During times of crisis, what we truly hold important comes into focus: our health, our family’s safety, and ensuring we have enough food and supplies to see us through. The scenes that are playing out daily in American grocery stores during the coronavirus pandemic emphasize how much we rely on others to supply us with our basic needs every day.
Most of us don’t normally think about how the food we feed our families makes it to the grocery store. Just 2 percent of the country’s population produces the food for the rest of the 98 percent. The work of a small army of American farmers and ranchers frees the rest of us to pursue our dreams without the worry of where we’ll get our next meal.
It’s a responsibility farmers have been honored to shoulder, some for generations. For us, it’s not just a job, it’s a way of life. With that responsibility, however, comes an understanding that we are entrusted with the well-being of a nation.
Americans expect healthy, affordable food that has been grown in a way that respects our animals and natural resources. As farmers, we understand those expectations and have worked for decades to meet your needs while reducing our environmental footprint.
We tend to quietly go about our jobs in the fields and the barns instead of highlighting our accomplishments, but American agriculture is leading the way in climate-smart practices. Globally, agriculture makes up 24 percent of greenhouse gas emissions while American agriculture accounts for less than 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. That’s far below transportation, electricity generation and other industries.
Farming is drastically different than it was just a hundred years ago. The use of conservation and no-till crops is on the rise. Natural topsoil is being left undisturbed during planting and harvesting, reducing the chances of erosion from rain and wind, and trapping carbon within the earth instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. Choosing the best crop for the region reduces water usage.
Varying the types of crops planted in a field increases soil fertility and harvests. Satellite technology helps farmers plant and harvest crops more efficiently, requiring less water, fuel and labor. Changing the diets for livestock creates fewer emissions. Methane digesters capture and neutralize animal waste, turning it into fuel and fertilizer.
We’re doing more with less. The crops we grow today would have required 100 million more acres to produce just 30 years ago. And farmers have voluntarily dedicated 140 million acres — 15 percent of all farmland — to conservation, providing natural habitats and buffers; that equals the land mass of California and New York state combined.
Farmers and ranchers are always looking for better, more efficient ways to feed the world. We also welcome the growing public interest in how we get food from our fields to your home. We celebrate the growth in farmers’ markets and interest in farm to table, which can reduce steps in the food production chain.
This is National Ag Week. During these uncertain times, the week will pass without much of a thought from most Americans. But, we want you to know that we appreciate the trust you put in us. As you focus on what’s important, your family and your health, we will be in the fields and in the barns, working to ensure that where your next meal comes from isn’t one of your concerns.
Zippy Duvall is the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, and he is a third-generation farmer from Georgia.
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