This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. One draft of the speech exists in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library. Page images of the reading copy and press release are available.
It is a pleasure to join in the birthday greetings and tributes to Quentin Burdick.
There is a tradition in Tibet which decrees that a child born when the Dalai Lama dies is destined to be the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Quentin Burdick was born when the Progressive Republicanism of Teddy Roosevelt gave way to Taft Republicanism. Fortunately, he chose to be reincarnated as a Democrat - probably because this was the best way to continue the progressive policies of his father. Quentin Burdick is the right man for North Dakota - the state which is often known as the "land of the long furrow."
It would have been easy for him to become discouraged when he began practicing law here in Fargo in 1932. The nation was in the very bottom of the Depression. Then, as now, a national Republican Administration had refused to focus on the needs of the nation.
But he then began a long and continuous effort to bring hope to the North Dakota farmers. He is still engaged in that effort - and never was it more needed.
In 1952, North Dakota farmers could buy a self-propelled combine with the proceeds from 2500 bushels of wheat. Today it takes almost 3500 bushels to buy the same combine. At the same time that the price of the products the farmer buys continues to ascend, farm income steadily declines. And when the farmer suffers, everyone suffers. It is no coincidence that business failures in North Dakota were 60 percent higher last year than they were in 1952.
To help us with these problems we need men who know the facts, and who will face the facts. Quentin Burdick is that kind of man. We need him in the Senate of the United States. We need him to help with the creative new legislation of the next Democratic Administration.
In this land of the Nonpartisan League, I hesitate to make a partisan appeal. But there is no longer much argument about the objectives - or the effects - of the Benson-Eisenhower-Nixon farm program. We need the help of Quentin Burdick to halt the steady deterioration of our farm communities resulting from this program. The Washington press recently reported that the Republicans hoped to win the North Dakota elections because there were good "Republican rains" this spring. But it is not rain that we expect from our government. It is a program to harness the rain and the rivers - to make good use of the blessings that nature brings us - to apply human intelligence to our great economic and political problems.
The Administration theory that declining prices and uncontrolled production can solve our agricultural problems is both impractical and unjust. It has been tried and it has failed. Whenever he is faced with declining unit prices, the farmer is forced to increase production - bringing more surpluses and still lower prices. It is a losing battle - a battle which the farmer cannot win.
A recent study by the Department of Agriculture has shown that, if all production controls were removed, farm income would decline 46% in the next 5 years. This would mean almost universal bankruptcy - the disappearance of the family farm - an accelerated movement off the farm - in short, national disaster.
What is called "the farm problem" is, in reality, three interrelated problems:
First, there is the crisis of insufficient farm income.
Second, there is the crisis of overwhelming surpluses.
Third, there is the crisis of excessive expenditures for programs of limited benefit.
Every proposal must be judged by the extent to which it can contribute to the solution of these three problems.
I do not say that a Democratic Administration 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 one administration.
But it is a fact that we need a sympathetic administration. It is a fact that we need an administration that will not veto legislation that offers some hope for increased farm income. It is a fact that executive leadership is important. For no major farm bill has ever been passed over a Presidential veto in this century.
It should be obvious by now that any effective farm program must be based upon sufficient control over farm production to prevent it from overreaching its possible market. At the same time we must take advantage of our abundance to improve our standard of living.
How do we do this? There are five essential parts to this basic program.
First, we must provide for adjustment between supply and demand. Wheat is no different from steel - or from automobiles - or from refrigerators. When the steel industry finds itself with an excess capacity - as it does today - it trims production. It does not reduce prices. There is no Administration effort to plow back every third company - or even to reduce steel prices. The farmer is entitled to the same consideration. I recall a farm leader saying to me not long ago that if the "free market" theory was so great for farmers, business should also be required to try it. "Outlaw all price tags, adding machines and cash registers," he said. "Replace them with live auctioneers and sell everything thereafter by bid. Violators would be sentenced to five years at farming for their living."
Second, any future farm program should be run by the farmers and for the farmers. Basic administration on the local level should be in the hands of farmer committees elected by the farmers themselves. Complete responsibility for establishing production quotas should be assumed by the farmer representatives subject to Department of Agriculture guidance. No bureaucrat, no scientist, no economist, knows the trends and variations of the farm picture as well as the local farmers. No one else has the right to make these important determinations.
On the national level we need a Federal Farm Board composed of leaders from the key commodity groups - a board which can explain the farmers' needs to the Administration and the Administration's hopes to the farmer. This would be a board made up of real farmers - and by farmers. I do not mean some of those whom Mr. Benson has appointed to high office - the so-called "farmers" who own one cow and ten banks.
Third, the concept of parity must be retained as the goal and basis for pricing policies. Only in this way can our nation's farmers be assured of a fair share of the national income. In the past eight years we have watched the steady decline in farm income while all other prices, almost all other wages, and all other productivity spurted upward. The farmer has been steadily squeezed between declining income and mounting costs. His share of the national income has dropped to an all time low.
Under a program in which supply and demand were evenly balanced, there would be little or no need to support the market by purchases. However, the controls should be available on a standby basis to take care of sudden fluctuations in supply or demand.
Fourth, any national program should be based primarily upon the promotion and preservation of the family farm. That is the basic unit here in North Dakota - that is the way it must continue to be. We have no wish to become a nation of giant commercial corporation farms and absentee landlords. Our whole vitality as a nation depends on a contrary course. So let us beware of programs that aid most those who need it least - that encourage the big non-compliers by giving them a good support price anyway. Our business is to look out for the family farmer - and we can count on the family farmer to look out for the future of our country.
Fifth, any national farm program must include provision for the conservation and wise utilization of our soil and water resources. The surpluses of today may well become the scarcities of tomorrow. By the turn of the century our nation will have a population of 350 million - equaling the population of India in 1951, a year of critical food shortage in that country. With increased markets in under-developed nations and rising world populations, there will be an ever greater demand for our food and fiber.
Properly used, our agricultural abundance can be an important instrument of foreign policy.
But this means careful planning. We must begin immediately to take into account all the needs of the future - needs for fertile soil - for forest and wood products - for recreation. Soil conservation, reclamation, irrigation, and rural zoning projects must be encouraged.
Only then will it be possible to gear national production to international need - to grow food for stomachs and not for storage - to support the farmer's price and income at a level which will cover his costs and a reasonable profit, and at the same time substantially reduce the cost of this program to the American taxpayer.
I am convinced that the farmers of this country - particularly if they are given a major voice in shaping and administering this policy - will support it and cooperate with it. This is not a matter of partisan politics - and it is not even a matter only of farm income. For our basic concern is not the interest of any single political party, or the interests of any single group in our economy. Our basic interest is the national interest - and, dedicating ourselves to that objective, we can go forward with renewed faith in the future of our land.