The great American food debate

With Americans’ concerns for their health growing and healthcare costs soaring, that dichotomy can trigger intense and highly polarized debates about how farmers and ranchers grow and raise the food we feed our families. And amid the heat of discussion, we often forget that, whether we are homemakers or lawmakers, producers or consumers, providing all Americans healthy choices is a priority for us all.
 

ADVERTISEMENT
Farmers and ranchers can be found in every state in this nation — with more than 2 million farms in operation today. But after a long day in the fields, farmers and ranchers’ first instinct hasn’t been to get out there and talk about what they do. That has been a mistake. And while Americans have become more and more interested in their food, farmers and ranchers haven’t always kept up with the food columnists, television shows, movies and social media where Americans get their news. At the same time, some of the biggest voices out there on food and food production have forgotten to talk to farmers and ranchers along the way.
 
As a result, there has been almost no conversation between those of us who purchase and prepare our food and those of us who grow and raise it. That is why farmers and ranchers need to open a dialogue and tell their stories about how technology and innovation are making healthy choices possible.
 
As Americans resolve to become healthier, American farms and ranches have been getting healthier, with significant achievements in the use of soil, energy and water. Yet these advances are often overlooked.
 
Farmers have reduced the loss of valuable farm soil by 70 percent per bushel over a 20-year period, according to a recent report from a coalition of producer organizations, conservation and environmental groups and others. That same study -- from the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture -- found that corn growers, in particular, have made significant improvements in productivity, with corn yields up 41 percent, and a 37 percent decline in per-bushel land use.
 
Farmers are not alone. American ranchers have been making great strides of their own.
 
Cattlemen have helped reduce their carbon footprint by more than 15 percent in the past 30 years, according to a report from the Journal of Animal Science. And they are creating electricity and fertilizer by recycling the methane and nitrogen by-products of farm waste. In fact, in 2010, they produced enough energy to power 25,000 homes for a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
 
None of this would be possible in the face of unpredictable weather, a shortage in natural resources, and fluctuations in global commodity prices, were it not for the technology created and implemented by farmers and ranchers.
 
The world is relying on American farmers and ranchers to lead the way of continuous improvement. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization states that 70 percent of the world’s additional food needs can be produced only by enhancing existing production methods and developing new technologies.
 
To invite conversation on the future of food and farming, America’s farmers and ranchers will host a dialogue on Capitol Hill today -- the eve of National Agriculture Day, when we traditionally celebrate agriculture and express appreciation for this nation’s farmers and ranchers.
 
When it comes to our food, farmers and ranchers share the values and interests of all Americans. We encourage you to join us in this conversation about how technology not only connects us to our friends and families; it gives our friends and families the food options they need to make healthy choices.
 
Stallman is a rice and cattle producer in Texas, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation and chairman of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.