American farmers important to U.S.

Margaret Brackett Contributing Columnist

November 6, 2013

Staci Henry, District Conservationist with Natural Conservation Service, is the guest for this week. Her purpose is to provide knowledge that will encourage readers to be friends to farmers and rangers.

For thousands of years, civilization has built upon a foundation laid by farmers. Today’s American farmers and ranchers produce an abundance of food and fiber, as well as flowers, fish, forest products, forage, and fuel. This bounty is provided to American consumers at prices that are among the lowest in the world. Much is exported, helping feed people around the globe.

Today one American farmer produces enough food to feed more than 144 people.

“The information in this discussion helps tell the story of America’s farmers and ranchers and illustrates the importance of agricultural products in our lives. It also illustrates the need to conserve, sustain, and improve the natural resources that future generations of American farmers and ranchers will need to continue providing food and clothing for a growing population,” said Henry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has the opportunity to work one-on-one with America’s farmers and ranchers to help protect the long-term health of soil, water, air, plant, and animal resources. I am pleased to present this information so that our readers can see just some of what farmers and ranchers do the for the good of the people.

Most of the food we eat is grown by farmers right here in the U.S. That means we do not have to pay other countries to send it to us. Abundant soil and water is what separates the U.S. from other countries that cannot grow enough food for their people. However, we must protect against taking our natural resources for granted. Some areas of the world once had fertile cropland that, over time, was transformed into wasteland because of careless use of the land.

Information shows us that we spend approximately 10 percent of our income on food here in the United States, while people in India spend more than half of their income (51.3 percent) for the same amount of food.

The late Walter Lowdermilk, an early leader in the United States’ soil conversation movement, studied records of agriculture in countries where the land had been cultivated for hundreds, even thousands, of years. He discovered that soil erosion, deforestation, overgrazing, and neglect helped topple empires and wipe out entire civilizations. At the same time, it was learned that careful stewardship of the Earth’s resources has enabled other societies to flourish for centuries.

The message is simple: If natural resources are depleted at a faster rate than they can replenish themselves, they eventually will disappear.

Fortunately, American farmers and ranchers understand. Through their voluntary use of soil and water conservation practices, they show that they are committed to making sure future generations of Americans will have plenty of affordable food.

Every year, other countries spend billions of dollars on American products, including food and grain produced by our farmers and ranchers. Four of our best customers in exchange for our products is money we can use for other things.

The U.S. produces a lot of the products used worldwide. Here is a breakdown: Soybeans 38.7 percent, Wheat 9.2 percent, Cotton 18.3 percent, Corn 40.9 percent and Rice 1.6 percent.

There are nearly 2 billion acres of land in the 48 connected States which is about 1 acre and the size of a football field. This means we could fit nearly 2 billion football fields within the borders of the U.S.

About 70 percent of that land is privately owned, and its care is in the hands of those who live and work on it. Most of that land, 1.4 billion acres, is managed by farmers and ranches. More than 92 million acres of land—an area the size of California—is privately developed, and much of it is tended by homeowners.

Everyone benefits when private landowners care for natural resources because it ensures that we will have cheap, plentiful food and clean water. So all people should help farmers and ranchers care for these resources. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has professionals who help farmers and ranchers develop plans to care for their land.

Thousands of other people volunteer their time. In 2006, more than 40,000 NRCS Earth Team volunteers donated nearly 1 million hours to the cause.

To find out how you can become an Earth Team Volunteer, call 1-888-LANDCARE (1-888-526-3227)

By 2006, farmers had voluntarily placed more than 34.9 million acres of their land in reserve to protect the environment and provide food and shelter for wildlife. These farmers do not plant crops or allow construction there. Instead, they have agreed to keep the land in a natural state that guard against soil erosion, protects water quality, and provides food and a safe environment for 75 percent of the wild animals in the U.S.

In one day, one cow produces 5.4 gallons of milk or 2.0 pounds butter or 4.6 pounds of cheese.

A typical dairy cow weighs 1,400 pounds and produces more than 46 pounds of milk per day. A cow converts roughage like hay and grains not used by people into high energy foods.

In 1 day, one cow consumes 35 gallons of water, 20 pounds of grain and 35 pounds of hay and silage.

Just as importantly—as far as the environment is concerned— each dairy cow also produces 100 pounds of manure each day. Imagine how much manure a herd of a few hundred dairy cows produce.

Each year, dairy beef, pork, and poultry producers ask for and receive NRCS assistance to install animal waste management systems. These systems keep manure out of water supplies by storing it until farmers and ranchers can put it on fields to grow better grass or crops. When animal waste is properly managed, it helps farmers and ranchers grow more food, and our water remains clean for drinking, fishing, and swimming.

Today, 99 percent of the farms in the United States are owned by individuals, family partnerships, or corporations with fewer than 10 stockholders. Only 1 percent of farms are owned by non-family corporations.