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EDITORIAL: Take the time to thank a farmer

Tuesday was National Ag Day. While the occasion often goes unnoticed in urban areas of the country, it is an important observance in Park County and the Big Horn Basin, where agriculture is an integral part of our life.

Agriculture is a major source of employment and income in Park County and Wyoming.

In fact, agriculture is reliably Wyoming’s third largest industry, Gov. Matt Mead said in a National Ag Day column.

“It is a cornerstone of Wyoming’s financial stability with more than 11,000 farms and ranches and $1.6 billion in annual farm and ranch income,” Mead wrote. “It continues to provide a wealth of benefits to our state, citizens, and nation — food for the table, open spaces, wildlife habitat, a pleasant western style of living, and much more.”

In 2012, there were 860 farms in Park County, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent ag census. 

The market value of farm products sold in the county that year totaled $100.3 million, an increase of 23 percent from 2007, ranking Park County fifth in Wyoming for farm products sold.

Of the 2012 total, $63.6 million came from crops, and $36.7 million from livestock sales.

The top crops were: forage, 40,981 acres; barley, 18,047 acres; sugar beets, 13,119 acres; dry edible beans, 8,570 acres; and field and grass seed crops, 3,854 acres. Park County led the state in the number of acres of barley, sugar beets and field and grass seed while coming in second for dry beans.

Meanwhile, livestock growers in the county raised 38,036 cattle and calves, 11,144 sheep and lambs, 5,169 horses and ponies (No. 3 in the state) and 2,993 egg layers (No. 2), according to the census.

In addition to the economic impacts of agriculture in the county, local ag growers provide much of the backbone and compass for our social structure. Like the generations who preceded them, farmers rise with the sun to begin their work, day in and day out. They work hard, often until sundown, especially during the long days of the summer.

But the work doesn’t stop when the harvest is in. It continues through the winter, especially for livestock growers. While we complained about the harsh weather we endured this winter, they were out working in it.

Farming is a joint effort for many families, with everyone pitching in to help — whether it’s bookkeeping, organizing or other farm duties.

As a group, farmers are “salt of the earth” kind of people — industrious, thrifty, principled and determined — and they instill those qualities in their children.

It takes some fortitude to gamble year after year with Mother Nature, not to mention the up-and-down nature of commodity prices. When a farmer plants a crop or delivers a calf or lamb, he or she is never sure what the outcome will be. Will the weather help the crop produce well, or will harsh conditions wither or destroy it? Will the calf or lamb grow to maturity, and if so, will the market price pay the cost of raising it?

Despite that inherent uncertainty, farmers continue to plant their crops and raise their livestock.

Jeremiah Vardiman, UW Extension agriculture educator based in Powell, put it this way: “As a grower, you just understand what you have control over and what you don’t.”

Farmers’ jobs are often thankless, but they are important. We benefit, directly and indirectly, from their efforts.

Too often, we take those things for granted. So, in recognition of National Ag Day, and because it’s the right thing to do, we encourage everyone to thank a farmer today.

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