The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced many families to endure unprecedented hardship, but it has also forced many to recognize the essential role many industries play in the U.S., including agriculture.

“We get caught up on everything on a day-to-day basis and we take things for granted, because they’re always available to us,” AgriLife Extension Agent Corrie Bowen said.

In honor of the hard work of farmers and ranchers across the U.S., this year’s theme for National Ag Day, celebrated March 23, was “Food Brings Everyone to the Table.” The 2021 event marked the 48th anniversary of the celebration, and the fifth year it was publicly recognized by the U.S. President, according to Agday.org.

Food and supply shortages seen in the U.S. during the early months of the pandemic made many realize the enormous impact agriculture has on normal citizens’ everyday lives. One U.S. farmer produces “food and fiber” for 155 people, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture. Annually, Texas’ food and fiber sectors account for about $100 billion of economic value.

“Agriculture’s impact is positive, but as of late farmers and ranchers are continuously playing defense on every front from farm practices to securing safety nets,” United Ag Grain Merchandiser Lindsey Bowers said. “Much of this need for defense stems from just misinformation and misunderstandings.”

Texas also has the most farms out of any state in the U.S., totaling about 248,000 farms across 127 million acres of land, according to Texas Farm Bureau. Of the state’s ag operations, 98.5 percent of them are run by individuals, not corporations, as of 2013 data from TDA.

Texas is a top producer of cattle, calves, cotton, hay, horses and more, according to TDA. Some of Wharton County’s main crops, such as corn, sorghum and wheat are among Texas’ biggest commodities.

“Wharton county contributes … in a significant way through our livestock, grain, and cotton operations to name just a few,” Bowers said.

Besides being a powerhouse industry for the state, agriculture is unique because of its versatility and values, Bowen said. The work that goes into producing crops, running a farm, raising animals or an ag business is a combination of math, science, engineering and more.

“There is no better ingenuity than farmer ingenuity,” Bowen said.

As the world changes, farmers and ranchers have had to adapt in many ways, as have other industries. Changes in technology, demand, the economy and government policies can have immense ripple effects on the daily lives of local producers, not to mention challenges from weather, pests and market prices.

Bowers and Bowen agreed that learning about agriculture is important. If you want to learn more about agriculture, the best thing you can do is to talk to a local producer.

“If you have questions about agriculture, ask a farmer,” Bowen said. “I don’t know any farmers who wouldn’t love to take the time to explain what they do.”

“I’d encourage those that  have questions about where or how your food or clothes get from the farm to you to ask a farmer,” Bowers said.

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