By Jennifer Whitlock
I remember the day last year when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and the way we thought about food and our food supply chain was changed forever.
Bare grocery store shelves and empty dairy and meat cases really drove the point home: Without our hardworking farmers, ranchers and all the associated businesses and people who bring America’s food to our tables, we’re in a whole heap of trouble.
To recognize the importance of American agriculture, the Agriculture Council of America is hosting National Ag Day on March 23. This year marks the 48th anniversary of the event.
The National Ag Day program encourages every American to:
- understand how food and fiber is 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 agriculture, food and fiber sector.
And we have so many reasons to celebrate here in the Lone Star State. We often boast that everything is bigger in Texas. That’s true when it comes to agriculture, too.
Texas leads the nation in the number of farms, with 248,416 farms and ranches covering 127 million acres of land, or about 74 percent of all acreage in the Lone Star State.
Know what else? Almost 99 percent of those operations are family-owned or family-held corporations.
The state’s varied climates and soil types enable farmers to grow a wide selection of crops, including grains, fiber, timber, fruits and vegetables. Texans are especially well-known for raising cattle, but sheep, goats, poultry and hogs are major sectors of the Texas agriculture economy, as well.
The economic impact of farms, ranches and related businesses totals more than $100 billion annually, and agriculture employees one out of every seven working Texans.
In what other areas does Texas agriculture excel?
Well, for 19 years now, Texas has held the title of top exporting state in the U.S.
Texas is the second-largest state in the U.S. to export animal products and sixth in total plant product exports. The Lone Star State is also the No. 1 cotton exporter in the nation. The top five agricultural exports are cotton, beef, feed grain products, dairy products and sorghum.
And we still have the largest rural population in the nation, with about 3.8 million Texans residing in rural areas.
But despite that large rural population, most Texans live in metro areas now. Nearly 85 percent of Texans live in urban areas, and as the trend continues to grow, increasing agricultural awareness is vital.
An increased understanding of agriculture allows consumers to make informed decisions. Informed consumers can help create and support agricultural policies to keep American agriculture competitive on a global scale.
To learn more, I encourage you to reach out to farmers and ranchers in your area. Ask them what they grow and how. Most are happy to share more about their farm and ranch.
Remember—a farm is more than land or crops. It’s a family’s legacy and their ambitions for the future. A livelihood and a dream. A heritage and a hope.
They’re not going to jeopardize those accomplishments and aspirations to make a quick buck. It just wouldn’t be worth it.
Farming always has been, and always will be, as sustainable as possible.
So, talk to the actual farmers and ranchers who grow and raise our food. They’ll have some interesting answers, to be sure.
There’s also Texas Farm Bureau (TFB). TFB fosters agricultural advocacy through membership and a variety of educational opportunities including agriculture in the classroom, teacher workshops, free lesson plans and learning resources, among others.
National Ag Day will come and go. But America’s farmers and ranchers will still be here, working the land to grow the food that brings everyone to the table. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.
To learn more about National Ag Day, visit http://agday.org.