Ag Day a time to thank those who grow your food

March 21, 2006|By JEFF SEMLER

Today is the first full day of spring.

As I write this, the weatherman is predicting it will look and feel a little more like winter.

What makes March 21 the first day of spring is where the sun is located, not what the thermometer is showing.

The sun is directly over the equator and headed north, which is known as the vernal equinox. This occurs on March 20 or 21. This year, the actual equinox occurred at 1:26 p.m. Monday.

In addition to being the day the sun passes over the equator, March 20 also is National Ag Day.

This is the day set aside to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture.

Every year, producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities, government agencies and countless others across America join to recognize the contributions of agriculture. This year, Ag Day is celebrating its 30th year of bringing this message of appreciation for the agriculture industry to the American public.


Ag Day is about recognizing and celebrating the contribution of agriculture in our everyday lives.

The National Ag Day program encourages every American to:

  • Understand how food and fiber products are produced

  • Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy

  • Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products

Why celebrate agriculture?

Mainly because agriculture provides almost everything we eat, use and wear daily.

Additionally, too few people truly understand this contribution. This is particularly the case in our schools, where students might only be exposed to agriculture if they enroll in related vocational training.

By building this awareness, the Agriculture Council hopes to encourage young people to consider career opportunities in agriculture.

Each American farmer feeds more than 129 people - a dramatic increase from 25 people in the 1960s. Quite simply, American agriculture is doing more and doing it better.

As the world population soars, there is an even greater demand for the food and fiber produced in the United States.

While many of my readers do not actively farm, I think they will enjoy several fun facts about the results of agriculture's labor.

Today, Americans consume 1.3 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year. If you think of yourself as average, then you eat about 68 quarts.

Did you know that blueberries are the second most popular berry in the United States? Or that the plant pigment that gives carrots and other vegetables their vivid orange color is beta carotene? Fruits and vegetables that are yellow/orange in color contain beta carotene, and carrots are one of the richest sources of this nutrient. Our bodies convert beta carotene into Vitamin A.

This is the time of year when we think of such newborn baby animals as fluffy yellow chicks, which leads us to the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

While I won't answer that question, I will happily add to your knowledge of eggs.

Every year, about 240 million laying hens produce about 5.5 billion dozen eggs.

After these eggs are laid, about two-thirds were sold in the shell and one third of them were broken - not by accident, but on purpose.

After the eggs are broken out of their shells, they can be made into liquid, frozen, dried and specialty egg products.

Incidentally, egg yolks are one of the few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D.

The egg shell might have as many as 17,000 tiny pores over its surface. Through them, the egg can absorb flavors and odors. Storing them in their cartons helps keep them fresh.

In addition, eggs age more in one day at room temperature than in one week in the refrigerator.

If you live in Washington County, then as a resident of Maryland's second leading dairy county, you should know that cows provide us with milk and milk byproducts like cheese, butter and ice cream.

In addition, milk also is used to manufacture glue, paint and plastics. Unlike the cold glass of milk that graces your breakfast table, milk straight from the cow has a temperature of about 97 degrees Fahrenheit.

Today, the average U.S. dairy cow produces 22.5 quarts of milk each day. That's about 16,000 glasses of milk per year - enough for about 40 people.

One cow can give 200,000 glasses of milk in its lifetime.

Cows are ruminants or cud-chewing animals eating hay, corn, soybeans, grass, wheat and ensilage. Each cow eats 20 to 25 pounds of grain, 40 to 60 pounds of ensilage, 30 pounds of hay, and drinks about 15 to 25 gallons of water a day.

Cows are sedentary animals, spending up to eight hours a day chewing the cud, while standing still or lying down to rest after grazing.

Did you know that a cow has four stomachs? They include the rumen (where the food is first stored); the reticulum (where food that has been more thoroughly chewed is stored once the cow has chewed the cud and has swallowed it); the omasum (where extra water is squeezed out); and finally, the food goes to the abomasum.

Lastly, Washington County grows the most apples in Maryland.

Some things you probably didn't know about apples include:

  • Apples are a member of the rose family

  • Apples from a single tree can fill 20 boxes every year

  • Fresh apples float because 25 percent of their volume is air

  • In the winter, apple trees need to "rest" for about 900 to 1,000 hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit in order to flower and fruit properly.

As you prepare to plunge into spring, I trust you will think of agriculture.

Take a ride through the countryside and look for planted fields, baby animals and flowering trees.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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