Willie Nelson CNN Interview with Miles O’Brien on Farm Aid (9/17/2000)


Sunday Morning News

Willie Nelson Discusses Farm Aid

Aired September 17, 2000 – 8:50 a.m. ET MILES O’BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It’s hard to believe but it was 15 years ago that Willie Nelson first helped bring the plight of family farmers to America’s consciousness, lending his voice and talent to the first Farm Aid concert.

Today, the plight continues and so does the Farm Aid concert.

Joining us this morning to talk about this year’s concert is, who else, Willie Nelson. He joins us from Washington.

Good to have you with us, Mr. Nelson.


O’BRIEN: First of all, just tell us what’s in store for this special anniversary concert.

NELSON: Well, first of all, it’ll be a great concert. There’s a whole lot of talent here and mainly we’re here, though, for the family farmer and rancher and we’re here to call attention to their problems and we’ll spend the day doing that.

O’BRIEN: Take us back to the early days, the inception of this idea and the origins of it. Did you suspect it would be as successful as it has? I read here that over the years you’ve raised more than $15 million to help organizations which help family farms.

NELSON: Well, in the beginning I first heard that there was a real problem in the farm communities several years ago when they were having a show called Live Aid and Bob Dylan had mentioned that wouldn’t it be nice if some of this money stayed here for our family farmers. And I started checking around with some of my friends and found out that there really was a serious problem.

So while we were working in Springfield for a state fair there, I ran into the Governor, who he and I usually have a bowl of chili and a beer every year on my bus, and we were talking about the farm problems and he said yes, there is a serious problem. So we started talking about the first Farm Aid in Champagne, Illinois.

O’BRIEN: So over the years, 15 years later, would you — how would you assess the overall plight of family farmers in this country?

NELSON: Well, first of all, I think it’s really a black eye on America to have to do a farm aid for our farmers and ranchers. They’re our, the backbone of our country. All this talk about including everyone in this new millennium government, I think it’s time that we start including our farmers and ranchers and family businessmen who we’ve been neglecting for the last several years.

There’s a new farm bill that we’re trying to put together so the purpose of all this is to draw attention to the farm problems and try to get this new farm bill introduced.

O’BRIEN: All right, let me just play devil’s advocate for a moment. There are a lot of small family businesses in this country in need of help. Why should farmers be given special federal subsidies, special help from the likes of you?

NELSON: Well, they don’t really want subsidies. They want enough money to make a living without subsidies. They enough money for their product. They don’t want giveaways. They don’t want welfare. Many years ago the farmers were — and the ranchers and all raw producers in America had what they call 100 percent parity. It was back during the war when we were trying to be strong and we had guaranteed our raw producers 100 percent production and labor costs and they were doing well. And we had six to eight million small family farmers on the land back during W.W.II.

After the war, they decided that there was too much, too much political power, for one thing, in the farm communities. So they decided to move two million farmers off the land into the big cities to make cheaper labor for the automobile factories and everything else. So what they did is they dropped the 100 percent parity to a 60 to 70 percent sliding parity, which immediately started taking farmers off the land.

So far, they’ve took off five or six million farmers. Right now we’re down to two million or less, losing 300 to 500 a week.

O’BRIEN: Willie Nelson, congratulations on your continued efforts on behalf of farmers on this, your 15th year of Farm Aid, and just so you know, folks, that begins at 2:00 P.M. Eastern Time on the Country Music Television Network.

Thanks again, Mr. Nelson. Good luck to you.

NELSON: Thank you.

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