USA: The rise and rise of an agricultural great

Alberta Nana Akyaa Akosa

 The United States of America is a great country for many reasons. Acclaimed for its immense military might, the US is a force to be reckoned with in every area of human endeavour. From incredible technological ability to a commanding voice on the international political space, the US needs no introduction.

Having achieved greatness on all fronts, the US is a worthy example of agricultural excellence that Ghana could borrow a leaf from as we make efforts to galvanise an agricultural sector that, though full of promise, continues to underwhelm.

Agriculture in the US is mainly governed by occasionally-improved US farm bills. Management of the country’s hugely influential agricultural sector is a responsibility that falls on both federal and local authorities, under the auspices of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Government is hugely involved in providing support to the country’s agricultural sector through diverse subsidy packages which are only disbursed in strict adherence to stipulated guidelines – which, interestingly, farmers have learnt to adhere to dating back nearly a century.

Like most countries sitting atop the apex of world agriculture, the US has a strong research arm to its agricultural sector. Known as research centres, these institutions conduct research on occupational disease and injury prevention as well as having a comprehensive focus on agricultural health and safety through sustainable educational outreach programmes.

About 40% of land in the US is used for diverse agricultural enterprises ranging from crop cultivation to livestock grazing. This includes 431.1 million acres of cropland, 396.9 million acres of pasture, and 71.5 million acres of forests.

Commercial farming has however marginally declined in recent years. The majority of US fish cultivation is used locally in the country, and about half of the bulk is for consumption by humans.

The country’s domestic fishing sector focuses on a wide variety of species including cod, haddock, tuna etc. A combination of lobster and crab accounts for about 20% of the annual harvest.

The country has made dramatic strides in agricultural technology. These include increased use of computers, scientific soil and crop analysis; and more sophisticated machinery. Genetic engineering of seeds has also increased crop yield – but has also caused controversial debates over health and environmental concerns in some quarters.

Agriculture in the US currently comprises 300 different commodities, with a near=equal split between the country’s crop and livestock products.

 

*values in billions of dollars

Advancement in agri-technology has promoted crop-yield in the country and has consequently been responsible for positioning the US as one of the world’s breadbaskets. The United States produces about half of the world’s corn and 10% of its wheat. The country also produces 20% of the world’s beef, pork and lamb.

Also, the US is the world’s largest producer of timber. Though 70% of the country’s forest land is privately owned, strong legislation has ensured the remaining 30% managed by the federal and state governments is adequately protected from irresponsible logging. With these impressive statistics, it is easy to see why the US is ranked so highly in agriculture.

 Support for agric in Ghana

The United States and Ghana have over the years managed to sustain strong ties – with the former supporting through huge investments in the local Ghanaian agriculture sector.

Through the United States Agency for International Development, (USAID), which represents the US arm of support to Ghana, a number of hugely beneficial projects amounting to millions of dollars have been sunk into Ghana’s agriculture.

USAID is the United States government’s external support body that prioritises sustainable natural resources management in developing countries like Ghana. With a core mandate that is woven around a desire to guarantee agricultural sustainability, the agency works hand –in-hand with local communities and local government structures to protect the country’s ecosystem as well as promote positive agricultural practices.

In the Northern Region, USAID is heavily involved in fronting an agro-forestry project that focuses on improving natural resources, including tree-crops that provide sustainable income to women as well as providing an alternative food sources to low-middle income families during the lean period that traditionally precedes the harvest season.

To ensure optimal impact, all activities undertaken by USAID are often aligned with the Ghanaian government’s broad objectives of poverty reduction, food security, sustainable management and conservation.

Quick facts on US agric

  • According to statistics, as many as 2.1 million farms are strewn across the United States rural landscape.
  • About 99 % of U.S. farms are managed by families – individuals, family partnerships or family corporations.
  • One U.S. farm feeds 165 people annually in the U.S. and abroad.
  • In 2016, US$135.5billion worth of American agricultural products were shipped around the world. The United States sells more food and fibre to world markets than the country imports, creating a positive agricultural trade balance.
  • Farming accounts for about 1% of the U.S. gross domestic product.
  • Farm and ranch families comprise just 2% of the U.S. population.
  • Total U.S. corn yield (tonnes per acre) has increased more than 360% since 1950.
  • Women make up 30% (969,672) of the total number of U.S. farmer operators.
  • About 25% of U.S. farm products by value are exported each year.
  • About 8% of U.S. farms market foods locally, through direct-to-consumer or intermediate sales.
  • Cattle and calves, corn, and dairy products are the top-3 U.S. farm products.
  • Americans enjoy a food supply that is abundant, affordable overall and among the world’s safest, thanks in large part to the efficiency and productivity of America’s farm and ranch families.

Agri-tourism in the US

In the US, Agri-tourism encompasses many areas of outdoor recreation, retreat, education, accommodation or entertainment. A few examples of agri-tourism are: Retreat and rendezvous centres, Nature centres, Farm tours for families and schoolchildren, Farm-based lodging, Children’s educational day-camps, Bird and wildlife watching, Winery/Vineyard, Horse-back rides etc.

Agri-tourism is a huge practice that continues to support growth of the United States’ ever-expanding agric sector. Following years of perfecting, the US has consistently sought new and innovative ways of boosting an aspect of its agricultural sector that is raking in enormous financial benefits for the country. Today, the seed of hard work and perseverance demonstrated at the experimental stage of agri-tourism is paying off with splendid dividends.

With respect to agri-tourism across the United States, several states are profound examples of the industry’s value. The Hawaii Agricultural Statistics Service pegs the value of agri-tourism-related activities at US$38.8million, up 14% from US$33.9million last year. On-farm sales direct to farm visitors was the leading category of revenue with US$12.1million, followed by retail sales of products from other farm or souvenir items. Other revenue-generating activities for Hawaiian farms included outdoor recreation, accommodation such as bed and breakfast, and meeting rooms, entertainment and education.

The imagery painted of the state of Hawaii is reflective of the impressive success being chalked-up by other states that have latched onto the agri-tourism bandwagon.

Future of American farming

On the back of a projection that the year 2050 will see the world demand for food soar by as much as 60%, President Donald Trump has reiterated the increasing need for the country to strategise and take up the challenge of bracing to meet the impending challenge of a potential population explosion in the years ahead.

President Trump in recent remarks pledged his government’s commitment to significantly advance the technological proficiencies of American farmers through the use of “precision agriculture” — a farm-management concept that uses satellites, the global positioning system (GPS) and drones to observe, measure and thus become properly placed to satisfy the expansive agricultural needs of an increasingly hungry world.

“If we continue to train our workers in these new technologies, then we will usher in a new era of prosperity for American agriculture and for the American farming family.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who corroborated Mr Trump’s sentiments, defined precision agriculture thus: “It’s using fewer resources, less inputs, less water, less fertiliser, fewer insecticides, less pesticides in order to produce a better, healthier, more wholesome crop”.

Lessons for Ghana

Ghana and the United States share such a wonderful relationship that it would be absurd not to capitalise on the monumental lessons we could learn from this agricultural great. Thankfully for Ghana, the US provides practical support modules which USAID works with local partners to execute all around the country.

On the stellar achievement of the US in agri-tourism, Ghana has even more learning to do. For a country with such incredible agricultural potential, Ghana should be capitalising on the relationship that exists between the two countries to forge a thriving agri-tourism sector that would ultimately improve the lot of agriculture.

The US presents us a near-perfect model of what agri-tourism should be. The onus therefore lies on us to create and execute a policy that will see Ghana emulate African countries like South-Africa and Kenya – which have led the way on the continent by experimenting with successful agri-tourism efforts.

Another area Ghana could borrow a leaf from the US in is the area of research. If we are to fare well going into the future, we must commit ourselves to prioritising research and innovation. Like the US, we must identify crops that suit our ecosystem and consistently seek new ways of helping farmers make the most of such crops.

Lastly but most importantly, we must be forward-looking. If a country that sits comfortably atop the global agricultural industry is looking to improve further, then we sure have work to do.

President Trumps call on the US to reposition itself to ensure the country remains relevant in the years ahead is a fine demonstration of how we should be planning for the future of our agricultural sector.

For now, the huge dichotomy that exists between the US and Ghana remains as obvious as the size of the two nations. While bridging the gap is a herculean task to conceive, Ghana must take inspiration from the agricultural might of the US and make unflinching efforts to learn from the world’s numbe- one breadbasket.

 

About the Writer:

Alberta Nana Akyaa Akosa is the Lead Consultant at Agrihouse Communications, the premier data-driven agro Public Relations, Media Relations and Events Management firm. She is also the Founder of Agrihouse Foundation, a non-governmental capacity building organisation, with a special focus on agro-based youth mentorship and leadership grooming, agribusiness development through the organisation of exhibitions, training programmes, research, agri-trade relations and promotions.

For general enquiries, please E-mail: alberta.akosa@agrihousefoundation.com