Too often, the only times our non-farm neighbors hear about agriculture is when there is economic crisis on the farm, or when some interest group objects to some agricultural practice. The end result, I fear, is that too many people develop the idea that 21st century farmers are helpless victims and/or heartless villains.
That's why I feel that National Agriculture Day this Saturday is a great time to politely correct the misperceptions about agriculture among those non-farm neighbors.
The reality is agriculture is a powerhouse that provides jobs, money and energy to our state economy. It's a dynamic industry full of growth and change, and yet unlike many other industries, it remains blessed with an abundance of small family-run businesses. We have our share of challenges, but we also (literally) have a world of opportunity ahead in the form of a growing world population and expanding global trade.
During this time of high unemployment when we need to put so many of our fellow citizens back to work, National Agriculture Day 2010 seems like the perfect time to emphasize the jobs impact of agriculture:
- The farm and food sector provides more jobs (an estimated 367,000) than all other Minnesota economic sectors aside from manufacturing.
- One of every five jobs in Minnesota exists thanks to the farm and food sector.
- Every agricultural production job supports an additional 1.5 jobs in all economic sectors.
- More than 80 percent of all agricultural jobs are off the farm, in sectors such as processing, distribution, supply and service.
Of course, Minnesota farmers and agricultural businesses provide us with more than jobs. We Americans enjoy the world's most abundant -- and inexpensive -- food supply.
How abundant? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average 1960s farmer grew enough food to feed 26 people. Today, the average farmer feeds 144 people. According to another estimate, farmers now grow twice as much food as their parents did, using on average less land, water, fertilizers and pesticides.
How inexpensive? USDA reports that the average American family spends less of its total household expenditure on food than do families in nearly any other country.
Common ground isn't so common in today's public discourse, even (sadly) in agriculture. But no matter what your views on economics, biotechnology or world trade, I think we can all agree on three things: first, American agriculture is a modern miracle of productivity; second, that amazing productivity allows the vast majority of Americans to enjoy a quality of life unimaginable to nearly all previous generations; and third, we owe our thanks to the farmers, processors and others in the food sector who work so hard to deliver that abundant, varied, wholesome and inexpensive food supply to our tables.
Gene Hugoson is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.