President Carter held a mostly symbolic meeting in the living room of his family home here today with four fellow Southeastern farmers who are involved in the 10-day-old national farm protest strike.
The delegates, some of whom wore jackets and baseball caps that trumpeted their support for the strike, met for about 35 minutes with the President and his son, Chip, who works in the Carter family peanut warehouse here.
When Carter emerged from the meeting, wearing blue jeans, work boots and a bright red mackinaw jacket, he said the session had been "good." He told the men, "Y'all gave us a lot of information and a lot of good advice."
But Georgia strike leader Tommy Kersey, one of the delegates, said there is still uncertainty about the outcome of the meeting, which marked the first time Carter has talked face to face with farm strike representatives.
"He seemed concerned . . . I think he was concerned," Kersey told reporters later. "He was receptive. As to whether we have any results or not, we'll have to wait a day or so and see."
The meeting was arranged after a rally of 1,500 farmers here Friday. The farmers drove about 200 tractors into town, sealed off the main street and heard a host of speeches from protest leaders.
The strikers had hoped that the President would come down from his house about a half-mile away and speak to them but he refused, citing "security considerations" and saying that he had already expressed sympathy with the protest in several previous remarks.
The principal concern of the strikers, who have been organized by the newly founded American Agricultural Movement, is federal action to assure them of "100 per cent of parity" market prices on all farm items produced and sold in this country.
The full parity - which some strikers call "a minimum wage for farmers" - would give farmers the same buying power they enjoyed in the years between 1910 and 1914. Administration agricultural spokesmen have said that granting such parity could raise food prices by as much as 20 to 25 per cent in one year. Parity is now an average of 63 per cent nationwide, according to the strikers.
Neither side had expected today's session to result in any bargaining on the demands, and apparently none took place. Indeed, the strikers and the President seemed to come out of the meeting just as far apart on basic issues as they had been before the gathering was held.
The basic answer that Carter has given the farmers - and the one he repeated today - is that he is sympathetic to the problems they face because the costs of some of the principal items they need to produce their crops have risen dramatically, in some cases by as much as 300 to 500 per cent.
Some of those concerns have been addressed in his new farm bill, the President contends, but the impact of the legislation has not yet been fully felt because it did not become effective until October and some of the measures are long-range ones.
"We've got to have immediate relief [With] these long-range programs, none of us will be here to reap the benefits," Kersey said he told Carter today. "What I'm trying to tell him is that the new farm program, I don't think it amounts to a hoot 10 miles down the road."
The President told reporters that his major reason for opposing 100 per cent of parity is because it could drive the prices on American-produced farm products up so high they would not be competitive in the international market. Eventually, he said, farm prices will go up anyway because land is getting more scarce and at the same time world population is growing.
Kersey said the farmers believe the higher prces should be set anyway. "I think if we set the price and they won't, pay'em, they just aren't going to get it. That's the way the Arabs did with the oil. If they can do it with oil. I certainly think we can do it with food."
Although the President said he believed the farmers would plant crops next year, Kersey said that they will stick to their promise to not plant until demands are met.
Those meeting with the President in addition to Kersey, an Unadilla, Ga., cotton farmer, were Harold Israel of Sumter County, Georgia, who is a longtime friend of the President, Carl (Bobby) Hawkins, a watermelon farmer from Lake Butler, Fla.; and E. E. Money of Dothon, Ala., [PARAGRAPH ILLEGIBLE] mostly peanuts and [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
The delegation gave Carter [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and light blue jacket, both of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] on them, "We Support Agriculture Strike." Asked what the President[WORD ILLEGIBLE] with the items, Hawkins responded. "He smiled and said thank you."