Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland said here today that "I know what it's like" to go through tough finacial times on the farm, but he said a farmers' strike is not the answer.
A strike has been proposed by militant farmers in the high plains of Colorado, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. The farmers have said their products and would stop buying machinery and other farm needs unless government price supports are raised.
Bergland is scheduled to meet in Wchita Saturday with farmers who are likely to have the same problems as those he met in Pueblo, Colo., yesterday. There, about 2,000 farmers and their wives complaining that most farm prices, particularly for wheat and cattle, are driving them out of business.
"I can sympathize with them," Minnesotan Bergland said today. "I've been through the same thing. I've farmed all my life. I've had hard going, poor prices, and poor crops and I know what it's like to have notes crowding in from all directions."
He said, however, he has no intention of raising support prices to levels desired by the farmers. By law he has such authority.
Of the threatened strike, Bergland said, "It's not possible, of course, for farmers in one locale to strike and have any significant impact on prices nationally." He estimated that it would take the cooperation of about 75 per cent of the nation's farmers for such a strike to have a major impact.
Bergland said he thinks the farmer's best hope for financial improvement lies in the programs contained in the 1977 farm bill that now is on President Carter's desk. The secretary said he will meet with the President Monday or Tuesday to discuss the bill. The President is concerned that the programs are too costly.
"I do not know whether he will sign it or not," Bergland said in a press conference here. Later, at a meeting with editorial writers of the Kansas City Star, he said he does not believe there is a major threat of a veto.
"But I can assure you he has not told me he will "sign the bill, Bergland told the editors, and he added that he does not believe a veto could be overridden by Congress.
The bill would substantially raise support prices for grains. It also contains a revamped food stamp program and liberalizes the terms under which the United States can use food to aid development in poor nations.
While Bergland was speaking with the Kansas City editors he received a telephone call from President Carter, who apparently was questioning one aspect of the farm legislation.
Berland said he thinks the overall financial structure of agriculture is sound although some farmers are being forced out of business by the current low prices.
Among today's money-troubled farmers, he said, are those who decided to expand and improve their operations when world demand for grain was strong and prices were high. Many of those farmers committed themselves to land and machinery purchases that became burdensome when crops improved and prices fell, Bergland noted.
"When wheat was $5 and corn was $5 (a bushel) people made some bad mistakes," Bergland said.
The former congressman is scheduled to speak at a Democratic fund-raising dinner in Wichita tonight.