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We may have become an urban Nation, but we remain an agricultural land. Nearly 70 percent of the United States, exclusive of Alaska, is held in private ownership by millions of individuals. Fifty percent of the United States, 907 million acres, is cropland, pastureland, and rangeland owned and managed by farmers and ranchers and their families. The responsibility for the stewardship of this land lies in the hands of about 4.7 million individuals. This means that 50 percent of the United States is in the hands of less than 2 percent of our citizens.
We rely on these fellow citizens and neighbors to produce the food and fiber we need, and they are exceedingly good at doing so. Today, each acre of cropland produces nearly three times what was produced on the same acre in 1935. This dramatic productivity increase has made food prices lower for Americans than they are for citizens of any other industrial country. It has also allowed the United States to become the world's largest agricultural exporter. This is extremely important to our farmers, since exports account for 20 percent to 30 percent of their income.
The agencies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) largely administer the Federal programs that support America's farmers, ranchers, and foresters. The USDA was founded by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 as the "people's department." Back then, 90 percent of the people were farmers.
As in the past, today's farmers, ranchers, and foresters manage the growth of plants and animals for human use. They grow, harvest,and sell crops. They breed livestock or raise dairy animals. They plant and manage forests – large and small. All these pursuits, along with soil cultivation, define agriculture.
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Last modified: Thursday, 27-Jan-2011 17:24:14 CST