Chicago — Farmers have got just what they wanted with Ronald Reagan's pick for US secretary of agriculture -- an articulate spokesman for higher farm prices. John Block, a young hog farmer, will go to Washington fresh from four successful years as director of agriculture for the State of Illinois, where he aggressively promoted agricultural exports.
Block's export drive has included market-winning trips to the Soviet Union, Europe, Japan, Taiwan, and China. His efforts ahve focused on the main Illinois crops, corn and soybeans, which are key to US agriculture's rapid rise to $40.5 billion in export sales for 1980. This could cause some worries in the South. Nonetheless, Block is expected to win Senate confirmation.
The Illinois Farm Bureau is particularly proud of Block because he is a star "graduate" of the young farmers program designed to turn out effective farm spokesmen.
Those who have worked closely with him here see his lack of Washington experience as an asset -- and describe him as a fast learner who "has come a long way from tending his hogs every morning."
Associates here say the popular Block "has never faced a hostile press, never faced a hostile House or Senate agriculture committee." But they feel he may turn hostility into cooperation by "going in an he is: honest, unpolitical, and innocent."
If Block wins over the press and Congress, he will be free to stress just what he has stressed in Illinois -- that it is in everyone's best interest to pay farmers higher prices for their products.
"Consumer interest and agricultural interest are basically one and the same," Block argues convincingly. "Farm production serves the consumers . . . by providing large volumes of high-quality food. It serves the consumers by providing large volumes of food to be sold abroad, which strenthens the dollar and reduces inflation here at home."
Block's biggest challenge will be to convince President Reagan and the Cabinet that it pays long-term dividends to allow food prices to rise -- even though this means a short-term boost in inflation.
That battle will likely include a demand that the Soviet grain embargo be halted on the grounds tht nobody gains from disrupting agricultural exports.