The Freedom To Fail

Montana's Judith Basin is so big it reaches out to seven different mountain ranges. It's where Don Taylor is planting winter wheat. Wheat that by next summer will turn into waves of amber just like the song says.

This might though be the last time he ever does this, CBS News Correspondent Harry Smith reports.

"How bad is it now? As bad as I've ever seen it," Taylor said. "By Christmas things are going to be really, really sad around here."

Wheat prices are so low they don't even come close to covering what it cost Taylor to plant and harvest his crop.

"This is old news I guess. People goin' broke," he said.
He's sure a quarter to a third of Montana wheat growers will be out of business in a year.

"This thing is goin' down the tube. Goin' down the tube and I'm not doin' anything wrong," he said.

Taylor blames the government's two-year-old Freedom to Farm program. It ended decades of price subsidies for American farmers. Out here, they call it freedom to fail.

All over Montana, wheat is piled up 20 feet high, like dunes of futility, swept off the prairie by lousy prices and glutted markets.

"Surely the governments gonna do somethin'. Surely. Wouldn't you think?" Taylor said.

Apparently not.

Last Monday, while Washington and the media was fixated on President Clinton's videotaped deposition, angry Montanans blocked traffic on the Canadian border. They protested because subsidized Canadian wheat and beef pour into America every day.

And the whole sorry mess has started to put the squeeze on Main Street too.

"I'm not sure in Washington, D.C., they have a clue to what's goin' on in rural America today," said Lewistown merchant Dale Pfau.

Pfau says a wreck is comin' and Washington only cares about Monica Lewinsky.

"I honestly thought she would be the best thing to ever happen to ag producers in America," Paau said. "I honestly thought that the president, to get the press off his back, instead of bombing somebody might come out and really work hard for these thousands of families in jeopardy this fall."

Judith Basin is littered with the skeletons of better times. Over the years, depression, and drought have left just the toughest and luckiest farmers. Now many of them are wondering if their time has come too.

"This is the best place n the world right here. And we should be able to make a living on it," Taylor said.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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