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Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, National Plowing Contest Sioux Falls, SD

September 22, 1960

Senator KENNEDY. My friend and colleague, Congressman McGovern, Governor Herseth, congressional candidate and Congressman to be, Ray Fitzgerald, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: I want to express my great pleasure in coming to this plowing contest. I feel it is a most important occasion, because as George McGovern says, I consider the decline in agricultural income to be the No. 1 domestic problem that the United States faces, and, therefore, as the standard bearer for the Democratic Party, I take this occasion to set before you, the farmers of this section of the United States, my views on what should constitute agricultural policy for the United States.

I regret the rain, but it remains as the Bible tells us on the just and the unjust alike, on Republicans as well as Democrats. [Laughter.] Tomorrow, the Republican candidate for the Presidency will present his views on American agriculture, and I have no doubt that as you listen, you will find that we use much the same vocabulary, that we both proclaim the same friendship for the farmer, the same concern about his needs. How, then, in an election year of 1960, is the American farmer going to make a choice between Mr. Nixon and myself, between the Republican and Democratic Parties?

For an answer to that question, I think we should return to the ancient Biblical injunction, "By their fruits you shall know them." And by their fruits, I believe the American farmer has learned the true meaning of Republican speeches at campaign time.

In 1952, they promised not so many miles from here, and Mr. Nixon was among them, not merely 90 percent of parity, but full parity. In 1956, they promised, and Mr. Nixon was among them, and I quote, "Full parity of income in the marketplace." And tomorrow, in 1960, whatever formula will have been chosen, they will again promise new abundance and increased income, and protection for REA and the co-ops, and again, Mr. Nixon will be among them.

What were the fruits of those earlier promises which you should bear in mind this fall? They were a 20-percent drop in farm income, a 40-percent drop in net farm income from the State of South Dakota alone in the last 8 years, the destruction of thousands of family farms, the liquidation of many holdings, and a farm program which cost more in 1 year than all the farm programs of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman in any year. This is the result of the last 8 years, and I cannot believe that in this difficult and dangerous time, for the country and for American agriculture, the American farmer is ready to move in that direction again.

I come here today to set before you what I consider we should do in the winter of 1961, and I think this should be the first domestic matter on the desk of the next President of the United States. Here are my views: The farmer of the United States does not need new speeches and new spokesmen. They need a new program and new policies and a new approach to the challenge of our farms, for today American agriculture, as you well know, is gripped in a technological revolution which has been a source of strength and vitality to the United States, though it has cost, in many cases, the American farmer greatly. It is a revolution which has made the American farmer the most efficient in our history, and if there is one area of competition where we are now ahead of the Soviet Union, it is in the area of agricultural production. It is no wonder that Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Koslov and Mr. Mikoyan have come to the Middle West, because they see here the heart of the American revolution.

A distinguished American told me some days ago that if Mr. Khrushchev had to pick 50 American scientists or 50 American farmers, he would pick the farmers, because he realizes that this secret of producing vast quantities of food with only a few people is a revolutionary secret that can change the face of the world. But even though this rising productivity is a source of national power and strength, it can be a disaster to the individual farmer, for when production rises and it exceeds demand, then farm prices fall disastrously, and farm income drops for all, and this fall in income is further intensified by the continual rise in the farmers cost of production.

The answer of the opposition party, the Republicans, is to increase dependence on the so-called free market, even though this has meant disaster for thousands of families, caught between a dropping income for themselves and a rising cost for the things that they buy.

Other areas of our economy are better able to deal with excess production. When more steel is being produced than can be sold, the steel companies cut back production and maintain prices. Steel production in the United States this week is about 54 percent, and yet the prices have not dropped. The reason, of course, is that they have cut their production over 46 percent in order to bring into balance supply and demand. But the individual farmer, and there are hundreds of thousands of them, cannot do this on his own. He lacks bargaining power in the market. He needs help and support of the Federal Government.

I come here today to offer you a program of what I believe to be help and support. My program for agriculture is consistent with my call to the new frontier. It makes no vague promises that can be interpreted different ways. It makes no pledge that I cannot keep, or that the public interest would not permit. I give you no assurances that you can have high income and unlimited production and no controls with no regard to the taxpayers. Rather, it is a program which will take work and sacrifice and discipline. But it is, I believe in all sincerity, an honest program. It is carefully thought out and I believe it can be effective, for I believe that the American farmer is tired of grandiose promises and unfilled pledges, and gimmicks which will save the farmer and save the taxpayer. I believe you want to be told what must be done and that you are ready to do it. I offer such a program, and if you will give us your help and support, we will, together, build once again a farm economy where every man who works the soil can be assured of a decent life for himself and his family.

First, we pledge ourselves to securing full parity of income for the American farmer. By parity of income, I do not mean a vague target or a high-sounding goal. I mean a clear, easily defined concept which can be mathematically ascertained and computed. Parity of income is that income which gives average producers a return on their invested capital, labor, and management equal to that which similar or comparable resources earn in nonfarm employment. Parity of income under this calculation and this definition can be figured by the Department of Agriculture for each commodity without difficulty.

Here is a concept which strikes to the heart of the farm problem. It does not concern itself directly with prices alone, with what the farmer receives, but only with his net income, his return, the only figure which is meaningful in determining his standard of living, particularly in this age of the cost-price squeeze. For the farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything he buys at retail, sells everything he sells at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways. [Applause.]

Secondly, we intend to assure this parity of income for the farmer primarily through supply management, the adjustment of supply to demand at parity income prices. Purchases and loans will be necessary on some commodities at certain times to supplement supply management. But a basic instrument of assuring parity of income will be supply management controls, including the use of marketing quotas, land retirement, with conservation practices, marketing orders and agreements, and other devices, to be used either together or separately, depending upon the needs of the specific commodities and the desire of the producers. The fundamental goal - and this is the point - the fundamental goal of all of these tools is to bring production and demand into balance, and thereby assure a parity of income. And unless we bring them into balance, unless we bring production and supply into balance, what we can consume here at a parity price, what can be usefully distributed to people around the country who depend upon our food, what can be usefully distributed around the world to those who look to us for help unless we bring those into balance, unless we bring production into balance, you will find a continuation of the same disastrous occurrences of the last 8 years - surpluses, heavy tax burdens, and a lower farm income for the farmer.

I think the choice is clear. [Applause.]

Because of the rain I am going to place all of this into the record, and I want the press to understand that I am supporting all of this, but I don't want to stand you all outside and have you all catch some cold, or at least an easterner might catch cold - I don't know about all of you. But I do want to say three or four more points before I close, because this may be the only chance I have to lay down before farmers what I think we ought to do in the coming months. In my judgment there is no other way than to apply this principle of supply management which I think should be submitted first to the farmers of this country so that they can give their judgment and endorsement of any program that we wish to put into effect. Reducing price supports has not worked. Unlimited production has only driven incomes lower and piled up surpluses. Only effective supply management, bringing a balance between supply and demand, will yield good and stable income to our farmers, and I believe that we must go ahead on that course.

Third, we must use our excess productivity capacity to feed people abroad and at home. I spent a month in West Virginia. There are more than 100,000 families in that State that wait every mouth for surplus food packages from our Government. There are 4 million Americans in this country who wait every month for a package from our Government of surplus food. You would not believe what is in that package - some grain, some rice, and this summer the Department of Agriculture is adding lard. These are not just people living in India or Latin America. These are fellow Americans, thrown out of work, many of them sick, many of them with families, and here in this country which stores food and sees it rot on occasions, we cannot find enough good food to feed our own people.

Fourth, around the world, when we and the Soviet Union are engaged in a great competition to see whether the world will be free or slave, we continue to persist in regarding the production of food from the ground as a problem, as a surplus, as a burden, when it is a blessing from the Lord. I think we need an administration which so regards it. [Applause.]

We spend $42 billion on defense every year. Those ships sail the oceans. They protect us but they do not serve our people and the world. I do not regard the distribution of food around the world as a great burden upon us. I regard it as an opportunity, to use our assets in a way which will attract people to the cause of freedom. I am glad that this is our problem and not starvation. I am glad we can produce more than we can consume, if we can share it usefully, for we are our brother's keeper, and if we have great assets in this country, I believe we should hold out the hand of friendship. When hundreds of millions of people stagger through their lives searching for food and we have it, and we are trying to determine which way the world will go, I would rather see our food used in an imaginative way than to argue in kitchens or anyplace else. I want to help people and I want the United States to be identified with that cause as it was in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman. [Applause.]

Fifth, we must modernize our specialized farm agencies to meet the farm revolution. One thing which is going to be necessary in the next years is credit for our farmers. We are going to have to make it possible for those farmers who wish to develop their equipment, maintain themselves, to have sufficient sources of credit, and I don't think 7 percent interest is sufficient sources of credit. I don't think it is possible for a farmer to maintain his income, to maintain his farm, when his receipts are dropping, his costs are going up, and he must borrow money at the bank for 7 percent interest, which is about 3 or 4 percent more than he would have paid 5, 6, or 7 years ago. These are all things that I think are possible to be done, and I don't take the view [applause] - I don't take the view that these problems cannot be solved. I don't say they are easy problems, and I don't come before you who live with these problems every day and say that if I am elected life will be easy, and your problems will disappear; I think it is going to require the dedicated effort of all of us. But I do believe it is possible to elect an administration and support a Congress which is honestly concerned on its record of 25 years with the problems of American farmers. I think the record of the last 8 years is clear, and I think the record of the Democratic Party in the last 25 years in supporting agriculture, in electing Congressmen and Senators who year after year - Hubert Humphrey and Gene McCarthy of Minnesota, and Proxmire of Wisconsin, and George McGovern in this State, and Senators and Congressmen who have stood for the farmer in all parts of the Middle West. [Applause.]

I come from Massachusetts, and I live on the ocean, and the problems of my State are entirely different from the problems of your State. But this is an economy which is interdependent. My people cannot manufacture textiles or sell fish or make television sets and sell them to the Middle West unless you have the income to buy them. And you cannot prosper on the farms unless our cities move ahead. I think one of the most unfortunate parts of the present administration's policy has been to preach the doctrine of dissension, to tell the people in the cities that the farm programs are expensive burdens, that the farmers live off the fat of the land. I spent a month in Wisconsin in the primary there. The average income for a dairy farmer in Wisconsin is 50 cents an hour, for a very long week.

I preach the doctrine of the interdependence of our economy. I don't see any point in Congressmen and Senators from the Eastern United States voting "No" on farm programs. That does not help the consumers. The consumers have never paid such high prices, and farm income has not been as low as it is now in some commodities for 20 years. This country will move ahead when they prosper on the farm and when they prosper in the city. Congressmen and Senators from the agricultural parts of the United States vote against urban renewal. That does not help a farmer, because some person in the city has a bad house or lives in a slum. I think that the necessity for us is to recognize that we are not 50 separate States; we are not 6 different regions of the United States. We are one country with one great problem, and that is to insure the prosperity of our people and their security in the days ahead, and it is to that great task that we shall address ourselves in the coming months.

I want to make it clear in summing up that my view of the problem facing agriculture is this: that unless we bring supply and demand into balance, and that demand should include production for our domestic markets, production for our world markets, production for our school lunch programs and our surplus food programs, for our unemployed and older citizens, and production for food for peace, distributed by the United States individually, or through the United Nations, and after those productions have been determined, then we should attempt to limit the production of any commodity to what can be consumed at parity prices. That is the point that I am attempting to say simply; to try to have effective controls. Five percent surplus in any commodity can break your price 15 percent. And you do not have an effective balance between supply and demand merely by dropping the support price. As you drop the support price you increase your production more because it is the only way you can sustain your income. By providing more effective controls on production, I think it is possible for us to protect the farmer from the hazards of the marketplace, and this is the way that freedom can do it. Because if we don't continue the present way, I think we will find the destruction of free agriculture in this country, as family farmers move from the farms to the cities.

I come to you today as the Democratic candidate for the Presidency. I speak not only for myself, but I speak for all those in my party who are vitally concerned about this problem, who feel that a better job can be done, who feel that the security of the American farmer and the security of people all over this country is basic to our survival. This problem is not a domestic problem. Agriculture does not concern only the people of this State or country. It is a problem which affects our position all over the world. I believe in a strong America. I believe in a secure country. But we cannot be strong, we cannot be respected, we cannot hope that people will look to us for leadership unless we are moving ahead, solving our own problems here in the United States. The reason that Franklin Roosevelt was greeted as a good neighbor in Latin America was because he was a good neighbor here in the United States. And the reason that Harry Truman could carry on the Marshall plan and NATO was because he had concerned himself with the lives of the people of his own country.

We speak and what we do speaks far more strongly than what we say. What we are sounds much more significant than what we say we are, and if we are moving ahead in this country, if we are solving our problems, if we are holding out a hand to people around the world, then I think we are most effectively answering Mr. Khrushchev. Then we can provide for our security, and then we can be the leader of the free world and a world of peace. I don't run for the Presidency saying the future is easy. But I say we can do better than we are doing.

This is a great country, but I think it can be a greater country, and it is a powerful country, but I think it can be a more powerful country. I am dedicating myself and Senator Johnson, the candidate for the Vice Presidency, and I think all of us, to the maintenance of a free society here in the United States.

During the presidential election 100 years ago, Abraham Lincoln wrote a friend, "I know there is a God, and that He hates injustice. I see the storm coming, but if He has a place and a part for me, I believe that I am ready." Now 100 years later, when the great issue is the maintenance of freedom all over the globe, we know there is a God and we know He hates injustice, and we see the storm coming. But if He has a place and a part for us, I believe that we are ready. Thank you. [Applause.]

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, National Plowing Contest Sioux Falls, SD Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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