Don't forget the farmers
At a time when it has become politically fashionable to support programs geared to ''revitalizing'' US industry, America's economically hard pressed farmers continue to be overlooked by the public at large. Recent US news magazines, for example, have explored ways of restoring the basic ''infrastructure'' of roads and bridges, as well as creating new jobs throughout the economy. Yet, what is ironic about the minimal public attention being given to US agriculture is that, for all its woes, it remains one of the nation's most successful industries.
For that very reason, it is essential that Congress and the Reagan White House take all reasonable steps to ensure that the farm economy remains healthy and competitive with overseas agricultural producers, who have been increasing their own crop production while subsidizing export sales in direct competition with US producers.
American farmers are producing record grain crops. Yet, because of a combination of increased output from abroad, a strong US dollar, worldwide recession, and low domestic prices, US farm income this year is expected to be about $19 billion, of which $4 billion will come from federal support programs. That $19 billion, adjusted for inflation, is about the same as 1930s-level farm income.
So the $1.5 billion credit program to boost farm exports to developing countries announced yesterday by President Reagan makes good sense. Better the grain go abroad than languish in US storage bins.
Other possible measures:
* The US is currently involved in high-level negotiations to prod Japan into opening its trading doors to larger supplies of American meat and citrus products. Despite the fact that Japan agreed to higher quotas for such commodities in the 1970s, overall purchases have remained negligible.
The US, which has seen Japan capture a substantial percentage of the American domestic electronics and automobile markets, need not be shy in demanding that Japan sharply expand its purchases of American farm products.
* To prevent many debt-strapped farmers from having to go into bankruptcy, lawmakers should wrap up legislation as quickly as possible requiring the Farmers Home Administration to grant repayment deferrals to farmers who cannot meet loan repayment terms. Such legislation has been approved by both the Senate and House and is crucial. The FmHA has already foreclosed on more than 700 farms this year, compared to 300 in 1981.
* Lawmakers should seriously resist any further budget-cutting programs that have the effect of actually reducing domestic consumption of farm products. That means easing off from new budget cuts aimed at school lunches and food stamps. To its credit, the administration has instituted new controls to root out fraud in the food stamp program - misuse and outright graft that was costing taxpayers as much as $1 billion annually.
The food stamp program, for all of its controversy, has worked remarkably well not only in helping to reduce malnutrition but in boosting domestic consumption of farm products. It is interesting to note that between the late 1960s, when the program went into effect, and the mid-1970s, federal farm subsidies dropped sharply from more than $5 billion annually to less than $1 billion. While that period was also a time of surging export sales, there is little question that the food stamp program helped ease the need for direct federal support payments to farmers.
Agriculture remains one of America's finest economic achievements. Ensuring the vitality of that industry should be a high priority.