NER Washington forum; Agriculture issues
I believe most consumers are willing to pay me some more if they feel it will actually reach the farmer. The voice you just heard was that of the Honorable orrible L. Freeman secretary of agriculture and our guest this week on the NE our Washington forum a weekly program concerned with the important issues before us as a nation. This week a discussion on agricultural problems at home and abroad. This program was produced by the national educational radio network through the facilities of W am you FM American University Radio in Washington DC. I many our public affairs director Bill Greenwood. Secretary Freeman is the former governor of Minnesota. He was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by the late President John F. Kennedy and has held the post during the Johnson administration. Mr. Secretary you've been involved with agricultural problems on both the state and federal levels which desk do you like the best.
Well I'd better say that I like the desk I have better than what I had or they might send me back to the one I came from. Well you've certainly put some wear and tear on that desk recently you toured a wide area of the country and generated some news reports. Secretary Freeman that claimed American farmers were quote persecuted frustrated alienated confuse suspicious and on and on. Just how can you explain all those negative pictures that have been painted about the farmers. Well first farmers have a justifiable complaint. Their income their share of the national income is much less than it should be on a per capita basis it's only about 65 percent of the income of people in the non agricultural sectors of the economy. About sixteen hundred dollars as compared to about twenty six hundred dollars in rough figures for the other sectors of the economy. Second. Last year was a good year in American agriculture one of the best was a sharp
increase in farm income. Then last August farm prices turned down sharply. They're about 8 percent less now than they were six months ago. Farm costs have continued to climb. Farmers are again getting severely punished by the cost price squeeze their expectations were high six months ago. They feel worried somewhat disillusioned and I think justifiably on happy today. Secretary Freeman just how out of the income figures for farmers today compare with those of years gone by. So it's a new problem. No this is not a new problem nor is it a United States problem. I have a rule of thumb anywhere around the world that farm income will be about 50 percent as good as none farm income here in the United States we've improved on that. We've moved up till now it's about 65 percent. But farm income lags behind raw material suppliers who lose control over their commodity lawn before it reaches the end consumer
usually are low man on the totem pole as it were. And that's true of farmers everywhere. I would have been at is in the United States today. Well it would seem natural to increase the young come for the farmer would necessitate an increase to the consumer. Many say that they're already paying too high food bills now. How can you justify an increase. Well first of all it doesn't always necessarily follow that a fair return to the farmer is going to mean a higher food costs. After all a farmer only gets about thirty nine percent thirty nine cents out of the food dollar. So there are many economies that might be accomplished on the road from the farmer to the consumer. However even if it does in the likelihood it has to reach a fair return to the farmer It will mean an increased cost of food to the consumer. Few consumers I think realize that we in the United States are fed at the lowest
real cost and fed better than any people in the history of mankind. We only spend about 18 percent on the average of our take home pay. That compares with generally 23 to 25 percent of Western Europe about 50 percent in the Soviet Union as high as 70 percent in less developed countries around the world. Actually one hour of work today in the United States will buy two times as much food as it would have bought 25 years ago. So consumers really should be willing both in equity and to ensure the continuation of our efficient farm output. So they will continue to enjoy the cheapest food in the history of the world. But I would this answer apply also to the dairy farmer as you recall just recently we had a very large national dairy. Protest where milk was dumped in this type of activity farmers saying that they weren't getting enough for their dairy products. Is this a similar situation. It is not only a similar situation a dairy farmer gets the lowest income of all.
He's agriculture is low man an economic totem pole and the dairy farmer is a low man on the agriculture totem pole. Actually although we had improvements last year on the average around the country the dairy man probably earns about 90 cents an hour for his work and other work he gets less than the minimum wage for common labor in this country on the average. Secretary Freeman what has caused this is it just a simple matter of no one is willing to charge that extra penny or are there other factors maybe supply and demand. It's basically a slice of supply and demand question. Further it's a problem of organization of the marketplace. The farmer sells in a buyer's market. He buys in a seller's market. There are so many producers that they find it impossible to do anything to govern their supply. On the other hand most of the things they buy are subject to the kind of control over a volume which ensures a profitable or
reasonable price. Would you say then that we have too many farmers in this country. Not at all. We don't have too many farmers. We have too much land being farmed. People tend to put programs to do something about supply in the context of farmers. Actually it must be put in the context of land even though you had fewer farmers. There's a real possibility that up to a point at least it would be farmed even more efficiently. It would produce even more. And so having fewer farmers instead of decreasing supply would increase it. Now when you get down to the question of supply and demand and trying to get it for agriculture some commensurate control oversupply to that enjoyed by industry you really can't talk in terms of the number of farmers you need to talk in terms of the amount of land that's being used. So this would then lead to a surplus situation and also it would it would it not it would it and we have successfully elect the surplus problem in our basic commodities. We no longer have the surpluses that dog that's when I
became secretary six years ago and cost us millions of dollars in storage as a matter of fact my budget here in the department today is about 300 million dollars less than it would be if we had to pay all the storage and carrying charges we had to pay 6 years ago. So we have succeeded in working out programs and eliminating those surpluses. Those programs have worked surpluses have been eliminated but nonetheless you see in the commodities for which we don't have farm programs such as milk for all practical purposes such as for beef animals for hogs for fruit and vegetables with some exceptions with marketing orders on those kind of things why we find supply jumping up and down and the result is fluctuating farm prices far too often fluctuating down seldom fluctuating up. Now how have we licked this surplus problem I've heard where the government pays farmers not to farm their land is this the method which contributed to the
solution here. Exactly. The government says to a farmer we already have too much corn. In the national interest we would like to rent your land for one year. If you read it to us and take it out of production we'll pay you X amount. The farmer agrees to do that while he follows conserving uses on his farm and he gets paid X amount of rent and that land remains idle for the year in question and basically that's the way we have succeeded in eliminating our surpluses. Now is it cheaper to do that to rent the land than to store the surpluses. Yes it is. It's much cheaper it's cost only about half as much really to go and rent the land than it does to pile up the surpluses and then have to try and and eliminate them somehow or other. What plans are perhaps being formulated to extend this type of a program into the areas where surpluses still exist not because the surpluses exist today and they're only temporary surpluses in the area of perishables where we never had any programs. Basically if we have the
grains under control the production in the let's say beef or pork will be rather well contained within certain limits because as the old saying goes I cheap corn means cheap beef and cheap hogs. Well we got a little more expensive corn now so we're not having the heavy surpluses that we suffered on occasion before me but nonetheless in the very Play of the market itself we are suffering from a oversupply as distinguished from a real surplus in a perishable commodity as distinguished from a storable commodity. This is something that we've got to work out in the market itself. No one is advocating any kind of supply government supply managed program for more meat or vegetables or or eggs or poultry or that kind of thing. This is one that's got to be worked out in the market as such. Secretary Freeman I frequently hear Congressman referring to the importation of
food abroad into this country. Is this a major issue. Situation are we importing a lot of food and food stuffs. Very little really. Our imports are quite nominal certainly very nominal as compared to our exports. We export $4 commercially well over five billion dollars worth a year. We import only about half that much. And the overwhelming majority of that is noncompetitive tropical products. However occasionally a situation will arise when another country in effect dumps its products into the United States by export subsidies and by other means or works out a way of evading the very limited restrictions we have. We have such a case now and in dairy. Where by tailoring certain kinds of products to avoid our quota laws we have been subjected to quite a startling influx in the last few years over
300 percent increase of certain specialized dairy commodities. This is having an adverse effect on farm income. And as I say it had been eaten and evasion. So we currently have petitioned the Tariff Commission to make some recommendation to the president to cut this back to the level it was two years ago and where it stood prior to these evasion Arry products. So what you say then is that generally speaking most of the products imported are those which we do not produce in this country or in sufficient quantity. That's correct and that occasionally such as in the dairy industry they evade our laws. That's right. There is a good deal of conflict in question on beef at this moment too because there has been a rather sharp upturn of beef imports However the volume of the imports is still below the quota level that was established by Congress with the cooperation and based on the
estimate of the cattle industry in the United States Department of Agriculture and leaders of Congress just two years ago. So that quota limit still continues its roughly a billion pounds of beef. We'll be importing about 900 million pounds this year. That's about 6 percent of our total consumption. If it jumps another hundred million pounds why the quotas will prevent any more from coming in. So it is not the same kind of serious problem in connection with beef and is still within the rules of the game so to speak. Well this is really not the case where Derry's concern. Well what would you recommend as an immediate aid to those farmers who are being hit by low prices whose incomes or. Place a terribly low. How can we solve these problems. Well there's no easy answer to solve them. There's no there's no pap program that will that will meet them. Each commodity is different each commodity has to be approached differently. I've already outlined somewhat the grain of programs
and they've eliminated the surplus in grain prices grain income is much improved actually and in dairy. We do need a special program but dairy farmers have never been able they and their cooperatives and other organization to get together about a common program. I have recommended over the years there should be some kind of a production payment program where the dairy farmer could get like the wheat farmer does today X amount in addition to the market price which would bring him a fair return in return for that he would need to to participate and cooperate in certain rules to govern and manage production so we wouldn't over produce and depressed prices. This latter part of some supply management the dairy farmers have never been willing to sit still for. And the result is we've never had a program before the Congress I had enough political muscle behind it to even get it out of committee. So fundamentally where dairy is concerned I foresee no program until dairy farmers themselves get together decide what kind of a
program they want. But we've talked here about the immediate solution which apparently seems not so immediate looking on a long range aspect though we hear that the world is going to be needing more and more food. Does this imply then that we're going in the future perhaps not the next couple of years but within a decade or two are we going to need more and more farmers. Let me try the answer to this into the earlier question which you indicated was a little obtuse. I'd like to close that section of our domestic off by saying this I believe the farm programs that we passed in 1985 that are called a new era farm programs are sound. I think working with those programs we can prevent the tremendous grain surpluses that adversely affected us during the 50s. Further I think by developing more skillfully the government's buying power in the
marketplace and building up the farmers ability to market more selectively and effectively by building up his own organization that we can. Get for that farmer in the market place a fair return. This isn't easy it's a very complicated business but I'm basically optimistic that it can be accomplished. I sometimes use the analogy that our farm programs are like a football field. The government is a referee. The teams are supply and demand. The referee has to keep the teams on the playing field. If they get out of bounds either supply or demand we have chaos. But even on the field the two teams need to be well matched. If they're not we will have a bad result too. So on the one hand we've got to build up demand and the government spending some 2 billion dollars a year to buy food to help people who need to supplement their diets can and should do a more skillful job of
building demand and we're doing that. The other team and a team of supply it's much more difficult. Fundamentally in regard to this team the farmer has to have more power to build up his own marketing agencies and tools and instruments. Fundamentally I think the farmer needs bargaining power comparable to that that Labor has on the National Labor Relations Act. Labor can organize and withhold its product on the market. The farmer can't do so he finds himself in violation of anti trust. We need to amend and strengthen I think in bargaining position. If we do that I think we can continue what has been steady progress towards a target of parity of income. Now to get to the question you just asked. The fact that there is a strong demand in the world that population is growing and that incomes are rising is a part of the generally optimistic outlook that I have this strong demand needs to be met. It will continue. We need it of course in part by commercial sales. We also need it
by concessional sales for peace food for freedom. And as long as there is such a strong demand we will be called upon to provide food for millions of people around the world for the foreseeable future. I think this ties in and lends optimism and more hope to our domestic foreign picture. And we hear about this danger of worldwide famine. Mr. Secretary is this really so dangerous such a grave threat. Yes I think it's a very serious and a very grave threat. You can hear different interpretations and projections it all depends upon what figures you start with. Let me just put it in cold hard relief since I've been secretary of agriculture that's about six years now a little more. There are three hundred fifty million more people to be fed in the world. That's wanted to have times again. The population of the entire United States by the year 1980 only 15 years from now less than that.
There will be another billion people in the world to feed. That's a lot of bodies. We are presently farming most of the land in the world already. It means that unless a great deal is done to increase agricultural productivity all over the world will simply not be able to feed that many more people in the year one thousand eight. But now we talk about this country and how much food we have at this time does it appear this threat may include the United States or are we going to continue to be safe from from this problem. Happily we are going to continue to be safe from this problem I can foresee no circumstances where the increase in our own population by that time of another hundred million people will in any way tax our capacity to feed ourselves. What are the threatened countries themselves doing to head off this starvation. Well that's the problem most of them are doing enough. And that's why in the public law for any food for Freedom Food for Peace bill passed by the last Congress there is
specific provisions and requirement for self help. In other words if we're going to share generously our food availability it was some of these other countries we're not going to insist that take take measures to strengthen their own agriculture generally speaking over the past they have ignored it. They spent their money for other things. They've continued their old Any fission on productive traditional agricultural habits those habits no longer are good enough. They can't feed their people with them. They must change they've got to invest more heavily in new seed and fertilizer and irrigation and a host of new practices in order to stimulate their production. If they're going to feed their people and we must insist that they do it. What action is being taken by a worldwide organization such as the United Nations to stimulate these countries into action. Well many things these specific agriculture an international organization is a food an agricultural organisation located in role they have had thousands of
specialists and scientists stationed all over the world helping people in these countries to learn to produce more. They also have a World Food Programme made up of food donated by different nations including United States which they seek to make available where needed both for relief purposes and to stimulate agricultural productivity in various countries around the world. Then of course as such groups in the in the United Nations itself such as UNICEF and many the techno assistance and research efforts overlap very prominently into the agricultural area because of course agriculture as such is integrated and can hardly be separated from the total economy of any special country. Mr. Secretary we hear quite frequently lately the United States giving away more and more surplus food to these nations which are already facing famine. I believe India has been a major example of countries which we've given assistance to. What is being done let's let's bring this into a
contemporary vein for a moment. Just just what is being done in that country for one example. Are we going to just have to keep feeding these people ourselves or is India just recently as an example working to help ourselves. Two years ago I would had to answer that question by saying it is doing very little that's very effective to help herself but there been a lot of changes since then. India today is making a major investment effort a good number of the best leadership in India directing its attention to agriculture. They have increased the use of foreign exchange to import import fertilizer significantly. Also a new seed agriculture is clearly the number one priority attention for the Government of India today. Now whether they can now catch up. It remains to be seen. There are those who feel that India today may
well be on the verge of a major breakthrough in her food production. I'm not quite that sanguine but I am hopeful and India is making a major effort today. This then might be a beautiful example for these other countries having the same problem. Well it would be and of course are other examples around the world where there has been some very exciting success stories written Taiwan is one Taiwanese food self-sufficient now a very exciting one of the last few years as Korea and Korea well-assumed be actually exporting food and fertilizer. Where a few years ago she was a very heavy importer indeed. Some other examples of course Japan and not the food self-sufficient by any means but of course a major commercial importer and her economy moving ahead very rapidly. Greece and Spain Israel there are number of examples around the world or countries that were in a very bad way indeed have got their agriculture turned around so it can be done but it is complicated it's difficult.
You must bring many many factors together at one time and place in order to increase your agricultural productivity it takes a lot of doing. Do you see any major innovations in farming techniques in addition to the those we already know about. Well there are always major innovations. In recent years or events a very significant breakthrough is some new seed new grain seed. Seventy percent of the world's food is grain have been developed in Mexico and new wheat seed now being used in India and Pakistan with great success. Also developed in the Philippines and Taiwan some new strains of rice. These are increasing production three four and five hundred percent. When used with fertilizer and adequate water we know how to double or triple or even quadruple the world's output of food. The real problem now is to bring the resources to bear to do it. The resources of know how the inputs of sea fertilizer water availability of credit.
What makes it possible to bring these inputs together and on the other end of the line the outlets by way of commercial markets roads to carry food to market and the ability to transmit it so you can move from a subsistence to a commercial agriculture. You see there's a lot of factors in this and it's as I say takes a lot of doing. One of the major hurdles to be conquered in bringing all these loose ends together. Well the number one major hurdle I think is that the country in question put their back into it realize how important it is and really insist that they make progress that's number one in this area why we can take quite a bit of encouragement for the attitude worldwide has changed sharply in the last few years and many many more countries are doing their best and will put more and more of their resources into agriculture. That's the biggest hurdle of course then you have the hurdles of long tradition. The fact that agriculture in many places doesn't
command a prestigious often it has a connotation of colonialism and some of the new countries in some places countries that have Fabian Marxist outlook results in agriculture are being downgraded you know almost by definition just as in each of less developed countries you have a population runaway. So in every communist country in the world you have an agricultural breakdown and you can be almost sure when you look at any of these countries why that's what you find. After all Marx was a city boy. He didn't pay attention agriculture in every place his ideas have been taken out why agriculture is in a mess. You would say then that the communist theories in this respect and very useless. I think they are very useless and I think big agriculture and collective agriculture has failed miserably every place it's been tried. I think the recent examples in Russia where they're turning more toward capitalism so they're
moving that example very much in that direction and of course in Russia too now they're investing very heavily in agricultural inputs and machinery where they kind of ignored their agriculture as most of the less developed countries have done as well. This all helps and I think that the Russians are going to increase their production. But as you say they are moving into breeding more and more individual recognition into the system because to the extent that you separate reward an effort why you began to have problems and particularly in agriculture because you are dealing with such vast amounts of land that you can't organize and supervise people working on farms like you can do in factories. Well in conclusion must a secretary let me ask you to make a prediction given the belief that everyone will put an effort a major
effort into food production. What do you think the future long range outlook is. Well if everyone puts a major effort into it why I'm very optimistic that the world will not face mass starvation and I hope and pray that that is right. I'm very confident that this can be done. A combination of strong population control measures plus the export of the know how we have and in the meantime the export of food to keep people alive and to give them initiative and energy. This combination holds a key to success. It can be done. I'm not sure it will be done but I'm confident it can be done an optimistic enough to think it will be done. Thank you sir. You've been listening to a discussion on agricultural problems at home and abroad featuring the honorable orrible L. Freeman secretary of agriculture. This program was produced by the national educational radio network through the facilities of WMU FM American
- NER Washington forum
- Agriculture issues
- Producing Organization
- WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
- National Association of Educational Broadcasters, WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Agriculture Issues and Problems at Home and Abroad. Guest: United States Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman.
- Other Description
- Discussion series featuring a prominent figure affecting federal government policy.
- Public Affairs
- Media type
Host: Greenwood, Bill
Producing Organization: WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters, WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Speaker: Freeman, Orville L.
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-24-18 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “NER Washington forum; Agriculture issues,” 1967-07-20, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 20, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2805267k.
- MLA: “NER Washington forum; Agriculture issues.” 1967-07-20. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 20, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2805267k>.
- APA: NER Washington forum; Agriculture issues. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-2805267k