Speech by the Vice President of the United States at the 1960 Soil Conservation Field Days, Sioux Falls, SD
Last Friday at Guthrie Center, I described what I call Operation Consume, one phase of a two-pronged attack on the farm problem. Operation Consume is designed to attack vigorously our present price-depressing surpluses, remove their threat to the farmer's future, stabilize and strengthen farm family income, and make it possible to ease governmental restrictions on agriculture.
Its four main efforts are to expand the food-for-peace program; to create a strategic food reserve; to use payments-in-kind from our surpluses to help expand land conservation; and, finally, to convert grain to protein foods for sale overseas and for distribution to the needy at home and abroad.
Until we are determined to do what is necessary to get those surpluses down by converting them to mankind's good, we cannot hope to look ahead confidently to a bright future in agriculture. Believing this, I am determined to mount an all-out attack on these surpluses - putting aside petty politics, short-run considerations of cost, and other hesitancies that would keep us from meeting this challenge that for so long has rightly concerned every farmer.
Today, I want to take up the second major phase of what I believe is a sensible approach to the farm problem. I call this second phase Operation Safeguard. Where Operation Consume is an attack on the surpluses we already have, Operation Safeguard is designed to keep us from accumulating still more.
Before explaining Operation Safeguard, I want to restate certain things stressed in my Iowa talk last week, that I consider basic to all farm discussions.
First of all, we must change the prevailing outlook in our country toward the marvelous efficiency of our agriculture. I say this be-cause it represents one of America's greatest strengths. We should recognize this bounty for what it is - a blessing and an opportunity - and not consider it a liability and a burden. Indeed, we in America should be profoundly grateful to all who ranch and farm. You of the agricultural community contributed magnificently to victory in World Wars I and II. For many years you have helped keep the people of our country the best-fed and best-clothed people on earth.
We saw the importance of this farm productivity again when, a decade ago, we got into the Korean war. There our own soldiers were the best fed and best clothed on earth. Today we see its importance again, in our struggle with the Communist overlords in Moscow and Peiping. Clearly, we must use this productivity in mounting a climactic war against hunger among people who aspire with us to live in freedom.
So, considering these things, we must take pride in, and safeguard, our resources of food and fiber, just as we keep our military might in readiness. For food is ammunition in the struggle for peace and freedom. Not only is it imperative for life itself, but it is also an instrument of vast power in support of millions of people who need more food and better diets to help carry the battle for human dignity.
I emphasized these things last week in connection with Operation Consume. Now, let us turn to Operation Safeguard - an equally essential program designed to keep new, burdensome surpluses from accumulating.
I think we can all agree, that new approaches to the surplus problem are indispensable, for our existing laws have had and are still having disheartening effects on one and all, in and out of agriculture. Let me give a few examples of what I mean.
In a period of general prosperity, what has happened to the farmer?
Farm income has not fully shared in the general gains of the country. Since World War II our farm programs have cost billions of tax dollars without achieving their purpose. Both here at home and abroad, farm markets have been lost to synthetics and foreign competition.
Our price-support laws are inequitable because they help small farmers the least, and the most prosperous farmers the most. As is evidenced by our 2-year supply of wheat, carryovers of some commodities have grown so large that they depress prices.
Acreage forbidden to controlled crops has often been turned to uncontrolled crops, tending simply to generate new surplus troubles elsewhere. New fertilizers and other improvements have, more often than not, offset production decreases achieved through land retirement. So, all in all, it is a disappointing and frustrating situation - our agriculture has been made the cat's-paw of politicians. It has been dealt with unrealistically. Now prices and incomes are distorted. Markets are impaired. Production tends to be controlled more and more tightly, with no relief in sight. The future is uncertain and unreliable, especially for our farm youth.
Farmers rightly expect their Congress to do better than this. I wholeheartedly agree that it should and it must.
As a matter of fact, in the light of these troubles, many of them long-established, some have come to feel that all is lost - that we just ought to throw up our hands and admit that there are no practical solution to our agricultural concerns. I disagree for these reasons. First, Operation Consume, which I presented last week, will attack a key part of the trouble - the surpluses on hand. Second, we can foresee that our other troubles are going to be manageable, both because of what I shall propose here today and because of the predictable growth of domestic and foreign markets. The fact is that, before too many years have gone by, the present overcapacity that concerns us so much in some products may well become undercapacity.
There are two reasons for this expectation. One is that we are eating more of some products ourselves, and we also need to supplement the diets of others in the world. The second is that population here and elsewhere is growing at a remarkable rate.
An example of the first point - our own increased consumption - is the market demand for beef, which generally has grown faster than our population has grown. Since 1955 we Americans have been eating more than 80 pounds of beef per person each year. Only 10 years ago it was 66 pounds. It was 10 pounds less a decade before that. So, as diets improve at home, farmers' markets improve, too.
And then, we know that abroad, all of Africa, the entire Orient, and much of Latin America and Europe badly need low-cost foodstuffs, We are already developing part of this great market with our Public Law 480 program. The tragic fact is that the great majority of people on this globe are hungry or undernourished. I have seen heart-breaking evidence of this almost everywhere I have traveled around the earth.
Looking beyond the present, we see the world population growing at an amazing speed. Some experts expect it to double in 40 years, going from 3 to 6 billion.
And what of our own population, which now is 180 million? It is expected to grow by 30 to 50 million in the next 10 years and by 50 to 90 million in the next 20 years. There can be no doubt that our farmers' domestic and foreign markets will rapidly expand over the years ahead.
But that's tomorrow. What about today? We have gigantic surpluses, and we know that these have got to be reduced by constructive use. In the meantime, we have got to keep from building them right back up as we cut them down.
And so, along with Operation Consume - with which we will utilize the surplus we already have - must go Operation Safeguard, which I propose as a group of measures to stop building new surpluses.
Now, let's consider Operation Safeguard for a moment. It includes six main efforts. First I would mention a substantial expansion of the conservation reserve program, on a temporary basis, to help adjust production to our Nation's needs. I say it should be temporary for the reason just stated: In the future, as population expands in America and the world, we will need every last acre we can find. But, as of now, acres that add to our excess production can be voluntarily retired, with fair rentals, for periods of 3 to 10 years. There is this added advantage: The conservation reserve amounts to a form of income insurance. It also constitutes voluntary production control by farmers themselves. Both of these aspects appeal especially to me.
Now I realize that, in expanding the conservation reserve there are difficulties that we must carefully avoid. It is imperative that we see that it is wisely administered. Otherwise it will be abused, cause resentment, and defeat its own purpose. For example, it is self-defeating to shift only marginal land to grass and trees. Productive land as well needs to be retired if we are going to match current need with output. Moreover, we must avoid injury to the economies of local communities, as acres go out of production. Good conservation practice on rented lands is an absolute necessity. We must have sensible management of this kind.
The second aspect of Operation Safeguard is an effective system of price supports. This is a controversial and difficult question, and I want to talk frankly with you about it.
It is my belief that price supports have a place, and an important place, in a dynamic program for farm progress. The challenge before us is to find ways to use them intelligently to help farmers.
In all aspects of our farm policy we must recognize this plain fact - we cannot move from where we are to where we want to go in a single step. I know that farm people look forward to the day when they can once again make their own decisions as to what to plant and when they can sell their output profitably into the normal channels of trade, and not to the Government.
But first we must get through the transition period in which we cut down the price-depressing surplus that overhangs the market and in which we bring agriculture into better balance. Thereafter, farmers can regain their freedom to grow what they wish for markets freed of the burden of accumulated stocks of commodities.
During the transitional period, while Operation Consume deals with the surplus, a special effort must be made to bring current output and consumption more nearly into balance in the period before the conservation reserve has been expanded to its full effectiveness. To this end I anticipate it may be necessary to legislate a temporary cutback in acreage allotments of any price-supported crop so heavily in surplus as to bring injury to those who farm that crop. Wheat is the current example. I would have the land thus withdrawn from production administered as part of the conservation reserve program.
During such a time farmer income must be protected. Toward accomplishing this objective, favorable payments in kind could be used to help compensate farmers for the mandatory cut in acreage, thus avoiding harmful adjustments in price support levels in the transition period. By these actions farmer income, and markets as well, can be protected during the transition years.
Once we deal with price-depressing surpluses, and once markets achieve a new buoyancy reflecting a better relationship of supplies to demand, we should move to a long-term price support system with levels based on an average of market prices over the immediately preceding crop years. At that time, the farmer's freedom to operate can be restored, and he can confidently plan for the future without looking over his shoulder at the constant threat of piled-up surpluses.
I have some personal observations about this price support problem. I believe our present congressional deadlock on the subject has resulted from an insistence on the one hand that we move toward more normal conditions at a speed and by a means that would have failed adequately to protect farmer income in the period of transition and, on the other hand, from insistence on political programs that would have stunted markets, added to surpluses, and required almost day-to-day control of the farmer by the Federal Government.
Neither extreme makes sense to me. Rather, I propose that we take the responsible way I have outlined here. I believe it is a realistic, forward-looking way.
Let us resolve, however, here and now to free our minds from fixations upon any pet figures, any pet formulas, any slogans and symbols which get in the way of clear and constructive thinking.
In the interest of our farm families, I believe deeply that both political parties should take this to heart. If we are to make enduring, constructive progress in agriculture, we have to put aside self-serving politicking that for so many years has gotten in the way.
We turn now to the third phase of Operation Safeguard - full mobilization of the rural development program.
This great program, started by President Eisenhower, is one that I look forward to pressing into greater service for low-income farm families. For years on end these families were overlooked in price-support programs.
Most unfortunately, we tend to overlook the wide disparity among farm people and to think first of agriculture only in terms of commercial farming, though it accounts for only a small percentage of our farm people. To most of these people, existing price-support programs are a hollow mockery. It is our obligation - and one I feel very deeply - to banish the poverty and lack of opportunity remaining among these people. Those on inadequate farms with either inadequate capital or inadequate know-how require and deserve open-hearted and effective guidance and help from those entrusted with the public good.
Through public and private cooperation, governmentally generated, these farmers can learn better farming methods. They can improve their opportunities by being taught other vocational skills. More effective employment services can and should be provided. More full-time and part-time job opportunities can be developed through encouragement of local industrialization. Encouragement of the movement of light industry into these low-income areas is another wholesome undertaking. By all such means, vigorously pursued by a deeply concerned Government, those farm people who might otherwise be forced from the land and the environment they love can have new sources of livelihood and can continue to live in rural America and be an active part of it. This rural development program is a program with a heart. I am determined to realize its full potential.
There is in Operation Safeguard this fourth phase - policies that will alleviate the farm cost-price squeeze. As we have seen, it is mainly because of ever-building surpluses that farm prices have lagged. Operation Consume deals directly with this problem, but there is another aspect we must consider. It is that rising farm production costs have continued to press down on net income. The result is the cost-price squeeze, long an agonizing problem for farmers.
It has been a hopeful development, these past 8 years, that the cost increases have been but a fraction of what they were during the prior 8 years. But even so, the problem persists, and it is serious. I believe that we need to meet the cost-price squeeze head on. Initially we will seek to improve prices by converting the price-depressing surpluses to manageable proportions through Operation Consume, and also by increasing the farmer's bargaining power through support of producer cooperatives and by going all out to find new markets at home and abroad.
Next, we will continue our fight on inflation and thereby help hold farm costs down by keeping America's fiscal house in order.
We will also strengthen the various credit facilities, marketing services, and production aids of the Department of Agriculture, thus seeking to hold down the farmer's costs. This specifically includes maintenance of the present interest rates for activities clearly related to the needs of rural areas.
The fifth part of Operation Safeguard concerns a crash agricultural research program.
Why, you may ask, should we have still more research? The answer is to improve our nutrition, to expand present markets, to find new markets, to determine new industrial and other uses for our farm products, and to reduce production and distribution costs.
The value of this research has been proved time and time again. Frozen juice concentrates, for example, have opened whole new markets for citrus growers. I am convinced that what has been accomplished here can be done elsewhere, if we will but relentlessly probe. A sharp increase in the Federal effort for agricultural research is a key element in the undertaking I describe here today, especially research to find new industrial uses for farm products.
Sixth, and finally, Operation Safeguard includes this - an assurance of a continuing infusion of practical, new ideas as farming moves forward, by the creation of a council of representative working farmers and ranchers to advise the President on farm programs. This council should be set up by law in order that it will be an official group, selected on a regional basis, its members as nearly as possible representative of all American agriculture. Thus I hope to make certain, in addition to the other measures mentioned here and last week in Iowa, that our farm people will have a more direct voice in planning their affairs.
My full support, of course, also goes to the many other programs outlined last July in the Republican platform and to the maintenance and improvement of present services provided by the Department of Agriculture.
In summary, the efforts I have outlined here and in Iowa offer our farm families a real chance to move confidently ahead in prosperity and freedom. The twin projects - Operation Consume and Operation Safeguard - point the direction. Fully developed and implemented, I believe that they will make excessive controls and idle surpluses unhappy memories, and farm families can expect to share fully in the promise and opportunity of our free America.
I am determined that we make Chairman Khrushchev eat his words. In Pravda he wrote: "If we catch up with the United States in per capita production of meat, butter, and milk, we will fire a powerful torpedo under the foundations of capitalism."
I say this: If it is a food torpedo that is to be fired, it is going to be shot by American farmers and ranchers at the foundations of communism.
Note: Advance release text
Richard Nixon, Speech by the Vice President of the United States at the 1960 Soil Conservation Field Days, Sioux Falls, SD Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/274143