This column was written a few days before the spring tradition of National Agriculture Week, with National Ag Day being recognized on March 23. Of course, every day is Ag Day for farmers, but the public observation is a way for us to explain what we do to the remaining 98% of the U.S. population. Ag Day encourages Americans to:
- Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
- Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
- Value the essential role of agriculture in a strong economy.
- Consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.
Why is education important? Consumers play an increasing role in determining both what you produce and how you produce it. Animal welfare and environmental issues are gaining momentum. As an industry, we must recognize this and adjust our practices if we haven’t already. None of us want to be told how to farm, but we can’t dismiss the fact that consumers will ultimately drive demand for our products, including our practices.
One positive from the pandemic is that it may have helped consumers better understand the food supply chain from production to the table. I’m not saying consumers now have a deep appreciation for the entire process, just that they felt some pain when they experienced production and transportation challenges this past year.
Still, they can’t possibly understand what livestock producers encountered during the record cold spell in mid-February. A Feb. 26 article written by the Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture titled “Farming not for the faint of heart” demonstrated the resiliency required by farmers and ranchers. That’s a message we should share outside of the agriculture industry.
It isn’t easy to measure return on investment from events like Ag Day, but providing the public with context about agriculture is worth the effort. While they are not new issues, climate and the environment will be front and center in the Biden administration.
With that focus, you will hear new terminology and production philosophies that will impact your operations and ours. The idea of sustainable agriculture (maintaining status quo) is evolving to regenerative agriculture (improving status quo). And carbon markets are emerging as many companies adopt carbon-neutral initiatives.
Farmers are the original stewards of the land. Cover crops, conservation tillage, manure management and precision application are already part of many farming operations. MFA has been on the leading edge of these programs, and we are positioned to provide guidance. I believe ag industry groups also have engaged on the front side of this conversation and drive strong stewardship programs. These approaches are much better outcomes than government mandates.
Agriculture isn’t new to the process. The average American farmer feeds 165 people today. In 1960 that number was 126. Developments in crop and animal genetics, chemistry and equipment have allowed for improved output without significantly adding inputs. As an example, U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that our farmers produce approximately 40% of the world’s corn using only 20% of the total area harvested.
In my mind, farmers are the ultimate optimists. They live every day to raise an animal or a crop with a deep interest in animal welfare and care for the environment. No industry faces greater unknowns or uncertainties when an investment is made in the next crop—animal, hay or row crop. You can’t farm year after year without passion.
Many things can challenge that passion, especially the weather. Our trade area benefited from favorable weather last fall. Fieldwork and fertilizer application were at near-record levels. We are set up well for spring. However, we still have a long way to go.
We have product positioned, but with any compressed season, logistics can be a challenge. Our team is poised to deliver what you want when you want it.
Dwight Eisenhower, our 34th president, once commented: “You know, farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”
Thanks for what you do. We know that for you, farming is more than a job. It’s a way of life.
Stay safe and healthy.
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