The Nov. 13 editorial "Bad Seed" ignores the very real problems still facing our farmers.
When stock market investors were riding high with the market and the defense industry was enjoying its biggest boom in decades, rural America was suffering its worst time since the Great Depression.
The Post chose a small farm program I am trying to create for sunflower growers to drive home the message that we need to cut our deficit. But the costs of an out-of-control fiscal policy must not be borne by the one sector that has seen so much damage in the 1980s.
My state of North Dakota has lost a staggering 7,500 family farms -- 19 percent of our farms -- since Ronald Reagan took over the White House. Our small towns have lost businesses and, with them, jobs. Our young people are fleeing to cities because they cannot make a living close to home.
As cochairman of the Senate Rural Health Caucus, I have seen the extent of the suffering. One-third of our elderly live in rural America, and rural areas have more people living in poverty than do the inner cities. Rural areas have a higher maternal and infant mortality rate, higher occupational death rates and a higher percentage of chronically ill, yet they often have inadequate health care resources.
Now, how do sunflowers fit into this picture? While my program would guarantee our sunflower growers a break-even price of 8 cents a pound, the Europeans receive about 26 cents, thanks to subsidies. The Post is absolutely right: the cost of my one-year program would indeed be small -- in fact, nothing in fiscal 1988. There is also no question that a successful initiative resulting in the end of foreign subsidies would be preferable. But we cannot afford to wait for action overseas to save this industry.
Unless we do something to encourage farmers to grow sunflowers next year, it is unlikely that we will have a sunflower industry. Our rural towns will then suffer another great loss. For example, a sunflower seed crushing plant in Enderlin, N.D., is threatened with closure without this program. Already hard hit by decreasing acreage and at times running below capacity, this plant employs 120 people in a town of only 1,151 and indirectly creates 192 more jobs. The loss of that plant could be the death of Enderlin.
During the Great Depression our government made a commitment to keep farmers on the land. Now we are seeing a new test of that commitment. How many more farmers will be lost, and how many more ghost towns will be created before we can reverse this trend? While we work to cut the deficit, we must not allow budget panic to blind us to the crucial responsibilities of our federal government.
I will continue to fight for the family farmers of North Dakota and the rest of this nation. This sunflower support program is a good investment of taxpayers' dollars. Its benefits will flow far beyond just our sunflower growers to our seed companies, storage elevators, railroads and retailers. I am sure Congress will see the wisdom of this program and reject the parochial view espoused by The Post.
-- Quentin N. Burdick The writer, a Democratic senator from North Dakota, is a member of the Appropriations Committee.