Remarks at a White House Ceremony Marking the Observance of National Agriculture Day

March 20, 1984

Good morning, and welcome to the White House. I'm delighted you could be with us on this first day of spring. Here in Washington, it means the advent of cherry blossoms and lots of tourists, and, hopefully, some congressional action on the budget. [Laughter] But for all of you, the beginning of spring signals the time to pull equipment out of the sheds and to turn attention to the fields.

This is also National Agriculture Day, a day set aside to express our appreciation to the working men and women of agriculture for the bounty of food and fiber you provide and for the strength that you give us. It's a fitting time to honor America's bedrock industry, and I encourage the American people, both on and off the farm, to participate in the special activities that are taking place all across our nation.

National Agriculture Day is also a special day for me because, as I've told Jack Block on many occasions, I'm a bit of a rancher myself, and he's never seen fit to tell me otherwise. [Laughter] I remember once, some years ago, having an experience that you'd all understand. I decided with all that space and everything out there, why didn't we have our own fresh eggs every morning? So, I put in a battery of chickens. And we did -- we had our own fresh eggs every morning. They only cost $1.65 apiece. [Laughter]

Well, today we pay tribute to an industry whose record of productivity is unmatched by any other in the world. Our farmers and ranchers produce the most wholesome and varied range of foodstuffs known anywhere. In fact, our agricultural community has been so successful, it's too often been taken for granted. Few advances in modern technology can surpass the miracle of American agriculture. In 1820 a farmer in this country produced enough food to feed four people. By 1940 one American farmer fed 11 people. Today the same farmer can produce enough food for himself and 75 other people.

This unparalleled productivity enables us to feed our own population and tens of millions of people throughout the world. The United States is the world's leading exporter of agricultural products. Our food travels to every corner of the Earth. In 1982 nearly one-fifth of the world's agricultural products was shipped from American ports. And let me assure you, now that we've regained our reputation as a reliable supplier, we're going to keep it that way.

Some would say that American agriculture is nothing short of magic. Well, it's not magic; it's the miracle of freedom. Millions of individuals, each representing a single farming operation, yet linked together so effectively that agriculture is the largest business in the United States -- an enterprise of 23 million people with assets equal to about 70 percent of those held by all manufacturing corporations in the United States.

I'm delighted to be with those of you who make American agriculture work so well. And I believe part of the reason for your great success is your partnership with the Department of Agriculture and agencies like the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, the ASCS. The county ASCS office is the place where you're likely to see a neighbor's pickup truck outside and have some good conversation inside. And that's the way government works best -- at the grassroots, where programs are responsive to the people they're meant to help.

I want all of the ASCS State committeemen and directors with us this morning to know that I appreciate what you've done to make our Payment-In-Kind program a success. Thanks to your fine efforts we've cleared away many price-depressing surpluses, and we've moved closer to the point where the market, not the government, will be sending the production signals to our producers. I'm sure that you're approaching this year's farm program with the same dedication. For our part, we'll take into account the hard lessons of recent years as we work toward the resolution of farm problems.

And so -- missed me.\1\ (FOOTNOTE) And so -- [laughter] -- so, let me take this opportunity to congratulate the Jaycee award winners with us today. They have recently been honored for their outstanding contributions to American agriculture. We're proud of your achievements. We're proud of all that you've done.

(FOOTNOTE) \1\The President was reacting to a noise which came from the area where members of the press were gathered.

And we heard some pretty good stories at breakfast this morning. You know what it's like -- all of you -- to watch a hailstorm destroy a year's labor, how it feels to witness a dreaded fever spread through your livestock. But you also know the value of free enterprise and what it means to have a personal stake in deciding your future.

You know the exhilaration of opportunity and the accomplishments of scientific research. We now have many disease-resistant crops and stronger livestock, and we're on the threshold of even greater scientific and technological breakthroughs. The work being done at places like USDA's Beltsville Agricultural Research Center is bringing exciting new advances.

National Agriculture Day is a celebration of America, and when we talk about our farm community, we're talking about the values and traditions that made America great: hard work, faith, family, neighbors helping neighbors, freedom, and independence. We can touch the spirit of America in our farm communities.

Ladies and gentlemen, your contributions keep our great nation strong, prosperous, and free. And we thank you for that, and God bless you all.

And now I'd like to ask the families of the Jaycee award winners to join us here on the platform. And then we had the pleasure of starting the day with breakfast with these fine people, and here are the four winners: Pete Bontekoe, Rollie Moore, Gary Veenstra, and John Belter.

Now, the schedule calls and Nancy and I are going to move on, and I will turn you over to Jack Block. But with all these wonderful-looking people up here on the platform, these fine young families here, and what I was saying about freedom being the basis of our agriculture, I can't resist telling just one little story. I happen to collect stories that I get from defectors from some of the Warsaw bloc nations, of the stories that the people in those countries tell among themselves about their own system -- shows a little cynicism too, at times.

And one has to do with a commissar, the Soviet Union, visiting a collective farm, grabbed the first fellow he saw, and he said, ``Tell me, comrade, any complaints?'' ``Oh,'' he said, ``I've never heard anyone complain. No, sir, everything's just fine.'' ``Well,'' he said, ``How are the crops?'' He said, ``Crops never been better. They're just wonderful.'' He said, ``Potatoes?'' He said, ``If we could pile the potatoes in one pile, they would reach the foot of God.'' And the commissar said, ``Comrade, this is the Soviet Union. There is no God.'' He said, ``That's all right. There are no potatoes.'' [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 9:15 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Earlier, the President hosted a breakfast for the U.S. Jaycees 1984 National Outstanding Young Farmers award winners and their families in the Family Dining Room. Also attending the breakfast was Secretary of Agriculture John R. Block.