Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12.1. Speech Files, 1953-1960. Box 910, Folder: "Democratic Dinner, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 18 June 1960"
Of particular importance to South Dakota are the farm policies of the Republican party - the party of Benson, Nixon and Mundt - the party which offers our young people no incentive to return to the farm - which offers the farmer only the prospect of lower and lower income - and which offers the nation the vision of a long, deep, disastrous farm depression.
At long last the Administration has conceded that the farm problem is "most vexing". But the solution it offers - its panacea for higher surpluses and lower income - its remedy for farm ills - its answer to the demands of the future - is lower, still lower farm prices.
Secretary of Agriculture Benson says he must depress wheat prices until they compete with feed grains - he ignores the chaos in both wheat and feed grain prices that is certain to follow. He urges the continuation of the present corn program - and ignores the plight of the corn farmer already suffering from this program. And as for livestock - he refuses even to acknowledge the mounting evidence of a livestock crisis in the near future.
Last year the farmers of the nation made less money than in any year since 1942. And they have received notice from Mr. Benson that they should expect a further cut in income of between 10 and 12 per cent over the next four years.
At the same time that corporate profits will rise an estimated 10 per cent, the Administration promises to cut farm income approximately the same amount.
For some reason the wheat farmer in particular is singled out for attack. Every attempt to increase parity is met with the threat of a veto. Every attempt to apply the same principles to wheat farming that are followed by the industrial giants of our nation is called unsound.
Last year the Democratic Congress offered the Administration an emergency wheat program. By reducing acreage 25% and increasing the support price to 90% we sought to halt the steady accumulation of wheat in our storage bins. It was estimated that our bill would have saved the nation $250 million a year. Unfortunately an Administration bent upon reducing prices vetoed the bill. The same threat follows the wheat legislation before Congress now - even though the House bill has made concessions and the Senate has practically capitulated.
The Administration's wheat program will reduce the cash receipts of the wheat farmer 30% during the next four years - unless we have a new administration and a new wheat program. And I promise you we will. The Republican Administration took office in January 1953.
Since Inauguration Day in January, 1953, wages have gone up, prices have gone up, costs have gone up - only farm income has gone down - and it has gone down some 24%. If farm income had gone up during the past seven years as much as our overall national income it would have reached $20 billion last year - almost twice what it was.
And this does not affect farmers alone. It would have meant some $8 or $9 billion more to be spent by farmers for automobiles, for electrical equipment, for clothes, for education, for community facilities. That is the tragedy of the Benson-Nixon-Eisenhower farm program.
Who is going to benefit from this relentless attack on farm income? Certainly not the city dwellers of the nation - who are paying higher food prices. Certainly not the taxpayers - paying more to see surpluses rot in storage than they ever paid before. And certainly not the farmers.
It doesn't take much imagination to forecast what an extension of the Benson-Nixon-Eisenhower program might do. A study by the Department of Agriculture itself showed that if free market conditions governed prices for farm products we could expect a decline in prices of 40% over the next five years.
For the farmer this would mean complete disaster.
For the businessman it would spell empty stores and factories.
For the rural communities it would mean decay and stagnation.
For our entire nation it would spell economic peril.
I do not pretend to say that a new Democratic President in the White House would have all the answers to all the problems. I do not agree with those who think that all we have to do is dismiss Mr. Benson and get a new Secretary of Agriculture. This problem is bigger and deeper than one man or even one Administration.
But I do believe that any Democratic farm program must both attack the current problems of surpluses and depressed prices and meet the long-range objectives of an expanding economy. This presents a dual challenge.
It cannot be met by a single-minded devotion to unrestricted production at lower and lower prices. Our 1 billion 400 million bushel wheat surplus will not melt away if prices are "adjusted." The only way we could cut prices enough to make a real dent in the surplus would require a 50% reduction in prices and bankrupt one out of every three farmers.
Nor can the farm economy be revived by a deliberate effort to eliminate the family farm. This effort can only weaken our entire economy.
Wheat is no different from steel - or from automobiles - or from refrigerators. When the steel industry finds itself with excess capacity - as it does today - it trims production. It does not reduce prices. In fact, the last time it drastically reduced production it raised prices. There is no Administration effort to plow back every third steel company - or even to compel a reduction of steel prices. Why isn't the wheat producer entitled to the same consideration?
I do not underestimate our wheat crisis. If we do not grow another bushel for the rest of 1960 we will still have enough wheat to meet all our domestic needs, all our export requirements and still have a larger than necessary carryover in 1961. It costs over $20 million a month just to pay the storage charges on this one crop. But any attempt to control one commodity and not another is pre-doomed to failure. Our farm economy cannot survive half controlled and half free. And neither can it survive four more years of rule by the party of Benson, Nixon and Mundt.
I do not intend to spell out today a detailed farm program. No one program will fit all commodities. Tobacco has a special problem and - since the veto last year – we seem to have convinced the Administration of the error of its ways at least with respect to that crop. Cotton must bear in mind competition with synthetics and foreign products. Sugar has international overtones. But there are certain basic rights that any Democratic farm program must protect. We have talked about the rights of this group and that for a long time. I want to stress now a Bill of Rights for farmers.
First, the farmer has the right to a fair share of our national income. This does not mean that farm prices must always rise – but they should not be the only ones to fall.
Secondly, the farmer, like the small businessman, has the right to protection against the rapid advance of corporate farming and vertical integration. Our whole vitality as a nation depends upon the promotion and preservation of the family farm.
Third, the farmer has the right to participate in the development and administration of national farm programs through his own democratically elected farmer committees. Basic administration in any future farm program should be in the hands of the farmers. No bureaucrat, no economist or scientist knows the needs and trends and variations of the local farm as well as local farmers.
Fourth, the farmer has the right to the bargaining power provided through price supports, loans, commodity agreements, marketing orders or a combination of these. He should not be forced to buy on a regulated market and forced to sell for whatever price he can get.
Fifth, the farmer has the right to adjust production by majority choice. There is no reason for denying him the same privilege afforded our major business enterprises.
Sixth, the farmer has the right to assistance from the government in conserving the land, water and forest resources of our nation. Our land is our most important natural resource. For our nations' future - for our children's future - it must be protected.
Seventh, the farmer has the right to obtain credit at reasonable rates of interest. The technological revolution has made the American farmer the most productive unit in the world. But this has taken and still takes a lot of capital. Credit is of particular importance to the farmer who must withstand temporary market or weather reverses.
Eighth, the farmer has the right to the best protection the government can provide against the hazards of plant diseases and pestilence.
Ninth, the farmer has the right to self-help through cooperative buying and marketing. Cooperatives can help the farmer escape some of the cost-price squeeze. They can give him some stability and bargaining power which he otherwise cannot have.
Tenth and finally, All farmers must have the right to share the benefits of rural electrification and rural telephone service. Rural electrification cannot stand still in an age when it must either move ahead - or wither on the vine. But if it is to move ahead REA rates must remain low, more generating capacity must be developed, and telephone loans must be expanded.
A program based upon this agricultural bill of rights would, I am convinced, restore common sense and common justice to our national farm policy. Then it will be possible to gear national production to national needs - to grow food for stomachs and not for storage - to support the farmer's prices and income at a level which will cover his costs and a reasonable profit - and at the same time substantially reduce costs to the American taxpayer. These are our objectives. They are not unreasonable. They are not impossible. A new Democratic Administration will achieve them.