By PETTUS READ
While stopping by the Quickity Sack the other day to pick up a bottle of water, a farmer saw some of his discussion buddies conversing around the coffee drinkers table. They exchanged pleasantries about the weather, county politics and how well he cleaned up. They were kidding him about his Sunday-go-to-meeting wear being his attire during the middle of the week. He explained to them he was on his way to Nashville for a National Agriculture Week celebration to honor farmers in Tennessee and needed to look his best. Of course, he heard the usual comments about it would take more than nice clothes to do that.
That comment didn't bother him, but one of the guys made the statement that there are no longer any farmers around and they shouldn't be all that concerned about having an entire week to celebrate that in his county, as he downed his sausage and biscuit with a carton of milk.
Delaying his trip for a few minutes, he looked at his sausage-eating friend and commented that the only marketing concern a Tennessee farmer had in past years, when selling his crop or livestock, was the price he would receive down at the local sale barn or grain elevator. He didn't concern himself with what is being exported overseas, the need for soybeans in Asia, or even what is being bought on the west and east coasts. His primary concern was what is being paid for his product in his own hometown.
His friend stopped drinking his milk and looked at the dressed up farmer with somewhat of a "what" smirk on his face. He continued with his stump address in front of the Yoo Hoo box. He continued on by saying, "Today that has all changed. With the world population at 7.3 billion as of this month, and expected to reach 9 billion by the year 2050, the Tennessee farmer has to focus on the global challenges, as well as the local agricultural concerns. With exports from our state of raw agricultural products totaling in the billions of dollars, international trade and continued changes in farming technology worldwide, trade issues have major impacts on Tennessee farms. A world event thousands of miles away from a Tennessee farm can change a farmer's commodity prices immediately." He now had the attention of all the coffee drinkers.
"You said the number of farmers has decreased around here and you're right," he said to his sausage-eating friend. "But you're wrong about there being none left around here." He was now in his prime National Ag Day speech mode as he continued to address the captive audience. "Technology is allowing farms to get larger," he said. "Fewer farmers are producing more, and the trend has no visible end. Less than two percent of our population today produces the food we eat. More than three million people farm or ranch in the United States. More than 74,000 farms are located in Tennessee. Individuals, family partnerships or family corporations operate almost 99 percent of those farms and the thousands of people who receive their incomes from agriculture are a major source of our economy as well.
"So many today have been brought up with fairy tale books of farms that relate to growing our food the way we use to do it so many years ago," he continued. "Farm equipment has evolved dramatically from the team of horses used in the early 1900s. A new technique called 'precision farming' boosts crop yields and reduces waste by using satellites and computers to match seed, fertilizer and crop protector applications to local soil conditions. Today's four-wheel drive tractors have the power of 40 to 300 horses. This makes for a large capital investment, as farmers pay anywhere from $97,000 for an average 160 horsepower tractor to $270,000 for a four-wheel drive model.
"Today's combines can harvest 900 bushels of corn per hour or 100 bushels of corn in under seven minutes! With modern methods, one acre of land in the U.S. (about the size of a football field) can produce: 42,000 pounds of strawberries; 11,000 heads of lettuce; 25,400 pounds of potatoes; 8,900 pounds of sweet corn; or 640 pounds of cotton lint. The efficiency of U.S. farmers benefits the Tennessee consumer in the pocketbook. Americans spend less on food than any other developed nation in the world."
As he turned to go out the store, he looked back at the stunned faces and said, "No farmers you say. The other day, I saw a bumper sticker that sums up the importance of a Tennessee farmer very well. It said, 'If you don't eat, don't worry about farmers going out of business.' And fellows, don't ever stop a man who is the keynote speaker and needs to practice!"
March 18 is National Agriculture Day. Take time that day to celebrate America's agricultural industry. Remember - no farmers, no food.
-Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org