National Ag Day: Let’s Celebrate Wheat!

Today, March 24th, marks the 47th anniversary of National Ag Day! It’s a time to celebrate and reflect on the impact American agriculture has on individuals all around the world, and the people who make it possible. Agriculture is responsible for food, fiber, and shelter and is the nation’s number one export. Civilization could not have grown and become what it is today without a stable and prosperous food supply. 

The average modern American has a disconnect from knowing where their food comes from. If you asked, they would probably say “the grocery store.” However, the grocery store is the middleman helping to get Farmer’s hard work to the dinner table. Each American farmer on average feeds 165 people. Recognizing the role of agriculture and what it really takes to get food to the consumer is what Ag Day is all about. 

Today, farmers only make up 1.3% of America’s labor force, yet they have an enormous impact on feeding the nation and the world. This can be attributed to the advancements and improvements of plant technologies and farm management practices that started with Norman Borlaug in the Green Revolution. Borlaug went from a small family farm to feeding billions, thanks to his interest and success in the redesigning the genetic makeup of wheat. 

Dr. Borlaug was from a small community in northeast Iowa where his family grew small mixed crops and raised livestock. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s in forestry in 1937. He then went on to work for the United States Forest Services before returning to the university to get his Ph.D. in plant pathology in 1942.

After School, Borlaug left the United States for Mexico to work for the Rockefeller Foundation’s pioneering technical assistance program with the goal to help farmers fight stem rust, a fungus that affects wheat, and low producing crops. He and his colleagues then spent the next decades crossing thousands of strands of wheat from across the globe, ultimately developing a high yield, disease-resistant variety that could withstand the harsh climate. Mexico wheat production soon flourished and they began exporting their wheat to other countries. 

Following Borlaug’s success, Pakistan and Indian soon requested his help developing a reliable food supply for a growing population in the brink of famine. Two years later he triumphed again and the two countries doubled their wheat production. 

The achievements of Norman Borlaug in the mid-twentieth century created what is now known as the green revolution. The population was growing at a faster rate than resources could keep up with. It is predicted that if it wasn’t for Borlaug most of the population of the subcontinent of India would not have survived past 1980. Because of this, it is said that Norman Borlaug is the man who saved a billion people. 

Climate, drought, and disease still affect a large number of crops today, lowering the quality and limiting the yield. Wheat research and development programs are critical in benefiting wheat producers and consumers nationwide. The United States Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative is one of these beneficial programs that focuses on addressing new and emerging threats to wheat growers across the nation. On National Ag Day, we recognize the importance of these programs and our farmers who feed the nation and the world.