This week's Agweek cover story kicks off a three-part series featuring one of American agriculture's most important - and sometimes overlooked - assets: Part-time farmers, or ag producers pulling double duty by working off-farm jobs in addition to farming or ranching.

There's nothing new about part-time farmers, of course. But their importance clearly seems to be growing. Low commodity prices continue to depress farm profits, increasing the need for off-farm income and, in many cases, employer-provided health insurance.

At the same time, the challenges of becoming a full-time farmer - particularly with the continued high cost of expenses including land, equipment and inputs - make it difficult and often impossible for part-time farmers to expand their operations to the point they potentially could give up their off-farm jobs.

A few statistics, mentioned in this week's story, help to make the point:

Of America's 3.4 million farmers, nearly two out of three work off the farm. And a whopping 40% of all farmers work 200 or more days off the farm every year, according to the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture. And 60% of farmers receive their health insurance through off-farm jobs, according to other statistics.

The series, reported and written by Agweek's Jonathan Knutson, features three farmers who illustrate many of the national trends. This spring, he invited readers to nominate part-time farmers for the series. He received many outstanding nominations, from which he carefully selected the three who are profiled and also featured weekly on AgweekTV.

We're impressed with the energy, determination, and commitment to agriculture all three bring to their multi-faceted roles.

Week one features a Stephen, Minn. male farmer who commutes 120 miles daily, Monday through Friday, to his full-time job. Part two, to be published Aug. 19, looks at a Badger, Minn. man who's a full-time ag banker and part-time farmer. Part three, to run Aug. 26, features a young St. Thomas, N.D. woman who balances part-time farming and her full-time agronomist position.

And to part-time farmers and ranchers, we say this: We recognize the challenges you face. We appreciate the contributions you make.

And we hope the series will help to enhance public awareness of how much you add to American agriculture.

To read the first part of the series, click here.