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Quietly doing its job, agriculture one of America's success stories

Most likely, a lot more people around the country guzzled green beer to celebrate St. Patrick's day last Saturday than celebrated National Ag Day this past Thursday, March 20.

It's a pretty good bet that the average man or woman on the street didn't even know about the Ag Day observance, or that this week is National Ag Week.

U.S. agriculture quietly goes about its job of producing ample food and fiber for our own citizens and a good portion of the rest of the world, but it gets little attention except when the mainstream media are berating farm bills or sensationalizing some issue related to farming.

Despite the boom-and-bust cycles and market vagaries that have characterized agriculture for decades, the American farmer has persevered and become a true success story. Few sectors of the economy can match the tremendous gains in productivity and efficiency that have taken place in agriculture, aided in the last couple of decades by remarkable advances in science, machinery, technology, and biotechnology that allow farmers to get more, high quality yield from each acre with fewer inputs, less labor, less land, and a greatly reduced environmental footprint.

And fewer people: today's agricultural cornucopia is produced by only about 3 million farmers, less than 2 percent of the population.

U.S. farmers produce 46 percent of the world's soybeans, 41 percent of the world's corn, 20.5 percent of the world's cotton, and 13 percent of the world's wheat. In the 1960s, one farmer supplied food and fiber for 25.8 persons in the U.S. and abroad; today, it's nearly 150 persons.

Agriculture generates 20 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product and is America's number 1 export, with about 17 percent of raw crop products shipped overseas each year. One of every three acres produces for export, and 25 percent of gross farm income is derived from overseas sales. In an era of growing trade deficits, year-in, year-out, agriculture has a net positive trade balance.

Americans spend less on food than any other developed nation, about 9 percent of disposable income.

As populations in other countries — particularly China, India, and Southeast Asia — continue to grow and become more affluent, the demand for U.S. agricultural products has skyrocketed. Commodity stocks, once burdensome and price-depressing, are vanishing and markets, particularly grains, are now reflecting the growing tightness, in the process slashing government outlays for farm programs (not that the media have made note of it).

The Agriculture Council of America, which organizes National Ag Week/Ag Day, has as one of its goals creating a greater public awareness of the role farmers play in providing food and fiber self-sufficiency (something many nations don't have), and contributing to a strong economy and the creation of jobs (some 22 million people are employed in ag-related jobs).

So, even though most folks don't have a clue what you do or the contributions you make, take a moment this week to pat yourself on the back for the role you play in one of America's great success stories.

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