In a country as large as the United States, the diversification of the economy often causes us to forget the fundamental building blocks — like agriculture, for example.
Agriculture is one of the largest industries in the country, with an estimated 2 million farms productive and covering 900 million acres, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture.
Although this industry is highly mechanized, its primary engine is farmers, whom we celebrate and honor this October 12, National Farmers Day.
Here are five mindblowing facts you may not have known about our farmers and the industry:
An adult, family-owned workforce
According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, the average age of the U.S. farmer is over 58 years old. Of all U.S. farmers, 36% are women, and 56% are family-owned and operated farms.
Until the 20th century, almost everyone was a farmer in America
In the first U.S. census of 1790, the new nation’s population was about four million people, almost all living in the countryside or small towns and villages, and 90% of them reporting their occupation as farmers. In the 1820 census, Americans discovered that the population of the United States had more than doubled to 9.6 million people, 1.5 million of whom were slaves. There were 61 towns and cities with more than 2,500 inhabitants, and nearly 9 million people, or 93% of the population, lived outside the cities. Agricultural exports amounted to about $42 million a year, accounting for about two-thirds of total exports.
In 1840, when the industry was accelerating in the Northeast and cities were beginning to expand rapidly, the U.S. population was just over 17 million. More than 9 million people were farmers or about 69% of the total labor force.
Agriculture contributed $1.109 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2019
This is the equivalent of 5.2% of the national GDP. U.S. farm production contributed $136.1 billion of this amount, about 0.6% of GDP. Agriculture’s overall contribution to GDP is actually greater than 0.6 percent because agriculture-related sectors rely on agricultural inputs to contribute value added to the economy.
Farmers guarantee the ingredients for classic American dishes, crayons and help bees survive
Without farmers, we wouldn’t have burgers and fries. About 60% of Idaho’s potato crop is turned into fries, tater tots, and other fried delicacies. A single steer can produce about 720 quarter-pound patties, and in Nebraska, the nation’s leading producer of commercial red meat, cattle outnumber Nebraskans by nearly four to one.
Plus, farmers guarantee crayon production thanks to soybean production — one acre of soybeans can produce as many as 82,358 crayons — and the cotton garments that fill your closet.
A bonus? States like North Dakota, with nearly half a million bee colonies, ensure the survival of our pollinators, thanks to the hard work of beekeepers and the critical winter habitat that farmers and ranchers provide for wildlife.
Depression is a silent epidemic among farmers
Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also shown that rural areas had the highest suicide rates of any geographical area of the country from 2001 to 2015, a period when the overall national suicide rate rose steadily. A study published in the Journal of Rural Health last year found that suicide rates among farmers and agriculture workers were more prevalent than homicide rates from 1992 to 2010, PBS NewsHour reported.
The findings also showed that smaller farm operations were particularly at risk; in those with fewer than 11 employees, the odds of suicide were 1.7 higher than homicide.