Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture
102nd Landon Lecture
September 8, 1995
Securing Our Place in the Global Economy
Well, thank you very much, Jon, and to those of you here at K-State, it's an honor for me to be here. There's a little trepidation, here I am Secretary of Agriculture and I have a lot of people here in this room who know much more about agriculture than I do. I recall that shortly after I was confirmed to the spot I took a trip around the country to participate in some rural forums, and I went to Abilene, Texas, and this is a true story. We're down in cotton and wheat country, and I give my presentation and the first question -- or one of the first questions from the audience was from this kind of salty old cattle rancher stands up and he looks at me and the first thing he says is, "I got one question for you -- one statement for you, Glickman," and that kind of caused me a little concern. And I said, "Oh, really." And he says, "Yeah, I just -- I listened to your speech and I just wanted to let you know that we've got a Texas slogan for somebody like you." And I said, "Oh, really, what's that?" And he says, "Big hat, no cattle."
So I thought I've got a lot to learn in this business, and I came here, I see my friend Barry Flinchbaugh and others who have been trying to vote to increase the size of my hat and get me a little better knowledge of the cattle market, and so I'm delighted to be here. And I'm -- of course, I'm delighted to be here at K-State, the football powerhouse of the Midwest, all right? Little did any of us think fifteen or twenty years ago that that would be the case.
And also Jon mentioned that I went to school at the University of Michigan, and of course Jon got his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, but it's interesting to know that K-State is the number one public university in the country in terms of premiere scholarships for its undergraduate students and it leads double the University of Michigan in those numbers, and it's something that you ought to be very proud of at this school, that you are, in fact, the leader in the United States in these scholarship grants. So you have it both in football as well as academics.
I'm delighted to be here. The last time I was here was for Jimmy Carter's Landon Lecture in 1991, and he said that although he rarely gave lectures, he made an exception for this series, which he called one of the best in the nation and one of the few that he ever gave a lecture to. And I, too, am honored to participate. It's good to be home in my home state of Kansas.
Around the turn of the last century the historian Carl Becker wrote that the Kansas spirit is the American spirit double distilled. And I think that's a pretty good analysis of our state. And no one exemplified that spirit better than the man who started this series, Alf Landon, a typical Kansan, a man of common sense and uncommon sensibility. He was a man who lived in the present but looked to the future, and it's a pleasure to be a part of a series that bears his distinguished name.
I'm doubly pleased because Governor Landon's daughter served in the Congress at the same time as I did for many years. She and I worked on several pieces of legislation, which benefited the state, including the small airplane product liability legislation which Jon referred to. But I would be less than honest that if I didn't tell you that I've always resented one thing about her, that she held a popularity rating of over 80 percent the entire time she was in the United States Congress, which is about the highest of any elected member of the Congress. And so she has proved to be an important antidote to those radio talk show hosts who say that Americans don't like their government leaders. And also I would say that it is a pleasure to be in the state of two of my former colleagues in the United State Congress, Pat Roberts, the Chairman of the House Ag Committee, and Senator Bob Dole, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and I, of course, are involved in agricultural policy and there were some pundits who worried that when I got appointed, that the Kansas troika would dominate agriculture and that Kansas would somehow preferentially benefit from this, and, of course, we said, "Yes, and eat your heart out." No, we didn't say that. We thought that, but we didn't say that. But it is an honor to serve with them as well.
Many times I've drove into Manhattan and I've seen the sign "Welcome to the Little Apple," and I smiled, because apples have been on my mind lately. I've just returned from a major trip to Asia and in Indonesia I saw signs promoting U.S. apples everywhere. Now, this may not surprise some people, but I have to admit that it was a surprise to me. In fact, I learned that we are now exporting more apples to Indonesia than to all of the countries of Europe. We are witnessing the birth of a new global economy in which places like Indonesia, China, Vietnam and a whole host of newly developing countries are experiencing rates of economic growth far greater than ours in the United States. Some Americans are already taking good advantage of the changing world. It is our job to see that our entire nation benefits, which that leads me to what I'd like to talk about today, what we in agriculture and in every sector of our nation need to do to secure our place in the new global economy. And what you as the future leaders of agriculture, business and politics, need to do to prepare yourself for that place in the world.
The biggest story in Washington this week was not the budget, not the hurricanes, not even Bob Packwood; the biggest story in Washington this week was Cal Ripken. People all over the country were celebrating. They weren't just celebrating the Cal Ripken had set a new baseball record. What is really significant about this story is that all over the country Americans are celebrating the fact that this man got up and went to work every day for fourteen years. The Ripken story was fascinating in that what we admire best about our sports heroes, but it also says a lot about America and about who we are and who we respect. We are workers; we are doers.
I just returned from Asia, where countries growing at an economic rate far outstripping our own. On one side of the street were shacks and on the other side were skyscrapers. In a way this is how America used to grow, but our country and our society face the dangers of complacency. We can't get fat and lazy when we need to remain aggressive and competitive, and that is our challenge. We can't sit back and watch the rest of the world pass us by. It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of trade in the last quarter of the 20th Century. Growth and world trade is made possible unprecedented gains in the standard of living. For countries which don't produce enough, trade has brought necessary goods at reasonable prices. For countries that produce more than they can use, trade has prevented production and employment from shrinking. Over the past twenty-five years world trade has expanded by 1,500 percent and now comprises almost 20 percent of the total world economy. And it's had the same benefits in this country as well. The increasing importance of trade is particularly true for agriculture. Last week we announced that U.S. agricultural exports will reach a record high of 53 billion dollars for this fiscal year. That is nine billion more than the previous all-time high. That's in wheat, in corn, in cotton and rice and livestock and fruits and vegetables and other agricultural products. And trade means jobs. That trade from agriculture alone produces 800,000 jobs in the United States, most in manufacturing.
Since our brief and ill-fated flirtation with protectionism in the 1930s, this country has been committed to expanding trade, and as we look ahead we still have to strengthen this commitment. We must face the challenges of new realities of international life today. Those are not my words; those were the words Alf Landon used to open the first Landon Lecture on Dec. 13, 1966. They are the words which I would like to repeat today. We must face the challenges of new realities of international life today. From the Colonial days when tall ships carried naval stores, furs, tobacco and rum to Europe, to the present when 747s carry fresh meat and fruit to the Far East, U.S. agricultural producers have had an economic stake in trade with other countries. That stake is even more firmly planted as we approach the 21st Century. But the opportunities I see in Asia and around the world aren't just going to fall into our laps, we have to go after them. And if we don't, someone else will.
I'd like to say a few words about the consequences of isolationism and America retreating from the world. At Ross Perot's forum in Dallas a few weeks ago, Pat Buchanan said that his first act as president would be to cancel the World Trade Agreements and the NAFTA Agreements, and that was the biggest applause line of the day. In my view, it was also one of the most dangerous lines of the day. The world is getting smaller. Today we're more connected by trade and goods and services, information and ideas than ever before. Yet the political response to that reality by some has been a return to the rhetoric and the policy of isolationism. And I've experienced this myself. As you know, I lost my congressional seat in the last election, and my support for the Free Trade Agreement with Mexico, I believe, certainly contributed to that loss. But an isolationist stance is an emotional response, which is out of touch with the real world in which American business people, farmers and workers interact every day on local, regional, national and international levels. Erecting barriers stymies this interaction. It's almost like asking a baby to crawl when he's already learned to walk. But I can't understand the response. Ever since U.S. forces engaged in World War I, our nation has successfully led the world in both war and peace. In the past fifty years we've defeated the fascists and the communists. In countless conflicts throughout the world we succeeded in preserving freedom at home and sowing its seeds abroad. Often we unilaterally opened our markets to those with closed markets, and paid the price of losing our competitive edge in certain industries. We sacrificed a lot to win the Cold War and the struggle often put tremendous burdens on our nation's family and our treasury, and in some cases we've seen a serious loss of well-paid manufacturing jobs in our country, some as the result of economic growth in certain parts of the world, and some, yes, as a result of U.S. companies taking advantage of low-paid labor in other arts of the world. But isolationist retreat no matter how understandable, is a reactionary response, not an acceptable reaction. It inevitably leads to a lower standard of living for people in this country, to fewer jobs, and to a greater risk of world war.
The Italian poet Dante once said that the darkest place in hell is reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis claim neutrality. We cannot neutralize ourselves from the world, inevitably it will lead to crises of catastrophic proportions, as we've already seen in this century. But faced with the reality of the world economy and the necessity of trade, it is clearly in our interests to engage and to lead politically, economically and if necessary militarily, and we must expand trade opportunities in the process.
But in our pursuit of free trade we must keep our own self-interest in mind. We can't become foolish free trade purists either. We must examine trade in the context of what is good for the U.S. and demand reciprocity. We must continue to ensure that international trade laws protect us against unfair trade practice, and take steps against practices, which while permissible, are damaging. Our European friends are a case in point. As a result of the GAT agreements, the World Trade Agreements, the Europeans are lowering some trade barriers, but they will still spend over 50 billion dollars next year on crop-related subsidies, about seven times what the United States will spend on similar programs, with relatively similar populations. So it would be penny-wise and pound-foolish for us now to unilaterally cut back our programs. We didn't do it in defense, we certainly shouldn't do it here.
Another example is the inability of the U.S. to sell beef in Europe, because some European politicians question the safety of hormones in beef. Now, the GAT Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement require science-based animal health standards, and recognize certain scientific organizations to establish these standards. These respected organizations agree that growth promotants and hormones approved for use in beef cattle in the United States, are fully safe. In this and other cases, foreign government should be on notice that the United States will not accept the use of unsound science to restrict trade.
As we pursue better international rules and disciplines we must be prepared to use our domestic trade laws to shield our industries from unfair competitions. And as our competitors continue to use export credits and market promotion tools to improve their market opportunities, so must we counter the actions of other countries and enhance our competitiveness abroad. But I repeat, we cannot go it alone in this world. We must be aware of the dangers of economic and political isolationism. We cannot and should not walk away from all forms of foreign assistance, just because the Cold War has ended. Humanitarian obligations and national self- interest both can be served by well-designed foreign assistance programs. Food aid has not only met emergency food needs, but has also been a useful market development tool. U.S. agricultural products are made available to the developing countries at low interest rates, to support economic growth and establish U.S. presence in these markets. Food aid is concentrated in sub- Saharan Africa, but the largest number of chronically undernourished people are in Asia, the area of the world's greatest growth.
Now, I recently read a survey that quoted people as saying that they thought about 15 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid, and they wanted to see it ended. Well, here is the fact. Last year less than 1/2 of one percent of all federal spending went to foreign aid, and less than 1/10th of one percent of total federal government outlays went to food aid. Most of it goes to hungry people in countries which are developing. Like everything else, food aid is under budget constraints, but the United States should remain committed to help meet emergency humanitarian food needs, as well as developing markets for the future.
I've spoken to some degree about Asia, and I'm going to continue to speak about it, because economic power is now concentrated not only in North America and Europe, but also in East Asia. If I had given this speech twenty years ago I would have talked about the Soviet Union the whole time. Although no longer a big player in world agricultural trade, there are changes occurring in Russian and eastern Europe. They've occurred in the political arena, but there are really no miracles happening in the economic arena in Russia or the former Soviet Union. But everywhere one goes in Asia I found people keeping a watchful eye in the development of one major country, China. It is big, it is growing both in its productive capability and its demand potentials are tremendous. China's taken a different approach to economic reform than Russia. It is moving toward capitalism at breakneck speed, but under the control of the same repressive political structure. In one important respect, however, China has a significant head start over Russia in the economic arena. China has retained -- even during all those years of communist domination -- China has retained much of its centuries old culture, a private ownership of small family run businesses and an adherence to the family structure. Just as the Soviets must complete their economic revolution if a free society is to survive, the Chinese must ultimately liberalize their political and social life if their economic transformation is to survive.
I applaud the First Lady's strong words of support for freedom during her recent trip to China, and I am hopeful that the President can continue constructive conversation when he meets with Chinese leaders next month. The economic potential of China and its impact on American world agriculture is staggering. Two years ago China exported 12 million tons of corn and imported none. This year China's imports exceeded exports by nearly 3 million tons of corn. In 1978 the average Chinese ate 17 pounds of pork per year. Last year the average Chinese ate nearly 40 pounds of pork per year, and there are 1 billion 192 million people in China, and growing. That's a lot of pork.
Now let me give you another statistic. Recently I heard a Chinese official was encouraging a diet of greater consumption of eggs. He encouraged each Chinese to eat one additional egg per week. Okay, that's 1 point 2 billion people times one egg times 52, that's 60 billion additional eggs per year. That's a lot of eggs and that's a lot of chicken feed that we in the United States may provide.
I've spoken a great deal about trade today because it is the single most important influence on both global prosperity and world peace. Trade liberalization through formal agreements is one critical way to open markets and stimulate economic growth. The Uruguay round agreement on agriculture reduces import barriers, disciplines domestic support and cuts unfair export subsidies. While it is not a free trade agreement it is a significant move toward more open markets. We are already beginning to reap the benefits of this agreement and the NAFTA agreement. U.S. exports to Mexico rose to 25 percent in the first year of NAFTA, with impressive gains in nearly all commodity groups. Now we're not seeing the same gains this year. Part of it is because economic disruptions surrounding the Peso devaluation, part of it's because of serious political problems in Mexico, but despite these difficulties Mexico remains a long-term market that's good for this country, an extremely important ally and neighbor to the United States And other the next two decades it will be a powerful agricultural customer, if it stays on the track of political and economic modernization. Canceling the GAT and NAFTA will not keep Mexico on that track.
Now, beyond trade we have the issue of agricultural policy. This year 1995 is pivotal for the U.S. in agriculture and trade, and this administration and the Department of Agriculture will be pushing the agenda further. This is the year when the current 5-year farm bill expires and will be replaced by legislation that will set the direction of agricultural policy for at least the first part of the 21st Century. And this is the year when Congress and the President will grapple with balancing the federal budget and changing the historic federal involvement in agriculture. At the same time while all of this is happening, projections indicate a tightening in the next decade of global food supplies and increased trade as demand expands, and that is good news for American farmers and ranchers and agri business. We produce more than we can use at home, 96 percent of the world's customers live elsewhere, U.S economic growth will not be fast enough to absorb the steady increase in farm productivity, so the economy lives or dies on the basis on growing export demand.
For the past two or three decades American agricultural policy has focused often on the government's micro management of a farmer's ability to produce, while reducing perennial surpluses. In the past three decades we have seen a buyer's market, particular for food and feed grains, because of these surpluses. We constantly produced more wheat and corn and dairy products than we consumed, and the buyers of those products were the beneficiaries of low prices for these products. I believe the next decade will be a seller's market in agriculture. This is a profound revolutionary change in the production of food and fiber. That change would benefit the American farmer and American agricultural policy as well. Imagine a farm policy where a farmer does not wait with bated breath to learn what next year's setaside will be. Imagine a farm policy which is not geared to reducing production in order to get farm prices and income higher, because world markets will reflect a greater equilibrium between supply and demand. Imagine a farm policy which sensibly encourages American productivity and an initiative, and in the process takes advantage of world population trends and international economic growth. Imagine a farm economy which is bullish for once, and encourages more and more young people to explore careers in agriculture, because of a more realistic expectation that you can make a decent living working on the farm. These things are being imagined as farm programs are being re-evaluated and redefined. But in the process the effort to balance the budget has elicited unending criticism of farm programs, and there has been much to criticize. Past programs have constrained and distorted trade by limiting how much acreage a farmer could plant, or the types of crops that could be planted. Farm programs have propped up consumer prices for some commodities, led to lower market prices for others, and often resulted in very large payments to some pretty wealth recipients. Wild market gyrations and program crops occur less often. On balance, the programs have been much more positive than negative.
In recent years Congress has set U.S. agriculture on a course of trying to increase demand, consumer demand, through policies that promote competition. Legislative changes have made the programs less production and trade distorting and more in tune with the market. This year, for example, we will spend about 7 billion dollars on farm programs, compared with as much as 26 billion dollars in 1986. In this year's farm bill we have an opportunity not only to save taxpayers money, but to design a role for government that is appropriate for a changing global agricultural economy. And the role is a fairly simple one. For the most part it means letting farmers figure out what to produce and how to market what they can. And it means getting the government out of the business of micromanaging farm programs. But it also means being there when American farmers get knocked flat by an enormous flood, a scorching drought or a foreign government which uses deep pockets to help its farmers compete unfairly. We hope for more market-oriented reforms in the 1995 farm bill. At this time all the major proposals, farm bill proposals agree on this objective. But we must also continue to perform those functions which the market can't perform, and we must fight naive wrongheaded efforts to totally get the government out of agricultural policy, particularly in the areas of preserving a sensible safety net in crop insurance program for farmers, preserving a sensible conservation policy, and promoting exports. We are writing this farm bill at a time of serious limited funding. No area of government can neglect the President's and Congress's commitment to responsible deficit reduction, and USDA will contribute its fair share. But the best interests of American agriculture and not just the budget should drive the decision-making process. If the next farm bill is exclusively deficit driven, I fear we will make mistakes that could hurt us in world markets and cripple producers who will need our help. We also need to overhaul the rules and regulations that keep farmers from planting alternative crops. More flexibility will allow farmers to plant crops with the highest return from the market, not from the government. It will also encourage diversification with tremendous environmental benefits. Producing food, fiber and forest products to serve consumers around the world puts tremendous pressure on our natural resources, public and private. Protecting our farms and forests for future generations isn't something that we can buy, especially with shrinking federal funds, and it isn't something we will achieve with penalty-based regulation. Americans don't want that kind of government. But we have to protect and continue to protect wetland, soils, air, water and wildlife habitats. And we have to do so in ways that our less costly, less intrusive and that use common sense. Programs should be voluntary incentive-based and valued costs and benefits. Government can lead the effort, in fact, should lead the effort in conservation, but private landowners and local governments must be involved so that local priorities are addressed. A good regulator of the environment should be like a good baseball umpire, when the game is over you should have never noticed that the umpire was there.
The Conservation Reserve Program is a prime example of the positive government can play on behalf of our country's natural resources. On Monday we will begin accepting bids to enroll over 600 thousand acres into this program, which now focuses only on the most environmentally sensitive land. And conservation practices that many farmers have adopted to meet mandated compliance, such as reduced till and crop residues, are now widely followed voluntarily because farmers have found they make good economic sense.
Finally, science and technology, including our research and extension efforts carried out at great land grant universities like this one are helping to solve conservation and environmental problems. I can't end this speech without talking a little about research and development, because that is what this school is so world-wide noted for. A new study shows that publicly funded research aimed at improving agricultural productivity has earned a tremendous positive return of nearly 50 percent. The federal government has worked in partnerships with states and universities like K-State to fund advances in all areas of food processing, production and distribution. And the results here are pretty impressive, and, Jon, I'm sure you know this, but you've developed virus resistant wheat, which may reduce by 50 to a 100 percent the millions of dollars lost annually to the disease. You've shown that certain wastes can be put directly into the soil, cutting costs of landfills, protecting the environment. Jon told me all this before the speech. And in Kansas, 850 thousand grain-fed cattle are affected by liver abscesses, losses approximate between 25 and 66 dollars per head. K-State microbiologists are in the final stages of developing a vaccine to prevent the disease. That could save about 50 million dollars a year. Your work in these areas have literally helped feed the world, and you should be commended for what you have done for American agriculture in advancing in these areas.
Agriculture research, however, is more than just farming. USDA went beyond the farm gate in 1938 when Congress directed then Secretary Henry Wallace to develop four regional laboratories. Some astounding things have come out of those laboratories. Penicillin was developed by the Department of Agriculture. During World War II USDA was asked to find a rapid way to develop penicillin to meet the warts urgent medical needs. Our scientists in Illinois discovered a more productive mold on cantaloupe, which provided the basis for the modern antibiotics industry. Our scientists developed permanent press cotton and cotton-blend clothing. In the '40s and '50s the textile industry invented synthetic fibers to make permanent press fabrics. Customers moved away from cotton, which of course, was bad news for cotton farmers, so USDA scientists in New Orleans developed chemical treatments and processes to give cotton wrinkle resistance as well. The two most promising ways to increase farm income in the future are exports, which I've mentioned, and the development of new uses for forest and farm products and value added. At the Summit on Rural America in Iowa last spring, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, made this point with a project funded by USDA's alternative ag research center. He plunked down in front of President Clinton a gallon jug of what he called America's Solution, a windshield washing fluid made from corn. Then he pulled out biodegradable packing material and plastic utensils made from corn, and building material and golf tees made from soybeans. We got his point.
I was in Texas recently and met with a group of cotton farmers who decided they weren't making enough money just growing cotton. So what they did is they formed a cotton cooperative and they bought a mill, and they decided that there's got to be a way to make more money in agriculture just by growing the bulk commodity. That mill in Texas is now the largest U.S. source of denim to Levi Straus in the world. I've met with California pistachio and walnut growers, who not only grow the trees, but package and market the nuts as well.
We need to focus more of our attention on developing high value exports in the Great Plains area. We've made a good start with ethanol and some of the biodegradability work that's been done here and other places are good, but there's still a lot more that needs to be done. Our great research universities perform other functions equally important for our farms. I know we hear a lot about the serious deficiencies in our educational system. While self-criticism may be healthy, we should remember that our university system is the envy of the world. When people from around the world want to go to college, they don' go to Europe, for the most part they don't go to South America, they don't go to Japan, they come to the United States of America to go to college. As a former school board member in Wichita, I only wish that our elementary and secondary schools merited the same degree of envy. This administration's commitment to education and training is absolute. The President has said emphatically that we must cut government spending, but said just as emphatically that we ought not to cut education, but rather increase our investment in education as we balance the budget. And he has said, and I quote, education is the fault line in America today. Those who have it are doing well in the global economy, those who don't are not doing well.
One of the reasons we've led the world in so many areas is that so many world leaders are educated in the United States, and it's also a good investment in developing allies around the world. And I travel a lot, it's just amazing what you find. Just in my trip to Indonesia, their minister of agriculture got his Master's degree from the University of Kentucky and his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, and virtually all of the lead assistants went to school in this country. Singapore's prime minister went to Williams College, his deputy went to MIT, the minister for law went to Yale. Korea's minister of agriculture went to Johns Hopkins, and Jai Shinahato, the deputy economic minister of Japan is a Kansas State graduate. Next spring a group of Vietnamese agricultural leaders will be coming here to Manhattan for a two-week marketing course at K- State. And it's not just Asia, the president of Mexico has a Ph.D. from Yale, his chief of staff a Ph.D. from MIT, and many world leaders are graduates of Kansas schools. Our ability to educate world leaders is one of the great strengths of our country. We have ambassadors to the world who maybe just like the American way of life.
But at the same time we have to enhance our own skills to assure our place in the new world order. Virtually all Japanese businessmen in this country speak English, while very few Americans working in Japan are fluent in Japanese. I saw a commercial during Monday night's football game, featuring an American businessman who said business was booming because he'd learned to speak Japanese and was selling his products in Japan. I doubt that there are very many people in this audience fluent in a language other than English. Some may not even speak English so well who were born here. And I'm heartened to learn that K-State offers classes in Japanese. And while that's great, the failure to be fluent in just English is just another impediment in being competitive in a world of people who can speak four or five different languages and are trying to steal business from us in every country in the world.
But even with our inferior language skills, the U.S. with its diverse population, skilled and educated population, favorable climate, sustainable arable cropland, efficient producers and science-based growth and productivity, we are in the strongest position in the world to compete in agriculture and most other sectors in our economy. No other nation can put all these things together, and that forms the basis of our competitive advantage. Agriculture is one of the few industries that continuously provides a positive balance of trade and produces the numbers of jobs we do in the process. Without the ability to export, our ag production would have to contract by 1/3, idling some of the best agricultural land in the world and forcing some of the best farmers in the world to find other jobs.
For agriculture, as for so many other sectors of the economy, retreat into isolationism or reactionary protectionism would be a disaster. Flirting with political isolationism may help some political careers, but it would be a disaster for American producers of food. There is no doubt that as U.S. producers go into the 21st Century they will be more dependent on the market than on government, and that's how it should be. So we must prepare ourselves to take advantage of opportunities in the newly integrated world in determining what skills we need, how to enhance those skills and how do we use them effectively.
Last week I read an article in the Washington Post about a dairy farmer in a small town in New York State who goes to his tiny local library to use the Internet to practice his new literacy skills with a pen pal in Brazil who wants to learn English. This man doesn't even has his own personal computer, but he has a ramp onto the information super highway that links him to the rest of the world. These kind of links are shrinking the size of the world while expanding the opportunities in it. We must not be afraid to take advantage of the opportunities and we must be ready to meet the challenges. Like Alf Landon, we must live in the present but look to the future. We must not listen to the reactionaries or be tempted by the siren sounds of isolationism. Like the farmer in the Internet, we know that the world is filled with opportunities and we must be open to them.
Americans have another natural resource we should take advantage of. We're optimistic and we have a lot of imagination. I heard a story about a kid who gets a baseball and goes outside to practice hitting his new ball with his bat. He can't wait to become a player and beat Cal Ripken's record. So he throws the ball in the air, he swings and misses and he's upset. He does it a second time. He throws the ball in the air and he swings and misses again. On his third try he still doesn't hit the ball, but he's not discouraged, instead he smiles and says, "Wow, what a pitcher."
I'd end with another story. The president of a major university goes to speak to a local high school class about taking advantage of opportunity. "You must be ready to jump at the opportunity, especially when it knocks," he tells a student. A student raises his hand, he says, "That's great, you're the president of a major university, like Jon Wefald, you got it all, but how do you know when opportunity knocks?" And the president answers him, he said, "You don't, that is why you have to keep jumping all the time."
If I could leave with one piece of advice it would be this: The world is full of opportunity and you can take advantage of it if you retain optimism, imagination and be cognizant of the opportunities around you.
I've talked today about the dangers of a country becoming isolated from other countries. I'd like to close with a warning about the danger of individuals becoming isolated from their own country. The same conditions that are creating opportunities and challenges for some have led to anger and isolation for others. And such anger can get twisted into a hatred that leads to horrors, like the bombing in Oklahoma City. I'm particularly alarmed by this trend, because seven USDA employees, seven public servants, seven true patriots, died in the Oklahoma City blast. So isolationism isn't limited to sovereign nations, you as individuals must resist the temptation to isolate yourselves from society or from your community or from your college or from your government.
A recent survey found that Americans express less confidence in government today than they did 20 years ago. This lack of confidence leads to distrust, distrust leads to paranoia, and paranoia leads to dangerous words and actions. It all prepares fertile ground for the kind of para- military groups that espouse anarchy, racism, anti-semitism and the romance of violence. It all leads to the federal building in Oklahoma City.
I would challenge you today to get engaged in what's happening around you, not on campus, but in the world. You must get involved. It sounds trite, but it's true. All of this may seem abstract, but some of you will graduate in nine months and I hope my words will come back to you when you have a job, or provide for a family. The choice of what kind of world you live in is yours, you can drift into generation X and be indifferent to the world around you, or you can embrace the essential traits which have made America great, and you can be Cal Ripken. The opportunities for those like yourselves who are well educated are exciting and limited only by your imagination and drive. You just have to keep jumping at opportunity and if you keep jumping, America and American agriculture will continue to lead the world.
Thank you all very much.