“I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds…”
That’s the first line from the creed of the Future Farmers of America as it was written more than 85 years ago. In an industry driven by core values of hard work and patriotism, the farmer has done more to garner respect than any politician or personality could ever hope for. Yet, they never quite seem to realize their rightful regard.
It’s easy to lose sight of just how critical the farmer is to society. Unless you spend much time in rural Arkansas, it’s difficult to understand just how much these hardworking men and women, and their families, contribute to their country, their state and their communities.
Put simply, farmers are the backbone of America. There are 2.1 million farming operations across the United States, 99 percent of which are owned and operated by families, individuals or family partnerships. In 2016, those farms exported $135.5 billion worth of food and fiber around the world.
While farmers account for only 2 percent of the American population, each farm feeds more than 160 people, on average, each year. And it’s because of the hard work, efficiency and productivity of the American farmer that we enjoy a food supply that is abundant, affordable and safe.
Likewise, Arkansas would be nowhere without its agriculture industry, which contributes more than $21 billion in value to the state economy. We’re second in the nation in the production of broilers, with upwards of $3 billion in cash receipts in 2016. Cash receipts for soybeans exceeded $1.4 billion in 2016. And in rice, Arkansas led the country with more than $1 billion in cash receipts.
And that’s not even the half of it. Arkansas farmers are among national leaders in the production of cattle, eggs, turkeys, corn, cotton lint, hogs and more. All told, the Natural State consistently ranks in the top one-third of the nation in total agricultural cash receipts.
And the Arkansas farmer has just as much an impact on their rural communities as they do the state’s economy. As exemplified in the pages of this month’s Arkansas Money & Politics, Arkansas farmers don’t just work hard to provide better lives for their families, they make their communities a better place to live. They give back. They step up. They serve.
Despite their tremendous contributions to the economy and our way of life, the American farmer faces a litany of challenges that are only compounded by political policy missteps most often at the federal level.
According to the USDA, American farm incomes have been cut nearly in half since 2013. And incomes this year are expected to reach a 12-year low. Combine significant income decreases with rising costs and the highest debt-to-asset ratio in nearly three decades, it’s easy to see why the agriculture industry needs better support from their peers and politicians.
As a state, we do well to protect our vital agriculture industry. But there’s plenty of room for improvement. And there are few areas with a greater need than infrastructure.
In order to continue feeding the state and the rest of the nation, rural Arkansas farmers need serious investments in infrastructure. The construction and maintenance of better highways in rural Arkansas are critical to preserving and improving the link between the farmer and the consumer, and it’s a prerequisite for accelerated economic development.
The next time you go to the grocery store, consider whether or not what’s in your buggy came from an Arkansas farm. Before you enter the ballot box, ask your representative what they’re doing to protect the agriculture industry. Take the time to thank a farmer for the hard work they put in to provide the food, fiber and shelter we depend on.
Let them know that you, too, believe in the future of agriculture.