U.S. farmers' efficiency a benefit to all of you, as well

March 20, 2007|by JEFF SEMLER

From teams of horses in the early 1900s, to tractors with the power of more than 300 horses today, American farmers provide consumers with more and better quality food than ever before. In fact, one farmer now supplies food for about 129 people in the United States and abroad, compared to just 25.8 people in 1960.

The efficiency of American farmers pays off in the price American consumers pay for food, as well.

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

This great value is due in large part to improved equipment efficiency, enhanced crop and livestock genetics through biotechnology and conventional breeding, and advances in information management.

In fact, on Feb. 4 of this year, the average American reached what is known as Food Freedom Day. That is the day they have earned enough money to pay off their annual food budget. Conversely, Tax Freedom Day won't arrive until April.


In 2006, Americans worked 77 days to afford their federal taxes and 39 more days to afford state and local taxes. That makes taxation a bigger financial burden than housing and household operation (62 days), health and medical care (52 days), food (35 days), transportation (30 days), recreation (22 days), or clothing and accessories (14 days).

So what does today's farm look like?

Let's just say it is not your great-grandfather's farm.

Today, 41 percent of U.S. total land area is farmland. The average farm is 441 acres compared to 147 acres in 1900.

U.S. farmers account for 46 percent of the world's soybean production, 41 percent of the world's corn production, 20.5 percent of the world's cotton production and 13 percent of the world's wheat production.

Contrary to popular belief, almost 99 percent of U.S. farms are operated by individuals or family corporations.

Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population is employed on the farm, but more than 20 million people are employed in agriculture-related jobs.

And, while agriculture is not unlike any other entity having both good and bad segments, farmers and ranchers are environmentally conscious and provide food and habitat for 75 percent of the nation's wildlife.

How many urbanites can say that?

Yes, the smell of manure will soon fill the air but this is organic fertilizer. Maryland's nutrient-management program has helped farmers drastically reduce their nutrient application, while helping to improve their bottom line by cutting their purchased nutrients.

And, last but not least, today's farmer is no bumpkin.

Many hold college degrees in such traditional areas as agronomy and animal science, but an equal share have degrees in business management.

Additionally, a growing number of farmers and ranchers are using computers and modern technology; 90.7 percent use a computer, 87.4 percent own a cellular telephone, 51.3 percent communicate by fax, 72.2 percent have access to the Internet and 24.5 percent make online purchases.

So join with me as I enjoy and admire the wonders of American agriculture as National Agriculture Day is celebrated on March 21.

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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