Harry S. Truman photo

Labor Day Address in Des Moines at the Convention of the American Veterans of World War II.

September 05, 1949

Mr. Commander, distinguished guests:

I am happy to be here today with the American Veterans of World War II.

This is the third time I have met with veterans in the last 3 weeks. In Miami and in Philadelphia I had the pleasure of addressing two of the other veterans organizations.

Today in Des Moines you have given me the welcome opportunity to speak to this association which has grown up since the last war. Judging by this meeting, your group has a long, vigorous, and useful life ahead of it.

I have found that veterans generally carry over into civilian life their strong interest in national and international affairs. They are determined to do everything they can to see that the United States grows in strength and prosperity and exerts its full influence for peace in the world. A veterans organization like yours can do much to aid our progress toward peace and prosperity. I am sure all of you will do your part.

Earlier today, in Pittsburgh, I discussed the effort we are making to achieve a better future for our country. One of the most important elements in our country's future is agricultural prosperity. And there is no better place to talk about that than right here, in the heart of the Nation's farm belt.

Some people seem to think that nobody but the farmers ought to be concerned with farm prosperity. Some people claim that programs to improve the welfare of farmers are just "pressure-group" politics. Selfish interests would like to have us believe this because they want to divide the people and set one group against another.

The plain fact is that everyone should be interested in the welfare of the farmers. The prosperity of this Nation is indivisible. We cannot get prosperity to just a few. The economic future of the whole country depends upon the growing welfare of every group in the country. If we want a healthy and prosperous economy, there must be economic opportunity, not just for the fortunate few, but for all of us--workers, businessmen, and farmers without regard to race, creed, or color.

It's just plain commonsense that good incomes for farmers are good for the workers who make the things the farmers buy. Farmers this year will have more than $27 billion to spend. That means employment for more than 9 million workers in factories, and stores, and other business enterprises.

All of us need the things farmers produce. When farmers adopt new and more effective methods, and produce more at lower cost, that raises the standard of living of everybody in the country.

That's why it is just as important to the future of our country for farmers to be well off as it is for workers or for businessmen. I want them all to be prosperous.

That's why I believe the Government of this country must work for the welfare of the farm people.

Let's look at some of the things the Government should do to help achieve continued and growing farm prosperity.

It is not always easy for city folks to understand the conditions the farmer faces, and the need for the particular programs the Government has developed.

First of all, the farmer faces the uncertainties of nature. He is in a constant battle with insects, and weeds, and weather, and erosion. He needs to learn and apply the best methods of soil conservation, weed killing, crop rotation, and all the other scientific advances of agriculture. One of the outstanding accomplishments of our Government has been its research and education programs to help farmers do these things.

Furthermore, the farmer is confronted with special problems because he lives in the country. Too often in the past, good schools and modern health facilities, electricity and the other advantages of modern living were not available to our farm population. In recent years, however, our Government has helped to make it possible for many of our farmers to obtain these things.

In addition, the farmer faces a market which he can't control. Years ago it often happened that a whole year's hard work went for nothing, because there were unexpected crop surpluses or sudden drops in demand. In the past 16 years, however, with the help of the Government, farmers have been making much headway in achieving economic stability. Farm cooperatives have been greatly strengthened. Cheaper, more abundant farm credit has been made available. Price supports, marketing agreements, and other special programs have been developed and steadily improved.

In all these ways, farmers with the help of the Government have been meeting and overcoming the special difficulties they face. They have been making great progress toward the steadily growing farm prosperity they need and the prosperity that the whole Nation needs.

None of these advances came easily. They were all opposed by selfish and narrowminded men who didn't understand what the farmer was up against--and who didn't care whether or not he was well off. Sometimes these interests have managed to reverse the course of progress, though fortunately not for long.

It was just about a year ago, a few miles from here at Dexter, Iowa, that I talked to another audience about farm prosperity and the opportunity for the farmer.

At that time, the outlook for the farmer was pretty black.

The 80th Congress had been hitting sledge-hammer blows at the very foundations of farm opportunity.

The 80th Congress had cut the soil conservation program. In doing this, it had threatened the existence of the farmer-committee system, through which conservation, price support and other programs are administered.

The 80th Congress had killed the International Wheat Agreement, which was negotiated to assure farmers a reasonable share of the world wheat market and help maintain stability of grain prices.

It had caused farmer cooperatives to fear for their lives.

The 80th Congress had restricted the reclamation program and cut down our efforts to bring low-cost electricity to farmers and other people.

And on top of all this, the 80th Congress had started to tear down one of our strongest bulwarks against depression, the farmprice support program. It had done this in a sly and underhanded way--by eliminating the Government's power to provide grain storage facilities. As you know, we can't support grain prices without adequate storage.

I reminded the people at Dexter a year ago, just as I am reminding you today, that the welfare of the entire Nation depends upon the welfare of the farmer. I reminded them that they could express their opinion of the Both Congress at the polls in November. And that's just what they did!

As a result, there are a lot of new members in the 81st Congress. With these new members, there has been a big improvement Of course, there are still many reactionary Senators and Representatives in Congress, but they are no longer in control as they were last year and the year before. They are still doing all they can to slow up our program, but they are not able to stop it. The majority of the 81st Congress are going ahead building for the future.

The new Congress has already repaired most of the damage done to the farmers by the 80th Congress, and it is going forward with new measures for a growing and prosperous agriculture.

The 81st Congress understands the fundamental importance of soil conservation. It has restored and expanded this program and given a new lease on life to the farmer committee system.

The 81st Congress understands the importance to American farmers of a balanced and expanding world trade. A new International Wheat Agreement has been negotiated and is now in effect. By this agreement, American farmers are assured a fair share of the world wheat market at fair prices for the next 4 years. Furthermore, this Congress is going to extend and improve the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act. This will mean more world trade.

The 81st Congress is interested in building up farm cooperatives, not tearing them down. It understands that cooperatives are as necessary for the welfare of farmers as unions are for the welfare of the workers. Both cooperatives and unions are means whereby men who are weak economically can become strong enough, by uniting, to bargain on a basis of equality. This Congress will not listen to those who want to tax cooperatives out of existence. Furthermore, before this Congress adjourns, I think we shall have a cooperative telephone program similar to the highly successful rural electrification program.

This Congress has already taken important steps to meet the serious need for more low-cost electricity and to revitalize the reclamation program in our Western States.

The 81st Congress has restored the Government's authority to provide storage for grain under the price support program, and the difficult storage problem is being met. Farmers are building new bins, and the Government is preparing to take care of the overflow that cannot be handled by farmers and grain elevators. With the biggest supply of corn in history now in sight, the corn loan program is especially important, and the Government is helping farmers get every bushel in storage. As you farmers well know, if it were not for the administration's program, you would probably be getting 50 cents a bushel for your corn right now.

In all these ways, the 81st Congress has repaired past damage and is making new gains.

However, there is one important part of our farm program on which the 81st Congress has not yet completed its work. That is the farm-price support system.

Congress needs to modernize our farmprice support system, and the Secretary of Agriculture, on behalf of the administration, has made recommendations to the Congress for this purpose.

An immense amount of confusion has been stirred up about these proposals in recent months. Some people are going around telling industrial workers that our attempt to improve the price support system will mean higher good prices and heavier taxes. Some people are telling farmers that an improved price support system will take away the protection they now have and regiment the farmer. I would like to see you regiment the farmers. It has been tried by experts. Much of this talk is deliberately intended to mislead and divide farmers and workers.

But it will not succeed. Farmers and workers have learned to cut through the fog of misrepresentation and propaganda and look at the facts. And when that is done, there is no reason for confusion about the kind of farm-price support program we ought to have.

First, we need a farm-price support system that will afford farmers an opportunity to secure a fair return for their production. Too often in the past, we have seen farm prices at give-away levels because temporary surpluses resulted in distress selling. This was bad for farmers and bad for the Nation. Our system of price supports, therefore, must protect farm income from collapsing and injuring the whole economy.

Second, price supports must be so organized and administered that they will give consumers the benefit of our abundant farm production. Our people want to buy more milk and meat, more fruit and vegetables, and all the things that go into a better diet. They must have a price support system that will encourage farmers to shift their production to meet the demand for more and better foods at reasonable prices.

Present price support legislation is not adequate to accomplish these objectives. It encourages surplus production of some commodities, such as potatoes, and not enough of other products, such as meat. The worst thing about the present program is that it takes food away from the consumers instead of enabling them to eat better. The Government has had to buy tremendous quantities of potatoes and take them off the market at very great expense. The Government has had to build up big stocks of dried eggs and is wondering how to get rid of them.

Some people say that we ought to cut down support prices, but that would not meet the problem. The record shows that, in the past, when prices dropped, farmers produced bigger and bigger surpluses in a hopeless effort to make up for low prices.

Instead of cutting down support prices, we need to adjust our price support system so that it will encourage farmers to grow what is needed and encourage consumers to use what is produced.

Our farm-price support system, therefore, first of all should aid farmers to adjust production to demand. Farmers are under the same economic necessity to adjust supply to demand as are the producers of automobiles or washing machines or any other product. By and large they are willing to do it, if they have assurance that they can shift their land to other uses without economic disaster.

But no matter how willing the farmers may be to adjust their production, and to change from one crop to another, they cannot eliminate the possibility of a surplus. Weather, world conditions, market fluctuations are all things beyond their control. So even under the best circumstances, we will have some surpluses.

In the case of storable crops, like corn, tobacco, or cotton, we can and should store up a good part of the surpluses as reserves against emergency. In the case of perishable products, such as meat and milk, we cannot store them very long. These perishable products must be used to avoid waste.

This presents a problem that is not easy to solve. We know that we shall have to adopt a new method of price support. The most promising method yet suggested is the production payment plan. Under this method, the prices of certain farm commodities would be allowed to seek their own level in the market, and the farmer would be paid the difference between the support price and the average market price. Production payments thus would safeguard farm returns, and at the same time our entire production of perishable foods would be available to consumers on regular markets.

This method, or any other means of accomplishing the same purpose, would go a long way toward overcoming the defects of present legislation and giving us a modern price support system.

It is urgent that we modernize our price support laws or we shall face unmanageable surpluses. Startling progress has been made in increasing agricultural production in this country in recent years. This has enabled farmers to double and triple their production of many crops at lower costs.

This new productive ability must be used for the good of all our people; it must not be allowed to destroy the prosperity of our farmers and the stability of our economy. This is the essential purpose that we should seek to achieve by our new farm-price support legislation. A price support system that fulfills this purpose will be good for the farmer, good for the worker--and good for the whole Nation.

I am convinced that the 81st Congress will enact this kind of farm-price support legislation. I am convinced that it will not be led astray by the loud opposition of those who oppose any change in our price support system.

The stability and progress of our agriculture is important not only to ourselves, but to the whole world. Over the last few years, our farmers have taken a leading part in the struggle to feed a hungry world. In the future, foreign markets will be essential for many of our farm products.

But we must remember that we cannot maintain foreign markets for our agriculture, over the long run, unless we buy in return the products of foreign countries. Foreign trade is not a one-way street. There will be tremendous benefits to this country, in rising living standards, in reduced appropriations for foreign aid, in a more prosperous world economy, and in closer ties between the free nations, if we buy more from other nations.

Our country has been endowed with the ability to produce the good things of the earth in abundance. I am sure we have the wisdom to use this gift as a blessing for all our people. We know much more about our economy and how it works than we used to. We have profited by experience.

We must keep our eyes on the main objectives. We must not be led astray by the false arguments and the loud clamor of the special interests. They are only trying to set us against one another. They are using slogans and scare words to frighten us away from the programs and policies that are good for us all.

But we will not be frightened. Too much depends on our ability to handle our common problems in a spirit of cooperation. It is not only our own future progress that is at stake. It is the future peace and prosperity of the whole world. That is our goal, and we shall continue to work toward it with all our strength and all our faith.

Note: The President spoke at 4:15 p.m. at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa. His opening words "Mr. Commander" referred to Harold A. Keats of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., retiring National Commander of the American Veterans of World War II.

The address was broadcast over all major radio networks.

Harry S Truman, Labor Day Address in Des Moines at the Convention of the American Veterans of World War II. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230028

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