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Column: Kudos to America’s farmers

Although it’s likely to get little notice in the general population, Sunday, March 20, is National Agriculture Day.

There will likely be no flowery speeches of tribute, no fireworks, no picnics, no bands playing, no pulpit sermons, no newspaper headlines (unless they’re about the ongoing attempts to dismantle the U.S. agricultural system) or TV specials.

It is a testament to the outstanding success of America’s farm bounty that it is taken for granted. Everyone expects to go to the supermarket and find a cornucopia of products. It’s a given that department stores will offer a wide-ranging selection of clothing and other textile goods (though it’s more and more a challenge to find products made in the United States).

Not without some irony do we note that today’s predominantly urban population knows almost nothing about the origins of its food/clothing or what it took to get it on the store shelves.

In a tad more than a century, we’ve gone from a society in which almost everyone was connected to the land to one in which a scant few are.

Those few, however, play a vital role in providing the most abundant, safest, cheapest food supply on the planet. Just two decades ago, the average farmer produced food/fiber for about 26 people; today, it’s 129. Much of this has been accomplished through improved efficiencies in equipment, crop and livestock genetics via both conventional breeding and biotechnology, and the tremendous advances in computerization/information management and precision farming technology.

And it’s all being done on far fewer acres, resulting in greater environmental stewardship, habitat enhancement, and reduced erosion.

U.S. consumers today spend about 9 percent of their income on food, compared to 11 percent in the United Kingdom, 17 percent in Japan, 27 percent in South Africa, and 53 percent in India.

Among the changes in agriculture that have had an impact on food production and the economic welfare and health of the nation:

• More abundant fruit and vegetable production to facilitate healthier diets.

• Meat products that are, on average, 27 percent lower in fat and cholesterol than in 1985.

• Biotechnology has resulted in better-tasting fruits and vegetables that stay fresh longer and are naturally resistant to destructive pests.

• Plant breeding has developed crops better able to handle drought, disease, and insect infestations, resulting in higher yields and lower costs to the consumer.

• Agriculture and related businesses provide jobs to some 15 percent of the population of the U.S. (despite the media blather about big agriculture, nearly 90 percent of the country’s farms are still operated by individuals or family corporations).

• Many new uses are being developed for crops — ethanol from corn (the largest industrial use of any crop), biodiesel from soybeans resins from corn and soybeans, pharmaceuticals from various crops, plastics, coatings, inks, adhesives, lubricants, solvents, etc., etc.

Though U.S. agriculture is under attack on several fronts and there are those who would move it all offshore, when you sit down for your family lunch Sunday, National Agriculture Day, you can reflect with pride on your role in America’s plenty.

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