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Well, my thanks to my friend Dean Kleckner, Farm Bureau president, for that warm introduction. We're grateful for his leadership on that National Economic Commission and the tremendous support of you, the members of the Farm Bureau. My thanks, too, to Bob Delano out here, former Farm Bureau president, whose leadership and counsel have been so helpful to me.
I'm happy to have our distinguished Secretary of Agriculture, Clayton Yeutter, here at my side, doing a superb job for us. And I know you'll hear tomorrow from Ambassador Carla Hills [United States Trade Representative]. You talk about two people who understand the need to open up foreign markets to U.S. agricultural products -- these two are tough, and they are the tops, and we're grateful to both of them.
My friend, Bob Martinez, Governor Martinez, it's always a pleasure to see you and visit your beautiful State. And of course, I'm very proud of the next two. Great to see Senator Connie Mack here -- a new Senator making a national impression, I'll tell you -- and next to him, or right near him, second from the end, my close friend and a longtime supporter [Representative] Bill McCollum -- two outstanding voices for Florida in our Nation's Capital. I wish we had a lot more like them, I'll tell you.
I just returned from a little fishing and hunting over the holidays in Texas and Alabama, and I heard a story about the time that Mark Twain spent 3 weeks fishing in Maine after the fishing season had closed. On the way home, aboard the train, he told the man seated next to him about all the fish he'd caught. Finally, Mark Twain asked, ``By the way, who are you, sir?'' ``I'm the State game warden,'' replied the man. ``Who are you?'' And after a long pause, Twain said, ``Well, to be perfectly truthful, I'm the biggest damn liar in the whole United States.'' [Laughter]
I won't bore you with my fishing stories because I could reminisce with you all day long on this subject. It's a pleasure to be here because for 71 years now the American Farm Bureau has helped American farmers -- over 3 million member families -- to become the best in the world. And farming is a proud and noble part of our history. In fact, Thomas Jefferson himself wrote that ``Agriculture is the most useful of the occupations of man.'' Today, nearly two centuries later, I'm here to give my first major address of the new decade, and I'm proud to begin this decade by talking to you about the future of farming in this country. But as we look forward, it's also important to reflect upon the past and what farmers have gone through, both good and bad.
You, America's farmers, deserve the credit for the rebound in U.S. farming, and I salute you again. I salute the board of directors up here, all farmers, who are leading this outstanding organization. You've been through the worst droughts and national disasters of the 1980's, and you've survived tough economic times. But you've worked with your minds and your hands to beat adversity with a kind of can-do commitment that's been the hallmark of American farming for generations.
Right here in Florida, we're seeing some of that can-do attitude as you face -- Florida farmers -- as you face the terrible loss of the citrus and winter vegetable crop. On the way down on Air Force One, Bob Martinez gave me the details of Florida's losses. But let me tell you -- I'm sure you've heard this from Clayton -- you will not be facing this alone. Clayton and I have talked, and I've asked the Secretary to personally oversee our efforts to provide assistance. And I know you can count on the USDA to be in there fighting with you.
It was a little over 4 years ago -- seems like just yesterday -- but a little over 4 years ago that the 1985 farm bill became law. Admittedly, the cost has been high, but it has worked. Since then, the news has been good. Surpluses have declined dramatically, and most of our good land has been brought back into production. Net farm income reached a record level last year, and the share of income that came from market sales continued to grow. The farm credit situation has greatly improved, bringing more financial stability to rural America.
As we face the future, the outlook is even better. Through sound fiscal policies and wise management of our resources, commonsense attitudes and, God willing, good weather, we can succeed. Together, we will keep rural America strong and American agriculture thriving in the 1990's.
But to do that -- and Dean Kleckner alluded to this in his introductory remarks -- to do that, our first priority must be to keep the American economy growing. That means fiscal and monetary policies that make sense. Today one of the best things we can do for farmers is to keep the interest rates low, and that is exactly what we intend to do.
This year, we will work with Congress on the 1990 farm bill. Getting a good farm bill through Congress is like milking a bull. [Laughter] But I can tell you that to be competitive we must have market-oriented farm policies that allow producers more flexibility to decide what crops to grow -- and that because American farmers then can do what Americans do best, compete. At the same time, we've got to maintain a safety net to protect farmers from conditions beyond their control. But market-oriented farm policies are only a part of the agricultural picture; it is absolutely essential that we expand markets and enhance productivity.
We've got to assure the public that America's food is safest in the world, and we've got to protect our precious environment. America's farmers -- I know this -- America's farmers understand the importance of a clean environment. Many of you here today come from farms that have been handed down from parents and grandparents. You know that to protect the land is to protect not just your livelihood but your heritage.
We must recognize that productive agriculture and a sound environment can be compatible, especially in terms of water quality. The administration has initiated a concentrated 5-year effort to work with the Nation's farmers to protect our ground water from contamination by fertilizers and pesticides. We'll spend close to a third of a billion dollars on research and support for farmers to stop contamination of our land and water. We must keep your good land in business without unreasonable burdens, but we must also keep it good land. I am counting on your leadership as we work to expand farm productivity while safeguarding our precious environment.
We must also make sure that all Americans are confident in the safety of our food supply. My administration is working hard to develop legislation to protect the food supply without overwhelming the agricultural industry.
But in the coming decade, the American farmer must have a level playing field in the international trade arena, too. And the way to fight trade barriers is through negotiation, not reciprocal protectionism. I know that many Farm Bureau leaders serve on the Agricultural Trade Policy Advisory Committee -- and how important this issue is to you. Our administration has just made a bold proposal in the Uruguay round that would phase out export subsidies in 5 years and other trade-distorting practices in 10 years. But any agreement we sign -- and I can guarantee you this -- any agreement that we sign will be an agreement that is also good for American agriculture. You see, our goal is simple: open markets and free trade.
And it's beginning to work -- international markets are improving. The value of U.S. agricultural exports has increased for the third year in a row; and sales to developing nations, the dynamic markets of the future, were up 13 percent last year.
We also support expanding our ties with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to open even more markets. Earlier this winter, Secretary Clayton Yeutter led a Presidential delegation to Poland to determine how American know-how can help Poland shift from that controlled economy to a market economy. It was a wonderful mission, and we're forging new partnerships between our agricultural industries and Eastern Europe's emerging economies.
But in today's global economy, America must also become more competitive through increased production, new uses for our products, and expanded markets at home. And so, this administration supports greater research into biotechnology for improved productivity, and we're encouraging alternative uses of farm products like ethanol and other new fuels and fuel additives. Just a few months ago, we proposed the expansion of the producer tax credit for alternative fuels to include ETBE. This will mean more markets for growers and cleaner air for all Americans.
But for us to reap the full benefits of a competitive economy we must cut the capital gains tax rate. With our capital gains tax proposal, we can help keep American agriculture dynamic and prosperous. And with continued economic growth, we can keep rural America going strong. Passage of our capital gains proposal, which would apply to the sale of farmland, will be one of my top priorities in this legislative year. Your support has been instrumental in the fight for the capital gains cut. And the fight isn't over yet. And I am sick and tired of the demagogs who call this a tax cut for the rich. It means jobs, it means savings, and it is good for all Americans.
And so, the farm bill, our international trade negotiations, and a capital gains tax cut will be high on my agenda for this great nation, because what's good for agriculture is good for America.
Let me talk just a little about some of the challenges facing all America. Like people everywhere in this great country, you work hard. You sacrifice to make good lives for yourselves and your children. Every one of us dreams of excellence in education; economic opportunity for all citizens; and a clean and healthy environment; and safe, drug-free streets, schools, and workplaces.
Together we are working to build a better America; but much remains to be done, and you're in the forefront. Rural America cares about education. You know, some say improving our schools is something for Federal money and Washington bureaucrats to handle, and I know you don't believe that. Whether it's a classroom on a rolling prairie in Nebraska or a busy New York street, improving education is a national challenge.
Last September, I met with the Nation's Governors at the education summit in Virginia to begin promoting educational restructuring in every State and determining national goals to attain excellence. The administration has sent the Educational Excellence Act to the Congress, and we want -- and America needs -- action on it soon.
Rural America is also battling the ravages of violence and drugs. Every citizen has the right to a safe home, the right to freedom from fear. Early in my administration, we sent the Comprehensive Violent Crime Control Act to the Congress. We proposed measures to improve enforcement and prosecution and strengthen current laws to put the drug dealers behind bars and keep them there. This critical crime legislation has been sitting on Capitol Hill for months. Brave citizens everywhere are standing up to crime, and it's a time for Congress to act quickly and responsibly because the war on drugs and crime will not wait. And I might say parenthetically, thank God we've got Bill McCollum in a key role in the House and Connie Mack, Senator. I again want to mention the support that we are getting from them and others like them for this approach I've outlined.
Let me just add a little more on our relationship with Capitol Hill. When I took office -- Inaugural Address -- I put out my hand to the Congress, to the Democratic majority, and reminded us all that the American people did not send us to Washington to bicker. As I've said, we sent proposals to Congress on clean air, combating crime, capital gains -- responsible proposals, carefully thought out, based on principles. Now a year has passed. A new year has become. And it's time -- it is past time -- for Congress to tend to some of the unfinished business. Let me say to Congress as it comes back in a couple of weeks now: The hand of cooperation is once again extended. And I would only add: America wants it done right. America wants it done responsibly. And America wants it done now. We are always willing to listen to ideas and alternatives, but we are not willing to compromise on fundamental principles.
Finally, rural America does believe in liberty and democracy. Freedom-loving people everywhere are following the news reports from behind what used to be called the Iron Curtain. In fact, I read that the first thing to sell out in West Berlin on the day the Wall came down wasn't TV's or denim jeans. It was fresh fruit. In Romania, citizens knew freedom had arrived because for the first time in many years they saw food on the grocery store shelves. We reap what we sow, says the Bible, and what a bountiful harvest we are witnessing. It is a harvest of joy and opportunity that we will continue to support and encourage every step of the way. And let me add: This harvest is not just happening in Eastern Europe. Let's help the countries to our south, so that this hemisphere will be the first totally democratic hemisphere in the entire world.
I know I don't have to tell you this, but let me just tell you from the bottom of a grateful heart that I am mighty proud of our courageous fighting men who have helped Panama. And the joy shown by the people of Panama says it all, right there in the streets of Panama City.
And so, as I conclude my comments to the Farm Bureau, I can tell you I am optimistic about the coming decade, for I believe in the wisdom of our policies; I believe in the providence of the Almighty; and most importantly, I believe in the tough resiliency and the moral strength of the American people. Throughout our history, farmers -- many in this room -- have weathered disaster; and each time, like steel forged in a white-hot furnace, you are stronger with each testing by fire.
In the ``Dirty Thirties'' swirling clouds of dust ruined hundreds of farmsteads on the Great Plains. Many of the Dust Bowl farmers stayed on the land, and today their descendants have invented conservation techniques to catch and preserve the winter snows and the spring rains to carry their crops through the hot plains summer -- a triumph of human courage and ingenuity. In the 1970's, an unheard-of disease, the southern corn leaf blight, swept through the fields of the Midwest. In a few days, the tall, green, tasseled corn was devastated, as if someone had taken a blowtorch to it. Over that winter, scientists and farmers developed resistant corn varieties in time for the next spring planting. A national food disaster was stopped dead in its tracks -- a triumph of faith, science, and inventiveness.
And today, at the daybreak of the new decade, I want rural America to share in the promise and prosperity of our great nation. And in the months and years to come, as we approach the horizon of the new century, may we all share in the opportunity and optimism of a world at peace.
Thank you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very, very much.
Note: The President spoke at 10:47 a.m. in Hall D of the Orange County Convention/Civic Center. Following his remarks, he visited the Land and the Living Seas Pavilions at EPCOT Center and then returned to Washington, DC.