Schmitt: Recognizing farmer contributions on National Ag Day


Courtesy of Steven Weeks via Unsplash

Columnist Dawson Schmitt explains what we can do to recognize farmers on National Ag Day. 

Dawson Schmitt

Since today is National Ag Day, I thought it would only be appropriate to continue writing about how agriculture continues to benefit our society.

While we should appreciate the benefits agriculture provides us daily, like most important things in our society, we set aside a week to learn more about agriculture. So, why do we celebrate it? 

Agriculture provides food, fuel and fiber to the world. It is hard to go about your day without eating, wearing or driving from one place to another without feeling the impacts of ag and what it does for you. The average farmer feeds more than 165 people every year, which is important since only one percent of the U.S. population produces food for everyone else. It becomes even more important as the world population increases, creating more demand for food. 

Farmers for the environment

This year’s theme is “Growing a Climate for Tomorrow,” a task that involves protecting the environment so that humans can continue to inhabit the Earth. Farmers are also stewards of the land to pass down their decades of hard work to their children in the hope of them continuing their farming legacy. 

Almost daily, we hear about how farmers are supposedly killing our planet, which was recently highlighted by The New York Times, where I address their misrepresentation of American agriculture. Despite naive production practices that brought us the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, farmers today take care of the land, especially the soil. In October, my friend, Sydney Garrett, a junior in agricultural communications and animal science at Kansas State University, opined about principles farmers follow to ensure soil health. 

She said farmers take pride in their work. Farmers know that they must understand that having a farm to operate on requires them to care for the land they work. 

Agriculture innovates

Technology companies like Google and Apple are constantly rolling out with the latest cell phones that do new and amazing things, setting them apart as major innovators. While these companies help fuel materialism and luxury, agriculture innovates in ways that satisfy wants and needs. 

Biotechnology has helped improve yields of certain crops by making them more drought or pest tolerant. Digital technologies and software programs have also helped reduce nutrient runoff that contributes to pollution. The new software helps keep producers from overapplying fertilizers and pesticides that can pollute nearby water sources when managed improperly. 

Not only are farmers adopting innovative technologies and practices, but they also innovate on their own operations. Farmers operate in a perfectly competitive market, meaning that they are price takers. They have zero long-run economic profits because they don’t always set the price for their products. They have good and bad years that typically cancel additional profit they made in a particularly good year. That creates a significant incentive for farmers to be entrepreneurs and discover ways to get a little extra profit. That may involve exploring niche markets or raising livestock with certain traits that consumers enjoy. Farmers wear many hats: mother, father, neighbor, agronomist, entrepreneur. All of these examples generate a great appreciation for what they do.

What can I do today? 

While farmers and ranchers need to share their stories as often as possible, significant forms of participation are not always needed. Sure, writing a letter to your local newspaper or calling congressional representatives is extremely helpful. But also taking the time to thank a farmer for what they do. Producers work long hours through blood, sweat and tears to bring produce products for consumers to enjoy. 

You can also support farmers by eating your favorite pizza, tacos, salad, etc. Last year, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds declared April as “Meat on the Table Month,” so, in a couple of weeks, feel free to enjoy your favorite beef, pork, poultry, lamb or fish products. 

Lastly, learning where your food comes from is also important to farmers. Becoming a conscious consumer is important for both sides of the plate. With a lack of labeling laws, it is easy to turn misleading food labels into effective marketing strategies. Simply knowing that you don’t have to pay a premium on chicken at Walmart by going for “hormone-free” products when poultry cannot enter the food system legally with added hormones or steroids goes a long way in eating what you want without being misled.