On the heels of National Ag Week, which began March 10 and ended March 16, many Midwestern farmers’ dreams of lush fields and amber waves of grain drowned as waters washed over bridges and broke down levies when snow and rain fell in rising temperatures because of a bomb cyclone.
Ag week celebrates the agricultural industry and aims to raise awareness about the importance of agriculture to the American economy and culture, which will be felt across the nation as farmers and ranchers assess losses and contemplate what the future holds for them.
Once upon time, America’s economy was based primarily on agriculture. Since the industrial revolution, the number of farmers have greatly decreased.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 1910, there were just under 6 million farms and 14 million farm workers. By the year 2000, there were approximately 2 million farms and 3 million farm workers. But farms and farm workers are just one aspect of the agriculture industry.
According to the Farm Bureau, there are a plethora of agricultural fields with 22 million jobs that range from agribusiness management, agriscience, horticulture, food science, farming production and urban planning — to name only a few.
Ag Week is a celebration not just of the traditional notion of farming and ranching, but of the broad and diverse agricultural system that impacts every aspect of our lives.
Despite the essential role of our agricultural system in our country, there has been a continuing decline in the number of farms in the United States, even as the population has increased.
There were 92,228,496 citizens counted in the 1910 US Census. In 2000, there were 282.2 million citizens.
Despite the decline in farms, the agriculture industry produces enough food to fill grocery shelves, build homes and keep engines running here and abroad.
The agriculture system as a whole is essential to the U.S. economy and culture, but because it is a part of a complex system, it is susceptible to even the smallest changes or interruptions to that system.
To illustrate both the way that U.S. farms have been able to produce more food with fewer farms and to illustrate the depth and complexity of the U.S. agricultural system, read this excerpt from an article by Steve Oberle, Ph.D., Agro-environmental Consultant and Fish Guide:
“Agricultural productivity gains since the 1950s have resulted from the development of farming systems that rely heavily on external inputs of energy and chemicals to replace management and on-farm resources. The intensity to which the natural environment has been modified to attain this productive capacity has directly resulted in degradation of the natural resources, notably land and water, that sustain these systems. The search for solutions to increasingly complex and interrelated agricultural problems including sustainable agriculture, environmental quality, food safety, and rural development requires a shift in both the scientific method and scale in which agricultural research is organized and conducted. Farming systems research and extension (FSRE) and other systems-oriented approaches fitted to agriculture are viewed as essential approaches for addressing complex agricultural problems, and for developing more efficient and sustainable farming systems.”
Whether the natural environment is modified by man or nature, that modification impacts some aspect of farming or ranching. The recent and current flooding in the Midwest region is an example of how one natural disaster can impact the whole system.
In thirty minutes, one hog farmer, Eric Alberts, on the outskirts of Omaha, Nebraska, lost 700 hogs, according to a CNN report.
Another farmer lost thousands of bushels of corn and soybeans, which were saturated under the flood waters in Hamburg, Nebraska. That’s a loss of $34,000 for just one farm, and estimates for the state of Nebraska’s farming and ranching losses $440 million in crops and $400 million in cattle.
South Dakota faces flooding as well, but has not seen the devastation that Nebraska and Iowa have, which received the runoff from its northern neighbors, adding to the rainfall that has swept away hopes for a plentiful and profitable year for many.
These bleak conditions and diminishing numbers of farmers and ranchers do not change the necessity of the agricultural industry and the need for people to agricultural degrees and engage in the problem solving process that will help the industry capitalize on resources without depleting them, and prepare and adjust to the rapidly changing environmental/climate changes and conditions that seem to be forcing us to figure out ways to adapt so we can stay afloat or sink and drown.