Agriculture can mean many things to many people

February 27, 2012
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

Is agriculture an economic engine, a part of national defense or is it just producing food?

I guess it depends on your point of view. However, I would say it is all three.

How can it be, you say?

First, let’s look at agriculture as an economic engine. According to a report from the Pennsylvania Dairy Task Force Economic Development Committee, when a dairy farm spends money locally, it creates a multiplier effect more than two times the original dollar. In other words, for every $1 a dairy farm spends, roughly $2.50 in wages and related business transactions is contributed to the local economy.

To put it more simply, farmers buy supplies locally, as well as amenities, just like every other citizen. Additionally, wages of farm workers and wages of support industries, as well, such as veterinary care, fertilizer suppliers, truck drivers, crop consultants and more, contribute to the local economy.

At the California Ag Summit last month, U.S. Army Col. Cheryl Smart, assistant professor of the National Defense University’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces, said “... the biggest instability problems today are in areas that do the poorest job of meeting their own foods needs and/or have shortages of other essential resources, such as water. Because food is perhaps the most fundamental necessity of a strong and stable nation, such shortages invariably lead to social unrest, economic weakness and political instability.”

Think about it. Wars have been fought over food and water for more than any other reason. According to United Nations’ forecasters, as well as those of other organizations, it is a history that will likely be repeated in years ahead.

Remember the United Nations’ Operation Provide Relief in 1992, which was intended to provide humanitarian relief for the people of Somalia? The mission was unsuccessful due to the UN’s inability to deliver food and supplies. Relief flights into Somalia were often looted as soon as they landed. In a country where interclan warfare led to the destruction of their agricultural system and the resulting starvation of many of its people, food became power and those in power were not ready for the balance of power to change.

According to the website, I Love Farmers, “it all sounds so simple. You get hungry. You eat. But the reality is that it took a bunch of farmers a lot blood, sweat and tears to feed us. In America, we enjoy the greatest abundance of fresh, healthy and affordable food. Many people don’t always take the time to consider the importance of our food supply —  the importance of the American family farmer. We enjoy getting together with our friends to laugh, cry, and oftentimes, eat. Food is part of our social experience. Whether it’s the comfort of a pizza, the nutrition of a garden salad or the juicy goodness of a Tri-Tip sandwich, in America it most likely started on a farm or ranch under the watchful eye of a family farmer or rancher.”

So you see, a safe, wholesome local food supply should not be taken for granted because it contributes to our society on so many levels.
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 at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at

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