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There’s a whole lot more to the food on your plate than providing your body nutrients and sustenance. In fact, our nation’s prosperity is rooted in a robust food supply chain that all starts with the hard work of American farmers and ranchers.

Joe Outlaw, Ph.D., co-director of the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University, often spends time in Washington, D.C., providing economic insight to legislators, their staff and the ag industry to help them best understand how to build and maintain sound policy for farmers and ranchers. Outlaw said some of the most important aspects of domestically-grown food are affordability, availability and food security. But that’s not all, check out these six benefits of domestically-grown food.

1. Affordable

There are a lot of influences on retail costs of food. In fact, the USDA’s Economic Research Service indicates that while farm production has a role, other costs, such as processing and distribution, have a larger impact on the price we ultimately pay.

“U.S. consumers only spend around 12 percent of their disposable income on food, which is the lowest of any industrialized country in the world — providing consumers with quite the bargain,” Outlaw said.

While providing affordable food for our growing nation is rewarding for agricultural producers, it certainly comes with a lot of risk. Outlaw said farmers work on extremely tight margins.

“They put a lot of money at risk growing crops with the hope of making a relatively small profit, generally 5-10% of what they put at risk,” Outlaw illustrated.

2. Abundant

From sunup to sundown, farmers and ranchers are hard at work implementing technologies and practices that allow them to grow food more efficiently and produce greater yields. Thanks to their efforts, American consumers enjoy one of the most abundant food supplies in the world.

“Other than during COVID when the supply chains broke down for a couple of weeks, U.S. consumers have never gone to grocery stores to find the shelves anything but full,” Outlaw explained. “Even then, there was plenty of food; however, the ‘just-in-time’ food distribution system failed for a short time.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that one U.S. farm supports, on average, 166 people annually. Farmers are more productive than ever. In fact, the U.S. leads the world in corn production growing 15.3 billion bushels in 2023. The U.S. is also a leading exporter of agricultural products.

3. Safe

Texas farmers and ranchers not only take pride in growing an abundant, affordable food supply, but a safe one, too. Outlaw said U.S. agricultural producers grow our food with more regulatory scrutiny regarding production inputs and practices than any country in the world.

“Over time, government regulators in the U.S. have identified several chemicals that were used by U.S. producers that they felt were best not used anymore due to potential health concerns,” Outlaw shared. “Many of these chemicals are still used around the world, which exposes their consumers to risks we no longer face from our predominately domestic food supply.”

To ensure a safe American food supply, there are four primary agencies that work to establish, maintain and enforce food safety regulations, including the Food and Drug Administration, Food Safety Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.

4. Local Farmers

Texas farmer Jim Sugarek from Beeville said when consumers purchase food and agricultural products, it creates a strong, growing market for what they produce.

“I grow corn, for example. It’s a commodity, but that translates into locally-grown beef, poultry or you name it, as a safe source of feed for those animals, which is what ends up on a dinner plate,” Sugarek said.

When you buy food at your local grocery store or farmers market, you ultimately support farmers like the Sugarek family.

“We rely on this farm for our source of income, and so do many others across the state and nation,” Sugarek said. “So, we like to see consumers happy with what we’re producing and the food and fiber that ends up in their homes.”

5. Local Economies + Communities

Farming and ranching also support local infrastructure and local communities throughout Texas and the nation.

“Most people think of agriculture as the roughly 2 million farms, but the U.S. food and fiber system represents more than 10 percent of the U.S. workforce. This means that upstream and downstream activities from the farm also generate business spending in mostly rural areas and that supports local communities, school districts and their citizens,” Outlaw said.

For example, he noted that having a grain elevator or cotton gin in a community provides income to those employees who then spend money in the community supporting local businesses.

6. Environmental

Perhaps one the less obvious benefits of domestically-grown food is that it helps protect our natural resources.

“It is a fact that agricultural producers are incredible stewards of the land and are driven by economics and their desire to succeed long term to do everything they can to keep the land productive by replenishing nutrients in the soil. Maintaining a domestically-grown food supply ensures that sustainable practices are used,” Outlaw said.

Sugarek said conservation is important on his family farm where he, his wife and daughter implement practices that help them grow more with less.

“We are constantly trying to improve our farming methods to conserve water and care for the soil,” Sugarek said. “There’s a lot of pride in it to be able to support your family and know that you’re producing a great product.”

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