Friday, March 19, 2010
The Eat Well Guided Tour of America visits Nebraska!
The Eat Well Guided Tour of America is crossing America to celebrate local, sustainable food and the folks who produce, distribute, promote, and eat it!
Agriculture in Nebraska
Facts on Farming and Agriculture:
• Nebraska has 48,000 farms and ranches on 45.7 million acres of land– about 93% of the state's total land area – the average (mean) operation size is 952 acres.
• Almost twelve million of Nebraska’s farmed acres grow corn or soybeans.ii
• Of Nebraska’s whole workforce, 20.3% depends in some way on agriculture, with 5.4% directly involved in farm production and 9.6% in wholesale and retail trade.
• Nebraska produces a lot of grains and oilseeds (fourth in the nation), cattle (third in the nation), and hogs (sixth in the nation). However, the state ranks near the bottom in fruit and vegetable production: forty-fifth in “vegetables, melons, potatoes, and sweet potatoes,” and forty-first in “fruit, tree nuts, and berries.”
• Nebraska has only 69 farmers’ marketsv, despite being ranked fourth in the nation in terms of the total value of agricultural products sold.
• Nebraska’s five leading commodities are cattle and calves, corn, soybeans, hogs, and wheat. These account for 93.6% of all farm receipts. Cattle alone account for over half.
• There are almost four cows (total: 6,650,000)viii for every person in Nebraska (total: 1,768,331).
• The trend toward consolidated, industrial farming has affected most of the country, but Nebraska has more factory farms than most other states. It ranks top ten (or bottom ten, depending on your point of view) for concentrated cattle, hogs, and egg-laying hens.x
• In 2006, only 8% of pigs in Nebraska lived on farms with fewer than 500 others, while a staggering 71% lived in cramped quarters alongside over 2,000 of their fellow swine. Over half lived in operations that held more than 5,000 animals.xi
• In 1995, by contrast, 29% lived on farms with fewer than 500 pigs, and 31% lived alongside more than 2,000. Only 17% lived on operations with over 5,000 in stock.
• In 2002, Nebraska was home to 644 feedlots with 500 or more cattlexiii: more than any other state in the country.
• Three Nebraska counties harbor more cows than any others in the country: Cherry County, with nearly 162,000 cows, Holt County, with 99,000 cows, and Custer County, with 92,000 cows. The human populations of these counties are: 5,934,xvi 10,610,xvii and 11,242, respectively. In light of how much manure cows produce, it’s hardly surprising that people have been moving out in droves. Over the past six years, the population of Cherry County has declined by 3.5%, Holt by 8.1%, and Custer by 4.7%. Over the same period of time, the overall state population increased by 3.3%.
• The growth of these factory farms has been driven in part by the availability of cheap feed. Corn across the country has been made artificially inexpensive by lavish government subsidies, although the growing demand for ethanol recently sent prices upward.
• Nebraska agriculture received more in government handouts than all states but Texas, Iowa, and Illinois. 59% of these subsidies went to just 10% of recipients.
Issues Facing Nebraska’s Farms:
• Farmers and ranchers face a host of challenges including high property taxes, low prices for the goods they produce, the growing cost of inputs like fertilizer, fuel, and pest control, and the increasing concentration of suppliers and commodity buyers.
• In December, 2006, an appeals court upheld a previous ruling that the 24 year old Initiative 300 is unconstitutional. The purpose of the Initiative was to preserve Nebraska’s family farms. It remains to be seen whether the Legislature will draft an acceptable replacement. “Protecting Initiative 300.” Center for Rural Affairs. http://www.cfra.org/I300.htm
• Amidst the gloom and doom, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, among others, is busy promoting food systems that build healthy land and healthy people.
Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society. http://www.HealthyFarms.org/
Sustainable Table (www.sustainabletable.org), the New York-based nonprofit program that produced The Meatrix (www.themeatrix.com) series and the Eat Well Guide (www.eatwellguide.org)