Secretary Freeman, my fellow farmers, ladies and gentlemen:
I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to you today here in the East Room of the White House, as I look forward to speaking to you more in the months ahead in your own home areas.
To America's farmers, I think you, the leaders who have come here today, are really the voice of their government.
Since you are the voice of their government, I want to give you a message to take back to them.
I want you first of all to assure and tell our farmers that they have not been forgotten; that their President and their country know the debt that we owe to every farmer in this land; that we realize his skill and that we understand the contributions he is making to a better life for all the people of this world in which he lives.
Thanks to the efficiency of the American farmer, the average American--who 20 years ago spent 25 percent of his take-home pay for food--now has to spend not 25 percent, but only 18 percent.
Thanks to the abundance of our farms, we help to feed 45 million Americans--nearly a quarter of our total American population-through school lunch, special milk, food stamp and other programs that are sponsored by our Government.
Thanks again to the American farmer, we are helping to feed the hungry people in other lands. Last year our American exports were 23 percent of the total world's agricultural trade.
We were able to ship one-fifth of the wheat that we produced in this country to India, and two-fifths more to other nations.
We fed literally hundreds of millions, and yet we suffered no shortage of bread.
That is what the American farmer is doing for the people of his own country, and that is what the American farmer is doing for the world.
But is he getting his share of our abundance? What is the world doing for him?
He will probably tell you that he isn't getting his share. If he does tell you that, he is right.
The farmer knows that farm prices are going down--and that the prices he pays are going up. He knows his per capita income has gone up. But after it has gone up, it is still only two-thirds of that of the nonfarmer.
The American farmer knows we have not solved our farm problems, any more than we have solved the problems of peace, or the problems of the cities, or the problems of foreign policy, or the problems of our races.
But the farmer--living with the implacable cycle of nature--has a long memory to reinforce his wisdom. He will recall that we have made progress.
I see a difference of expression today. I see a difference of hair-do. I see a difference of clothes. I see a difference of attitude. I can even suspect a difference of bank accounts from what it was when I came to Washington in 1931, 1932, and 1933.
We have not solved these problems, but we have made progress. We have come a long way. We should always remember some of the things that are good. We know that no compliment gets as much attention as a complaint. But we also know that gross farm income is 18 percent higher than it was in 1963, and 30 percent higher than it was in 1960;
--that net farm income is 30 percent over 1963;
--that net income per farm is up 44 percent over 1963;
--that the Food and Agriculture Act the Congress passed in 1965 gave us the best farm program that this country has ever had. Congress gave us the 4-year program we requested. Now our job, my job and your job, the farmer's job, is to make that program work.
The figures show that the farmers are trying to make it work, make it work for them and make it work for our Nation.
The surpluses in most of our commodities are already gone. We don't hear many speeches these days about the storage problem and the high bills we are paying to store our surpluses.
The market is freer than it has been in many long years. The world demand for food continues to grow.
So I wish you would tell the American farmer that his Government wants his farm program to work. Let him know that this administration is determined that he achieve the parity of income he deserves.
But no President and no administration, working alone, can mash a button and bring it about overnight.
We can move forward, we can progress, we can be determined, we can be dedicated, we can be sincere, and ultimately we can get results.
There are many more things that unite us than divide us. But there are always people who want to provoke a fight. Our problem is to prevent one and to try to unite the constructive thinking people until we achieve the goal that we are determined to achieve.
I want you to tell the American farmer, as we will tell him, too, that his help and his understanding are needed because his efficiency and his marketing skill can make a great deal of difference in how quickly we can get his farm income boosted.
I believe in the final analysis, at the end of the day, when all the arguments are over and all the political sounds have died down, you can count on the American farmer to understand.
It was Adam Smith who said two centuries ago, "The man who ploughs the ground... is seldom defective in . . . judgment and discretion."
My own experience has led me to put great trust in the farmer's judgment. The farmer who sits on his tractor all day, or in his saddle all night, or works quietly with his hands, has, during all those times, a lot of time to think.
Generally, if some politician doesn't mislead him, he thinks straight, and he thinks right.
I think the farmer will understand that his Government and his President cannot do this job alone.
And neither can the farmer do it alone.
But working together, we can do it--and we will do it.
I cannot pass judgment for all of you or for all the farmers of this land, but I have not the slightest doubt when the history of our time is written, and when a survey is made of our advancements and our adventures, the historian will conclude that there was never a period when the American Congress, when the American President, when the American Vice President, the American Secretary of Agriculture, and the American farmer himself made a greater advancement for his cause, for his family, for educating his children, for improving their health, and for conserving his assets, than the period that we are now entering.
Your leaders in this Government know something about the farmer. They are dedicated to his interest. They are going to insist that he get fair and just treatment.
We know that in return he will understand that his progress has been due not just to the Government's efforts, but it can come only if he joins with that Government shoulder to shoulder in meeting the problems they must face together--like increasing their exports, like improving their production, like getting rid of their surpluses, like spending their time on constructive adventures instead of rehashing the misfortunes and the complaints of the past.
So as you leave the White House today, I think you can leave it with assurance that there never was a time when there was more interest in your problems than there is now, and more determination to do something about them. If we can, we will. And if we can't, it won't be because it is a mistake of the heart. It will be because it is a mistake of the head, and we don't want that to happen.
I remember one time a great friend of the farmer, who served here 50 years, went back to one of his friends of his early career. They talked until after midnight and the old farmer wanted to continue to talk. Mr. Rayburn said to him, "No, I have seven speeches tomorrow. I just have to go to bed." "Well," he said, "I am sorry, because I would just like to talk to you all night long." He was hungry to talk to a man who understood his problems.
"I would like to talk to you all night long. Because," he said, "Mr. Sam, if we farmers are not your friends, it is just because we ain't got sense enough."
Remembering that expression from the soil, I want to say to you leaders of the American farmer: If your President, if your Vice President, and if your Secretary of Agriculture are not the farmers' friends, it is just because we haven't sense enough.