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U.S. relies on agriculture for the very necessities in life

March 25, 2013
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

One week ago today was National Agriculture Day.

We should all know that food and fiber doesn’t just arrive at the grocery or clothing store ... or magically appear on our dinner table or in our closet.

There’s an entire industry dedicated to providing plentiful and safe food for consumption, as well as a wide range of comfortable, fashionable clothing choices.

We rely on agriculture for the very necessities of life. From beef and pork, to cotton and corn, agriculture is working harder than ever to meet the needs of Americans and others around the world.

If I had to come up with a phrase to describe American agriculture, it would be a spirit of innovation. Many Americans too often don’t take time to recognize the unique strength we have as a nation thanks to the innovation of American agriculture, and the willingness of our farmers, ranchers and producers to embrace new production methods.

Innovation provides an abundant food supply, which keeps costs for all Americans low at the grocery store. In fact, we spend just 10 percent of our income on food — the lowest percentage than the people of any other developed nation. And thanks to the productivity of the American farmers, they are able to ship more than $100 billion of their crops and products to many nations across the globe.

In addition, today’s farmers are a direct lifeline to more than 23 million U.S. jobs in all kinds of industries. No matter how you look at it, in some way, we’re all connected to agriculture and it’s time we learn more about this industry that touches all of our lives.

With all that said, there is still a huge disconnect between the farm and the fork.

 For instance. many folks think of farmers as backward or stuck in their ways.

In fact, today agricultural innovation has resulted in farmers producing 70 percent more corn per pound of fertilizer than they did in the 1970s.

If U.S. farmers used crop production practices from 1931 to produce an amount of corn equivalent to the 2008 crop, it would require 490 million acres — an area more than 120 million acres larger than the state of Alaska.

Today, U.S. corn producers grow about 40 percent of the world’s corn while using only 20 percent of the total area harvested in the world. 

Additionally, one acre of corn removes about 8 tons of carbon dioxide from the air in a growing season at 180 bushels per acre while producing enough oxygen to supply a year’s needs for 131 people.

We have a tremendously productive agriculture sector in the United States.

In my lifetime, agriculture production has nearly tripled.

In 1950, a dairy cow produced about 5,300 pounds of milk each year Today, it is 22,000 pounds per year. Today a farmer feeds 155 people. In 1960, the number was 26 and they are doing it on less acres.

So even if you didn’t celebrate National Agriculture Day, I hope you will agree that agriculture touches our lives every day and you have a greater awareness.

 I leave with the words of Wendell Berry: “Eating is an agricultural act.”

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 jsemler@umd.edu.

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