Richard Nixon photo

Speech by Vice President Richard Nixon at the 21st Annual Plowing Contest, Guthrie Center, IA

September 16, 1960

Let me first say that I am glad that the theme of this plowing contest is conservation - conservation of land and water.

I wholeheartedly favor effective conservation programs because, simply, I believe in the future of America. Our population is growing. It is wise conservation that underwrites America by assuring future food, future fiber, future water to meet the expanding needs of tomorrow at home and throughout the world.

Some of you know that for several months I have been making a careful study of the situation confronting our farm people, and in the process have met with the most knowledgeable and objective-minded people I could find. What I want to do today is to talk over with you some of my views based on this serious study.

At the outset I would like this point clearly understood: The problems of farm people ought not be approached, as far too often has been the case in the past, as something to exploit for political advantage. Rather, the approach has got to be objective, and has got to be constructive. In a determined effort to find a solution the good of the farmer, not the good of politicians, has to be our steady purpose if we are ever to get anywhere.

Next, I think we had better get rid of a number of wrong ideas, too widely shared, about the farm problem, before we talk about the problem itself.

The first and most unfortunate mistake that many of us make is to think that farmers themselves are to blame for all our present farm problems. The time is overdue for everyone to understand that the surpluses which so long have troubled us all, farm people especially, have been built up primarily at the urging of Government itself. These surpluses are the product more of politics than of productivity - of keeping farm programs on a war footing while the Nation, fortunately, has kept the peace. Farmers responded with unreserved patriotism to the Nation's call for ever greater production during World War II and the Korean war. It is dead wrong to charge against them the politicking that in such large measure has been responsible for the accumulation of vast surpluses in government storage.

Further, it is wrong to blame the farmer for the fact that Government illogically insisted upon unrealistic incentives to keep production up, while at the same time it conjured up bureaucratic controls in a futile attempt to keep production down.

We need to understand - all of us - that what the farmer has done is just exactly what he has been encouraged to do by his Government. The blame for the results belongs right on those who have written the laws.

Another misconception is this - that farmers live off the Public Treasury at the expense of other Americans, thereby making the public pay higher tax and food bills. No doubt about it - our present farm programs are costly and unrealistic. But the costs most people chalk up against the farmer are puffed up all out of shape, and hence are misleading. The Agriculture Department budget includes far more than payments to farmers. It includes such costs as scientific research and education, food grading, market reporting, the national forest service, water and soil conservation, school lunches, great quantities of food for needy nations. Properly, these costs should be charged to America's requirement for conservation and social welfare and to the world struggle for peace and freedom. And Americans need to understand this as well - most of the increase in today's grocery bill reflects, not payments to farmers, but modern refinements in processing, and inflation of costs all along the line.

The truth, as every farmer knows, and as all other Americans need to understand, is that the price the farmer gets for what he produces is but a fraction of what the housewife has to pay at the grocery. The public has a right to worry over taxes and food costs - but it is wrong to charge these against the farmer.

Some peddle a third misconception, and this one is especially insulting to farmers. It is that farm people are not very important any more because mechanization of farming has reduced their numbers. Well, in the first place, God save the Republic when we start ignoring our farmers or any other group of America's citizens; and in the second place, Americans need to understand that farming is still our biggest single industry, and more importantly, a major customer of all other industries. Farmers buy more petroleum products than any other industry. They use half as much steel as the entire automobile industry each year. It simply adds up to this - if our Nation is to be prosperous, our farmers must be prosperous.

Next, I want to say a word about the mistaken impression that farmers have long been feathering their nests, so now, if things are not going too well, they should just grin and bear it. It is true that farmers have a substantial net worth; it runs about $184 billion. It is also true that farmers' assets are about eight and one-half times their liabilities. But remember this - the net income of farmers, while the Nation generally has prospered, has not been rising or even staying level; it has been going down. The bald fact is that the farmer has not shared proportionately in America's increasing prosperity. He has been getting the short end of the stick. Simple justice, not to say the national interest, demands that we develop a program that will assure him a fair return.

Finally is this misconception - about the worst of all. It is that the farm situation is a hopeless, costly, and unsolvable mess. I am convinced that most of us have been looking at this problem with an attitude that is far too negative. No more exciting challenge will confront the next President and his administration than that of making a national asset, rather than a liability, out of our Nation's ability to produce more food and fiber than any other peoples on earth. When we in America begin looking at the farm situation this way, as we should, instead of seeing it as a continuing calamity, we will become truly constructive about it.

This new attitude must recognize at the outset how great an asset our enormous productivity is in meeting the overriding issue of our time - the global struggle to preserve peace and human liberty.

Only 7 million farm people in America produce nearly as much food and fiber, and in far better quality, as 50 million produce in Russia. Why?

A really major reason is one that we tend to take for granted. It is that in America the farmer lives in freedom; in Russia and Red China farmers are peasant-slaves. They are told what to plant, when to plant, and where to plant it. They live and work not for themselves but for a cruel and tyrannical state.

Mr. Khrushchev still boasts that the Communists are going to outdo America. If there are those among us who are afraid he is right, they owe it to themselves and their countrymen to see America in action on the farm.

Then they need a good look inside the Soviet Union. That's the best cure I know of for cold war nerves.

Chairman Khrushchev, you remember, did it the other way around. It has jangled his nerves ever since. Since he saw with his own eyes last year the production miracles which year after year are wrought in this Iowa farm country, he has made statements about America which show that even he can recognize a fact when he sees it. Incidentally, I think one of the reasons he withdrew his invitation to the President to visit the Soviet Union may have been a reluctance to let President Eisenhower see at first hand how far behind the Communists really are.

Let all of us recognize, therefore, the great advantage that the skill of American farmers gives our Nation. Let us eagerly pursue this advantage by using our abundance more effectively in advancing liberty and peace.

One way - and it is indispensable - to keep this advantage is to safeguard and preserve the family farm, which is at the very heart of our free agricultural system.

We must never forget what our bounty means to us here at home as well as beyond our shores. To the everlasting credit of our farm people, Americans are the best fed and best clothed people on earth - not only today but in all history. Such an asset has got to be preserved.

How can we best do this? First by avoiding the tendency to be too inflexible in our approach. All too often we hear that there is some one magic formula that will solve all our farm problems.

Let's get our thinking straight on that point. There is no one farm problem today, there never has been. We need differing programs and differing tools to meet the kinds of problems we really face.

And I repeat - let us keep in mind that the chief trouble in the past has been political. But there is a way out.

Let us first examine the programs that the political opposition offers. These are simply this - a return to discredited, old programs which have never worked, plus plans like the Brannan farm program that never did fool the farmers and which, therefore, they overwhelmingly rejected. Inevitably they would lead to a farm economy completely planned and managed, not by the farmer, but by the Government.

These ideas would not end our farm problems. They would fasten them on our country forever.

We simply cannot allow ourselves to think in these defeatist terms. Let me suggest some basic thoughts that point the way to constructive action.

First, because it was the Government, mainly, that got the farmer into the farm problem, the Government should unhesitatingly, as a matter of obligation, help indemnify him to get out.

Second, I consider it likewise a governmental obligation to help the farmer protect himself against the natural and economic adversities that uniquely and oftentimes disastrously affect his livelihood.

Third, real farmers should have more to say about the kinds of programs best suited to their way of life. There is a clear need for greater farmer participation in the formulation of the programs that govern them.

Fourth, farmers need programs that will strengthen, not erode away, their freedom. We need programs to hasten the day when Federal bureaucrats in Washington, no matter how well intentioned, will not be telling farmers what to plant, how many acres to sow, how much to sell, and what their prices have to be.

Fifth, we must - and we can - put our surpluses more constructively to work for the good both of American farmers and of all humanity.

Sixth, once we devise means to consume our gigantic surpluses, production restraints can be eased and made rational and bearable.

Seventh, programs are needed that will raise farm family incomes as surpluses are consumed; we cannot tolerate programs that would cut production by bankrupting the farmer.

Finally, we must carefully consider the whole complex price support problem, and to that vital subject, I shall return in my second farm speech in Sioux Falls, next week.

I believe that, by holding to these points, we can be confident of a bright prospect for our millions of American farmers.

How, exactly, do we begin? Obviously, a No. 1 job is to work down the price-depressing surpluses which today are costing us a thousand dollars every minute just to handle and store.

There are, of course, two major parts to this task - first, disposing of the surpluses we already have; second, preventing their reaccumulation.

Let us today talk about the first part - using up surplus stocks. My answer to this I call Operation Consume. And what does it do? It isolates the surplus stocks from the commercial markets as completely, effectively, and quickly as we can. It uses the surpluses for constructive works. It aims at keeping farmers from being made prisoners of their own efficiency.

Operation Consume is a four-part undertaking.

The first is a sharp intensification of the food for peace program.

This includes new and more energetic efforts among surplus-producing nations to assist the hungry people in less favored areas of the world through the United Nations. This is an effort at once practical and humanitarian. More than that, it brings our bounty directly, and more positively, into the great struggle for freedom.

In its support we will continue to sell our surplus products abroad under Public Law 480. We will additionally continue using surplus foods and fibers to help meet emergencies throughout the world caused by such catastrophes as floods, droughts, earthquakes.

Moreover, we should accelerate our efforts in underdeveloped nations to acquaint these millions of peoples with our multitude of farm products and their many uses. In this way, we will simultaneously build commercial markets for our farm people, as was long ago demonstrated by our experience under the 480 program.

The second major part of Operation Consume is to create, for America, a strategic food reserve.

These critical reserves of foods would be stored at strategic locations throughout the Nation, in forms in which they can best be preserved for long periods against the contingency of a grave national emergency, such as sudden international requirements, or any enemy attack.

I am firmly convinced that in the kind of world in which we live today, we cannot risk a shortage of food. In these times, we must keep on hand large enough stocks to feed our people should our normal sources of food be destroyed. Our present wheat surplus is even now a great protection for America, for in an emergency wheat can be eaten even in its natural state. Even better, wheat can be prepared - and this I would have further developed as a matter of high priority - in ways that can protect it against contamination, preserve it for long periods, and yet keep it immediately available for human consumption. We need to move a substantial part of these surpluses into storage properly dispersed to speed their availability in time of crisis, and we must replace them periodically with fresh supplies.

Next, Operation Consume will effect payments in kind from existing surpluses as part of a temporary land conservation and retirement program of which we need to achieve better balance in today's agriculture.

Of course, barter payments of this kind have to be so administered as not to disturb market prices, while at the same time reducing the output of additional surpluses. We will use the surplus to use up the surplus.

Finally, as part of Operation Consume, I propose an urgent exploration of the conversion of grain to protein foods for distribution at home and abroad, an approach whereby excess grain could become low-cost, bulk-canned meat, powdered milk and eggs, meanwhile giving livestock, dairy, and poultry producers throughout the country additional income.

I expect this new program to be worked out and to become a significant and valuable addition to our food for peace efforts and to our school lunch and relief distribution programs.

Here again there must be safeguards against disruption of normal commercial marketing channels at home and abroad as well as prudent cost controls.

Aside from some domestic school lunch and relief distribution, only long-term future contracts would be used as, for instance, with CARE, religious, voluntary groups, and with such other assistance efforts as we may engage in abroad.

The difficulty with our attack on the surplus problem in the past is that it has been too timid and too little. We must set as our objective a target date of 4 years using the tools that I have outlined to reduce the surplus to manageable proportion. We need to get the surplus off the farmers' back and off the Nation's back as well.

It will, of course, be necessary to appropriate for these programs. But in evaluating their costs, we must take into account the present tremendous outlays that we will thereby be getting rid of as we reduce the surpluses. In other words, we must and should be willing to pay more now in order to take a big bite out of the surplus and to reach our target date, recognizing that the costs overall will be less in the long run.

These are, in brief outline, the four programs of Operation Consume - a concerted effort to the critical surplus problem.

As we thus move ahead, we can expect the affected farm commodity prices to move up to a more normal market relationship. Thus, we will achieve our two eagerly sought objectives: raising farm family income while relieving the Government of much of the heavy cost of carrying vast stores of unused foods.

Next week in South Dakota, I will spell out the companion effort, no less important to farmers. I shall call it Operations Safeguard - a program to deal with the other major phase of our problem, that of avoiding the building up of new unmanageable surpluses. Taken together, Operation Consume and Operation Safeguard will strengthen all agriculture - an enormously powerful force against communism.

There is great gratification for me in the concept that here, in these efforts, we can put the American farmers' skill and productivity more effectively at work where most needed - in the very forefront of the world struggle for freedom. Here communism cannot hope to compete. Here all humanity will clearly see the shining promise and profound meaning of liberty.

Richard Nixon, Speech by Vice President Richard Nixon at the 21st Annual Plowing Contest, Guthrie Center, IA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project