Editor's note: The following letter was written by Brian Waddingham, executive director of the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers.
I have had the opportunity to speak at several FFA banquets over the course of the last two months, which has been a wonderful experience. Visiting with these young men and women prior to their banquets is a real treat for me after having been an ag education teacher and FFA advisor for seven years.
The most exciting part is to hear how optimistic these young people are about the future of agriculture in Iowa. The FFA program prepares young people for the more than 300 careers agriculture facilitates. While the majority of students I talk to are looking forward to a career in ag business, there are multiple students who plan to attend college for either a two or four year degree and then return home to the family farm.
By 2050, world will need more than double the amount of food
It's said that by the year 2050, the world will need more than double the amount of food we do now; but keep in mind that an estimated 963 million people do not have enough to eat today. If we are going to be successful in meeting the goal of feeding a hungry world, we are going to need to rely on technology to get it done. We will need great improvements in animal nutrition and higher yielding corn and soybean varieties, all while having a positive effect on the environment.
Today less than 2% of the U.S. population is involved with production agriculture, which means that most consumers are at least two generations removed from the farm. One bright spot for the future of agriculture rests with Iowa's 12,300 FFA members from 220 different high schools. Although the majority of those students will not end up on the farm with cows, sows and plows, they have been provided with the foundation to become a leader in the field of agriculture.
Wide variety of ag-related careers are available today
Whether they go on to a career in aquaculture, horticulture, genetics or biotechnology, they'll have a hand in feeding the world.
I share with you the following essay written by Ms. Nora Faris, a 9th grade student and FFA member from Concordia, Missouri. Her essay won this year's National Ag Day Written Essay Contest. A freshman in high school, she already understands the important role agriculture plays in the success of our nation and the world. Who knows – maybe we'll see Ms. Faris on the cover of a magazine as one of "America's Most Valuable People" in the not so distant future.
"America's Most Valuable People"
An essay by 9th grade FFA student Nora Faris
Their faces peer out at me from the glossy cover of a magazine, the bold headline touting them as "America's Most Valuable People". Among their ranks are political pundits, ingenious inventors, humble humanitarians and a host of other charismatic characters. Their varied accomplishments reflect a time-tested tradition of hard work and good ol' American ingenuity, but their lofty title as our country's "most valuable" citizens makes me wonder.
Would Americans perish from "technological withdrawal" if Steve Jobs discontinued the iPad? No. Would a national crisis ensue if Lady GaGa retired from performing? I don't think so. If Mark Zuckerberg terminated Facebook, would the world as we know it cease to exist? I think not.
Then it occurs to me: America's "Most Valuable People" aren't found on magazine covers. Rather, they are found in farm fields, feed stores and livestock barns. They are American farmers, a group whose labors, although largely unrecognized, are vital to the lives of all U.S. citizens, at least the ones who eat.
In this modern age of supermarkets and 24-hour fast food restaurants, it has become increasingly hard for the American public to fathom where their food comes from. Long gone are the days when a chicken dinner meant selecting a bird from the henhouse. Today's consumer, faced with an endless array of choices, selects their poultry with little knowledge of its origin, unaware of the work that went into producing and dispatching the bird. They fail to realize the vital connection between farm and food, between production and consumption. Little do they realize that without our nation's strong agricultural infrastructure of farmers, their grocery store shelves would be bare.
As America's population continues to grow, a farmer's job is to keep up with the escalating demand for food. They will have to play multiple roles in their quest to provide nutritious, affordable products for more than 300 million Americans. Farmers will become inventors, developing devices that will improve crop yields and abolish dated farming practices. They will become delegates for agriculture, lobbying for the advancement of farming in their legislatures. Most importantly, farmers will become naturalists, determining the best solutions for responsible soil, water, and resource management.
Although it's unlikely that a soybean farmer from Kansas will ever steal Kim Kardashian's VIP publicity, their true importance to their fellow citizens cannot be denied. American farmers' dedication to maintaining an unrivaled level of food security makes them our nation's "Most Valuable People", even if they drive a Case instead of a Cadillac.