We need to tell the story of agriculture

Farm Forum

I was at a conference in Chicago two years ago and had lunch with an acquaintance who is a deal-maker at Goldman Sachs in New York City. He was complaining about all the Wall Street regulations that went into effect after the financial crisis in 2008.

Why would the government want to over-regulate an industry that is one of the country’s two leading industries, he moaned. The U.S. has the edge in technology and financial services. Those are the only two areas where we lead the world, he said.

Like a true South Dakotan, I listened and did not point out that his assessment of leading industries was incomplete. In his New York-centric view, he managed to leave out agriculture. No one can doubt that the U.S. leads the world in agriculture. Not only does it export more food than any other country, but it does so by a huge margin.

Here is a staggering statistic published in the Christian Science Monitor on Sept. 24: The U.S. exports 80.2 million tons of grain to other countries, more than three times the amount of the next highest exporter. The European Union is in second place with 24.1 million tons, and Canada is third with 21.6 million tons.

The numbers were from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 2009-10.

The U.S. sends its wheat, corn, barley, rice, oats and other grains to Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Egypt and other countries.

One could argue that the U.S. has serious competition in financial services (England, Switzerland and France) as well as in technology (Germany and Japan). But what country can produce more grain at a cheaper price than the United States? None.

After our lunch, I thought I had done what most South Dakotans do: listened to his perspective, but did not talk about my own. I did not tell the story of South Dakota agriculture and its part in feeding the world.

As a group, we need to get better at telling the ag story. Strides have been made by Ag United, co-ops like Wheat Growers and North Central Farmers Elevator and even small sustainable agriculture groups.

I know I will try to do better, especially with my friend in New York.