Representing less than 2% of the U.S. population, farmers provide enough food for 327.2 million Americans and enough surplus to be the world’s No. 1 food exporter.

Recently, we have experienced things that most U.S. citizens are not accustomed to — for example, seeing empty shelves in a grocery store. We are blessed to have an agricultural system that has met the huge demand placed on it in the past few weeks by supplying enough food each day to replenish those shelves.

Where else in the world could this be said? Hopefully, this situation has made people realize how important American agriculture is to society. For years, certain various groups and individuals have been critical of farmers, technological and production advances and our food system in general. Hopefully, this will help silence those critics. American farmers are a critical link in national security, and we cannot, as a nation, go back to outdated methods of crop and livestock production for nostalgic or philosophical reasons.

As an example, recently beef has become incredibly popular in the grocery stores. Advances have enabled cattle producers to produce much more beef with less resources than our ancestors could have imagined. For example, a study conducted by Dr. Jude Capper at Washington State University comparing advances in beef production between 1977 and 2007 reveals some significant facts. The average U.S. beef yield per animal increased 28% from 603 pounds in 1977 to 773 pounds in 2007. The total animal population required to produce 1 billion pounds of beef was reduced by 31% in 2007 compared to 1977. As a result of these gains in efficiency, total land area used to produce this beef was reduced by 30% from 1977 to 2007. Water use per billion pounds was reduced by 14%, fossil fuel use by 9% and the total carbon footprint by 18%. In 2019, the average carcass weight per steer was well in excess of 800 pounds. That is possible because of advances in technology and production practices.

On a side note, it is also interesting and encouraging that, when the chips are down, consumers seem to want real meat rather than a fake or lab-grown product. As long as we are blessed to have the system we have and the freedom to produce, the American farmer will rise to the occasion and keep us fed.

While the Extension office is closed to the public at this time, we are still working and want to help you in any way we can. Please call 276-676-6309 if you need anything.

Phil Blevins is an agricultural extension agent in Washington County, Virginia.

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