government is second —, third—or fourthgrowth land—what we call "scrub-growth"—which has grown up on it. What does that consist of? There are probably four or five thousand trees to the average acre—little bits of trees, saplings and so forth. Proper forestation is not possible; you will never get a marketable timber growth on that kind of land—just plenty of cordwood and that is about all. But with respect to the timber supply, the lumber supply of the country, we are using lumber at the present rate of cutting somewhere around three to four times the rate of the annual growth. We are rapidly coming to an end of the natural lumber resources. The end is within sight and, unless something is done about it, we will have to become a very large lumber-importing Nation within from twenty to forty years.
Now, take this second —, third —, fourth-growth land. Put men in there. Say there are five thousand of these saplings to the acre. Go in and cut out four thousand and leave one thousand. The men go in there and take out the crooked trees, the dead trees, the bushes, all of which have no value as lumber, and leave approximately one thousand trees to the acre. That means that the trees are sufficiently spaced to get plenty of light and air, and that there is not too much of a strain on the soil. Those trees then eventually will become a very valuable lumber crop.
In addition to that, one of our great difficulties all over the country is with fire. These men will be put to work in building fire breaks. A fire break is merely an operation of cutting a thirty or forty foot swath through the forest, and plowing it up, raking all the leaves and everything possible away from that strip and keeping it clear. The regular forest rangers and fire-protection people, in their tours, will then have a great deal better chance of limiting to a small area any fire that breaks out . . . .
Q. Even at a dollar a day pay for a year for these men, the cost is enormous. I haven't figured it, but I can see it will run into many millions of dollars. I figure where you would need a half a billion or one billion and spend it on this one item.
THE PRESIDENT: Just for background, speaking on that by way of explanation, these people would be people who are today on the dole. They are today performing no useful work, and earning no money. Those are the only people we would take—people performing absolutely no work at all and now just being barely supported by communities and States. . . .
Q. How soon do you think you can get them to work?
THE PRESIDENT: Three or four weeks—that is, start getting them to work. . . .
Q. Will this farm bill precede the unemployment bill?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know; I haven't got to that yet or the time of sending the message up. Then, of course, there is another element in what Ernest Lindley (one of the correspondents) asked about paying these people wages. It will help to relieve their own families. If a family man is taken, he will send a large part of it back home, and that relieves the community too. . . .
Q. I understand that some of the features of this farm bill will be presented to the International Economic Conference to make it international, putting this country on the same basis.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I think the only thing on that is this: There are certain crops like wheat where the world surplus is comparatively small. It is only from 10 to 15 percent. Therefore, if the wheat-producing Nations can reduce pro rata to that extent, it will help very much to solve the world price of wheat—to raise the world price of wheat as well as our own. Obviously if we can raise the world wheat price to a proper level, the need for continuing with an acreage-reducing plan in this country would not be so great.
Now, the surplus wheat-producing Nations besides ourselves are Canada, Australia, Argentina, Russia and the Balkans.
I think you can say—I shall say this entirely off the record—Russia is today probably, so far as we know, not in a position to do very much wheat exporting, for they need their own wheat.
The last wheat conference in 1929—somewhere along that, 1928 or 1929—failed largely because we, the United States, would not go along with any effort to reduce our own surplus production. Yet today we are going to take the first step looking toward world surplus reduction. And if Canada, Australia, Argentina and the Balkans go along with us, we have a possibility of an international agreement to cut the world wheat surplus and in that way to take a possible practical step in world economics.
Q. It will be brought out at this economic conference, won't it, or at some further conference?
THE PRESIDENT: It is on the agenda; it might be brought up ahead of it to get it out of the way.
Q. Has it been taken up diplomatically already?
THE PRESIDENT: I should say it has been taken up wholly unofficially so far. Right, Steve?
MR. EARLY: Right, sir.
Q. Can we use this?
THE PRESIDENT: For background it is all right.
Q. Is it permanent legislation?
THE PRESIDENT: No. Obviously a farm bill is in the nature of an experiment. We all recognize that. My position toward farm legislation is that we ought to try to do something to increase the value of farm products and if the darn thing doesn't work, we can say so quite frankly, but at least try it.
Q. Aren't there other crops where the same sort of agreement could be reached?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, very distinctly. . . .
Q. Do you want to say anything about the bank situation, Mr. President? It seems to be working very well.
THE PRESIDENT: No, except, off the record, that there is one fellow responsible for its working so well and that is Bill Woodin (Secretary of the Treasury). He has done a perfectly grand job, and has been up day and night, literally. It is really wonderful the way Bill came down here and took hold of a thing he had never had any experience at before. I think what he has done would be a credit to anybody. . . .
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/207838