The Consumer's Interest in Farm Production
OUR DEPENDENCE UPON AGRICULTURAL OUTPUT
By GEORGE D. AIKEN, Senator from Vermont
Over the Columbia Network from the Studios of WJSV in Washington, February 28, 1942
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 415-416.
WHEN a nation is at war, the enemies of that nation use every means at their command to weaken it and to create a lack of unity within it. Now that we are at war we can observe, if we will, the efforts that are being made to spread dissension among our ranks. We see misinterpretation placed upon legislation enacted by Congress, in an effort to discredit our legislative bodies. We see abuses and ridicule heaped upon those closely connected with the Executive Department, in an effort to further discredit the leadership of our nation. We see efforts being made to incite one group of people with an unfriendly attitude toward another. While I believe that much of the suspicion existing between groups of American people is due to lack of understanding, yet I think it is also true that enemies of the United States are, to the limit of their ability, promoting this misunderstanding and spreading half-truths and false information among our people.
One of the most aggravated situations existing is that which results from setting apart in the minds of many of those people who live on the land and the urban population of our cities.
Too often these groups are spoken of as if they had little relation to one another, but that each is trying its best to defend itself against the other and secure for its own members benefits and advantages at the expense of the other group.
I hope that what I may say tonight may have some little effect in promoting a better understanding between the agricultural producers and the consumers of our country.
I speak as a farmer—for I have always been a farmer and expect I always will be, but I speak to those people who do not live on farms on the subject "Consumer Interest in Farm Production."
Agriculture is the most basic of all occupations. We depend upon it for most of the food we eat, the clothing that we wear and a large part of the raw material that is used in our industries. Two thirds of the wealth added to our national resources each year springs from agricultural production.
Originally America was an agricultural nation, with most of our people living on the land. As our industrial development expanded, the percentage of people living on farms declined, until in 1940 only 22.9 per cent of our population was classed as rural. What is particularly significant is that while the rural population of our country dropped from 35.1 in 1910 to 22.9 in 1940, the percentage of national income accruing to farmers dropped during this same period from 13 1/2 per cent to 7.2 per cent.
Thus the purchasing power of American agriculture,
which in 1940 had an income of only $161.00 per capita, as compared with $700.00 per person not living on farms, was so reduced that as a market for American industry, agriculture has become a much smaller factor.
To offset the loss of sales to the rural people of America, industry has sought more and more an outlet in other markets of the world. In return for industrial products which we have sent to other nations, we have permitted to be imported to our own country vast quantities of agricultural products produced on other continents by labor which, in some instances, is paid only a few cents a day.
Much of this agricultural production from other continents, upon which we have grown to depend, has been promoted by American capital.
Few people realize the extent to which our one hundred thirty million population has become dependent upon the rest of the world for its supply of food, clothing and industrial raw material. In the matter of oils and fats alone, we have been importing over two and a quarter billion pounds annually. We depend upon other countries for wool, for beef, for hides, for flax, for sugar and innumerable other farm products which would spell security and plenty for us now had production in America been maintained instead of turning it over to other countries.
It is true that these things can be produced in other nations at a lower cost than we can produce them here, but when they are vital to the very life of our country and we cannot get them across the seas, the cost is of no importance. America must have food and fibre today as we never needed it before. The cry is for food and more food and that cry will increase in volume as the months go by.
We have large agricultural surpluses in America, particularly of cotton and certain grains and dairy products. These surpluses are plenty large enough to carry ourselves over an ordinary emergency period of long duration.
The unexpected has happened, however. The strength of our enemies on the high seas is both surprising and alarming. They have cut the shipping lanes which brought fats and hides and wool and sugar to our shores. They have cut the lanes which carried these same things to the nations with which we are allied in our struggle for national strength and existence. Every ship we have must now be devoted to our military effort. The fact that corn is burned for fuel in Argentina does not help us here. The fact that wool is available in Australia will not keep our textile mills in operation unless we can get it. The vegetable oils of the Philippines are in the hands of the enemy. The importation of sugar from the West Indies is being made difficult by submarine attacks. From now on America must depend upon the
American fanner to feed and clothe it. Not only to feed and clothe our civilian population, but to feed and clothe an army of millions of men in our armed forces, millions of industrial workers who must have better health in order to produce efficiently, and millions of people who live in the lands of our allies and who, unfortunately, are unable to secure their food and clothing from the usual sources.
The American consumer today is more dependent upon the agricultural output from the farms of America than hehas ever been before.
But, you may say it is one thing to point out the existenceof a grave problem and another to tell what we are goingto do about it.
What is the farmer going to do? What can the consumer himself do to help? The first answer is, logically enough, "let the farmer produce more. His production has been cut by law and regulations during the last few years. Simply restore his right to grow the crops that he would like to grow and used to grow and we will have the solution to the shortages which we face in the future."
The solution is not quite so simple as that. Our farmers will produce more than they have done for many years. But farmers will have to produce this increase under the greatest handicaps they have ever known.
The farmer's sons and his hired men have gone into military service and industrial occupation until there is not more than half the needed amount of farm labor available today. Men who two years ago were employed on the farm at twenty to thirty cents an hour, are now receiving over $1.00 an hour from industry. Agriculture cannot meet this competition for labor and produce at anywhere near the prices which are now being indicated as ceilings for farm crops.
The fertilizer situation is also extremely acute. We depend upon Chile for a large part of our nitrates. War and lack of transportation may eliminate this source of supply. Superphosphate from Florida mines is also dependent upon water transportation to northern users. The supply will not be over 60 per cent of requirements this year.
It is absolutely inevitable that the cost of production of farm products will be greatly increased. American consumers must expect to pay much more than they have been previously paying for foodstuffs, unless other expenses which enter into consumer cost of goods can be drastically reduced.
Many consumers are unaware of how small a percentage of the amount they pay for food and clothing is actually returned to the farmer producer.
Take milk, the largest agricultural commodity of all. During December, our Vermont farmers received at the farm only between five and six cents a quart, depending upon geographical locations, while in the nearby city of Providence, this milk was sold for sixteen cents a quart and in New York City for seventeen cents.
The grower of Florida oranges averaged to receive 6.8 cents a dozen for fruit that the consumer paid thirty cents a dozen for.
The loaf of bread for which you paid 8 1/2 cents per pound yielded 1.7 cents to the wheat grower.
Peanut butter, which cost you as a consumer twenty cents a pound, brought the farmer 8.3 cents.
Apples which retailed at 5.6 cents a pound returned 2.3 cents to the orchardist.
A dollar shirt does not contain more than eight cents worth of cotton.
On the whole the farmer does not receive over one-third the amount that the city consumer pays for food and clothing. The rest of the cost is taken up by transportation, processing, distribution costs and profits. If these costs can be reduced,
however, and they must be reduced rather than expanded, then it may be possible for farmers to produce sufficient quantities of food and fibre to supply our population, our Armies and our Allies, and receive adequate compensation for their efforts.
We have a price control act upon our statutes now, but the provisions of this act specifically exempt these factors which enter most largely into consumer costs. The result is that while agricultural prices have been dropping during recent weeks, the rise in retail prices has not yet been checked. Neither Mr. Henderson or any other price administrator can adequately control consumer costs simply by fixing prices on farm products without authority to control all these other elements of cost as well.
The spread between farmer producer and city consumer is greater now than it was two months ago and it will continue to increase until those who consume and those who produce the necessities of life get together and insist upon control measures that control all classes alike. Otherwise a small minority of speculators and middlemen will increase their profits at the expense of the great producing and consuming public.
Working together, the people of the cities and of the farms can make this production possible and at the same time insure the consumers of the things they need at a price they can pay. Divided, both these great groups of Americans will encounter distress and need in the days that lie ahead. We can do this job and do it right. Let's make up our minds that we will.