Did you know that March 21 is THE day to celebrate everything agriculture? It’s a day for our community to step into the limelight and remind the world how it contributes to the daily lives of everyone in this country, and, increasingly, folks beyond our borders.
Americans are a privileged group when it comes to the agriculture realm. In fact, you could say we’ve won the jackpot with access to a food supply that is abundant, affordable and the world’s safest. On average, we spend just 12% of household budget on food, half on groceries and the balance at food and beverage places. We are so blessed that upwards of 40% of food is wasted or thrown away (and we’re working to fix that.)
Who are we, anyway?
When it comes to agriculture, many think corn fields, cows, and chickens. But we know ag is far more. In 2021, our sector (including farms, forestry and fishing, manufacturing, food and beverage stores and food services) contributed 5.4% to the country’s overall economy and provided 10.5% of its full and part-time jobs.
As a nation, we are blessed because we are largely sustainable for our food and fiber needs. About 25% of our farm products by value are exported each year. Total agricultural trade rose to a record $177 billion in 2021, an increase of 18% over 2020. Our largest trading partners are China, Canada, and Mexico.
The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of corn, with about 90% of domestic production coming from the Corn Belt, which includes Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Texas, and Alabama. The U.S. is also the largest global producer of cow’s milk and soybeans. The remaining top 10 agricultural products for the U.S. include wheat, sugar beets, potatoes, chicken meat, tomatoes, cattle meat and pig meat. It is also interesting to note that more cotton is exported than milled domestically, with 85% of overall use exported. Vietnam and China are the largest destinations for U.S. cotton.
Ag across the states
Our country’s agriculture industry is rich and diverse with farm products produced in every state of the union. At least one land grant university exists in each state. These institutions received land under the first Morrill Act in 1862 that was sold to finance and establish one or more schools to teach “agriculture and the mechanic arts.”
Now let’s look by state. On its own, California is the world’s top producer of almonds and the fifth-largest supplier of food. Its neighbor to the north, Oregon, has more than 225 recognized commodities and leads the country in the production of hazelnuts, Christmas trees, rhubarb, Dungeness crab, and a variety of grass seeds.
Washington, produces more apples, blueberries, pears, sweet cherries, spearmint oil, and hops than any other state. Michigan is the #1 producer of asparagus, winter squash, turnips, black beans, and tart cherries. Missouri is the leading producer of the trendy antioxidant, elderberry.
More than half of the land devoted to citrus production is in the Sunshine State of Florida. Its neighbor to the north, Georgia, is the nation’s leading producer of poultry, peanuts, and pecans. About 75% of total land in Illinois is farmland, and the state produces more pumpkins and horseradish than any other. Indiana ranks first for duck production and Minnesota for turkeys. Yuma, Ariz., has been touted as the winter lettuce capital of the world.
Farms are also now providing greater contributions to fuel and other bio-products used by consumers and the agriculture community is up for the task. Farmers have long been stewards of the land, using sustainable practices that protect our soil, water, and air, like cover crops, rotational grazing, crop rotation, and no-till or strip-till. Today, farmers use about half as much fertilizer as they did in 1980 to produce a bushel of corn, wheat, or soybeans and they would need nearly 100 million more acres than they did 30 years ago to match current production levels.
New tools include precision ag (software, GPS, sensors, mapping, etc.), robotic milkers, automated feeding systems, auto-driving tractors, drones, automated irrigation systems, see-and-spray weed concepts, and more.
About National Ag Day
National Agriculture Day is hosted by the Agriculture Council of America with the first held in 1973.
The goal is to encourage every American 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 maintaining a strong economy, and acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the industry.
So, if you are a farmer or part of the ag community, pat yourself on the back. If you aren’t, thanks for being our consumer!