Free to Eat in the USA!

With this year’s crop finally in the ground and long summer days upon us, one of my favorite holidays, Independence Day, is quickly approaching.  The 4th of July gets me thinking about all things American – apple pie, family gatherings, the Stars and Stripes, ice cold Coca-Cola, and fireworks.  (What summer holiday would be complete without copious amounts of colorful explosives?!?)


Independence Day also gives me the opportunity to reflect on why I am thankful to be both a citizen AND farmer in this great country.  While it can be easy to get engulfed in pessimistic views, the United States is full of opportunities and freedoms that many parts of the world do not get to enjoy.  American agriculture is often portrayed in a negative light, but many people fail to notice that it plays a noteworthy role in those very privileges.  Since the “average” American consumer has little to no connection to those of us who produce our nation’s bounty, it becomes more important for each of us to be willing to tell our story.

American citizens, as consumers, have come to expect high levels of choice and availability of products.  Because of those expectations, agriculture is one of this country’s largest industries.  According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, more than 21 million American workers produce, process and sell the nation’s food and fiber.  They also state that today’s farmers produce 262% more food with 2% fewer inputs (labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, etc.), compared with 1950.  Farmers work very hard to produce high-quality, marketable products, which allows us to have one of the safest and most abundant food supplies in the world.  This allows households to have more disposable income as only 6.8% is spent on food.  This can be compared to approximately 15% in Europe and as high as 45% in Pakistan.

American agriculture is also very diverse.  Farmers across the country raise everything from fruits, vegetable, meat, and milk for food, to cotton for clothing, corn for ethanol, and even eggs for incubation of vaccines. There are more products and by-products directly from agriculture than one can truly fathom.  This product diversity allows consumers to freely choose what kind of lifestyle they want to follow, whether it is carnivorous, gluten-free, vegetarian, pescetarian, or even the extreme vegan. Thanks to American Farmers, products for all of these lifestyles are affordable AND attainable.

Though it is often overlooked, farmers are also excellent stewards of the land.  They habitually employ practices that concentrate on conservation and preservation of natural resources.  Many methods are utilized while keeping soil, air, and water quality in mind.  The environment is how farmers make their living, so, of course, they do what is necessary to care for it.

On the 4th of July I’ll be attending a picnic with my family, eating an all-beef hotdog served up on a soft bun made from regular white wheat flour.  You may be having a vegan soydog on an organic, gluten-free hotdog bun.  Either way, appreciate your options and thank a farmer!

Image Credit: JDmoar

Are We Planting Seeds for the Future of Agriculture?

It’s planting season. The central theme at the Bauman house in the months of May and June has traditionally been planting! Everything in our family life is arranged around that central theme. No social engagements can be committed to because of it and all meals are planned for and around it. In short, my schedule is “the” schedule. And really, can life get any better that that?

But, this year, planting has taken a back seat to another important event: high school graduation! There is a graduation gown hanging on the bedroom door de-wrinkling and college mail laying all over the place. We have been to the last band concert, the last vocal performance, the last debate banquet, and the last national honor society banquet. We’ve been to the last conference and we worked the last post-prom party. (Not to worry, somewhere in there I have planted a few acres!) Our fourth, and final, graduate is busy planning his future.


Throughout this month and into the next, there are thousands more young South Dakotan men and women graduating from high school. Some are from farm backgrounds; all of them, whether they know it or not, are affected by AGRICULTURE. It’s our state’s largest industry and touches, in some way, everything and everyone in South Dakota. Just like at our house, those students are plotting a course for their futures. Will they enter the adult work force right out of the gate? Will they study online or enroll at a technical school? Will they head off to college? What course of study will they take? Will their choices lead them to remain in South Dakota? At our house, the decision of where to attend college and what to study has been a difficult one.

During college visits here in South Dakota, we learned that no matter what college you may choose, or the major you declare, the future job opportunities that we heard about all revolved, in some capacity, around agriculture. This was a fact that our student found quite surprising. When others discover that fact, will they be pleased, or disappointed?   Do they believe there are ample opportunities for them in agriculture, and in South Dakota?   And, more importantly, is there?

South Dakota farmers have aged, many farmers are now part-timers, and farms have increased in size while the number of farming operations has reduced. The 1980’s slump in the ag economy spelled hard times for agriculture in the state and pushed many out of production ag. Some of us who did survive it found ourselves discouraging our kids from coming back home to farm, hoping to spare them the economic hardships we had undergone.

It seems obvious to us that the world still needs to be fed, yet there appears to be a complete disconnect between the American public and where their food comes from. Those students who have participated in 4-H and FFA have a much clearer understanding than most, but, I wonder, who will come after us? Is the current agriculture career field enticing to our graduates? Have we done our part to create a setting that encourages their desire to work, live, and play in South Dakota? Are our actions continuing to create significant ag prospects for them?

According to South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture, Lucas Lentch, there is opportunity in agriculture in South Dakota. He reminds the present generation of ag industry participants that agriculture is continuing to evolve and that the need for powerful, creative minds is great. He prompts us to embrace these changes and to welcome the new.

Here is a little preview of what to expect from the future ag industry population and the American consumer. Those born between the years 1985-2004 are referred to as Generation Y. These “Millennials” have a “think” mentality and are interconnected with access to — and the mastery of — many “devices.” They are great multi-taskers, are technological geniuses, and function with constant electronic stimuli. This age group is socially inclusive, socially conscious, and supportive of the green movement.

As I watch my high school graduate cross the stage and receive his well-earned diploma today, I will wonder, will he choose to work in the ag industry some day? Will he stay in South Dakota?

If he does, will we be ready for him?