Agriculture is all around us. Thanks to people who grow crops and raise livestock, we have food to eat and clothes to wear. We have toothpaste, soaps, medicines, tires, footballs and countless other everyday items.
1. Farmers and ranchers take care of 40 percent of U.S. land.
Farmers and ranchers care about the land. There are 3.2 million farmers and ranchers operating 2.1 million farms in the U.S., as of the 2012 Ag Census. The farmland they operate covers about 40 percent of our country’s land. Permanent pastures, which are used to graze livestock like cattle and sheep, make up about 45.4 percent of farmland. Cropland, which is where plants are grown and harvested, make up about 42.5 percent of farmland. Aside from producing the basic ingredients for our food and other products, farmers and ranchers also provide society with bonus benefits while managing the land. For example, carbon sequestration.
2. Agriculture is diverse.
There’s a common saying among people in agriculture that the industry is not just “cow, sows and plows.” It’s true. Just like the weather varies across the country, so do soils. And so do farms and ranches. One may offer U-pick strawberries directly to the public while another raises beef calves that will be sold to another producer as part of a value chain that ultimately delivers hamburgers. Farmers may diversify their operations, or they may specialize. They may follow a certification program, such as USDA organic, or contract with an individual or company. They may sell directly to consumers or to a wholesaler. This diversity results in abundant food choices at the grocery store and the world’s most affordable food supply.
3. American agriculture is an industry and a lifestyle.
Though no two farms are exactly alike, 97 percent of all U.S. farms are family-owned. For many, involvement in agriculture comes naturally as part of a family heritage. A love of the land and animals, for feeding the world, is frequently passed down from generation to generation. For an increasing number of people, agriculture is a new and exciting getaway from hectic mainstream jobs. It’s an opportunity to provide life’s most basic necessities while connecting with nature. One out of every five farmers in 2012 were considered beginning farmers, which means they had operated a farm less than 10 years.
4. The U.S. leads the world in agricultural efficiency.
Only about 1 percent of the U.S. population is a farmer or rancher. However, you won’t find a more efficient agricultural system anywhere else in the world. The U.S. ranks third in total agricultural production (behind the more populous countries of China and India) and first as an ag exporter. Demand for food and other agricultural products is expected to increase by 50 percent from 2012 to 2050, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. This will be a challenge to meet, but American agriculture has a strong history of doing more with less. For example, the U.S. beef industry produced 11.3 million more pounds of beef in 2012 compared to 1960 all while using less land and resources.
5. Science can provide farmers and ranchers with tools that help them be more environmentally friendly.
Amidst the progress, farmers and ranchers face struggles unique to working directly with Mother Nature. Stresses like drought, floods, diseases and pests can decimate a crop and affect both plants and animals (and the people who depend on them – that’s farmers and ranchers first but ultimately everyone). Plant scientists study the function of plants and identify natural mechanisms that can be applied as solutions for helping crops grow better even with these stresses. In the process, they can improve plants in ways that reduce dependency on fertilizers and pesticides thus reducing run-off into streams and conserving natural resources.