In classrooms and communities across the country on March 25, Americans young and old honored National Agriculture Day with an array of celebrations from region to region. That’s appropriate and essential. As CEO of the familiar Butterball brand, we rely on and value family farms for grain that feeds our turkeys and the farmers that raise them.
And while the nation’s farms continue to shrink, the 2.1 million that remain are strong, bigger than before, more efficient, employing new technology, realizing higher yields – and alive.
That’s why all of us should join in celebrating the critical role agriculture plays in feeding our 317 million people and many of the world’s 7.22 billion people. At the same time, we must appreciate the vital necessity of maintaining small, mid-sized and corporate farms and ranches.
Indeed, this is the appropriate time to relate the countless stories of how and the myriad ways that American agriculture touches our lives. What, in particular, should we grasp? Among other things, we should:
· Know how our food and fiber products are created.
· Value agriculture’s essential role in sustaining a strong economy.
· Realize the role agriculture plays in delivering safe, abundant and affordable products.
· Recognize and consider career opportunities in the agriculture sector as well as the food and fiber industry.
National Agriculture Day always features an essay contest. What would you write? Here are some thought starters especially geared to you who live in the major turkey-producing states of Arkansas, Missouri and North Carolina, where Butterball also has a strong presence.
Jobs: In every industry, jobs support our economic growth and the animal agriculture industry alone supports 1.8 million jobs nationally, including more than 5,500 in Butterball-related turkey farms in three major states. Think about what those jobs contribute to the fabric of American life.
Output: Animal Ag provides $346 billion in total economic production, and in Arkansas, Missouri and North Carolina, Butterball poultry production is an estimated $261 million. What does that equal per person in terms of food to maintain our sustenance, and what would that do to our well-being without that nutrition?
Income: This sector adds $60 billion to American household income. In Arkansas, Missouri and North Carolina wages for Butterball employees and farmers total approximately $250 million. What does that money support and buy? What does that amount mean to saving for life’s big events, including retirement?
Taxes: Animal agriculture led to the payment of $21 billion in income and property taxes. For the Butterball-based poultry industry in our three states in particular, the comparable figure is $1.7 million. What do these tax dollars finance that benefits us and our communities?
The future of agriculture is bright. By one account, more than 95 capital projects are underway within the poultry industry. Their total value: More than $1 billion. In northeast Arkansas, for instance, Peco Foods Inc. of Tuscaloosa, Ala., is building a new $165 million integrated poultry operation in counties with jobless rates well above the national average. It will be a huge economic lift to the region.
What I hope these facts and figures deliver is an awareness that American agriculture is invaluable to our lives. So, if you see a familiar farmer or rancher today or members of their families (and especially turkey farmers), say “thanks.”
In fact, let’s all celebrate the American agriculture community with a knowing nod of thanks.
(Editor’s note: Rod Brenneman is president and CEO of Butterball, LLC, headquartered in Garner, N.C., which employs approximately 6,000.)