Often criticized, American farmers deserve strokes, too

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOHN SCHLAGECK
Everyone needs strokes-positive reinforcement-from time to time. Seems it’s often easier to criticize someone rather than offer encouragement or a solution to a problem.

Whether raising a child or a crop of milo, the song remains the same- no matter how promptly we perform a task, or how well we meet the prescribed standards, we lose confidence if we are subjected to a constant barrage of negative comments.

With all of the concerns about food safety, pollution in our environment and concern about the cost of the farm bill, farmers have been taking their licks and hearing plenty about what they should and should not be doing.

It seems you cannot pick up a paper, listen to or watch a television news program without hearing about consumers’ concerns about farmers and the practice of farming.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to read a column that trumpeted the good deeds and accomplishments of the American farmer?

I believe it’s about time for a positive update on agriculture. Here goes.

Farmers protect our environment. They have enrolled more than 30 million acres of their land in the conservation reserve program. Under this program farmers provide food and habitat for 75 percent of this nation’s wildlife. Erosion rate by water on U.S. croplands has been reduced by 24 percent during the last 18 years.

Under a U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative, farmers, ranchers and other landowners have pledged to install 2 million miles of conservation buffers by the end of this year. Each year, hundreds of thousands of trees are seeded on farmland. The net loss of wetlands has decreased from a level of 27,000 acres lost each year (1982-92) to 24,000 acres each year (from ’92-’97).

The money U.S. families spend for their food, at home and away from home, is about 11 percent of the average U.S. disposable family income.

That’s down from about 14 percent in 1980 and 17.6 percent in 1960. If you pencil it out, the share of income spent for food is one-third less than it was 30 years ago.

Biotechnology offers benefits to consumers, farmers and the environment. Biotechnology provides consumers healthier foods with better quality that stays fresher longer, maintains a higher nutrient level and reduced levels of fat.

Biotechnology also benefits the environment by producing crops that protect themselves against insects and disease, require less tillage, thus protecting precious topsoil and lessen the frequency of chemical weed control.

Livestock producers are producing healthier animals. Beef products are nearly one-third leaner than a decade ago. Hog producers have cut the fat in their animals by nearly 50 percent.

Agriculture exports contribute to a strong U.S. economy. About 17 percent of raw U.S. agricultural products are exported annually including 83 metric tons of cereal grains, 1.6 billion pounds of poultry and 1.4 million metric tons of fresh vegetables.

Today, one-fourth of the world’s beef and nearly one-fifth of the world’s grain, milk and eggs are produced in the United States.

In Kansas alone, our farmers and rancher produced crops worth a total value of $2,915,660,000 in 2,000. Livestock production accounted for another $2,901,469,000. Kansas farmers and ranchers lead the nation or rank in the top 10 in almost every grain and livestock category.

These are only a few of the accomplishments of the American farmer and rancher. The next time we talk about the people who supply our family table with a healthy, wholesome meal, let’s give credit where credit is due.

John Schlageck has been writing about farming and ranching in Kansas for 25 years. He is the managing editor of “Kansas Living,” a quarterly magazine dedicated to agriculture and rural life in Kansas.

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