Remarks to Representatives of the Future Farmers of America

July 29, 1983

The President. Thank you very much, and good afternoon. I understand that we've got youth leaders with us from every State and also from Puerto Rico, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Well, welcome to the White House. And I know it's a little warm, isn't it -- [laughter] -- so, I'd better get on with it and let you get toward the shade.

I'd like to take this opportunity, however, to offer special congratulations to Jan Eberly from my home State of California -- the first woman to be national president of your organization.

Ms. Eberly. Thank you.

The President. I always get a kick out of meeting with the Future Farmers of America. And I think my ties go back quite a long way. Many of my friends when I was growing up back in Illinois were Future Farmers. And I wasn't too far away from them, because I lived in the kind of a town that even in the center of town, you weren't too far from plowed ground. [Laughter]

But what was then true then is still true today. And that was the Future Farmers of America does more than give a good start to some fine young people. By cultivating leadership skills and patriotism, it ensures the strength and vitality of our country.

This generation of American farmers has astounded the world with its productivity. Farm output since 1950 has jumped 89 percent, with agricultural productivity rising more than four times faster than industrial productivity per hour worked. Last year, with less than three-tenths of 1 percent of the world's farmworkers, our country produced 65 percent of the world's soybeans, 48 percent of the corn, 33 percent of the sorghum, 25 percent of the oranges, 32 percent of the poultry, 26 percent of the beef. And the list goes on and on.

Today, one of our farmworkers produces enough food to feed himself plus 50 other Americans and 20 people in other countries in the world. So, it doesn't take a Harvard-trained economist to see what this means to our economy and the well-being of our people.

American agriculture has been so efficient that we often tend to take the abundance of food for granted. We can be very proud that we live in one of the few countries of the world that will not tolerate hunger and that your profession could take a lion's share of the credit for our ability to live up to that goal.

Agricultural productivity has permitted us to develop human values and to put those values into practice. And this just didn't happen by accident. Our abundance is a product of the hard work of our farmers, the skill and technological know-how that we put into agriculture and, most important, the freedom of which we're so proud here in America.

By the way, you might be interested to know that in some of the efforts to help the Third World, the developing countries -- and when we met in Cancun, Mexico, the industrial nations on this subject, I spoke to them of some of the things that we could do other than just handing out grants-in-aid and told them what it could be like if we could send teams of agriculturalists, of farmers from our country to some of those countries to help them become more selfsustaining in their food. And you might be happy to know that we have called a number of times already, and every time American farmers have volunteered and sent task forces to these undeveloped countries to tell them how they can better feed themselves.

There's another country with resources just every bit as much as our own, a major power. Its citizens are decent, hard-working people, but they have no freedom. And that lack of freedom is matched by a lack of productivity. There's no better proof that freedom and material progress can only survive together. And a story that I like to tell about that -- as a matter of fact, it's a story these people in that country tell about their own country. I'm kind of making a collection of jokes that the Russian people tell about their own country. [Laughter]

And this is one in which the commissar went out to one of their collective farms, stopped one of the workers there, and asked him how things were, any complaints. ``Oh, no, sir,'' he said. ``I've never heard anyone around here complain about anything.'' ``Well,'' he said, ``what about the crops?'' ``Oh,'' he said, ``the crops, just greater than ever.'' He said, ``And the potato harvest?'' He said, ``If we piled all the potatoes we've harvested up in one pile, they'd reach the foot of God.'' And the commissar said, ``This is the Soviet Union. There is no God.'' He said, ``That's all right. There aren't any potatoes either.'' [Laughter]

Well, I know that the Future Farmers of America is doing its part to build character and to keep our country in the forefront of the production of food and fiber. I'd like to congratulate you for FFA's theme this year, which I understand is ``Keeping America on the Grow.'' You're now just emerging from some hard times that have been a long time in the making. I know things have been rough and still are for many farmers. But I hope when you go back to your homes, you'll tell your families and your friends of our confidence that things are getting better. And while you're at it, tell them that a White House source -- [laughter] -- told you personally that America's farmers are not going to be left out of the good times that lie ahead.

I hope all of you are enjoying yourselves and learning a lot while you're here in the Nation's Capital. And I think that one general -- we owe General Motors a thank-you for sponsoring this leadership conference and making it possible. This kind of enlightened support from the private sector speaks well of American business.

And let me leave you with this thought: When you go home and remember all the sights you've seen in Washington, the shrines of American liberty, remember that back at the time the ideals of our nation emerged, it was composed overwhelmingly of men and women who made their living from the land. Today, we rely on you to maintain our ties to the land and to live up to our ideals. And I know you won't let us down.

Thank you for coming over here to visit, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 12:58 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House.