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Modern American agriculture includes all 2 million farms

"I respect differences and diversity. I celebrate modern agriculture, close to home and those farming far from the fields I know."

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This week, I received an email from a reader in response to last week’s column on three ways to grow agriculture advocacy. The opening line of the email said: “Does that mean you don't want to hear from people that are not advocates of modern agriculture?”

If you’ve been following along, you know I accept and embrace all types of agriculture. I’m grateful for my ancestors’ tenacity to homestead on the North Dakota prairie, but I’m immensely proud of the advancements we’ve made in the past century. I don’t plan to go back to the way things used to be prior to modern agriculture.

The reader also requested: “And don't use the old line that farmers grow food.”

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I’m always willing to listen, but I think he and I can agree to disagree. Farmers grow food. Farmers grow fuel. Farmers grow fiber. Farmers grow flowers.

For me, being an advocate of modern agriculture encompasses all of agriculture.

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Katie Pinke

Modern agriculture is NOT solely large farms. Modern agriculture is NOT solely one type of farming practice or one type of crop.

You don’t need to be involved in the ins and outs to support modern agriculture. A USDA Economic Research Service report on farming and farm income highlights important aspects on why we all should support modern agriculture.

Modern agriculture includes roughly 2 million farms. Around 89% of those farms are considered small, with gross cash farm income less than $350,000. Those households likely rely on off-farm income. Large family-owned farms account for 3% of farms but 46% of the value of production in the United States. All that is to say, we can all support different types of agriculture and farms. Modern agriculture’s productivity keeps feeding communities, counties and countries.

Today’s modern operations are more productive yet sustainable, meaning they grow more with fewer resources, tripling productivity since the 1940s when half our population lived on farms and in rural areas. Now less than a quarter of the American population lives in a rural area and less than 2% of the American population are involved in modern agriculture production, farming and ranching.

Modern agriculture represents crop and livestock diversity. While the USDA report highlights the important value of cash receipts to farmers, every farm can find a niche or diversify their crops and animals. On our farm, I’ve seen barley, oats, durum, spring wheat, winter wheat, field peas, canola, mustard, black beans, pinto beans, silage corn, field corn, sweet corn, sunflowers and soybeans grown in my lifetime. During a short time, I worked in California agriculture, which is home to 400 different crops. Diversity of modern agriculture can and should be celebrated without animosity toward our differences.

I respect differences and diversity. I celebrate modern agriculture, close to home and those farming far from the fields I know.

This week marks seven years since I started this column in Agweek. When Agweek reporter Jonathan Knutson retired last summer, he continued his Plain Living column, which allows me to take off a week each month when his column runs. Many of you have followed me through hundreds of columns. Thank you. You don’t always agree with my ideas or opinions, and you let me know when my writing is better some weeks than others. You’ve laughed and cried with me as I’ve shared stories about rural life, faith and family values and raising my kids. I’m grateful for the familiar feeling of this community. I encourage you to advocate for agriculture, and respect and celebrate diversity and differences in the industry.

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Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

Related Topics: PINKE POSTRURAL LIFE
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