On March 15, 2016, we will celebrate National Ag Day. The Agricultural Council of America began celebrating Ag Day in 1973 with the desire to recognize and celebrate the contribution of agriculture in our everyday lives. This program encourages every American to understand how food and fiber products are produced; value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy; and appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant, and affordable products.
Today, each American farmer feeds more than 144 people which is a large increase from 25 people in the 1960s. Today’s farmers also produce 262 percent more food with 2 percent fewer inputs (labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, etc.), compared with 1950. Farm and ranch families comprise just two percent of the U.S. population. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, America’s rural landscape is comprised of around 2.2 million farms with 97 percent of U.S. farms being operated by families – individuals, family partnerships or family corporations.
Regarding Nebraska, the Nebraska Department of Ag reports in its “2016 Ag Facts” card that cash receipts contributed almost $25 billion to Nebraska’s economy in 2014 and 5.9 percent of the U.S. total.
- Nebraska’s ten leading commodities (in order of value) for 2014 cash receipts are cattle and calves, corn, soybean, hogs, wheat, dairy products, chicken eggs, hay, dry bean and potatoes.
- Every dollar in agricultural exports generates $1.27 in economic activities such as transportation, financing, warehousing and production.
- Nebraska’s $7.2 billion in agricultural exports in 2014 translates into $9.2 billion in additional economic activity.
- Nebraska’s top five agricultural exports in 2014 were soybean and soybean meal, corn, beef and veal, feeds and fodder, and hides and skins.
- Nebraska had 49,100 farms and ranches during 2014; the average operation consisted of 921 acres.
- In 2014, Nebraska had 25 operating ethanol plants with a total production capacity of 2.125 billion gallons.
- Nebraska ranked 2nd among states in ethanol production and utilized 43% of the state’s 2014 corn crop.
- Livestock or poultry operations were found on 49% of Nebraska farms.
- 1 in 4 jobs in Nebraska is related to agriculture.
- From east to west, Nebraska experiences a 4,584 foot elevation difference and the average annual precipitation decreases by one inch every 25 miles.
- Between 2007-2012, Nebraska experienced a 5% increase in the number of farms and 10% increase in the number of new farmers.
Future of Agriculture
As we look at the future of agriculture, many challenges and opportunities lie ahead. We are tasked with feeding over 9 billion people by 2050 with less land and water resources and more efficient inputs…essentially do more with even less while being environmentally sustainable. Water quantity and quality will continue to be important. We are in an exciting time of technological advancements providing numerous opportunities for young people to attain careers in agriculture. Technological advancements with seed and animal genetics; variable rate applications of fertilizer, water, seed/hybrids and other inputs; the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), satellite, or other aerial technologies; and much more. Perhaps the largest challenge agriculture faces is the continually growing disconnect between our consumers and from where their food originates. Social media, internet, TV personalities, and activist groups have done much to share mis-information and spread fear regarding production agriculture. Many farm families are working to share their own farm stories which is wonderful and I would encourage more to do so! Perhaps in some ways we in agriculture are our own worst enemies? I wonder if we could exponentially change the course of this growing disconnect if by instead of the divisions that occur based on production practices and marketing we would unite together under a common mission? Perhaps one of providing the opportunity of consumer choice in a world where our ultimate goal is to provide a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply?