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The Ag Agenda

November 2008

It Is and Isn’t Your Grandfather’s Agriculture

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Recently I was asked how I typically respond when someone says, “It’s not your grandfather’s agriculture anymore.” This question came during a meeting of state Farm Bureau personnel, at which we traditionally conduct a segment called “Stump Stallman.” During that session, attendees ask me questions about whatever is on their mind – from issues to organizational matters.

While this question was meant to stump me, it instead provided the spark for a more meaningful discussion. This complex question deserves a thoughtful answer because today’s agriculture both is and is not our grandparent’s agriculture.

Feeding More with Less

Agriculture is a lot different today than when my grandparents farmed our rice fields in Texas – the same fields which then passed to my parents and are now under my care. Since those days, producers have become more efficient due to technology, such as Global Positioning Systems, advanced agronomics, computers and the Internet. With modern technology, farmers can reduce both chemical use and costs while increasing yields.

In 1940, our grandparents who farmed fed on average 19 people. Today, each farmer feeds on average 143 people. While modern technology on the farm helps farmers be more productive, biotechnology and world trade also play a big role.

Crops enhanced through biotechnology allow farmers to produce more food on less land with significant benefits for the environment. Biotechnology developed for agriculture also is finding remedies for plant and animal diseases and is resulting in healthier food for consumers.

Expanded world trade allows today’s farmers to be competitive and enhances our ability to feed more people around the globe. Unlike in my grandparents’ time, our products are reaching millions of people beyond our borders.

And unlike in my grandparent’s time, farmers aren’t just providing food and fiber. U.S. agriculture is a major producer of renewable fuels, which lessens our reliance on foreign oil.

Still Salt of the Earth

While all these modern advances have changed the scope of U.S. agriculture, the foundation of our industry holds fast to a set of core values. As in my grandparent’s time, today’s farm families represent the salt of the earth, dedicated to a way of life that offers a helping hand to neighbors and business ethics grounded in simply doing what is right. Our farms might be bigger today, but our support and generosity for one another, our communities and our country is uninhibited by scale.

Today, 98 percent of all U.S. farms are owned by individuals or families. And 86 percent of U.S. farm products sold are from those family farms. What does this say about agriculture? As farmers we have honed our productivity and sharpened our devotion to the traditional way of life our grandparents would embrace today.

We should never shy away from these accomplishments. Be prepared the next time you hear the skeptical quip, “It’s not your grandfather’s agriculture anymore.” The simple answer is, “It is and it isn’t.” And farmers know that’s definitely not a bad thing.