This country dedicated the first day of spring to celebrate and honor American farmers and America’s agricultural sector, perhaps because this country was started by farmers and ranchers. As …
This country dedicated the first day of spring to celebrate and honor American farmers and America’s agricultural sector, perhaps because this country was started by farmers and ranchers. As Americans we often take things for granted and we may forget the bravery, hard work and self-sacrifice it took to build this land of liberty.
History has it that in the 17th century as people were moving to the United States, they brought with them livestock. With the help of natives, settlers learned to grow maize, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beans, maple sugar, cotton and tobacco. They gave their heart and soul to God and with hard work they trusted God to help them build this nation.
In 1776, the Continental Congress offered land grants to people who wanted to serve in the Continental Army. As a result of the land grants, young Americans started growing and producing crops from their land to feed themselves and prosper. Farmers located in the northern areas of the country produced a variety of crops and raised livestock. On the southern plantations, operators mainly were producing crops to export, and the exports began building wealth for this young nation. Soon tobacco became a chief cash crop and the most important export of the south.
With heavy taxation came the Declaration of Independence which resulted in parting from British control on farm exports, restrictions on land titles and the limitations on western settlement. By 1790, value of tobacco exports reached $4.36 million.
George Washington, one of the founding fathers of our nation, was a farmer and had his own plantation. He was a genius in improving crop production. My husband Rick and I and our family had the opportunity to visit Mount Vernon a few years ago. Washington’s crop rotation display and harvesting methods were ahead of his time, so much so that even today’s farmers are practicing his methods. He realized agricultural income would build a strong country, therefore in 1799 he asked Congress to establish a National Board of Agriculture. My favorite quote from Washington is, “[It] will not be doubted that with reference either to individual or national welfare, agriculture is of primary importance.”
Many of the early presidents realized the important role agriculture plays in the economic well-being of a nation. For instance, President Thomas Jefferson said, “Cultivators are the most valuable citizens … they are tied to their country.” And at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency the value of agriculture exports and economic benefit to America escalated to $182 million, or 75% of total exports. Lincoln is famous for his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 which freed slaves. Lincoln valued the agriculture sector as our country’s renewable resource and transformed George Washington’s National Board of Agriculture to what we know it as the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA.
The importance of agriculture in the U.S. led to the Reclamation Act, which was signed by Theodore Roosevelt on June 17, 1902, authorizing construction of irrigation projects in 14 western states and two territories (Arizona and New Mexico). Congress added Texas to the Act in 1906. Today irrigated agriculture contributes over $10 billion annually and there are 34 million acres under irrigation systems.
Wyoming is the home of the Shoshone Irrigation Project, one of the oldest and largest projects in the state. The water flows from Buffalo Bill Dam through Cody, Powell, and Deaver, irrigating nearly 92,000 acres. The economic impact of agriculture in Park County is more than $100 million annually.
The United States economy is struggling, and our deficit has climbed to $2.3 trillion. In this difficult pandemic time, we have to salute agriculture. Government regulations on agriculture has increased the cost of production for American farmers. There is no way U.S. farmers can compete with foreign subsidized crops coming into our country.
At the beginning of this nation, farm families were the basic units shaping life in America. Alfalfa hay, barley, corn, cotton, cattle, dry beans, milk, rice, oats, sugar beet, sugar cane, soybeans and wheat are the body of America’s agriculture. Some of our lawmakers have been trying to dismember this productive body, which I consider to be the backbone of this country.
American agriculture is our nation’s most vital renewable industry. Its contribution is more than $1.3 trillion to our gross domestic product and more than $50 billion in exported products to feed people in other countries. Keep in mind that only 1% of the U.S. population is farmers, yet their work is beyond measure. Perhaps we have forgotten their hard work and dedication to the land and have taken them for granted.
Let us remember to appreciate our farmers as we celebrate Ag Day and please let your lawmakers know dismembering a fruitful and dynamic working machine, such as American agriculture, will not result in prosperity for this nation’s economy.
(Klodette Stroh of Powell is the national sugar chairman for Women Involved in Farm Economics.)