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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks to Representatives of the Future Farmers of America

1989-07-27

I want to apologize for keeping you waiting. I'm blaming your six national officers -- [laughter] -- putting the blame squarely on them. It doesn't deserve to be there, but they gave me a warm greeting outside on your behalf -- a lovely plaque that I will treasure. And I see them here, and I want to say thank you publicly.

I want to salute my two able assistants and friends up here on the platform, both of whom are not only experts in agriculture but both of whom are shaping the destiny of our country in terms of agricultural policy. Cooper Evans, a former Member of the United States Congress, son of Iowa -- former Congressman from Iowa here in the White House on ag policy. And then Fred McClure, whom I'll refer to in a bit, but whose job is working with Congress as we try to move certain kinds of legislation through the Congress itself.

But I'm just delighted to welcome you to the White House. Thirty years ago this very week, President Eisenhower told the FFA, ``I always get a kick out of meeting with a bunch of young people.'' Well, today, with apologies to Cole Porter, let me say, ``I get a kick out of you.'' And I'm delighted you're here, and I remember the warm hospitality a year ago at Kansas City -- modest turnout of about 24,000, but nevertheless -- [laughter]. I'm delighted to see Tony and Larry once again, to be among so many new friends -- no longer just the Future Farmers of America, as impressive as that is, now also the future leaders of America.

And 2 days ago, I guess it was -- did you talk 2 days ago? I want to be sure of my facts -- Fred McClure, who handles, as I say, congressional liaison, talked to you all. Perhaps he didn't sing his own praises as a former national secretary and head of the Texas FFA. Like all Texans, he loves our State's memorable phrases. You know what we call catfish? Tourist trout. [Laughter] And we don't refer to animals as animals. The saying goes: They're critters, if they are friendly, and they are varmints, if they're not. [Laughter] And on and on it goes.

But whether you're from Texas or not, we know what to call the FFA. We call it America at her best, America at her most generous, an America embodied by your motto: learning to do, doing to learn; earning to live, and then living to serve. And these guys were telling me, in a nice presentation of this plaque, the emphasis on service. And I think it is appropriate, whether you're in FFA or whether you're President of the United States of America.

And last month I announced what we call a Points of Light Initiative, which asks every American to bring this service into every corner of our country. And today I want to renew that challenge, and I know that you will meet it, for since 1926 FFA has done much and served many. And you have been a Point of Light, and today you're still shining -- all 50 States, nearly 8,000 chapters, more than 400,000 members. And you serve through faith in God, strength of character, and through the belief in family, which makes us whole. And you know that what we are matters more than what we have -- working with your minds, your hands, as farmers and as Americans.

And now, I know you like to spread the credit around. After all, that's rural America's way: modest and understated. And I'm reminded of how a noted comedian once bought a chicken farm. A friend was astonished. ``Do you know anything about breeding chickens?'' he asked. ``No,'' the comedian replied, ``but the chickens do.'' [Laughter] And the thing is -- I'm going to divert from my text to tell you one of President Reagan's favorite stories about the guy driving down about 50 miles an hour down the highway. And he sees a chicken run by the car, speeding on past him. ``My golly,'' he said, ``that chicken looked like it had three legs.'' So, he pulled into the -- screeched -- the chicken dashed into the farm, and the guy screeched on the brakes, turned into the farm, said to the farmer, ``I thought I saw a three-legged chicken run by my car a minute ago.'' And the farmer said, ``Well, yeah, we breed three-legged chickens. You see, there's me, my wife, and our kid here, and we all like drumsticks. And it's wonderful.'' [Laughter] He said, ``Well, how do they taste?'' He said, ``Well, I don't know. I've never been able to catch him.'' [Laughter]

But anyway, where were we? No, but seriously, the credit does belong to you and to your parents. This family matters. Two years ago -- it was two years? I thought it was just last year -- the Kansas City convention, the theme: ``Agriculture's New Spirit.'' I do remember that. And today, thanks to the hard work and self-reliance, now that spirit is still alive and well. Do you want evidence? Consider that only 4 years ago, the Congress passed a pioneering farm bill to help a whole community in crisis. And yet this year, farm income and agricultural exports are nearing record highs. Our surpluses of farm commodities have been drastically reduced, and most of our good land has been brought back into production. And the farm credit situation has greatly improved over the last decade.

This progress has occurred while cutting the cost of Federal farm programs in half. For when the farm economy is strong and government has to pay less, all America benefits. You have told government to tear down the roadblocks of tariffs and trade barriers, and that the wave of the future lies in competition and free enterprise. And given agriculture's commitment to these principles, I had an opportunity to take that message to the leaders of Western Europe, our close allies there, just a couple of weeks ago in Paris.

Our task now is to build upon that spirit, the spirit of ``America can,'' not ``Washington must.'' And we don't want government to spend more; we want people to earn more. And we must remember that next year when we write a new farm bill, these principles must be kept in mind, ensuring the many good features of the 1985 act and, at the same time, making what I think we all would agree are needed improvements.

You know, Will Rogers once said: ``A man in the country does his own thinking, but you get him into town and he soon will be thinking secondhanded.'' Well, our new farm bill must be evenhanded, levelheaded. And in response to market forces, producers must have more flexibility to decide what crops they grow. And regarding agriculture and the environment, we must see these concerns as compatible. Both, for example, need clean, safe, and quality water. But we can't stop there, for we must work to expand efforts. And the key to that achievement is the current round of these GATT talks. And, yes, we want free trade, but we will keep insisting that it be fair trade. And that's why, like the walls of Jericho, these barriers which distort world trade must come tumbling down.

As you well know from your studies and real-life experiences, ours is a global economy now, and America must be able to compete. And that means, as our relations improve, expanding our ties with the Soviet Union, already the third largest customer for U.S. agricultural commodities, and enlarging our trade with other countries who know and need the farming genius of America. At home, the need to compete means developing new crops and uses for agricultural commodities as raw materials for industry. And for you, our global economy means there has never been a better place nor more crucial time to start a career than in America today.

I'm sure all of you have read or been exposed to -- and most read in school -- Carl Sandburg. He was America's poet laureate, a graceful, lyric writer. And he spoke beautifully and movingly about American agriculture and about the vast horizons and beauty that form the heartland of our country. Once he said simply: ``The Republic is a dream. Nothing happens unless first a dream.'' And your dreams are big dreams: future farmers who will feed the whole world of tomorrow, future leaders whose character and commitment will enrich America's destiny not merely for your generation but for all the generations to come.

So, I came over here to thank you for coming to Washington, and may your dreams become a reality. God bless you, and Godspeed to the Future Farmers of America, and most of all, God bless the United States of America. Thank you all very, very much for coming.

Note: The President spoke at 11:09 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Cooper Evans, Special Assistant to the President for Agricultural Trade and Food Assistance; Frederick D. McClure, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs; and Tony Hoyt and Larry Case, program specialist and national adviser of the Future Farmers of America, respectively.

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