This segment is part of the The Farm Crisis documentary, which examines the tragic circumstances faced by farmers for most of the 1980s, when thousands were forced into bankruptcy, land values dropped by one-third nationally, and sky-high interest rates turned successes into failures seemingly overnight.
So, where were the voices of caution? They were there but often went unheeded, they spoke too softly or they came too late. Individual farmers were hurting. No one really wanted to believe it was as bad as it was. But agriculture was in serious trouble. According to some, one of the most perplexing frustrations was the seeming indifference with which officials in Washington viewed what was happening on the farm.
David Stockman: And now that has all gone sour because it was based on unsound economics and because it was propped up with federal price reports and cheap credit that couldn't be justified. And I don't see why we have a responsibility to step in --
Neil Harl: We had a meeting in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in January of 1985 with David Stockman and that was a ruckus event, I must say. He came in late and almost before he got settled into his chair he started talking and being critical of the fact that agriculture had caused its own problem. At one point there was an exchange between Branstad and Stockman, with Branstad getting up and grabbing his chair and slamming it down for emphasis and said, I chaired the Reagan committee for re-election in Iowa, I think I deserve better treatment than this.
Governor Terry Branstad: And the President was very supportive and sympathetic. unfortunately, David Stockman, who worked for him and who was the director of OMB was pretty cavalier in his attitude and I think that really, considering all the stress and challenge we were going through in Iowa, we were not very happy and, of course, we didn't just take no for an answer. But obviously it was disappointing that we had to overcome the resistance from the OMB director within the administration. But I'm proud of what we did and I think we sincerely and emphatically fought for what we believed was absolutely essential.
It turns out the farmers proved to be skillful at politicking and publicizing their plight. They were determined not to go quietly.
We are on the threshold in 1985 of repudiating American history itself. You know, George Washington said that agriculture was our most important industry. Thomas Jefferson said that our tillers of the soil were our most important citizens and the backbone of our whole democratic republic. And then David Stockman comes along and says, unlike Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, farm bankruptcies are needed. Forget David Stockman. Forget David Stockman. We're tired of it!