Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks to Representatives of the Future Farmers of America

July 28, 1988

The President. I'm delighted to have all of you here this afternoon, and I want to assure you all that this is a nonpartisan event. [Laughter] Though I hope I can tell one little story that has to do with both farming and politics.

It seems that there was a Republican candidate out campaigning for public office in an old Democratic section of the rural South, and he stopped by this one farm. And the farmer who met him said, "Now, you just stay right here. I've got to go and run and get more. She's never seen a Republican before." [Laughter] So, he went in and got morn. And they came back, and he says, "Well, why don't you do your campaign speech here for us." And he looked around for a podium, and the only thing there was a pile of—well, some stuff that had been taken out of the barn. [Laughter] So, he got up on that, and he made his speech. And when he finished they said, "Well, we've never heard a Republican speech before." And he said, "Well, that kind of makes us even. I've never spoken from a Democratic platform before." [Laughter]

Well, as I say, this is a nonpartisan event, and I hope nobody takes offense. [Laughter] In fact, if any of you from Democratic families get asked by your foils when you came home what the President talked to you about, okay, you can tell them that story with my permission to switch the party affiliations around—but just once. [Laughter]

Seriously though, just a few weeks ago, I was out in Illinois and Iowa, and I saw some of the devastation that's been caused by the drought there. What I saw wasn't a pretty sight—stunted corn, sparse bean fields, withered plants starved for water, struggling to push their way up. Secretary Lyng has just returned from an extensive tour of the entire Midwest, and he tells me that, despite some rain, the damage to our crops is extensive and, in some cases, irreversible. We're determined to get aid just as quickly as we can to those farmers who need help, and I'm calling on Congress to act on comprehensive drought relief so I can sign some legislation to that end very soon.

But you know, in going back to Iowa and talking to many of the farmers there and businessmen and government leaders, I heard a great deal said about changes in American agriculture during the last few years. In many ways, these changes are reflected in your own organization's emphasis on broadening the public perception of what FFA is all about, because you're not only an organization for farmers but an organization for all those looking for opportunities in agricultural marketing, management, production, engineering, research, communications, government, and other areas. And this emphasis on the diversity of the agricultural field and broadening the economic base of our farming regions reflects the power, might, and maturity of American agriculture. Your 400,000 members in 7,800 chapters are testimony to a number of young lives that FFA influences in all these wide areas. And believe me, having traveled the world as I have during these past 8 years, I can tell you how important this work is to the hopes of so many millions for a better world and a better future.

You know, "amazement" is the word for how most of the rest of the world views American agriculture. We grow more grain, we plant more soybeans, we raise more cattle and export more produce than any combination of countries in the world. American agriculture is one of the great success stories of our time. As recently as 1940, a single American farmer could feed 19 people for a year. Today a single American farmer feeds 120 people for a year. American products are shipped around the world.

Through all these decades, despite drought and misfortune, American agriculture continues to succeed. And there's a secret to it. It's one that's been emphasized to all of you because it's part of FFA philosophy. It's the secret of letting the consumer or the marketplace, not government planners, make the ultimate decision about what is on the shelves of our grocery stores or in the ships that carry American products across the seas.

When I first started traveling abroad as President, especially to our annual economic summits, I suggested that the best foreign aid or development program the United States could give the world was a crash study in free enterprise. And this idea was, to say the least, greeted with skepticism. But when America's economic miracle took over and as we created during the past 67 months 17 million new jobs, I noticed that the idea of fostering growth through encouraging the entrepreneur began to take hold—even to the point where the emphasis on agricultural subsidies, once so sacrosanct in other nations, is giving way at these summits to ideas on how to develop more free enterprise. There seems to be an increasing awareness of something we Americans have known for some time: that the 10 most dangerous words in the English language are, "Hi, I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help." [Laughter]

Well, of course, sometimes government can help and should help—natural disasters like the drought, for example—but we need to look to a future where there's less, not more, government in our daily lives. It's that philosophy that brought us the prosperity and growth that we see today. That's why we've proposed nothing less than a total phaseout by the year 2000 of all policies that distort trade in agriculture, and I'm speaking of worldwide. This proposal reflects one of my abiding beliefs—I think it's a belief that you share: The solution to the world agricultural problem is to get government out of the way and let farmers compete.

And you know, I'd like to point out something, as I did the week before last in Iowa. When people get to flattering me about this economic expansion, the longest in the peacetime history of our nation, I sometimes ask: What is it we really did to make all this happen for Americans? And the truth is, we just got out of your way. You did it; we didn't. That's why the work you're doing now, and will do as adults, is essential to what we as Americans can do for the rest of the world. We need to help so many in the underdeveloped world, especially in the agricultural area, and your example and your assistance and your commitment to the concept of economic freedom can be crucial to that endeavor.

Well, as always, it's wonderful to see all of you here. "When tillage begins," Daniel Webster once said, "other arts follow. The farmers therefore are the founders of human civilization." The work of FFA, its broadening horizons, are testimony just to that point. So, I want to congratulate each of you on your achievements with FFA. Your family and friends and your President are all very proud of you. Have a wonderful stay here while you're in the Nation's Capital.

I can't go without just telling another little thing—maybe it's a little unkind of me—about government, but what planted some of these thoughts in my mind a long time ago—I was in the military. And I remember a case arose in World War II for a warehouse that was full of filing cabinets, and the filing cabinets were all full of papers. But research revealed that none of these records were of any value whatsoever or served any purpose in the Government. They were outmoded papers and so forth. They had no historical value. And so, up through the channels went a request to destroy those papers and empty the file cabinets so they could be used now for the great need—or then, at that time—of the papers that were current and so forth. And back down through the channels from the top came the answer to that request: Permission granted to destroy all of those records, provided copies were made of each one. [Laughter]

If I have a hobby anymore, it's throwing paper away. [Laughter] But I won't take any more of your time. Just thank you all, and God bless you. It's good to see you here again.

Ms. Evans. Mr. President, it is an honor for the six of us, as national officers in the national FFA organization, to meet with you again. But today we come to you with kind and sincere regards to share with you over 100 young people from every State in this nation who have come to answer the calling and the challenge that you set before all Americans in your second Inaugural Address when you said, "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

Our country has an old tradition. The oldest tradition supposedly is that of its youth, and we as young people who represent over 416,000 other FFA members want to thank you and salute you for your unselfish service these past 8 years to our country. In fact, on a more personal note, we wanted you to know that those qualities, those special and unique ones that you possess—that of communication ability; that of your gentleness; and also of your love mostly for your God, for your country, and for your mankind—are those same qualities that we try to instill in our FFA members.

We thank you, Mr. President. And it is with optimism that we hope you and Mrs. Reagan will be able to join us at the world's largest youth convention. Over 24,000 FFA members gather in Kansas City every November, and we would love to hear from you and your remarks. On a more personal note, though, we want to also remind you that in the good book of Matthew, book 22, verse 14, it says: "For many are called, but few are chosen." To be chosen is a rare honor, and in this case, we feel that the rarity was well done.

There is a riddle that asks about the American dream. What is the difference between the American dream and everyone else's dream? Well, Mr. President, you know what the difference is. Everyone else's dream is to be an American.

Thank you for your service to our country and to our young people, for your commitment and for your ability to change and to touch. our lives. We would like to present you with this plaque which says: "In tribute to President Ronald Reagan, in sincere appreciation for your outstanding leadership to our world and belief in over 416,000 FFA members as the future leaders of this great nation. July 28, 1988, The White House." Thank you.

The President. Thank you very much. I just want to say one thing. Madam President— [laughter] —I hope you're going to be around a little longer than I am. [Laughter] And thank you for those very kind words.

Ms. Evans. You're welcome.

The President. And since we're both presidents, we can use first names, Kelli. [Laughter] Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:54 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. Kelli Evans was the national president of the Future Farmers of America.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks to Representatives of the Future Farmers of America Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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