Ag Instructor Vic Martin: Independence Day and Agriculture

Great Bend Tribune
Published July 9, 2017

Rather than discuss water erosion today, let’s take a detour in honor of Independence Day.  When we think of July 4, we think of the great generals, soldiers, wars, and the sacrifice that went into establishing this country and keeping it secure for 241 years.  For this column, we will briefly consider how agriculture has played a vital role in our history.  This column has discussed Presidents who farmed and the importance of the USDA, Land-Grant Universities, Extension and so on to the development and security of the country.  Why was/is agriculture so important in our existence?

For security, it’s extremely important for a country to possess and have the ability to utilize natural resources and to be blessed with having them.  The U.S. possesses an abundance of natural resources.  In addition to fossil fuels and mineral wealth, we are blessed with abundant good to prime farmland and a climate in many places suitable for crop production.  One of the greatest benefits we have is being third largest country by landmass, allowing us a diversity of climate for food production.  Additionally, as the country acquired more land, eventually stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, this land needed populated and needed people to work the land which helped propel an influx of immigrants from across the globe looking for opportunity.  All of this resulted in booming agricultural production and a nation that could not only maintain security by being able to feed itself but eventually help feed the world.  But more went into this than land and resources.  That something else was people.

It isn’t that people in agriculture are better than other people but there are traits common to those in crop and livestock production in order to be successful.  Self-sufficiency, self-reliance, independence, persistence, a sense of community and other related traits go along with farming and ranching.  These traits help produce a society that can move forward, solve problems, value individual freedoms while helping each other and take care of and defend itself.  Even though only a small percentage of our population makes its living directly off the land and that many growing up farming and ranching leave the land these traits are part of who they are and go with them.  It isn’t an accident that Fortune 500 companies look for people with a farm background and ties to 4-H and FFA.  One last item on people, agriculture, and the U.S.

We have benefitted as a nation from singular individuals who made a huge difference in agriculture and therefore our country. George Washington Carver a former slave who developed alternative crops like peanuts and soybeans, and helped develop techniques to improve depleted soils among other things.  Eli Whitney, the inventor of a practical cotton gin.  John Deere, whose invention of the first practical steel moldboard plow allowed for the development of the prairie as America’s breadbasket.  Cyrus McCormick, who played a huge role in the development of the first practical reaper.  Roswell Garst who developed hybrid seedcorn and anyone driving around the countryside knows how important this was.  Norman Borlaug, the man responsible for the Green Revolution.  And this doesn’t include the contributions of many of the Founding Fathers.

There is much more such as the value of agriculture in the areas of fuel and fiber production. But finally and perhaps most importantly, the ability of agriculture to feed a nation, and its allies, with an ever decreasing percentage of the population, allowed for the development of first the industrial giant the country became followed by the technological age we are in now.

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