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Agriculture is critical to our nation

Westley B. Drake

By Westley B. Drake

Dawn …. Few things are as predictable as the sunrise. As I look out of my kitchen window, I can see the sun slowly rising above the trees on the back of the farm. I cannot help but smile and thank God for allowing me to witness this beautiful display of His creation. I briefly turn on the TV and see a headline on the news related to the thousands of people who are either out of work, or are working from home due to the recent coronavirus outbreak known as COVID-19. As I change the channel to another station I see images of empty shelves in stores and people frantically shopping for food. I turn the TV back off because those headlines serve as a reminder that it is time for me to go to work.

Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security identified agriculture as one of 16 critical infrastructure industries that have a special responsibility to maintain their normal work schedules during this time of national emergency. So like my fellow farmers, I pull on my work boots, grab my hat, and head out of the door to begin a new day in our unpredictable world.

Did you ever think you would see the day when you walked into a grocery store only to discover that they are sold out of everything that you came to buy? That happened to many Americans for the first time last week. I bet many of these people also began to wonder for the first time, “Where does my food come from?”

This week we are celebrating National Agriculture Week and it could not have come at a better time. The importance of this week is to educate Americans about agriculture as they continue to become further disconnected from farming. In fact, over 85 percent of all Americans are at least two generations away from the farm. One of the most intriguing facts is that 2.6 million Americans are farmers and ranchers, and they collectively produce enough food for all 327 million people in the United States. In addition, about 23 percent of all farm commodities grown in the U.S. are exported to foreign nations. Even though the United States does import food from foreign nations, the amount is far less than what we export. Not only are America’s farmers the most efficient in the world, but they also produce the largest and safest food supply in the world as well. This large supply of food is the main reason why Americans enjoy the cheapest food in the world. In fact, the average U.S. citizen spends only 10 percent of their disposable income to pay for food, which is the lowest of any country.

From the field to the processing facility, from the grocery store to everywhere in between, the agriculture industry creates 22 million jobs or about 1 in 12 jobs in the United States. This combination of highly skilled workers ensures a safe and steady food supply is available for our own citizens as well as other people around the world.

During the recent outbreak of COVID-19, empty shelves in sections of grocery stores are becoming a common occurrence. The empty shelves are not a signal of a tight food supply in the U.S., however they do represent the strain that is being placed on the distribution sector of the agriculture industry. Truck drivers, warehouse workers, and grocery store employees are working extremely hard to ensure that vital food products are being delivered and placed in grocery stores in a timely manner. It has been difficult for grocery stores to keep highly demanded items in stock due to consumers buying more food and supplies than usual in an effort to stock up their homes. Over time, the panicked purchases by consumers will decrease and a sufficient supply of bread, milk, and meat will return to the shelves in grocery stores nationwide.

I have faith in God, our government leaders and our great medical system that the United States of America will overcome the COVID-19 virus. Over time, all aspects of our daily lives will return back to normal, and many will look back at this time in history as one of our nation’s brightest moments.

America’s farmers will probably not receive any special recognition for continuing to raise the crops and livestock that feed our nation during uncertain times like these. However, America’s farmers are the most productive farmers in the history of the world, and there’s no recognition that will top that. I am proud to be an American farmer and while the future may seem uncertain at times, I always rest assured that the sun will come up again tomorrow.

I hope you will join me in celebrating National Agriculture Week!

WESTLEY B. DRAKE is a local farmer and agriculture advocate from Newsoms. He can be reached at peanutfarmer9@yahoo.com.