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Remarks in Des Moines, Iowa: "Modern American Agriculture: An Opportunity for Service in the 1970's"

September 14, 1968

In the Congress and as a member of the Eisenhower Administration, I learned long ago of the immense importance of modern American agriculture to the health and strength of our country. Nowhere else in the world do so few farmers and ranchers produce so much, so efficiently, and so reasonably for so many.

In only the past 20 years applied technology has vastly increased production, and in the process American consumers have benefited tremendously. Last year they spent only 17.7 percent of their disposable income for the world's highest quality food—by far the lowest percentage paid anywhere in the world.

Our agriculture also means jobs and markets. Today three out of every ten jobs in our country are directly related to agriculture. Last year farmers spent nearly $35 billion on agricultural production and over $12 billion for the things . . . cars, food, clothing, appliances . . . that other Americans buy.

Moreover, the productivity and industry of our farmers and ranchers are major sources of local, state and federal revenues, and our exports of agricultural products are a vital component of our trade balance and balance of payments. Some 23 of every 100 harvested acres are now devoted to producing crops for overseas outlets. Our annual export acreage is equal to all the cropland of this great agricultural State of Iowa and the combined cropland of Nebraska, Kansas and North Dakota as well.

So the impact of agriculture in many areas is of great importance to our people—and yet, there is a widely held misconception of what farmers think and feel. Agriculturalists, of course they are—but they are first of all good, patriotic Americans, and we must never forget it.

Farmer discontent over the war, taxation, interest rates, and inflation— their alarm over civil disorders and crime—are as intense as the same concerns of citizens in other enterprises. It reflects on the good citizenship of America's people in agriculture to regard them as a group apart, concerned not about their nation but only their livelihood. The broad issues that today trouble all our people may well influence farmer judgments more this year than anything said or done about agriculture alone.

Plainly, however, our farmers and ranchers have been the stepchildren of the Great Society.

Their amazing productivity has been exploited to offset fiscal excesses in other areas and the farmer has been caught in a vicious economic squeeze.

During the past decade his taxes have gone up 78 percent, his labor costs 46 percent, his machinery costs 30 percent, his debt interest 59 percent. Everything he has to buy has gone up; everything he has to sell has gone down. The parity ratio has shriveled to a mere 74 percent—the lowest since the darkest days of the depression.

There is little to be served by reciting the whole Humphrey-Freeman catalogue of failure. A member of Secretary Freeman's own official family, so disillusioned that he resigned in protest, described the problem more persuasively than I could hope to do. Mr. Frank LeRoux of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service from February 1961 to September 1966 said it in these words:

"This has been the worst 5 years for the American farmer of any administrative period, regardless of party in power, in modern American agricultural history. The lowest share of gross national product, lowest return on gross sales, lowest return on total capital investment, lowest return on capital investment per farm, lowest share of the consumer dollar, lowest share of the food dollar, lowest level of parity of income, lowest return for farmers versus government salaries, lowest return for farming versus all other major businesses, and the lowest performance on campaign promises."

That was 1961 through 1965. It's worse today!

Realized net farm income in 1967 dropped nearly $2 billion under the year before, and the latest estimates for 1968 indicate no substantial improvement.

As noted earlier, the farm parity ratio which measures farm costs against farm prices has dropped over six points in the past seven years and stands now at a dismal 74. It averaged 84.5 in the eight Eisenhower Republican years.

There has been a 31 percent increase in the cost of production, farm debt is up 90 percent, and 903,000 farms have disappeared from the countryside just since 1960.

Some ten instances of intentional depression of farm prices have been documented by the Republican Task Force on Agriculture in the House of Representatives, so I need not repeat them here. Suffice it to say that the present Administration's record is a sad and sorry one . . . and rural America knows it!

A salute to the great works of agriculture for America and rejection of the Humphrey-Freeman failures are not enough. America verges upon the decade of the 70's, and we must make this a period of unmatched progress for agriculture.

I propose that our nation commit itself to a national agricultural policy that will maintain an efficient, flourishing agricultural economy keyed to opportunity and abundance, with family farm enterprise as its cornerstone. As we develop this policy, I will base my decisions on these approaches:

First, there must be an honest and explicit recognition of the importance of a sound agriculture to our national well-being, together with an understanding, fair and reasonable approach to the many difficult problems of the farm community.

It is far more important than the details of individual programs for farmers to be certain of the basic honesty—the believability—of an Administration and of its real attitudes and posture toward the people and the economics of agriculture. With a leadership in Washington that is responsible and candid—a leadership eagerly responsive to the needs of rural people—the details of programs will fall into the right pattern. I promise an Administration sincerely interested in the farmer, not just in his vote.

Second, farmers are entitled to a commitment that their special problems will be treated quickly and sympathetically. This too I pledge.

To this end I intend to bring to bear the vast intellectual and practical competence of farmers, other rural people, farm organizations, the dedicated careerists in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agriculture extension leaders, and college research and technical people. And I also pledge there will always be an open door for agriculture at the White House.

Third, we must substitute good common sense for pretty partisanship in and with agriculture.

An attempt, for example, suddenly to revolutionize agriculture in pursuit of a new economic or political ideology would be calamitous. It is one thing to move with prudence and deliberation toward improved programs that will shore up the foundations of agriculture and assure its long-term vigor, strength, and prosperity. It is something else—in my view, irresponsible—to junk everything in an impatience to reach the millennium overnight. What I am saying is, we mean to improve, not destroy; we will not plow under farmers while trying to help them.

It is this approach that led me some weeks ago to favor temporary continuance of the 1965 Farm Act, which now awaits Congressional action. This law is a patchwork of older legislation and unsuitable for the long-term, but an adequate time is required for farmers to plan their crops and to let a new Administration carefully prepare improvements to take effect when the extended law expires.

Fourth, it is high time we had a Secretary of Agriculture who will spend his time not telling off the farmers of America, but instead will talk for them. I pledge an end to the disastrous on-the-job training at the top of the Department of Agriculture.

Instead of having a politico-lawyer Secretary of Agriculture, next January we will have a Secretary undeniably expert and practically experienced in agriculture—one, by the way, who will not politically manipulate and slip, slide, and duck, or will disparage and oppose what farmers need. Rather, he will forcefully and knowledgeably advocate the cause of agriculture in the highest councils of government, and in this he will have my support. He will not need to be pressed to solicit the views of rural people; he will be one who wants their views, who has the background to understand these views, and then will honestly reflect them in his dealings with the power centers of Washington.

Within this framework of honest recognition of the importance of agriculture, common sense in approaching its problems, qualified leadership of the Department of Agriculture and a ban on petty partisanship, let us proceed to specific policy directions that I believe will better prepare agriculture for service in the 70's.

These policy directions include:

•   Dedicated efforts to improve market prices and strengthen our market economy so farmers and ranchers will be able to prosper in relation to the prices they must pay for other products—and let's have this flatly understood: 74 percent of parity is intolerable in my book; farmers are entitled to better, they want not merely to receive better but also an opportunity to earn better, and I pledge that in my Administration they will have better;

•   Encouragement of farmers to improve their bargaining positions through their co-operatives;

•   Responsible management of our nation's economic policies to brake inflation and ease interest rates;

•   Increased emphasis on agricultural exports while reversing the half billion dollar drop in farm exports suffered last year, together with protection against foreign dumping and unfair competition;

•   Management of the Commodity Credit Corporation's inventory of grains and other farm commodities to improve farm prices, not depress them;

•   Improvement of programs for the distribution of milk and other food to schools and needy people;

•   Continuation and improvement of the Eisenhower Food for Peace program, emphasizing commercial market development and the export of greater agricultural technology to a hungry, underfed world;

•   Assistance to farm cooperatives, including adequate funding of the rural electric and telephone programs;

•   More and better research on industrial uses of farm commodities, the development of new markets and new products, and the development of new and better methods for cost-cutting in production and marketing;

•   Particular attention to the need for revitalizing Countryside U.S.A., stressing farm prosperity and the creation of favorable economic conditions in our small towns and cities;

•   Concentration of more vocational training, industrial development and human resources in the rural areas from which heavy migration to our crowded cities has come;

•   Improvement of credit programs within the Farm Credit System and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to meet the capital requirements of modern agriculture, especially for young farm families trying to get a decent start;

•   Support for policies that enlarge the farmer's opportunity to manage his own affairs and give him a greater voice in shaping his own future;

•   Effective plant and animal disease control and the control of pests, such as the kharpa beetle, fire ants and the screw worm, to protect our food supplies and farm production;

•   Support for agricultural education and experimentation through the land grant college system, while extending the helping hand of the Extension Service to more Americans;

•   A sound Federal Crop Insurance program;

•   Effective enforcement and ample funding of the Packers and Stock- yards Act and other regulatory programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture;

•   Vigorous expansion of soil and water conservation programs, including resolution of the constitutional impediment raised by the Administration against the successful Small Watershed program; and

•   Improvement and standardization of procedures for the collection, evaluation and dissemination of agricultural statistical data.

I am particularly concerned about the problems of our smaller towns and cities. I believe that it is in great measurer their atmosphere of community spirit, neighborly concern and religious faith that has undergirded and formed many of the most valued ideas and ideals of what we proudly know as the "American way of life." These small communities have long been neglected in the great currents of our society.

And there is a case of even greater neglect. This is the neglect that permitted acute poverty to extend itself through rural areas. As the Des Moines Register so aptly observed three days ago, these poor people remain untouched by the Federal anti-poverty programs.

Our rural areas are being depleted of people, due in major degree to the agriculture revolution but due also to inadequate and unwise farm policies. As our farm population has fallen from 18 % of our total national population two decades ago to about five percent today, most of these people have moved into our great cities. Thus, we have been generating an urban crush, intensifying problems in the cities to which migrating rural people must go. By de-populating the countryside we have over-populated our cities, and in the process we have created deepening problems in the areas and towns they left behind.

I feel deeply that the time has come for major improvements in the opportunities and quality of rural life. I feel this primarily because it is right for our rural people, especially those trapped in poverty, but also because we can hardly hope to triumph over our city troubles if the heavy migration from rural poverty areas into the cities is not stemmed.

Therefore, I vigorously favor the development of new programs of assistance to rural communities. For the small towns imaginative and comprehensive land use plans can open the way to the location of new industries. Improved transportation facilities, better schools, and more extensive public utilities in rural areas will help toward the same goal. The Federal government can directly assist by emphasis on the dispersal of government contracts to our smaller towns and disadvantaged rural areas wherever possible.

I have stressed before the desirability of tax incentives—whether direct credits, accelerated depreciation, or a combination of the two—for businesses which locate branch offices or new plants in poverty areas, in rural America as well as in the core cities.

With more than half of our citizens below the poverty level living in rural America—with farm unemployment twice that of the city—with more than half of the nation's inadequate housing in rural areas—such harsh realities cannot be longer ignored.

Here in rural need and blighted opportunity is perhaps one most vivid evidence of the interrelationship of our total society. I propose that we do not treat our farm problems, as I said earlier, as something apart. The hard truth is that many of our city problems are rooted in rural decay. The tragedy is, rural distress has intensified urban distress.

So we must assist rural communities to develop an environment—of community services, recreational facilities, education opportunities, better medical care, and job opportunities—that will alleviate poverty, that will hold out hope for a brighter future, and that will ease the pressures upon these citizens to join the march to the cities.

These areas and these people require better of America than they have been able to acquire. I intend to help them get it.

Looking farther into the future, I stress an interest I have had throughout my public service—the area of new uses for our farm products. I am convinced that if the scientific genius and technological ingenuity of our country are brought adequately to bear in the conversion of farm products into new services to mankind, there can be spectacular advances for our entire society and the world, as well as increased consumption of immense importance to our farmers and ranchers. The capability of transforming agricultural products into startling new substances already exists. I propose that my new Administration vigorously encourage this effort, for here are exciting new prospects for our farm community and the American people.

The programs broadly presented in these remarks are not offered as panaceas, but I submit that in the attitudes expressed here, in the pledges made here, in the programs suggested here, there will be new hope and new opportunity and a new future for the farm people of the United States.

It is with this approach that I believe we can begin the task of service in the 70's toward developing a stronger nation, a better Countryside U.S.A. and more rewarding farming and ranching in America.

APP NOTE: From section three of the volume "Nixon Speaks Out" titled, "For a Dynamic Economy".

Richard Nixon, Remarks in Des Moines, Iowa: "Modern American Agriculture: An Opportunity for Service in the 1970's" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project