Each day of your life, you pick up a fork or spoon and eat. Most all of us eat at least three times a day, but do you ever think about where all of your food — and the food everybody else eats — comes from?
For some, the answer may be from my freezer or from my pantry, because it is food that they have raised in their garden, or meats that they have raised and processed.
But for most of America, the answer is the grocery store. But how did it get to the store, and where did it all start?
The answer for nearly all of it is the soil. Almost every bite you take, each and every day, started with the soil.
Think about what you had for breakfast, lunch and dinner yesterday, and try to pick out one thing that didn’t benefit from good healthy soils. When you take a bite of Wheaties in the morning, do you think about the grain farmer who raised the wheat, or the dairy farmer who produced the milk?
If you have a Big Mac with fries for lunch, do you think about where the lettuce and pickles and potatoes were raised, or how many people were involved in getting that beef patty onto your sandwich?
Our food system is amazing in the U.S. You can walk down the aisles of any grocery store and find just about anything you want. It is by far the safest food supply in the world, but it still all starts with healthy soils.
From April 29 until May 6, conservation districts all across the country are celebrating Soil and Water Stewardship Week, and this year’s theme is “Soil to Spoon.”
Without healthy, productive soils those grocery aisles would be pretty bare, wouldn’t they? So who takes care of the soil and keeps it productive? American farmers — and what they do is pretty amazing.
For just a little perspective, let’s go back in time. Due to many factors, the number of beef cattle in the U.S. right now is just about the same as it was in the early 1950s — about 90 million head.
The number of acres of corn planted has grown some in the past few years, and this years’ prospective acres report says we’re going to plant even more, but still not as many acres as in 1937 when a little more than 97 million acres were in corn.
The difference is in our production methods. In 1952, the average yield for Ohio corn was right around 55 bushels/acre. Last year it was 158 bushels, with many producers going over 200.
In 1952, our cattle nationwide, were producing about 10 billion pounds of beef per year. In 2011, the total was more than 26 billion pounds. Genetic improvements in both plants and animals have evolved tremendously since then, but how are these numbers possible when we’re using the same soil that was here 60 or 70 years ago?
Again, the answer lies beneath your feet. Ask the guy who raises 200 bushel corn what the secret is, and his answer will have something to do with taking care of the soil.
Ask your neighbor why his garden grows more or bigger vegetables than yours, and his answer will probably be the same. Those guys get it. They appreciate what healthy soils can do for them, and for us as a country. I hope you do, too.
Happy Stewardship Week, and I hope this growing season is your best ever! By the way, corn was just under $1.50 in 1952, and cattle were topping out at about $20 cwt.