The accepted wisdom within the agriculture community holds that most Americans take farmers for granted, taking notice only to criticize accepted practices or when their abundant food supply is threatened by natural disaster.
So with much of the country's midsection mired in drought, the national news media have rediscovered the men and women who literally bet the farm each year on weather they can't control and prices they don't determine to produce the cornucopia enjoyed by 300 million or so Americans.
It's easy to get caught up in the bad news of the drought, and problems it is creating for livestock producers and dairymen who are having trouble paying inflated feed bills. But an opinion piece by Victor Davis Hanson in the Aug. 21 Wall Street Journal reminded us of the innate productivity of the American farmer, and prompted us to seek a little perspective.
"The mystery is not why we have devastating droughts," he wrote, "but how so few Americans are able to produce so much food."
We have all seen photos of withered cornfields, and might be led to believe famine is at hand. While there's no denying that the drought is severe and will in the short term drive up the cost of groceries in the United States, Americans won't see shortages of their favorite foods this year.
By historical standards, total U.S. corn production this year will be pretty good. This month USDA estimated the crop at 10.8 billion bushels, a 13 percent drop from last year. While it's not a sure thing, if the estimate holds, farmers will harvest the sixth largest crop in the last 10 years, and the eighth largest crop overall since the USDA started keeping records in 1882.
Many food crops have not been impacted by the drought, and are enjoying good years. The USDA estimates the U.S. wheat, rice, dry beans, and potato crops will all be bigger than last year.
While housing, manufacturing, finance and other key sectors of the economy lag, agriculture pushes forward despite a lackluster economy and the worst drought in 54 years.
As Hanson points out, U.S. farmers are among the most ingenious people in the world. They find a way to carry on and succeed in situations where most others would quit. In the process, they free their fellow citizens to pursue other things without fear of hunger.
"The comfortable life of smartphones, reality TV and Facebook seems a birthright only because it is predicated on the talents of Americans who, with little fanfare, put a bounty of food on our tables and the world's."