Jeanne Rohl, a farm wife from River Falls, Wis., went before the House Agriculture Committee Thursday with an uncomplicated message.
"We cannot lose the family farm," she said. "If small farms could have prospered, you never would have seen a drug problem in this country. We wouldn't have had to waste millions of dollars on sex education and birthcontrol clinics for 12-year-olds. Our nation's industries wouldn't be filled with working people so inefficient and lazy that millions of dollars are lost each day to make up for the apathy they carry to their jobs."
Rohl was expressing an underlying theme of the protesting American Agriculture Movement that goes beyond the movement's specific economic demands.
This is that the family farm -- and farmers' values of self-reliance, independence, hard work and patriotism -- is in danger of disappearing from the face of America while an uncaring government stands by idly.
In talks with government officials, members of Congress and the press, AAM members stress their belief that more than the survival of just another special-interest business group is at stake.
Tractors that pulled up in front of The Washington Post Friday morning to protest the paper's editorials on AAM were decked out with American flags as well as AAM banners and slogans.
And the movement's emblem is overlaid on the red, white and blue national colors.
In testimony before the House committee, the Rev. Andy Gottschalk of River Falls, Colo., described farmers as "our healthiest stock... patriotic... with a wholesome way of life not artifical like urban people (and) with children who learn to work and sacrifice early in life."
Statistics tend to bear out AAM's concern about the future of family farming.
At the end of World War II, 1 American in 5 lived on a farm, compared with about 1 in 27 today. The number of farms also has steadily declined with the flight of farm families to cities and suburbs.
The number of farms with sales of $1,000 or more dropped by 40,000 between January 1978 and January 1979 -- a loss of 800 farms a week.
This development has left the nation's remaining commercial farmers as a minority that is invisible to the majority of urban people, most of whom no longer have farm relatives to provide a tenuous link to the foodproduction system.
"This is the first tiem I've ever seen a tractor," said a New Jerseyborn woman excitedly when the tractors pulled up in front of The Washington Post.
The radical shifts in the structure of U.S. agriculture all have occurred despite federal policy that, since the New Deal, has been committed to preserving the family farm.
For 46 years the federal government has spent tens of billions of dollars supporting farm income, storing grain, subsidizing grain exports and managing the agricultural economy with land-idling schemes and other devices reaching down to the county level.
It also has given farmers special tax benefits.
These include advantages in inheritance taxes, in the permissible accounting methods for computing farm income, in the use of capital-gains rates for some kinds of farm income and in various sheltering and depreciation options.
Generous as these benefits may seem, however, U.S. farmers today receive far weaker protections than do their counterparts in industrialized Japan and Western Europe.
Farm policy in the Common Market has long been a crucial tool of social policy -- a means to slow the migration from rural areas to overcrowded cities. The Common Market and Japan spend billions each year protecting their farmers from competition in the marketplace from foreign farm products and guarding farmland from forays by land-grabbing speculators.
French wheat farmers today receive a guaranteed $2 to $3 a bushel more than U.S. wheat farmers.
And as AAM witnesses told the House committee this week, U.S. grain regularly sells to millers or processors in Japan or Europe for double what it brings to the farmers who grew it here.
By contrast, AAM members testifying this week before the House committee made clear, U.S. farmers feel exposed and vulnerable to sweeping economic forces that are accelerating the threatening trend toward concentration.
"We're not young farmers who have overextended ourselves," testified South Carolina farm wife Polly Woodham, in rebutting comments that AAM's members are mainly young farmers who don't manage their businesses well. "My husband and I have college degrees, We're 48 and 49. And we could be making a living at something else."
She said her farm has a mortgage on it for the first time in four generations.
"I'm $150,000 in debt," said Albert Datcher of Alabama. "For a man who's 27 and black, that's a lot."
AAM witnesses made clear they feel threatened not only by rising costs and inflation, but also by the land speculation that has attracted rich foreign investors, insurance companies and corporatings.
Even though the evidence of massive foreign investment in agriculture is still lacking, there are enough reports of "Swiss interests" buying farmland to add to the sense of many farmers that they are more exposed than ever to forces in the global economy beyond their control.
It is undisputed that as values of farmland have increased since 1973, farmland has become a desirable "hedge" against inflation for huge corporate investors and wealthy nonfarmers. This has accelerated the pace of concentration and outside take-overs. And as land values continue to rise, farmers who lease land have had to pay more.
The lack of any new solution from the Carter administration in the two weeks the farmers have been here has added to the anger and militancy of the demonstrators.
But government officials say it is not clear that more of the traditional government programs could help. On the contrary, they actually might worsen the farmers' plight.
A new packet of tax benefits, or support measures could serve to drive up land prices even further, and make farmland an even more attractive target for the corporations and big investors -- the very interests the AAM demonstrators fear.