Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to the Newspaper farm Editors Association.

May 12, 1964

Ladies and gentlemen:

I want to welcome you to the White House. I am sorry we had a little rain earlier in the afternoon and it would not be very pleasant out there meeting now. I have asked you, therefore, to come to the biggest room we have in the White House, the Cabinet Room--changed maybe a little bit since you were last here. We have a new portrait of President Roosevelt hanging over there, one of Jackson here, Monroe there, Washington down there.

In any event, we are pleased to have you. We trust your trip has been informative and profitable. If there is any information you don't have about how good this administration is, Secretary freeman is prepared to supply it at the drop of your hat.

I know it is not easy to report the news of farms and farming. So many myths have grown up about American agriculture people don't always understand what they read or hear, but responsible farm policies still rest upon an informed public opinion. In developing those policies, we need to be governed by reason and reality, and not by prejudice and fantasy.

What has happened in American agriculture this century is a man-made miracle, and not a man-made mess as we sometimes hear. One American farmer today can feed more than 27 other people. When I was born, he was feeding only his family and one other person. That story needs to be told, and told accurately, because that is the story of American agriculture.

There is another story the American people need to hear, too. It is the story of rural Americans bypassed in our march to prosperity. Poverty is still the number 1 problem of rural America. The average per capita income for farm families is only 60 percent of that for the rest of America. It has come up from 54 percent in 1960 to 60 percent now, but that is not enough.

I have seen farm families scourged by the lash of poverty. Only last week I visited a family of 10 whose existence hangs by the thin thread of the food stamp plan, an oldage pension, 9 acres of tobacco, and 10 acres of cotton. I cannot believe their poverty is the mark of God's will. They are poor but honest, and they are poor, I think, because they never got a decent break. They never had the chance to break out of poverty's grip and move up to a more abundant life.

Our war on poverty will give them that chance. With your help and God's, we intend to win that war because our objective is total victory.

In this country we have made history with food abundance, with revolutions in both food production and marketing. The time has come to find new and better ways to put these gains to the service of a greater society. I think we must make it possible for the family farmer to earn a parity of income with those who enjoy his abundance. The revolution in production, the revolution in marketing, must be put to work. In this administration, we are dedicated to these concepts and to these goals:

First: To commodity programs to protect and preserve our family farm system.

Second: To community programs to create new job and income opportunities for the young people growing up in rural America, to develop new uses for rural resources, to provide new opportunities for urban families to enjoy green and open spaces which have always been so much a part of American life.

Three: To consumer programs to develop new uses for food at home, and to trade and aid programs which build new markets and help others throughout the world to meet the age-old problem of hunger.

If we are to preserve the vitality of our American agriculture and if we are to improve the prosperity of our rural life, we must look and plan beyond the present, and that is what we are trying to do. There are problems, many of them, and I assure you this administration is giving the problems of agriculture high priority, and we are trying to do that planning.

One of the big problems today is beef. We know this 'problem. I get very little of my information secondhand. We are determined to correct it. We are making some progress.

First: Beef sales were heavy a year ago, but the major food chains throughout the country tell us that the current beef merchandising drive is producing great results. In April, last month, sales in most of the larger groups of stores were up from 10 to 25 percent, with some as high as 35 percent.

Second: We are stepping up the buying program to improve the diet for needy families and for school lunches. Last week the Department of Agriculture purchased almost 12 million pounds of beef, mostly choice grade, and we expect to continue through June or longer. The Department of Defense is now buying beef here and shipping it to our overseas stations, and it will be buying an additional 100 million pounds.

Third: We have sent a team of top men to Europe to try to develop markets there for our beef. Their reports, of which some of them are just flowing in, are somewhat encouraging. The economies there are strong. The supply of beef is short. We are hopeful about the success of this effort.

Fourth: This week Secretary freeman and his people will present to me a detailed, multiple-point program for effective action. As soon as we have reviewed it and agreed upon it, this program will be implemented.

Fifth: I am very pleased to report that the combined effect--the combined effect--of lower imports plus our purchase programs will be the same as reducing imports to below the 1958-62 level on meat.

I don't know whether I make that point clear or not, but I want to back up and be sure you get it. The combined effect of the lower imports--Australia for instance agreed to reduce hers about 29 percent--New Zealand, 22 percent. Before that they had agreed to a 1962-63 average which was about 6 percent, so those combined, voluntary reductions, plus our purchase program, will be the same as reducing imports to the 1958 to 1962 level.

Now our principal foreign meat importers have made it clear that they expect beef imports in 1964 to be down at least 20 percent from last year. That is lower even than in 1962. This cut, plus the buying programs of Agriculture and Defense, have the practical result of rolling back to the 1958-62 average advocated by cattlemen and feeders and proposed in legislation.

The Mansfield bill would set a quota, in other words, of 450 million pounds under 1963 imports. If you take a 20 percent import cut, that totals 225 million pounds. The Department of Agriculture's purchase programs take another 480 million pounds out of the market. The Defense Department takes another 100 million pounds out of the market, so we are back below the' 1962 level when cattle were selling for $27 a hundred at Chicago.

In the long view ahead, we all recognize the vital importance of trade to prosperity in America, and no one ought to recognize it more than the farmer, and most specifically, to prosperity in American agriculture, because it has contributed a great deal to it.

One out of every five acres of land that we plant in this country produces for export. We are selling $4 billion worth of farm commodities for dollars each year, and we don't want to lose that. That is why we are trying to liberalize trade and not restrict it. That is why we have told the Common Market that progress must be made toward liberalizing trade in the products of our farmers as well as our factories.

We are working to sustain the productivity and the prosperity of American agriculture, and the record speaks for itself. We passed the wheat-cotton bill. Without it, I think wheat growers' incomes would have dropped, it is estimated, by $600 million. With it, cotton growers will maintain their income and still provide lower-priced cotton to the mills.

Average income per farm has risen 16 percent. Markets for farm products have been expanded from $4.8 billion in 1960 to $5.6 billion in 1963.

Farmers have increased their annual investment in machinery and equipment and construction by 50 percent in 3 years.

From 1960 to 1964, loans to rural families under Federal programs for home building and farm operation rose 148 percent.

By 1964, electrification loans had risen by 36 percent since 1960, but we must not stand still. The problems are many, the challenges are great, but the prospect and the promise of what we can do ought to give us an inspiration and determination that no other generation has really ever had.

What are some of these challenges?

One is to abolish hunger. We can abolish poverty, and we can abolish the blight on the lives of those who live in rural America. We can make life far better for those who live in all America, rural and urban.

So we must press on toward new horizons of hope for the world, but we do not forget the hopes or the happiness of our own people. In all of this, I have the most vital personal interest.

I never forget the road of opportunity. have walked from my father's tenant farmhouse where I was born 56 years ago to the White House where I am today. I want to keep that road open for children today, whether they live on hard-rock farms along the Pedernales River, or whether they grow up on hard, concrete sidewalks. And we must not ever forget that the great basic industry of agriculture has not only produced revolutions in production and marketing during our lifetime, but it has produced many of the men who sit in our Cabinet, who sit in our highest councils, who sit in our Senate and in our Congress, and it has produced some of the leading statesmen of this Nation.

There are times when everything looks bleak for the farmer, but I believe with the progress that we have made with our legislation this year, I believe with the effort that we are making to improve situations such as our beef situation, that we will find that 1964 will be a good year for the people who read what you write.

I would like to meet and visit with you personally before you leave, and I thank you very much for coming.

Note: The President spoke at 5 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Early in his remarks he referred to the Secretary of Agriculture, Orville freeman.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to the Newspaper farm Editors Association. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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