John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, National Plowing Contest, Sioux Falls, SD - (Advance Release Text)

September 22, 1960

I am here as the Democratic standard bearer to present my program for American agriculture.

Tomorrow the Republican candidate for President will present the second half of his views on 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 American farmer, and the same concern about his needs.

How then, in this election year of 1960, is the American farmer to choose between Mr. Nixon and myself - between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party? For an answer we must return to the ancient Biblical injunction: "By their fruits shall ye know them." And by their fruits the American farmer has learned the true meaning of Republican election year speeches and pledges.

In 1952 they promised - and Mr. Nixon led them - "not merely 90 percent of parity - but full parity."

In 1956 they promised - and Mr. Nixon led them - "full parity of income in the marketplace."

And tomorrow, in 1960, whatever the formula they have chosen, they will again promise you new abundance, increased income, protection for REA and co-ops - and again, Mr. Nixon will lead them.

And what were the fruits of these earlier promises? They were a 20 percent drop in farm income, the destruction of many thousands of family farms, the depressing growth of surplus stocks to the highest point in the history of any nation, and a farm program which costs more in 1 year than all the farm programs of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman combined. This is the result of 8 years of Republican election promises and I cannot believe that the American farmer is ready to be moved in that direction again.

For tomorrow Mr. Nixon will come before you proclaiming himself to be the true champion of the American farmer - calling for new and bold programs.

But this is the same Mr. Nixon who called Mr. Benson the greatest Secretary of Agriculture in history and said that his programs were the only true road to farm prosperity.

This is the same Mr. Nixon who, little more than a year ago, in a report to the President, attacked the policy of providing price supports for what he called a few favored commodities - commodities like wheat and corn and tobacco and cotton.

This is the same Mr. Nixon who, according to Secretary of Agriculture Benson, played a prominent part in the formulation of present farm policies. And, although Mr. Benson may not be a great Secretary of Agriculture, he is a truthful man, and no one knows Mr. Nixon's role better than he.

Today the Republicans promise higher income for the farmer. Yet for 8 years, as farm incomes declined, the Republicans fought for legislation to weaken farm price support programs and drive prices even lower.

Today the Republicans promise to use our surpluses to feed and clothe the hungry people of the world. But, when the Democrats in Congress first proposed a food-for-peace program, the Republicans fought it - and they have fought consistently against all our efforts to expand this program.

Today the Republicans promise to use our surpluses to improve the diets of our hungry and undernourished here at home. But the Republicans opposed our efforts to expand the school-lunch program and the school-milk program - and they have refused to put into operation an expanded program of food distribution which was enacted by a Democratic Congress.

During the primaries I spent 6 weeks in West Virginia where thousands of families wait every month for packages of Government surplus food. I saw hungry families. I saw undernourished children. But I didn't see "Operation Consume."

This is the record of the party whose leader comes before you tomorrow. There are those who say that the American farmer is going to vote Republican on November 8. I don't believe it. I don't believe that any farmer who has seen his income go down and his costs go up during the past 8 years is going to vote Republican. I don't believe that any farmer who has witnessed the steady destruction of the family farm and the steady decline of farming as a way of life is going to vote Republican. I don't believe that the American farmer is going to vote for a political party which, in all its history, has never taken one single constructive step to raise the incomes of American farmers. And I don't believe that the American farmer is going to vote against the only political party which has ever acted - in this century or any other - to improve the lot of American agriculture - the Democratic Party. For when a farmer votes Republican - he votes not only against himself, but against the interest and welfare of every farmer and every farm in the United States. And I don't believe the farmers are going to do it.

The basic failure of Republican leaders to grasp the problems of the farmer have caused them to misinform the American people.

They have tried - and in a large measure they have succeeded - in persuading the American consumer that our farmers are getting too much - that they are profiteering from the Government - that farm prices are too high - and that the consumer is paying the bill.

This is what Mr. Benson and Mr. Nixon have been telling the Nation during the past 8 years - and they have created a distrust and resentment toward the farmer on the part of many Americans.

But you and I know that these charges are not true. We know that while consumer prices have been going up, farm prices have been going down, and that the farmer's share of the consumer's dollar has declined sharply since 1952.

But unfortunately the American people do not know this. And they will never know it until they have a Secretary of Agriculture and a President who will speak for, not against, the American farmer - who will champion the cause of agriculture, not attempt to discredit it - an administration that realizes that America needs the farmer as much as the farmer needs the administration.

And if elected President, I will give you that kind of Secretary of Agriculture and that kind of administration.

But the farmers of this Nation need more than a spokesman. They need a new program, and new policies, and a new approach to the challenge of our farm.

For today American agriculture is in the grip of a technological revolution as vast and as rapid as any in history. It is a revolution which has made the American farmer the most efficient in history. It has made his productivity the marvel and envy of every nation. Every farmer in this country produces three times as much as his Soviet counterpart. And if there is one area of our competition with the Soviet Union in which we are clearly ahead, that area is agricultural production. Experts from all over the world come to see our farms, to study our techniques, and learn our methods. And the farm technology we have developed here in the United States holds out hope to the world for the first time that no man, woman, or child on earth needs to go hungry again.

But even though this rising productivity is a source of national power and strength, it can be a disaster for the individual farmer. For when production rises - when 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 farmer's cost of production.

The answer of the Republican leaders is to increase dependence on the so-called free market - even though this must mean disaster for thousands of farmers who are trapped between rising costs and their own inability to control production.

Other areas of our economy are better able to deal with excess production. When more steel is being made than is being sold, the steel companies cut back production and maintain prices. But the individual farmer is too small to maintain prices or control production on his own or even with his neighbors. He lacks bargaining power in the markets. He needs the help and support of his Government.

And I come here today to offer you that 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. It gives you no assurances that you can have high incomes and unlimited production and no control, without regard to the taxpayer.

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 a carefully thought out program. And it will be an effective program.

For I believe that the American farmer is tired of grandiose promises and unfulfilled pledges and remedial gimmicks. I believe you want to be told what must be done - and that you are ready to do it. I offer you such a program. And if you give me your help and your 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 for his children.

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 prices under this definition can be calculated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture without difficulty.

Here is a concept which strikes to the heart of the farmer's problem. It does not concern itself directly or solely with prices - with what the farmer receives - but 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 has to buy everything he buys at retail - sell everything he sells at wholesale - and pay the freight both ways.

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 commodity and the desires of the producers. The fundamental goal of all these devices is to effectively reach a balance between supply and demand - and thereby assure prices which will yield parity of income.

This supply management is necessary because it is a fact - and a fact which must be frankly faced if we are to save the farm problem - that we cannot have both good prices and unlimited production. The present costs of the farm program - six times as high as in 1952 - are already excessive. Our present surpluses - also six times as high as in l952 are much more than would conceivably be necessary for all our needs. So let us put away all slogans and illusions - and realize that supply management is essential. It is the price of good and stable incomes.

The type of supply management control to he used will, of course, vary with each commodity. For each commodity has different problems of production and marketing. And any program of supply management for any commodity must be worked out with producer committees and representatives of the farmers involved - and must receive the general approval of the affected farmers. This is basic. Any control program must have the overwhelming support of the person affected if it is to be successful.

Let me illustrate how supply management might work in the case of a basic commodity - wheat. Its operation is familiar to members of the National Association of Wheat Growers who have worked to develop a program that will raise and stabilize incomes to producers.

Under this program the Secretary of Agriculture would determine the amount of wheat that would be consumed - here and abroad - at parity income prices. This quota would be distributed among farmers on the basis of their historical record of production - and they would be issued marketing certificates permitting them to market their share of the national quota. All wheat sold for primary use must be accompanied by marketing certificates. As a condition of receiving his certificate each farmer would be required to retire a small fixed percentage of his wheat acreage.

This is not a production control program; it does not tell any producer how much he can produce, or in what manner. But it does limit his marketings for primary use. Under this program the wheat farmer's income would be increased to parity income levels - surpluses would be gradually reduced - and the retirement of wheat crop acreage would protect feed producers from additional feed production.

This is one example of supply management in operation. Feed grains - which are not grown for direct consumption - would require different treatment, such as a land-retirement program shared equitably among feed growers. So would other commodities. The important point is the principle of supply management applied by the producers themselves - to assure stable income and eliminate surpluses.

In my judgment there is no other way. Reducing price supports has not worked. Unlimited production has only driven incomes lower, and piled up surpluses. Only effective supply management will yield good and stable incomes to our farmers. And I believe that we must go ahead on that course.

Third, we must use our excess productive capacity to feed the hungry and undernourished here at home - through a full-scale school lunch program, a food stamp program that will permit unemployed and impoverished Americans to have a healthy and varied diet, and direct food distribution to welfare agencies and institutions. All three of these efforts to improve food distribution to needy Americans have been offered in recent years by the Democrats in Congress - and halted by Republican Opposition. In 1961 they will go into effect.

We must also use our untapped abundance to fight hunger and support economic development throughout the world. Nations fighting to stave off famine - to launch their new economies into orbit - or to prevent the instability on which communism thrives - all need adequate food supplies beyond the limits of their present resources.

Several years ago the Democrats initiated the Food for Peace program over Republican opposition. In the last year our efforts to expand that program were blocked once again. In 1961 we must begin a new expanded Food for Peace program, including a permanent food development project where our surplus food and fiber are used to supplement the agriculture of other lands, to combat hunger, to supply food reserve banks and to feed workers engaged in building roads, digging wells, and clearing land.

Fourth, we will begin a sound system of soil conservation which does not destroy entire farms and which is administered at the local levels by local farmers.

Fifth, we must modernize our specialized farm agencies to meet the farm revolution - by revitalizing our agricultural credit agencies so that farmers can get the credit they need, and at interest rates they can afford, to modernize and expand. In addition, better research and extension services, more assistance to co-ops, a strengthened REA, and expanded marketing services are all essential to the development of a sound rural economy. For our task is not to oppose the agricultural revolution, our task is to harness it to the needs of all Americans.

Sixth, we will initiate a special program for the low-production farmer - the farmer who must work with inadequate resources, who lives in rural poverty with a gross income of less than $2,500, and who forms part of an entirely different farm problem. His need is for expanded earnings opportunities. Reorganized and enlarged farms, new rural industries, and movement to nonfarm jobs are among the possible solutions. But new earning opportunities are not going to be developed without affirmative Government action and assistance - assistance which must certainly be more vigorous than the timid and fruitless efforts of the present Republican rural development program.

This is the program I offer to you. It is not complete in every detail - but it does, I believe, offer a sound and constructive approach - in fact the only realistic approach - to insuring the full use of our great productive capacity while bringing good incomes and a decent standard of living to all our farmers. It does not call for a regimented farm economy. On the contrary, the purpose of selective supply adjustment is to maintain the farmer's traditional freedom - to prevent the completely controlled farm economy that would result if the present program brings on a complete collapse - and to lead ultimately to a normal balance between supply and demand that will require as little Government interference as possible.

But let me close by stressing that this is not an issue for farmers alone. It is not an issue for the Farm Belt alone. This is a basic issue of American strength - and only a strong America can win the peace.

For peace is our real goal. Peace overshadows every other effort. And those of you who fought in the Pacific or in Europe - those of you who might have traveled, as I have traveled, to Poland and Eastern Europe and seen the despair of a people in chains - share my dedication to securing a just and lasting peace before it is too late.

There are trouble spots all over the world today. They are increasing. The Communists grow bolder every day. Their respect for our power grows less. And unless we get moving and building and strengthening our country and our economy the peace we seek will be in deadly peril.

With God's help, let us act now to save the peace - not as farmers or businessmen or workers, not as spokesmen for any group or section, but as Americans devoted to freedom, and to the future of our children, and children around the world.

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

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