Still plenty to celebrate in agriculture

Monday, March 20, 2006

Some folks might be upset about a first day of spring that looks like today. Virtually everything has ground to a halt with the heavy snowfall -- and you may even be reading this a day or too late, thanks to the difficulty of delivering the newspaper over the Gazette's wide circulation area.

But anyone who makes a living by coaxing a crop out of the ground isn't complaining. Even with the overnight snow, McCook is still more than 1.21 inches of moisture below normal, and we'll have to get a lot of snow to catch up.

Always challenging, farming in the Republican River Valley is being made even more difficult by the need to reduce water usage enough to meet our obligation with Kansas.

There are a lot of difficult decisions to be made. Some farmers are taking advantage of programs to take cropland out of production, and others are outright selling their water rights to the state, which then gives the water to Kansas. Many must be considering changing crops -- or, sadly, occupations.

But agriculture continues to be the lifeblood of our region, and will continue to be far into the future. Farmers and agribusiness people will adapt, survive and thrive, as they always have done.

Today, the first day of spring, is National Agriculture Day, the focus point on National Ag Week, March 19-25.

There's plenty to celebrate. Check out today's special Ag Week section, pages 17-24.

For instance:

* Nebraska agriculture contributes nearly $12 billion to Nebraska's economy each year.

* Twenty percent of all Nebraskans are employed in farm or farm-related jobs.

* Nebraska's farms and ranches utilized 45.7 million acres -- 93 percent of the state's total land area.

And it's not just Nebraska. Nationwide:

* Today's farmer feeds about 129 people in the United States and abroad; in 1960, that number was 25.8.

* U.S. consumers spend about 9 percent of their income on food, compared to 11 percent in the United Kingdom, 17 percent in Japan, 27 percent in South Africa and 53 percent in India.

* Farmers and ranchers provide food and habitat for 75 percent of the nation's wildlife.

Of course, we owe much of the improvement to technology; the irrigation systems produced by McCook's Valmont plant being a prime example.

Today's combines can harvest 900 bushels of corn an hour, and in the 1930s, a farmer could haves about 100 bushels of corn a day.

Computer maps and satellites enable farmers to use less water and chemicals for a higher quality, higher yielding crop, as well as improving the overall efficiency of their production operations.

And, agriculture promises to reduce our dependence on foreign oil through ethanol, like that produced by Trenton Agri Products, and biodiesel.

Congratulations to everyone involved in agriculture on this National Agriculture Day and National Agriculture Week.

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