Tuesday, March 8 is National Agriculture Day. Much has changed since University of Minnesota grad, Don Neth, started this day to honor agriculture more than 40 years ago. Back then, talk about agriculture focused on "the farm problem" and what to do with surpluses. Today the surpluses are gone, and some are suggesting this might be the Golden Age of Agriculture.
We are living in a time of record land prices and good profits from agriculture. Today agriculture employs 14 percent of the U.S. workforce and agricultural graduates have multiple job offers. There is an increased recognition of the importance of farmers and food. Even Bill Gates, the second-richest person in the world, is now devoting his wealth toward improving agricultural productivity.
Polls show strong support for agriculture. Ninety-five percent of Americans say they believe it is important to grow food domestically. And more than 80 percent of Minnesotans say they have a positive view of agriculture in the state.
The temptation on National Agriculture Day is to sit back, decide things are going well and enjoy listening to the good things being said. The challenge is to appreciate the compliments while continuing the hard work that brought agriculture to where it is today.
One of those challenges is educating consumers. Many Minnesotans and most Americans are three, four or five generations away from a family connection to a farm or a farmer. University of Minnesota Extension educators working in farm-to-school programs frequently discover students who know about french fries, but have no idea what a potato looks like. Telling the story of how food is produced and what farmers do has never been more important than it is today.
Not only do we need to teach consumers about farming, but those of us who work in agriculture need to continually upgrade our knowledge. Food production is a technology business today. Guidance and GPS tools help put the crop in the field and micro-controllers move food safely from the field to the plate. One reason new agricultural graduates are in such high demand is they have science smarts and technology skills. They will learn that skill development does not stop at graduation.
Agricultural careers require continual updating of skills and knowledge. That is one reason why we see such high participation in Extension programs that bring the latest knowledge to farmers and agricultural professionals. It is also the reason that the new agricultural research discoveries that solve problems for farmers are so important today.
National Agriculture Day on March 8, 2012, is a day to celebrate the success of American agriculture and reflect on what will be needed in the future. The University of Minnesota is committed to providing the research-based information farmers need to succeed—on National Agriculture Day as well as the other 364 days of the year.
For more information on how University of Minnesota Extension supports agriculture, visit www.extension.umn.edu/Agriculture.