Agriculture has made significant contributions to society

September 14, 2010|By JEFF SEMLER

What is Agriculture? Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines it this way: the science or art of cultivating the soil, producing a crop and raising livestock.

A synonym given is farming and is probably what most people think of as agriculture. Judging from this definition, agriculture should enjoy very high esteem.

Yet, what has happened to agriculture's image and reputation is not unlike what has happened to many trades. In our post-modern culture, working with one's hands is considered by many as lowly or demeaning.

At best, agriculture is part of the country's nostalgia, Farmer Brown or Grandpa's Farm. Others' views are echoed in two quotes; the first from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from a cornfield." The second from journalist and humorist Kin Hubbard has a similar sentiment: "Farming is something that looks nice - from a car window."


Agriculture, a once revered occupation, has been marginalized in today's society. Our founding fathers recognized the importance of farming. Ben Franklin said, " Farming is a kind of continual miracle wrought by the hand of God." Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness." And Daniel Webster remarked, "Let us never forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man."

This phenomenon of marginalization is even occurring in education today. Can you imagine state universities created by Congress with land grants to fund schools of agriculture and mechanics are eliminating or downsizing their colleges of agriculture or trivializing them by changing their name or merging them with other colleges? It is happening. Remember our definition, a science or art. No other sector of the sciences or the arts has enjoyed such disdain.

Maybe it is because society at large doesn't know the contribution the agricultural sciences have made to them aside from providing food, fiber and recreation. Wait a minute you say, I know about the food, and OK, wool, linen and cotton are fibers, but where is this recreation. Well, the obvious is the horse. Whether you are riding him, betting on him or admiring him grazing at a distance, the horse industry is a great contributor to the Maryland economy.

Next, is what is known as the "green industry" - nurseries, greenhouses, florists, lawns and golf courses - each one is part of agriculture. What we have learned in farm and field, we have applied to lawn and fairway. Not to neglect the tree farmers and orchardists who provide fruits and nuts and lumber and Christmas trees.

Now you're saying, oh yea, that makes sense, I never thought of it that way. Well surprise, agriculture has made significant contributions to human medicine. We read all the time about the miracles being preformed in the areas of human fertility. Well, guess what most of those practices and procedures were developed on - cows.

That's right, Bossy was the first to have hormone therapy and multiple embryos. We have been performing artificial insemination in cattle since the 1950s. Many of the genetic tests and early genetics were learned in the barn and field. Gregor Mendle, a monk and a founding father of genetics, made his early discoveries in peas.

Now that I have shown you just the tip of the iceberg that is agriculture, I hope you will have a greater appreciation. I hope you will look around at an agrarian county like the ones here and say we need to preserve vocational agriculture in our schools, we need to make responsible land use decisions and we need to keep our ag colleges strong.

I trust you will begin to share the sentiments of Daniel Webster, "Never forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man. When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization."

Please join me and help keep our foundation strong.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland 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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