Radio Address: "A Salute to Agriculture."
Good afternoon, my fellow Americans:
Next Friday, May 7, I ask the people of the United States to join with me in celebrating the Salute to Agriculture Day. As a part of that celebration, I am honoring representatives of agriculture at a series of events in Washington, D.C.--including a special dinner at the White House. I officially designate this day, however, in the hope that our celebrations will extend far beyond Washington, and that it will give our people, in every walk of life, an opportunity to learn more about both the accomplishments of the American farmer and the problems he confronts.
During the last quarter century, I have had the opportunity to visit some 75 countries around the globe. I have spent a good deal of time in studying their agricultural systems, their techniques of farming. I have talked with peasants in Poland, with cultivators in India, with shepherds in Africa, with South American gauchos. And I have often been very impressed with what I have learned.
But nothing I have seen anywhere on earth can even begin to compare with the success story written by the men and women of agriculture in our own country. The surging vitality of our agriculture has made our country the best fed, the best clothed nation on earth, and it has contributed immensely to our strength abroad and to our strength at home. I have been involved in international diplomacy and international economics since my first visit to Europe as a Member of Congress in 1947. Again and again, I have seen the problems which result for a country when its leaders must deal from a position of agricultural weakness rather than agricultural strength. Some even have had to cope with the inability of their farmers to feed their own people.
For America's leaders, on the other hand, the situation has been just the reverse: Our farmers have not only provided a solid base for the United States economy, they have also helped to feed the people of other lands. Our strong international position has grown even stronger in the last few years. As recently as the 1968 fiscal year, farm exports actually dropped by half a billion dollars, a condition which I promised in 1968 to remedy during my Presidential term. I am happy to say today that we have delivered on that promise. Our agricultural exports this year will be at an all-time high. Their volume will be some 6 percent higher than it was a year ago, and their value is ex- petted to reach at least $7.4 billion.
Today we are exporting the production from approximately one acre out of every four we harvest in America. Two-thirds of our rice crop, more than half of our wheat and our soybean crop, and one-third of our cotton crop are now going to foreign markets. This is a very good record. And yet we want to do even better. We would like to be exporting some $10 billion worth of American farm products each year. To help achieve this goal, I am announcing today an increase of $1 million in the fiscal year 1972 budget for the Foreign Agricultural Service--the Federal agency which helps our farmers expand their sales abroad. And I also pledge that we will continue our efforts to lower trading barriers to our farm exports around the world.
From Rotterdam to Singapore, from Galveston to Duluth, a new current of energy has been felt along the trading lanes of the world in the last few years. Aspirations are rising, economies are growing, purchasing power is increasing-and our farmers have proved their ability to capitalize on these new opportunities. We know that American agriculture can compete successfully--whenever it has the chance. And we are determined to see it has that chance.
The new market energy we see abroad has also been felt in our own country. For example, beef consumption per person has gone up by one-third in the last 10 years. This means that for every 3 pounds of beef he consumed in 1960, the average American is consuming 4 pounds in 1971.
What these growing markets can mean, of course, is growing farm income. As a result, in part, of expanding markets, soybean prices, for example, have been running a good half dollar a bushel above the price support level. Grain prices and cotton prices are also well above loan levels. Cattle prices have recovered and stand above their levels of a year ago. Hog prices, of course, are still too low. To help meet this situation, the Department of Agriculture has already purchased over 145 million pounds of pork for its food distribution and school lunch programs in this fiscal year. This is the highest level of pork purchases since 1956. Our purchase program is continuing, and we expect that hog prices will show substantial improvement later this year.
All in all, it is clear that the total income of American farmers will be higher this year than ever before in our history. But this brings me to another of the major difficulties which confront our farmers: the fact that increases in total income are not always reflected in more net income. Now the reason, of course, is the high cost of farming. Over two-thirds of agriculture's gross income goes right back out again to pay for farm expenses.
That is why the farmer has such a tremendous stake in the battle against inflation. In a sense, he has a double stake, for inflation hits farmers in two ways. It drives up both the cost of farming and the cost of living. I am particularly pleased, therefore, to report that while the battle is far from won, we are definitely making progress against inflation. The rate of inflation in the first quarter of 1971 was the lowest in 4 years, only one-half of what it was in 1970. We are working very hard, then, to ease this perennially troublesome cost-price squeeze. At the same time, we recognize that the supply of farm credit is now extremely tight, and we are working to expand it.
To begin with, I am recommending that the level of farm operating loans be increased in fiscal year 1972--just as soon as the Congress enacts my proposal to allow the Farmers Home Administration to insure loans for operating expenses, as it can now do for ownership purposes. In addition, I am directing the FHA to increase the availability of its insured ownership loans by almost three-fourths--from $210 million in the current fiscal year to $350 million next year.
It is my hope that these efforts to expand farm credit will be especially helpful to the farmers of the Southwest who have been suffering so much from one of the worst droughts in history.
And I hope, too, that expanded credit will strengthen the position of younger farmers, of the hundreds of thousands of family farm operators, because they are still the backbone of American agriculture.
Let me turn now to another set of problems--crop, plant, and livestock disease. I am today announcing several measures to step up our fight in this area. In the first place, I am asking Congress to provide an additional $7.6 million to the Agricultural Research Service and to the State Agricultural Experiment Stations. A good deal of this money would go for fighting Southern leaf blight which recently has created such major problems for corn farmers. Some of this added research money would also be used to find new ways of controlling insects, including cattle ticks, and to do needed work on the relationship between hosts and parasites, and on disease-resisting plants.
At the same time, I am offering or ordering the use of $2 million from this year's budget for more applied research on controlling the fire ant and the gypsy moth which is seriously threatening our Eastern timber stand.
I have also directed that more money be used for accelerated research on matters like cotton seed proteins and insect pests.
Another area where government should do more to provide technical assistance for farmers is that of soil and water conservation. Long before most Americans were thinking very much about the environment, our farmers, our ranchers, our woodland owners, were working together with government to conserve our natural resources. I believe we should now be providing more help for our dedicated corps of soil conservationists whose number has dropped sharply in the last 4 years.
I am therefore increasing my new budget request for the Soil Conservation Service by $12 million to provide more manpower for this valuable work. I am also proposing that Federal grants for small watershed projects be increased by $28 million to a level of $105 million, and that 75 new projects be authorized. I am further recommending quadrupling of loan programs to help local communities finance their share of these projects.
In many other ways we are working to fulfill our responsibilities to the agriculture community. For example, I am ordering an additional increase of $100 million this year and $111 million next year in our insured loan program for building water and sewer systems in rural areas. Through such programs I know that this Administration can work closely with farmers, with faith organizations, and with the Congress to serve agricultural America more effectively. Working together we can resolve difficult issues involved in pesticide control, farm labor, farm bargaining legislation, other complex matters, as well as the many aspects of other national policies that bear directly on the lives of farmers.
But even as I mention all of these government programs, I know that the agricultural community also shares my feeling that in the final analysis the problems of American agriculture can best be solved by those who know farming best, farm people themselves, with government backup when necessary. That is one reason why I have high hopes for the new farm programs which are in effect this year. They remove some of the old restraints in a way which gives every farmer a chance to make more of his own decisions about the kind of farming that suits him best. At the same time, we are continuing our search for better methods of maximizing the receipt of farm income from the market.
After all, some 60 percent of farm income comes from commodities that are not price supported and have not been supported in the past. Moreover, the major supported commodities are now selling well above loan levels. It seems to me that the brightest future for agriculture lies in actions that stimulate new energy in the free market system.
As I think about the challenges that confront American agriculture, it occurs to me that farmers must, by nature, be incurable optimists. Like everyone else they are concerned about the great questions of war and peace, about the economy and education and crime and all the other issues that face our society. But in addition, the agricultural community also has its own special problems to worry about, including such uncertain factors as the weather, the condition of volatile markets, and even the direction of government policies in this country and abroad. Their vocation, moreover, requires them not only to be good farmers but also to be good scientists, skilled engineers, able businessmen. All of these challenges have been successfully met by America's farmers.
In that process, they have achieved a remarkable record of production, setting a brisk pace for the rest of our economy. And they have also provided a continuing source of moral and spiritual strength for America, giving shape and substance to our national character from the very heartland of America.
And so we approach Salute to Agriculture Day in a spirit of gratitude with a sense of obligation to the farmers of this country. Though only a small group of farm representatives will be able to be with us at the White House next Friday night, I feel that every farmer and rancher in America, his wife, his family, will be with us there in spirit.
What we will be saying on that occasion is very simply this: Agriculture was America's first industry. For most of our history it was our largest industry. Today it continues to hold an honored place in our society, a keystone not only for our economic strength but also for our entire way of life.
Note: The President's address was recorded at Palm Springs, Calif., for broadcast on nationwide radio at 12: 06 p.m.
An advance text of the President's address was released on the same day.
Richard Nixon, Radio Address: "A Salute to Agriculture." Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/239920