“The farm – best home of the family, main source of national wealth, foundation of civilized society, the natural providence.”
One will find these wise words inscribed on the façade of Union Station in Washington, D.C. The historic site was built around the turn of the century when the nation was experiencing progress of every kind. There was industrial capacity, oil production, telecommunications, a major transportation system in the form of railroads, and most importantly, there was agriculture. The U.S. had established itself as a major agricultural producer on the world stage not only because of newly invented tools like mechanical reapers that improved crop harvests, but also because of westward expansion, which increased the diversity of American agricultural production.
Today, more than a hundred years later, that quote still captures the essence of American agriculture and its importance to the progress and success of our country. American agriculture remains diverse; it remains a source of national wealth and the pride of American families.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service, the agricultural industry along with other related-industries contributed $800 billion – or nearly a five percent share – to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012. Family-run and operated farms represent more than 97 percent of all U.S. farms and are responsible for 85 percent of U.S. farm production. Those farms consist of small, medium, and large-scale operations. More than 16 million American jobs depend on agriculture, which is nearly 10 percent of total U.S. employment with another 13 million jobs created through connected industries.
Additionally, trade continues to be a bright spot with demand increasing for American agricultural products around the world. Exports more than doubled over the last decade. This activity ultimately generates employment, income, and purchasing power on and off the farm and supports jobs in agriculture, trade, transportation, food processing, and other manufacturing sectors.
Meanwhile, the face of the farmer has also changed through the years and is increasingly becoming more and more diverse. According to the latest census, women farmers control nearly 10 percent of U.S. farmland and three percent of sales. The number of Hispanic and Asian farmers is up 21 percent; the number of black farmers is up 12 percent. And, while the average age of farmers continues to creep upwards, the number of young farmers is holding steady and even growing in certain age categories.
Despite these positives, farming remains a challenging business with the uncertainties of weather, markets, changing technology, and many times unfair practices with our foreign competitors. Farm bills exist for this reason. They are investments in the security of our national food and fiber supply. They are investments in our national wealth and civilized society. Reauthorized nearly every five years, they reflect the times in which they are written to address the challenges of the day.
Congress wrote the Agricultural Act of 2014, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill, with America’s increasing agricultural diversity in mind. The law provides flexibility to farm operations of all shapes and sizes, regardless of location, crop, or method of production. It places an emphasis on risk management by strengthening existing tools and expanding their reach to support a broader range of crops that are grown using both conventional and organic methods.
Additionally, the Farm Bill supports beginning farmers and ranchers with efforts to help them find credit and even help facilitate farmland transfers from one generation to the next. It also helps our military veterans connect with farmer training programs when they return from service.
It supports science-based research, public-private partnerships, and innovation to help our farmers and ranchers increase production with fewer inputs. According to USDA, in 2013, the department issued 23 licenses on patented technology, filed 134 patents, and received 46 patents on various innovations to help farmers boost productivity. Critical research and innovation is key to the agricultural industry moving forward.
American agriculture has come a long way since the early 1900s when Union Station first opened with that grand quote carved into its design, but what remains today is the fact that it is still a driving force behind America’s success.