First, a drought update is in order. Unfortunately this is as of 8 a.m. this past Tuesday and doesn’t reflect the heavy rains much of the area received that morning which certainly helped. Much of northeast and north-central Kansas are now out of drought conditions. Much of our immediate area, except to the east (Rice and a sliver of Barton counties) are out of severe drought and in the moderate drought/abnormally dry categories. Southwest Kansas has improved some while eastern Kansas stayed the same or intensified a bit. The rains of last week should help but the extreme temperatures from last Wednesday through Saturday erase some of the gains. Compared to last year, summer crops and pasture in the area are in much better shape than last year but the rains need to keep coming. Now on to today’s topic.
As we celebrate Independence Day and 242 years as a nation, it is important to remember how much of our country’s background, growth, prosperity, and outlook arise from agriculture. Today, it often seems agriculture only matters during elections, especially the Presidential ones, and is stuck back in a drawer the rest of the time. We seem to forget how many of the founders were either farmers as adults or grew up on a farm. We know of Washington and Jefferson and many of the early Presidents. But we shouldn’t forget Lincoln whose administration established the Department of Agriculture and the Land Grant system with K-State as the first Land Grant institution. And the list continues down through Presidents Truman, Johnson, Carter and Clinton.
What played a key role allowing the United States to prosper, grow, and develop? Agriculture tied to the land. The contiguous 48 states comprise not only a huge land area but also a variety of climates and soil types allowing for a diverse, highly productive agricultural system. The Midwest U.S. is one of the largest, most fertile production areas on the planet. And many areas not suited for crop production are excellent pasture/grazing areas. This allowed for several major things to happen.
• Combined with investments of time, money, and personnel from Federal and state governments, these natural resources permitted, in conjunction with research and technological advances, increases in per acre production to allow for surpluses and a stable food supply. This also resulted in agricultural commodities importance in international trade and humanitarian relief.
• A cheap reliable food source meant a more stable society and the ability for people to spend money on a variety of items and thus helps drive our consumer driven economy.
• As productivity per acre went up and technology improved efficiencies, fewer people were needed on the farm. This allowed for people to explore other career paths, live wherever they chose, and for our modern technological society. When a society doesn’t have to primarily worry about food, shelter, and clothing, it can develop at a rapid pace. In many ways, your smartphone wouldn’t exist with modern agriculture.
Finally, what about those on the land. In 1790. farmers were 90 percent of the labor force and the country was almost entirely rural. In 1860, 50 percent of the population lived on the farm and the workforce was a little less than 60 percent of the labor force. By 1900, about 40 percent lived on the farm and accounted for 40 percent of the labor force. In 2000, the farm population was around one percent of the total population and a little less than three percent of the workforce. Yet even today, the impact of agriculture on our economy and our political process still looms large. Happy Independence Day.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.