Most Americans Need a Better Appreciation of Agriculture
Rice Research Station/Southwest Region
As this is being written in late July, rice harvest is well underway in southwest Louisiana. This has been an extremely wet growing season, both in terms of volume and frequency of rain. At the H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station, we had measurable rainfall in over half of the days in June and July.
Many people might think that rice likes rain because it is grown here as an irrigated crop. However, rice is typically negatively impacted by rainfall which (because of cloud cover) decreases radiant energy to the plant. Also, very wet conditions facilitate disease development, and rain and wind can actually cause sterility in rice florets. In spite of all of this, current rice yields are decent and initial reports indicate that the quality of the crop is promising. Our first research plot yields, both at the station and from one off-station location, seem to be similar to what we are hearing from production fields, good but not great.
We have also had some recent positive news in the rice industry with the signing of the rice phytosanitary agreement with China which will allow U.S. rice to be exported to that country. One of the facts that came out with this announcement had people amazedis that the people of China consume the total annual U.S. rice production every 15 days. This illustrates how big a potential customer of U.S. rice this country could become.
While our producers are currently focused on harvest, they are also keeping an eye on Washington, D.C., where a new farm bill is being discussed. Theoretically, a new farm bill should be completed in 2018. Everyone is hopeful that both houses of Congress can agree on a new farm bill that is harmonious enough with the president’s policies for him to sign into law. Plus it is essential that the new bill provide rice producers with the safety net that allows for successful production into the future.
Most Americans play little attention to farm bill negotiations. The typical attitude is that the farm bill is something important only to farmers. This is unfortunate. A good farm bill that provides stability to U.S. agricultural production is one of the major reasons U.S. consumers have the cheapest, safest, most nutritious and most abundant food supply in the world.
I have had the opportunity to travel to more than 60 countries in my career and have developed a pretty good understanding and appreciation of what the food situation is in this country compared to others. Typically, Americans spend less than 10% of their income on food. Contrast this with many developing countries where 40-50% of income is spent on food.
I was in Zimbabwe a few years back, where there are long-term critical food shortages. This country was at one time one of the most productive and proficient food-producing countries on the African continent. Because of political turmoil, however, most of the land is sitting idle, and inflation is rampant. I stopped by a supermarket in Harare, the capital and largest city, and there was basically no food on the shelves. In fact, the store owner had started putting firewood on the shelves so he had something available to sell. Contrast this with the abundance of items available in a typical American supermarket, where it seems like new products are available every day. In fact, most Americans become irritated when they are in a supermarket and one item on their list is not on the shelf.
This proliferation of abundant food products is only possible because of the proficiency of the U.S. agriculture industry. While as stated earlier, the farm bill is an important component here, many other components play a role in the success of this industry. First and foremost is the hard work, skill and dedication of U.S. agricultural producers.
Having traveled the world, I have had an opportunity to meet producers in many different and diverse agricultural production areas. I can state without reservation that the producers in this country are second to none. While I am certainly a little biased, I also think that the U.S. public research sector plays a huge role in the success of U.S. agriculture. Also critical here is the research and development in the private sector. The ongoing development of new herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, plant growth regulators, etc. by the crop protectant chemical companies is of utmost importance in the private sector. In addition, farm implement companies are continuously improving the equipment used in agriculture to improve the efficiency of U.S. crop production.
The U.S. food processing companies are also to be credited for the success of food availability and diversity in this country. New products and uses of food products are continuously available. As well, this industry also has significantly improved the shelf life and storage success of our different food products.
What also should be noted is that all of these components of our agricultural industry continue to make improvements in the sustainability of their endeavors. This should insure the success and longevity of U.S. food production well into the future.
Bottom-line is that more Americans need a better appreciation of agriculture.
This project was partially supported by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Permission granted August 15, 2017, by B. Leonards (LA Farm & Ranch) to republish article on www.lsuagcenter.com.
Major rice producing states in the United States.