By CELIA GOULD
For the Capital Press
March 19 was National Ag Day. It was a time to celebrate America's farm and ranch families and the rich agricultural legacy we have right here at home.
American agriculture is nothing short of amazing. We have the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world. That doesn't happen by accident. It's an enormous responsibility to feed our nation and the rest of the planet, but American farmers and ranchers rise to the occasion three meals a day. Along the way, they contribute immeasurably to the American economy.
In Idaho, agriculture is both productive and diverse. Our potatoes are famous, but that's just the beginning. We grow over 185 different commodities, including everything from beef to sugar beets to wine and table grapes. Idaho's farm products are found everywhere. Idaho wheat is an ingredient in Oreos, Wheat Chex, Wheaties and more. Many of the Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Onions hale from the largest onion producing region of the world right along the border of southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon.
In addition to having the largest vegetable seed production area in the world, we also produce many surprising specialty foods, including sturgeon caviar and tilapia. Idaho's unique growing conditions provide for some of the best commodities in the world. Quality is the rule for Idaho agriculture, never the exception.
This year, we commemorate the 150th anniversary of Idaho becoming a U.S. territory. For generations, agriculture ensured our prosperity and sustained us economically and culturally.
Today, agriculture remains Idaho's strongest industry. It is the lifeblood of our rural communities and is still a vibrant part of our urban areas.
In Idaho's territorial days, nearly 90 percent of the population lived on farms. Today, less than 2 percent of our population still works the land.
Most remarkable is that even with fewer farmers, we are actually producing more food than ever before. In fact, if every Idahoan had to eat all the food produced in our state alone, each person would need to eat 250 slices of bread, 44 potatoes, two pounds of cheese, an eight-ounce steak, two onions, two cups of beans and much more every day.
Nationally, agricultural exports have doubled in the past five years. Idaho agricultural exports have been shattering records for the past two years and topped $2.2 billion, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. At least one in 12 American jobs is tied directly to agriculture, and that figure is even larger in Idaho. The success of agriculture's bounty benefits everyone.
Agriculture has to be at the forefront of science and innovation in order to make it in a changing world. In our pursuit of greater efficiency, we have tremendous allies in the nation's land grant universities and in countless agribusinesses. We now are in an era of American agriculture that is more efficient and environmentally conscious than ever before.
Innovation of this scale speaks volumes about the industry's ability to do more with less, and to do so sustainably to provide for the long-term health of all our resources. This innovation isn't just about productivity; it also helps meet the quality and safety expectations of every consumer.
One of the most popular commercials during this year's Super Bowl broadcast was Dodge's resounding tribute to the American farmer. I was touched and encouraged to see how the public received this message with open hearts. That tells me that agriculture hasn't completely disappeared from American's shared character. Farmers and ranchers aren't relics of the past. They are a vibrant part of America woven into every fiber of our daily lives, and they are deserving of our gratitude and respect.
Without a doubt, farmers and ranchers are among the hardest-working people you will ever meet. Their dogged perseverance has made the difference in them being successful despite rising input costs, unpredictable weather, and a changing physical landscape. Farmers and ranchers consider it a tremendous honor to provide the food that ensures our nation's health, happiness and security. They also pass on to new generations an indelible love of the land along with an unshakable faith in the forces that can give life to food and fiber.
I hope you continue to join me -- on National Ag Day and every day -- in honoring and thanking the men and women who have made feeding our state and our world their way of life.
Celia Gould is director of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.