“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

 

It’s a week of milestones for agriculture across the Southwest, including the advent of the spring season (March 20) and observance of National Ag Day (March 19) and National Ag Week (March 17-23).

As the world population continues to soar, there is an even greater demand for food, fiber, and renewable resources, and the role of agriculture in our everyday lives is more than substantial, it is remarkable.

As farmers and ranchers across the Southwest welcome the start of the spring season with a degree of anxiousness, we are reminded that while we live in a time of advanced agricultural science and a world of high technology, the challenges of modern agricultural are as high as they have ever been.

In addition to a lengthy drought, producers are facing unprecedented herbicide-resistant weed varieties, historically significant input costs, growing issues with animal health and welfare, issues related to crop security, uncertainty about farm legislation and a changing farm environment, elevated land prices, potential climate change and serious issues of water availability.

The cost of available land is going up, concerns over competitive global markets are escalating and the need to be more productive with less land and water are increasing as demand for affordable food increases at an accelerated rate.

In the American Southwest agricultural tradition runs deep. Historians remind us that long before the first European set foot in the New World, the Anasazi and their predecessors were cultivating corn, squash, chili peppers and beans. In centuries to follow, great cattle ranches were established supplying a nation’s demand for beef. The Southwest led the way in sheep and mohair production and farms producing most every imaginable crop were established.

In modern times, a three-state region of the Southwest (Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico) represented the largest contribution of beef cattle last year with no less than 18 million head, over 20 percent of the nation’s total herd. In addition, the total crop value in the three-state region totaled nearly $12 billion last year.

In addition to being the leader in cattle production, the region is a significant contributor to U.S. production of cotton, corn, grain sorghum, wheat, hay, peanuts, rice, soybeans, pecans, citrus, sheep, goats and mohair.

The number of farms in Texas alone totaled nearly a quarter million (247,523) with an average farm size of 527 acres. Average value per farm of all farm assets, including land and buildings, has increased from $20,100 in 1950 to $816,646 in 2009.

But while agriculture remains strong across the Southwest, it doesn’t come easy. At the top of the wish list for most producers in the region is the hope for substantial rain this season and throughout the year. Two years of continuous drought have taken a toll on the industry, and many producers are posting losses as a result.