For Release March 16, 1999National Ag Week
by Chuck Otte, County Extension Agent
This is National Ag Week. I want you to think about agriculture next time you sit down to eat a meal. This country was founded and built by farmers and while very few Americans are still directly involved in food production, we still have much to be thankful for with the farmers and ranchers of America.
Some of the figures are just staggering. In the United States, farm operators, excluding hired labor, account for less than 1% of the total population. We do slightly better in Kansas with farm operators accounting for 2.3% of the population. There are currently about 1.9 million farms in the United States and 272 million people. Each farm roughly provides food for 142 people. In Kansas that ratio is 43 to 1: more farms and fewer people. But lets be honest, those figures are deceiving because we use food products from more than just one farm. American agriculture is also a net exporter of beef, pork, and most all grains, so in reality each farm is feeding more than 142 people!
We have the good fortune of having some of the cheapest food in the world. We all too often complain about the high cost of food, but lets separate the processing and preparation cost from the food. Go to any grocery store and buy ONLY the food products that your family needs for a week. No toilet paper, no soap, no soda or beer, just real food items. Then see how much of your income it takes. Over the past several years, for every dollar increase in farm value there was a three dollar increase in marketing costs.
Now, look at what part of that food dollar goes back to the farm. Averaged across all products it amounts to about 22 cents on the dollar. Marketing, packaging, transportation and a half dozen other items account for the other 78 cents. The more processing that occurs for any food item, the lower will be the farm value. Farm value of flour is 35% but for bread its 8%. The farm value of eggs is around 60% but for corn syrup its 4%. In general, food derived from animal products have a higher percentage farm value than those derived from crop plants. Depending on the meat chosen the farm value can be anywhere from 30 to 60%. If you are frustrated by the price of your food or from hearing about the low price of hogs, yet pork chops havent dropped much in price, dont blame the farmer and dont blame the grocer!
But farmers do more than just produce food. They manage land and natural resources. They try very, very hard to protect the quality of the air, water and land which ultimately benefits all the rest of us. Farmers and ranchers know that their livelihood depends on a clean and healthy environment. So they have aggressively responded to criticisms of pollution to voluntarily take steps to protect and improve soil and water quality. Please keep in mind that there can be big differences between family farms that are owned and operated by friends and neighbors in your community and farms or ranches owned by large multinational corporations.
In the United States, farmers own or manage 41% of all land resources. Take out Alaska and Hawaii and farmers/ranchers own or manage 50% of the land. In Kansas that figure is much higher with 88% of all land being in farms or ranches. Even in Geary County, with all the public lands, farms and ranches still account for 67% of all land resources.
So, farmers put food on your table and a whole lot more. Maybe its time we stop taking agriculture for granted and start to recognize the very important role it plays locally, statewide and nationally!
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