MyStoryYourStory: Farmers are stewards of creation, conservators of life

By Paula Damon

“Good farmers contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges or even knows.” ― Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food


Paula Damon

Paula Damon

When my husband and I moved from New York State to Iowa as newlyweds some 41 years ago, we were struck by the number of farms as far as the eye could see. So transfixed by vast amount of tillable land and livestock operations, I actually took touristy photos of crop rows, corncribs and pole barns.

Even though this many years later I have lived the Midwest more than twice as long as I lived out East, I continue to be intrigued by facts and figures of America’s farm culture.

As many of you probably know, Iowa ranks first in the nation in corn and soybean production. Iowa pork producers raise 28 percent of all U.S. pork. The average size of an Iowa farm is roughly 333 acres – give or take a few.

Iowa has at least 11,000 types of soil, which makes up some of the richest, most productive land in the world.

There are more than 92,000 Iowa farms, totally 30.7 million acres. Harvested acres of corn for grain are 13.7 million acres, producing 2.36 billion bushels at 172 bushels per acre. There are 9.23 million harvested acres of soybeans, yielding 466 million bushels at 50.5 bushels per acre.

The number of cattle and calves in Iowa is 3.90 million head. Hogs on hand total 20 million head; sheep and lambs total 195,000 head.

Iowa’s annual red meat production is more than 6 billion pounds, milk production is at 4.35 billion pounds and the average number of egg layers is 53 million, producing 14.5 billion eggs

Did you know that each year, Iowa farmers put out approximately 8.2 million turkeys, 148,000 pounds of cheese and 1,230 million pounds of wool?

When I first stepped foot in one of Iowa’s neighboring states, South Dakota, I was equally mesmerized by the wide-open spaces. And as I began to travel the Rushmore State, I was struck by seemingly endless acres of crops and grazing land.

The average size of a farm in South Dakota is 1,374 acres. There are 46,000 agriculture producers on 31,800 farms in South Dakota. Comparable to Iowa, annually each S.D. producer raises enough food to feed 155 people in the U.S. and abroad.

South Dakota’s agriculture industry has a $20.9 billion economic impact annually. Farmers and ranchers help drive the state’s economy with more than 19 million acres of cropland and 23 million acres of pastureland.

Agriculture generates 20 percent of S.D.’s economic activity and employs over 80,000 South Dakotans.

Nationally, South Dakota ranks second in alfalfa and sunflowers production, third in oats and flax seed, fourth in hay, fifth in ethanol, sixth in wheat, seventh in corn and eighth in soybeans.

Annually, South Dakota farmers harvest 4.5 million acres of corn, 4.1 million acres of soybeans, 3.6 million acres of hay, 2.7 million acres of wheat, 2.2 million acres of alfalfa, 495,000 acres of sunflowers, 105,000 acres of oats, 60,000 acres of millet (a cereal plant), 11,300 acres of pulse crops (grain legumes).

Some 98 percent of farms in South Dakota are family owned and operated and over 2,500 South Dakota farms have been in the same family for more than 100 years.

Soon it will be fall harvest. Rising from summer slumber, parched, ripe crops will cast aside their thirsty bedding and stand toe-to-toe with devouring combines that will grind their teeth systematically all day and into the night with dust-filled columns of light beaming out ahead.

And too many will open their kitchen cupboards and not really know from where their food comes.


Sources: Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Agricultural Statistics, South Dakota Department of Agriculture

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