You don’t have to travel far into America’s heartland to see how much we love this country. For many of us, that patriotism stretches back generations from sacrifices our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers made to build a livelihood to the sense of pride and ownership in the rural communities we have continued to build and develop across this country.
Rural America also has a long history of answering our country’s call to service. It’s no surprise that many of those brave men and women return home to serve in their rural farm communities. According to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, 12 percent of all full-time farmers and ranchers are veterans. Yet, for each of these farmer veterans, there is a friend, a brother, a sister who did not come home. In the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s been estimated that rural casualties were 41 percent higher than those of urban areas because of the proportionately higher number recruits coming from our rural communities. This Memorial Day, and every day, we honor the brave sacrifices our neighbors, friends and family have made for our freedom.
We honor their sacrifice by serving our country in the work we do each day to grow a safe, sustainable food supply. America’s farmers and ranchers see our work as more than a job—it’s a calling. A calling to provide the food, fuel and fiber for our nation. A calling to protect our food supply and the food security of our nation. And a calling to leave the land we farm better than we found it and ready for the next generation to take up our life’s work.
We also honor these heroes by caring for our neighbors and looking out for their fellow soldiers who return safely home. Today, 8 percent of beginning farmers and ranchers are veterans, and we are doing all we can to help more service members return to the farm or get into agriculture for the first time. Thanks to the 2018 farm bill, veterans have greater access to the financial and risk management support they need to get started. This second tour of service is a natural fit for those who have so bravely served our country here and abroad, and U.S. agriculture is honored to have them join our ranks.
The sacrifice of the men and women who have died in service to our country is truly overwhelming. It is my hope and prayer that we all live each day in humble gratitude and that we do all we can to protect the freedom we enjoy because of their sacrifice. Though we can never repay them, we must never forget them.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.