Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Understanding Our Food and Those Who Produce It

noem press header kristi noem headshot May 21 2014Understanding Our Food and Those Who Produce It
By Rep. Kristi Noem

Earlier this month, people around the country celebrated National Agriculture Day.  In South Dakota, our lives and livelihoods are deeply tied to agriculture – whether we live in town or on a farm.  But in so many other areas of this country, people are fundamentally disconnected from the way their food is produced.

For most families, food is one of the top expenditures each month – often times, only falling behind housing and transportation costs. Still, a 2011 study by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance found 72 percent of consumers knew nothing or very little about farming or ranching.  While not everyone farms, everyone does eat, so it’s important that more people understand where their food comes from.

Creating this understanding will be critical – especially as more and more pressure is put on farmers and ranchers to produce the food needed to support a growing global population. This is a national security necessity as much as it is a humanitarian mission. During a congressional hearing late last year, John Negroponte, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and then Director of National Intelligence under President George W. Bush, explained that the need for more food “could affect political stability” and could “fuel further instability in the Middle East.”  He went on to observe that “the world must increase food production by 50 to 60 percent to satisfy expected global population growth and changing consumption patterns by 2050.”

These realities make it all the more important to invest in our agriculture community.

Many reading this column likely know I have spent my life farming and ranching in South Dakota.  As our state’s only member in the U.S. House of Representatives, I try to share what it is like to live in our shoes, because it’s essential that folks have a better understanding of the risk that comes with agriculture and the significance of a stable food supply.  They should know the kind of capital farmers bury in the ground each spring, hoping to get the crop and prices needed to keep their operation going.  They ought to see the hard work, long hours, and extreme risk that come with running a ranch – especially now that calving season is upon us.

South Dakota ranchers have been blessed this year so far with good weather for calving.  But I remember many years when we were calving in sub-zero weather.  We’d stay up all night, so we could be there to get the calf somewhere warm enough to survive.  And no matter how attentive you were, there would always be those heartbreaking times where all you could say was “Maybe next year.”

Even beyond understanding the dynamics of food production and food security, I believe our country would benefit greatly from seeing how we live in an agriculture community.  I love this segment from Paul Harvey’s tribute to farmers: “God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor’s place.”  A little more of a farming and ranching mentality would go a long way in this country.

To all of South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers, thank you for doing what you do.  Because of your work, our families are fed, our national security is stronger, and the world is better off.