America’s Economic Engine

June 5, 2007

By: Bryan Hest, Steve Williams, Jerry Demmer

Farming does a lot more than just put food in our bellies and clothes on our backs. It literally is an economic engine that drives America.

Most people are shocked when they learn that the food and fiber industry employs 20% of the country’s workforce and contributes $3.5 trillion to the U.S. economy.

Think about that for a second. We’re talking about $3,500,000,000,000. That is larger than the economies of Canada and Mexico combined.

Such a large number can be very difficult to comprehend. After all, most of us have a hard time imagining what to do with a million dollars, let alone a billion or even a trillion.

So let’s look at that economic impact broken down on a smaller stage. Let’s just look at the state of Minnesota where our three farms are located.

If you’re from the western part of the state, you are no stranger to the beautiful site of wheat billowing in the breeze. Chances are good that your local community depends on that wheat as an economic catalyst, too.

That’s because 4,088 jobs are created by wheat, which also pumps more than $416 million into the local economy, according to a study by Texas A&M about the impact of the wheat industry on the U.S. economy.

In a rural state like Minnesota, this economic activity is essential because farming dollars trickle down to stores on Main Street, input dealers, and even local schools and governments that are funded through farmers’ tax dollars. But the story doesn’t end there; that is only wheat.

The Red River Valley that snakes along the North Dakota border is also home to the largest sugarbeet growing region in the country.

A study by LMC International found that sugar brings 25,610 jobs and more than $2 billion to the area’s economy, making sugar the second biggest employer in the Valley next to health care.

With stats like these, it’s easy to see why the Minnesota Congressional delegation is so supportive of maintaining a strong farm policy. Then again, we haven’t even gotten to Minnesota’s biggest crop yet: corn.

Ranchers and dairymen depend on Minnesota corn growers to feed their livestock, and anyone driving in the state depends on corn growers to feed their cars and trucks.

The corn ethanol industry in Minnesota alone is estimated by the state’s agriculture department report to contribute nearly $5 billion to the economy in 2008 and employ 18,000 Minnesotans.

That is absolutely amazing when you consider ethanol only sucks up less than a third of the state’s corn crop. Factor in the rest of the corn crop, livestock, dairy, soybeans, and other agricultural production, and you quickly realize that Minnesota wouldn’t function without farmers and ranchers.

As Congress debates the 2007 farm bill it should not make decisions based on empty rhetoric by activists advocating for extreme liberal or extreme conservative causes.

Congress should look at the economic significance of agriculture and let the numbers speak for themselves.

If lawmakers listen, these numbers will clearly show that without a strong farm safety net the economic engine that runs Minnesota, and a good chunk of America, will stall for good. And that would hit us all in the wallet.

About the Authors: Bryan Hest is a wheat farmer from Perley, Minn. Steve Williams grows sugarbeets, wheat, and soybeans on his farm in Fisher, Minn. Jerry Demmer produces corn and soybeans in Clarks Grove, Minn.