Our Food Production Program
FOOD IS TOO PRECIOUS TO WASTE
By CLAUDE R. WICKARD, Secretary of Agriculture
Delivered on the National Radio Forum (Conducted by The Washington Star,) over the National Broadcasting Company, November 3, 1941
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 177-180.
THERE never has been a time in the history of the world when so many people were conscious of food and its importance as is the case today. Over 500 million people in Europe are on rations. If they are in the army, probably they get enough to eat. If they are civilians, probably they are hungry almost all the time and it's likely they've just about forgotten what it's like to have all the food they want.
We're mighty lucky here in the United States. We have plenty of food and so far as we can see now we'll continue to have plenty. We might distribute what we have more evenly, but there's no doubt that Americans are the best fed people in the world.
Germany has chosen guns instead of butter. We're turning out the guns, too. Yet so great is our productive capacity that we probably can have guns and butter, too.
Tonight, I am going to talk about the food end of our production job. Producing the food we need won't be aneasy task by any means. Not only are we going to provide food for ourselves, we're going to provide food for Britain, too, and the British need lots of food. For example, they need meat, cheese, and eggs enough to supply about a fourth of the British population. And, before this thing is over, we may have to feed other countries besides ourselves and Britain.
Next year, we'll need to produce more food than we ever produced before. We'll need to break the record high we are setting this year.
Speaking as a farmer, it seems a little strange to be worrying about the possibility of having too little. Most farmer worries since the last war have been what to do with surpluses. These surpluses piled up in elevators, warehouses, and other storage places and they really bore down on farm prices.
But I'm not going to talk about that tonight. I'm going to talk about our food situation in terms of the present.
First, however, let me emphasize one thing. We don't need more of every farm product. We need more of some things and less of others.
During the first World War, we needed more of almost everything. For example, we needed more wheat. We plowed up the plains and seeded them to wheat; and in doing so we also sowed the seeds of the dust storms. Now, we don't need more wheat; we have a two years' supply on hand already. We don't need more cotton; we have more than we know what to do with; and the same thing is true of tobacco.
What farm products, then, do we need? Well, as most of you probably know, we need more dairy products, more poultry products, more pork, and we need to make better use of our fruits and vegetables. Already we've set about getting more of the things we need. At the same time farmers are continuing to hold down on the production of the thingswe don't need.
Now, back to our immediate situation. There are a lotof questions to be answered in connection with this foodeffort. Several of them keep coming up.
One isócan our farmers produce the food we need? Andpeople are always askingówhat does the food program meanin terms of food supplies and food prices in this country?
What does it mean to farmers and what does it mean toconsumers?
The answer to the first question, can we produce the food we need, is, in my opinion, an emphatic yes. We can produce it and we will produce itóbarring, of course, a terrible drought next year or some other unforeseen calamity.
As I said a moment ago, already we've made a pretty good start on this job of increased production. We began in 1940 when the Department of Agriculture advised farmers to raise more hogs. At that time hogs were so low in price farmers were losing money on them. Quite a few people wondered about the advisability of raising more hogs under such circumstances. Nevertheless, farmers did raise more hogs. Not only that but the Department encouraged them to feed their hogs to heavier weights, thus providing still more pork.
I am not saying that pork is cheap, even though it has gone down lately. But I am saying that pork would be a good deal higher if farmers during the last year had not taken steps to increase production.
The same thing is true of dairy products, poultry products, and some fruits and vegetables. In the spring of 1941, the Department put a floor under the prices of some of these products as part of a campaign to produce more. That campaign got results. As I have already told you, farmers raised more food in 1941 than they ever had raised before. And we've already sent Britain a good deal of food. Out of the first lease-lend appropriation, approximately half a billion dollars' worth of foods has been bought for shipment to the British. A billion dollars of the new lease-lend appropriation will be used for food and other farm products.
Right here, I should like to give you a little more detail on our production task and how we expect to get it done. During the past summer, we worked out careful estimates of our needs in terms of all the principal farm commodities. We set up those figures as our national goals for agricultural production in 1942. The national goals were broken into state goals, and the state goals into county goals.
Farmer committeemen, cooperating with the Department of Agriculture, are engaged now in visiting their neighbor farmers and working out plans with them for each farm's contribution to the increased production necessary to meet the 1942 goals. Some farms can step up dairy production,
some pork production, some poultry production, and so on through the list. This planning farm by farm is one reason why I am so confident of the outcome of our Food-For-Defense Program.
Farmers, however, have some handicaps to overcome before they get the job done. One is a shortage of skilled farm labor in many sections. Nor will they be able to buy as much farm machinery as they'd like, to replace the lost man-power. Farm machinery and equipment require metal, and the first preference for metal will be given to planes, tanks, ships, and guns.
Fertilizers will be scarcer too because many of the materials used as fertilizers are needed for making explosives. Some insecticides will be hard to get for similar reasons.
Labor, materials, and equipment not only will be more difficult to get, but they will be higher in price; the farmer has to pay more for his labor than he did a year ago; more for feed, more for fertilizer. Yet, in spite of these difficulties, I have no doubt that his production job will be done, and done well.
We simply can't afford to fail. Without food, American food, Britain would have had to give up before now. Without food, American food, she can't go on in the future. Food is just as much a part of our total war effort as is the raising of armies and the production of munitions.
Food is one of our strongest weapons. The lack of food is one of Hitler's great weaknesses. The Nazis are living comparatively well now. However, they are living off other people; off the food capital of the conquered countries. Foundation herds have been depleted to fill the German larders. The situation is ghastly over most of Europe. In Sunday's paper, for example, I read that Frenchmen, suffering from lack of food, are lying in bed a couple of hours more each day in an effort to conserve their strength. The conquered nations are hungry; and so long as they are hungry, they will not accept the new order.
As the war goes on, there will be more and more hunger in Europe. In addition to producing food for ourselves and for our Allies, American agriculture has the task of building up reserves of food. That food will be one of the most effective arguments that can be made against Hitlerism. When the Nazis are defeated, we'll use that food to feed the hungry. We'll use it to help insure a just and lasting peace.
Some of you may be wondering whether we can feed ourselves, our Allies, build up reserves, and at the same time keep food prices from going sky high. Yes, we can, provided we produce enough. You know some of the things necessary for abundant production. We have the resources and the organization. There are no other farmers in the world who can produce like American farmers. But there's one thing that is essential to abundant production that some of us may overlook. That thing is fair prices for farmers.
Keep in mind that we must have the production. There are remedies against surpluses. There is no remedy against scarcity. If we don't have enough food, our whole defense effort will be threatened, to say nothing of the defense effort of Britain and other nations fighting Hitler. If we don't have enough food, high prices and rationing automatically follow.
The simplest and most effective way to assure abundantproduction is fair prices to farmers. In fact, it is the only effective way.
Without fair prices, farmers simply can't produce enough for our needs. A farmer can't stay in business indefinitely and lose money any more than a manufacturer can. We wouldn't expect a plane manufacturer, for example, to makebombers and fighters at a loss. If he failed to break even, we d know that he would have to quit. We want planes in this time of crisis, and so we see to it that the manufacturers are well paid for making them. We want food, lots of it, and to get it, we must assure fair prices for farmers.
What do I mean by fair prices? Generally speaking, I mean parity prices. When farmers began to complain about low prices after the first World War, Congress decided that during the 1909-1914 period farm prices were just about right by comparison with other prices. So that period is used as a yardstick to determine parity prices. If a farmer is getting parity prices for the things he raises, why that means that he's getting about the same prices, comparatively speaking, that he got back in the 1909-1914 period.
I think the country has come to accept the parity principle for agriculture and wants farmers to get parity. The agricultural legislation enacted by the Congress proves that. In turn, I feel that the majority of farmers think parity prices are high enough. Most farm prices are close to parity now and I haven't heard many complaints lately, about prices, from farmers.
Farm prices, however, have gone up in the past year and, as a result, some people think they are high. They aren't high but some of us simply had become accustomed to low prices for farm products.
As a matter of fact, the prices of some farm products have been going down a little lately. I've already mentioned pork. Hogs are off something like a cent and a half a pound from their September high. But prices to consumers have climbed a good bit and I am afraid that farmers have been blamed for most of the increase.
Consumers should keep in mind that the price of farm products is only one factor in the cost of food. In many instances, other costs have gone up so that retail food prices have risen more than the farmer's price.
Food prices today are not unreasonably high by comparison with other periods. They are only a little over 80 per cent as high as in 1929. The average American family can eat as well as it did in 1929, and have more money left out of its pay check for other things after the food bill is paid. Consumers should realize that farmers have been selling the things they raise at bargain prices for a long time. I don't think the average consumer will object very much to paying enough more for food to enable the farmer to get a reasonable return for his labor.
And don't forget this: The best protection consumers can have against scarcity and sky high prices is abundant production by farmers. And, as I have said, the way to get abundant production is to give farmers fair prices.
Now, fair prices and exorbitant prices are two entirely different things. I don't believe the average farmer wants his prices to go much above parity. Farmers know that they are in the minority. Without the help of other groups, farmers can't get legislation to protect their interests. If they try to gouge the public now, farmers will have to pay dearly for it later on. Most farmers know that and want to conduct themselves accordingly.
Furthermore, farmers fear inflation. They remember the price spree during the first World War and the long deflation hangover that followed. Farm prices went down and stayed down but taxes, interests, and other costs remainedOf course, the best way to prevent inflation is to see that there are plenty of supplies and goods that consumers wishto buy. That is another reason that we in Agriculture are going to do all we can te produce enough for all concerned. However, there may be unusual weather conditions or other
uncontrollable factors that will cause temporary shortages. Also, there is always the risk that speculators will drive prices up higher than is warranted by supply and demand conditions. Speculators usually do this sort of thing when the supplies have passed out of the farmers' hands. Therefore, most farmers are in favor of some sort of ceiling on prices such as was proposed in the original price control bill. I think the instances in which this ceiling will be applied are rare but it will be a good thing to have it just in case.
I think most farmers favor the principle of the original price control bill and I think most of them who are familiar with the subject think the provisions which fix the price ceiling for agricultural products at 110 per cent of parity take care of farmers pretty well. One hundred and ten per cent of parity will permit the moderate fluctuations necessary for prices to average parity. Parity for farm products is our goal and the bill was drafted with that principle in mind. It goes without saying that I am in accord with that principle.
Proposals have been made to raise the proposed ceiling on some farm products to well above 110 per cent of parity. These suggestions have been written into the price control bill. I am against these proposals. I am against them for two reasons. First, they would tend to make the bill ineffective. Prices for any product, whether from farm or factory, should not be allowed to go to unreasonable heights. If the bill is to prevent inflation, it must have authority to keep prices from going too high. Second, agriculture stands to lose a lot of good will if people get the idea that farmers are insisting on too much. It has taken us a long time to sell the country on the idea of equality for the farmer. Let's keep it sold.
I am also opposed to the proposal to increase the loan rate on cotton, corn, wheat, rice, and tobacco, the so-called basic commodities, to 100 per cent of parity. The loan rate on these commodities now is 85 per cent of parity, and I think that is high enough because the payments to farmers cooperating in the farm program are bringing their total return to parity. To raise the loan rate on corn, for example, would raise the price of feed pretty sharply and this would increase the cost of producing milk, eggs, meat, and other foods. In turn, the price of some foods would have to be raised considerably above parity. This would hurt consumers now and the farmers later on.
There are still other reasons why the 100 per cent of parity proposal is, in my opinion, unwise. This high loan would make it more difficult for the dairy farmers, the meat producers, and the poultry producers to turn out the food we need in our defense effort.
From my observation, the chief worry of farmers just now is not farm prices today. They are bothered about farm prices tomorrow. They want to produce, but they know what surpluses did to their prices and income in the past. They are wondering what will happen after the defense effort is over.
I don't blame them for worrying. I do some of it myself. Yet, I am convinced that we have learned something from experience. The attitude of Congress toward agriculture since 1932 shows that this country realizes the necessity of protecting agriculture. Only a few months ago, Congress took steps to protect farmers who had been asked to increase their production as a part of the defense effort.
Good food and lots of it is real wealth. We are the best fed nation in the world but we aren't any too well fed at that. One of the encouraging things about the past few years is that we renamed over-production. We know now that over-production is really under-consumption. Through the school lunch programs, direct relief purchases, and thefood stamp plan, we have begun to use some of our surplus food wealth. There is lots more to be done. In the situation in which we find ourselves today, I am pleading with our farmers to produce abundantly. And I am pleading with the rest of the country to see to it that the farmers are rewardedónot punishedófor that abundant production.
In this world of ours, food is too precious to waste. I have said it is one of the strongest weapons of democracy-it may be the strongest. Let us therefore take the steps that are necessary to insure its abundant production and its wise use after it is produced. That is one of the best ways I know to defend and protect democracy.