Farmer in sugar beet field

When we learn about farming in school it often starts with “Old McDonald had a Farm…” and ends with children aware that farming is a job where people have animals and grow food. However, hundreds of acres is not the only difference between a farm and a vegetable garden. Farming is more than hard work, it requires knowledge, experience, and science. The definition of agriculture is “the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food and other products.” As of 2018, 11% of U.S. employment comes from agriculture and related industries, resulting in approximately 22 million U.S. jobs.

Agriculture is a very difficult field (pun intended) and many schools even offer a specialized degree program on the study. Some topics include plant breeding and genetics, soil science, irrigation management, weed and pest prevention, environmental sustainability and much more.

Over the course of history, enhancements in science and technology have greatly impacted the agriculture industry. Early improvements like the invention of the hoe made a significant difference in efficiency and more modern improvements like the use of GPS to improve crop yield has made farming a prescriptive science. These inventions, along with many others, came from scientific research and farmer problem solving.

Did you know that soil needs to be healthy for long term success of crops? Farmers can’t replant the same thing on the same land every year. The necessity of rotating crops and fertilizing to improve soil quality and maintain a healthy environment is just one example of the everyday application of science in farming. Water sampling is also an important aspect of agriculture today. Scientists need to test irrigation water from many sources for bacteria and other pollutants to make sure it is safe for agriculture use.

As equipment technology has improved, farmers have taken advantage of tractors and many other machines to improve the efficiency of farming. In the 1990’s, discoveries like genetic engineering led to the first genetically modified crop. Genetically modified seeds have enhanced capabilities such as higher yields, drought resistance and disease resistance. The agriculture industry can now battle some of the uncontrollable obstacles of nature and weather with science. These technological advances have allowed us to make more food with the same or less resources. We are increasingly able to improve our food supply while also being kinder to the environment.

Today the USDA has many research centers that focus on a variety of topics to ensure continued improvements in agriculture. The USDA currently has research centers dedicated to improving sugar beet and sugar cane yield through weed prevention, managing disease, increase the overall quality and profitability, enhancing the viability of sugar use in biofuels and feedstock, among other things.

With over 7.5 billion people in the world, the need to feed them continues to grow. Farming has always been about feeding people, but science has allowed agriculture growth to outpace population growth and ensure the strength of our food supply. As of 2020, the food and agriculture industries have a combined economic impact of $7.5 trillion on the U.S. economy. “Food and agriculture don’t just ensure American families have food on the table — [farmers] feed the entire economy.”

 

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