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A time to celebrate agriculture's bounty

Posted Wednesday, March 14, 2012, at 8:47 AM

"Whoever makes two ears of corn, or two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before, deserves better of mankind, and does more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together."
—Jonathan Swift

Happy belated National Agriculture Day.

On Thursday, March 8, Americans celebrated the abundance of food, fuel and fiber made available to all of us by agriculture.

And what an abundance there is, especially when you consider some of the statistics:

—In 1950, there were 154 million people in the United States, and 5.6 million of them were farmers. Every farmer fed 30 people.

—Today, we have 310 million people and just two million farms. Roughly 97 percent of the farms are operated by families, whether as individuals, family partnerships or family corporations.

—In 2010, every farmer produced enough to feed 155 people.

—Americans spend 9.5 percent of their income on food — less than any country in the world.

These are facts worth celebrating.

All of this has been done by doing more with less.

Compared to 1950, today's farmers produce

—176 percent more pork per sow with 44 percent fewer sows,

—333 percent more corn on 11 percent more acres,

—12 times the production of lettuce on 2.5 times the land,

—eight times the production of tomatoes on three times the land,

—53 percent more eggs with three percent fewer hens,

—11 times more soybeans on five times the acres,

—69 percent more wheat on six percent fewer acres and

—63 percent more milk with 58 percent fewer cows.

Modern production technologies include climate controlled housing for animals, genetically modified crops and GPS guided precision technology are part of the reason for the increased efficiency.

The abundance has also been achieved using fewer natural resources, less fertilizer, fewer chemicals and a smaller carbon footprint.

That, too is worth celebrating.

—In 1982, conservation tillage was used on 17 percent of acreage. Today it is used on 63 percent of all crop acres. At the same time, total land used for crops declined by 70 million acres, or about 15 percent.

—Since 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program has encompassed 31 million acres. That has protected the environment and provided habitat for wildlife. It has helped reduce soil erosion by 622 million tons and restored more than 2 million acres of wetlands.

—More than half of America's farmers intentionally provide habitat for wildlife.

—Sevent-five percent of the wildlife in America live on private farmland.

However, some facts are cause for concern.

—In 2010, there were 48.8 million Americans living in food insecure households — 32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children. That accounts for 14 percent of our population.

—By 2050, the global population is expected to increase by 3-plus billion people.

—In 50 years, farmers will need to produce 100 percent more food than we do today to meet demand.

—According to the United Nations, 80 percent of future production growth must come from increased yields, 10-15 percent from higher cropping density, and 5-10 percent from expansion of land use.

Those are the cold, hard facts.

But sometimes even as obvious as they are, there is a small, but vocal group of people who would like for agriculture to revert back to the 1950s.

Nostalgia, and the good old days, may make us warm and fuzzy, but it sure won't feed us.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist — or a farmer — to see without the improvements half of today's American population would be starving. Or that in 40 years, we will have a huge food crisis.

Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace Prize winner credited with saving more people than anyone else in the world, said it best in 2000.

"The world has the technology to feed, on a sustainable basis, 10 billion people. The pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this technology," he said.

Consumers have the right to expect farmers and everyone in agriculture to act responsibly. I think the facts show we are doing just that.

Farmers are the original environmentalists. We can't afford not to be. Everything we have is wrapped up in the health and sustainability of our land, animals and environment.

We are taking care of our land so it will be here to feed your descendants and ours.

That is definitely worth celebrating.

"Our farmers deserve praise, not condemnation; and their efficiency should be cause for gratitude, not something for which they are penalized."

—President John F. Kennedy

"Cultivators are the most valuable citizens...they are tied to their country."

—President Thomas Jefferson

"In no other country do so few people produce so much food, to feed so many, at such reasonable prices."

—President Dwight D. Eisenhower

"Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you're a thousand miles from the cornfield."

—President Dwight D. Eisenhower


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I'm always glad to see articles like this, that illuminate the good things ag has brought us. Thank you.

-- Posted by Bob Kennedy on Wed, Mar 14, 2012, at 4:16 PM

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