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Reedley, California - Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session Following a Tour of the Kryder Farm

May 17, 1977


THE PRESIDENT. I think anybody could turn around and look at the valley and see the beauty of this place and the extraordinary productivity of this part of the world. They've had in this whole region an unprecedented drought. And although on the surface it doesn't show up so starkly, those who analyze the present and future prospects are quite deeply concerned.

This small mountain behind me, this time of year, would ordinarily be covered with green grass 2 or 3 feet deep, which is being used in normal times for grazing. Silva produces beef cattle over to near those other hills. And he's had to sell already 65 percent of his beef cattle herd because there's just nothing for them to eat. And because of the drought last year and so far this year, the price of hay, which ordinarily would be $50 or $60 a ton, is between $85 and $100 a ton. At the price of cattle now at the market, it's impossible to produce them. So what he's had to do is just to sell his cattle. If the rains come, and the snows in the winter come, then he'd have to replenish his whole herd by purchasing brood stock again.

This farm on which we are now standing was formerly a cattle ranch, and it now, of course, produces olives and plums and a young orchard of peaches. And this is an area that is presently irrigated from a well that is on this farm itself. They don't receive any irrigation water from the reservoirs in the mountains.

The purpose of my visit here is to try to anticipate the devastating effect next year, not only in this valley region but throughout the country, if the drought should continue.

We all saw a temporary aberration of very high food costs brought about by the few weeks of winter weather this year. And if the drought should continue throughout 1977 and 1978, as it has been in the last 18 months, the production of food in this region--which is the most highly productive region, perhaps, in the world--would be drastically reduced. Many crops that would have been planted this year have not been planted. And some farmers, in order to conserve the limited water they have and to keep their vines and trees alive, have had to knock off all the fruit--grapes, citrus, olives, and so forth--and let what scarce water there is just go to sustaining the tree itself and not producing the crop.

This is probably going to be much more prevalent later on this year. And you've probably noticed, coming here from Fresno, that the main irrigation ditch, which ordinarily would be full this time of the year, is completely dry. Some of the metropolitan areas, including Fresno, use water that is permitted to seep into the ground during high water times of the year, and then the water is later pumped out of the ground with underground wells. This year there won't be any replenishment of those ground water supplies, and the water level is falling 6 or 8 feet per year.

So, what we see here is the first stages of what could be a national problem of great severity. We have proposed already to the Congress aid for these farmers-long-term loans at low-interest rates and some direct grants which might permit them to drill deeper wells, to line irrigation ditches with plastic so that water won't be lost, and also to prepare for a low crop yield this year.

We have seen the reservoirs that we flew over in the mountains. Ordinarily, they would be brimming full, with adequate snow still on the mountaintops to replenish them for several weeks. But there is no snow on the mountains now, and the reservoirs are maybe a third full and being depleted quite rapidly.

This is very important for me to understand. I've not been familiar with many different crops. Red Martin says that they produce 200 different kinds of crops in this valley alone.

I don't know how to answer questions very well about it, but if you have any questions for a few minutes, I'm sure the farmers behind me or the conservation specialists would be glad to answer your questions.



Q. During your campaign when you were running for President, you criticized President Ford's veto of so many projects without consulting Congress. You have vetoed about 17 water projects without really consulting Congress. Do you feel that you've lost support there that you might need for your energy programs, the arms limitation talks, and do you feel that the people deserve a second thinking on those water projects?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we've had a second thinking on the projects. As a matter of fact, we have about 300 water projects in the country under construction or under plans having been approved. After a very careful reassessment of the 35 most doubtful projects, I recommended that 18 of them not be built. That's 18 out of 300. It's very important not to waste money on unnecessary projects, which means that you can't spend money on projects that are necessary now and in the future.

I've not vetoed any bills of Congress yet. And I'm trying to work with the Congress in deleting those projects as they approve the appropriations for that subject this year.

I do reserve the right, though, to veto items that the Congress passes if I believe very deeply that they are mistaken. There's got to be some rationale brought into the approval of projects. In the past, quite often those kinds of undertakings were created simply 'because of the influence of a Congressperson in getting some special deal for one district when the overall national priorities were not that much a consideration.

But I think we've brought some realism into this proposal. As a matter of fact, in California we did not disapprove any projects. The only holdup is on the Auburn Dam, and the main reason--the only reason for the holding up there is to determine if it is safe. It's on an earthquake fault zone area, and if that dam should be built and should fail, as one did recently in Idaho, it would destroy, for instance, the city of Sacramento. So, we don't want to take any chances there. But that's the only one in California that has been held up, because we think they are needed.


Q. Mr. President, what do you do next year if it gets worse?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there's nothing that we can do if it gets worse. One reason I wanted to come to this farm is because they've shifted to a very efficient means of using what scarce water there is. You probably noticed a little hose down alongside the trees with one drip nozzle on it. That nozzle puts out about one gallon of water per hour--is that right?--and this uses for a given irrigation need, only about 25 percent of the water that would 'be required if other means of irrigation were pursued.

So, I think there would be a shifting toward more efficient methods of irrigation, a drastic cutback in the number of acres that are harvested. And obviously, this has been one of the means by which the farmers have seen the interrelationship between different areas of this country and how to conserve water that formerly has been spent and wasted quite prolifically.

So, I think that the main thing that we could do is just to provide financial aid to tide them over. As I mentioned in Fresno, there's a total appropriation in prospect of $1.2 billion--about $400 million of that is for direct grants to farmers; the other $800 million, roughly, would be for loans. And the decision of how that money should be used within the broad framework established by the Department of Agriculture and the Congress would be decided by each individual farmer involved.


Q. Mr. President, what about your goal for reducing inflation down 2 percentage points if this drought continues?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, this would have a serious, adverse impact on inflation because it would affect the price of food, and particularly because this is such a bountifully productive region. Of course, my goal for inflation control is in 2 or 3 years in the future. And we could take a temporary setback, I think, and still reach that goal. But obviously, a food shortage and extended drought would mean a much greater pressure for higher inflationary trends. There's no way to get around it.


Q. Mr. President, you talked to some of the area farmers for awhile. What impressions are you going to go away with from this area? What can you. do to help[inaudible].

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the severity of the drought is something that I didn't understand until I came here and talked to the people involved. The surface appearance, the fact that the trees are still green, is misleading.

The depletion of the reservoirs, the absence of replenishment of underground water supplies, the necessity for a drastic cutback in the frequency of irrigation, the dropping of the water level below ground, the absence of snow in the mountains are things that accumulatively have made a great impact on me. And we have proposed already an additional amount of Federal help, roughly $800 million. The total amount that's presently to be approved, as I said, is about $1.2 billion.

And I would say that California would get a very large portion of this because of the quantity of food that's produced here and because the severity of the drought is greater in California than any other place. So, a major part of this drought aid would come to this region.

Q. Mr. President, there are some people in this area who feel that an hour or an hour and a half isn't long enough to really understand the problems of this valley. Do you think it's been long enough?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't claim to know all the problems of the valley, and I wish I could spend more time here. But, of course, this is my third visit to the Fresno area. The last time I was here was at the Erving Farm, just a few miles up the road. And Bob Bergland has been here, the Secretary of Agriculture, and, of course, we work very closely with Soil and Water Conservation District Managers like Red Martin behind me. And we also, of course, work with the State officials, including legislators and Governors and others. So, I think the whole mechanism involved in analyzing the severity of the drought is adequate, which I think helps to overcome the very brief time that I could spend here myself.

But for me to understand it personally, as a President, as a farmer, I think will stand me in good stead as developments take place in the next few months. With the quantity of rain, I can estimate much more easily the beneficial effects of it. And with the extension of the drought, I think I can estimate very accurately the need for additional support and help.

Q. Sir, do you support ground water regulation by the government for the first time?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that the ground water regulation is going to have to come. It ought to be done, though, by organizations of farmers themselves. One of the questions that we were just discussing with the two farmers a few minutes ago is who is going to decide, when water does get scarce, which kinds of crops get water and which ones have to do without.

The first crops to go without water would probably be permanent pasture and rangeland, and then different kinds of trees would come in an order of priority for the quantity of food they produce and the value of the food.

I don't think that the Federal Government could ever get involved in it. I don't think the State general assembly or the Governor could decide. I think that the farmers in each region like this valley, through a committee, ought to set up ahead of time the rules for determining who gets water and how much, and then let the conservation measures be an integral part of that process and let the decision be made by, perhaps, the Federal administrators who control the water reservoirs about how much water goes to that region. But the allocation of water among farmers and among crops ought to be decided by farmer committees in the communities involved. One more question.

Q. Mr. President, do you see the possibility that you might increase the limit of 2,500 per farm under the emergency drought relief?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that's a possibility. I don't know how to answer that question yet. My first hope, of course, is that the rains will come and the drought will be alleviated. And if that should not occur, then I think you would have to balance two things: one is the maintenance of support and income of the farm families themselves; and secondly, and this would apply to the larger farms, the production of food for the Nation. And of course the first priority, I think, would be for the smaller farmers whose families' livelihood is dependent upon getting adequate Federal aid. When the question of adequate food supplies builds up as a major necessity, then I think the larger allocation for the larger farmers might come into play. But that would be a second priority.

Thank you very much.

REPORTER. Thank you, sir.

Note: The President spoke at 5 p.m. at the farm of Charles and Genie Kryder. Prior to his remarks, the President toured the farm accompanied by Chuck Kryder, Manuel Silva, and Morris A. Martin, Jr., of the Soil Conservation Service, Department of Agriculture. Following his remarks, the President went to Fresno Airport for the return trip to Washington, D.C.

Jimmy Carter, Reedley, California - Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session Following a Tour of the Kryder Farm Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244370

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