Agriculture 101

Understanding agriculture — from the ground up.

What Are GMOs?

From an agricultural standpoint, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants developed through a process in which a copy of a desired gene or section of genetic material from one plant or organism is placed into another plant to achieve a desired trait.

Read more about GMOs »

Why are Hormones Used on Farms?

Farms and ranches of all sizes and shapes – big and small – may choose to use supplemental growth hormones.

In general, cattle and dairy farmers and ranchers use supplemental growth hormones to keep costs lower because the animals grow better with less food, to protect the environment because less food and fewer animals means less environmental impact and to keep the meat leaner and less fatty, an important quality many consumers want.

Read more about hormones »

How is Antibiotic Resistance Monitored?

Farmers, ranchers and veterinarians are committed to the responsible use of antibiotics. In 1996, the federal government established the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), a collaborative effort between the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as an “early warning” system to track any resistant bacteria in humans, animals and retail meats. There are no patterns from this research that show antibiotic resistance in bacteria from animals is affecting antibiotic resistance in bacteria in humans and treatment of illness.

Read more about Antibiotics »

Why are Some Animals Raised Outdoors and Some Indoors?

When it comes to housing, farmers and ranchers have a choice. Their decisions to use indoor or outdoor housing are impacted by many factors, from the animal’s needs, resources available, to climate and consumer preference. Some farmers and ranchers choose indoor housing to protect their animals from diseases, inclement weather and even predators. Additionally, many barns today have highly technical ventilation systems that keep them cool during the hot summer months and warm in the winter, thus providing animals with the utmost comfort. Others raise their animals outdoors in order to control insects or to add organic matter back to the soil. There are options for housing, diet and management practices when raising animals for food. USFRA supports the choice that each farmer and rancher makes to raise their animals in the best way, based on their farm or ranch and resources available. Animal care is a continuously improving process, and farmers and ranchers look for new ways to improve the methods they use to care for their animals.

Read more about Animal Welfare »

What is Antibiotic Resistance?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria or other microbes to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm.

For more information, visit the CDC’s website at http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/antibiotic-use/antibiotic-resistance-faqs.html#define-antibiotic-resistance

Read more about antibiotic resistance »

How Much Water Does it Take to Farm?

Farm water use depends on a variety of factors including the type of crop, the type of soil, the area climate and the form of irrigation. Increasingly, farmers are using new technologies and techniques to improve when and how they water their crops for most efficient water use.

An important aspect of water use is soil management and how a farm is laid out. Many farmers perform conservation tillage or other processes to ensure their soil absorbs and conserves the most water for the crop.

The type of crop, also effects the amount of water use, as some plants need more water than others. Innovations in seed breeding is allowing farmers to plant crops that require less water than before. Picking the right crop is important for each farmer, as each crop’s water needs vary.

Read more about water »

Definitions

Key Terms

Acre

The acre is a unit of land area used in the imperial and US customary systems. It is defined as the area of 1 chain by 1 furlong (66 by 660 feet), which is exactly equal to  1⁄640 of a square mile, 43,560 square feet, approximately 4,047 m2, or about 40% of a hectare.


Farm

A farm is an area of land that is devoted primarily to agricultural processes with the primary objective of producing food and other crops; it is the basic facility in food production. The name is used for specialized units such as arable farms, vegetable farms, fruit farms, dairy, pig and poultry farms, and land used for the production of natural fibers, biofuel and other commodities. It includes ranches, feedlots, orchards, plantations and estates, smallholdings and hobby farms, and includes the farmhouse and agricultural buildings as well as the land.


Ranch

A ranch is an area of landscape, including various structures, given primarily to the practice of ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle or sheep for meat or wool. The word most often applies to livestock-raising operations in Mexico, the Western United States and Canada, though there are ranches in other areas. People who own or operate a ranch are called ranchers, cattlemen, or stockgrowers. Ranching is also a method used to raise less common livestock such as elk, American bison or even ostrich, emu, and alpacas.


Herbicide

Herbicide(s), also commonly known as weedkillers, are chemical substances used to control unwanted plants.[1] Selective herbicides control specific weed species, while leaving the desired crop relatively unharmed, while non-selective herbicides (sometimes called "total weedkillers" in commercial products) can be used to clear waste ground, industrial and construction sites, railways and railway embankments as they kill all plant material with which they come into contact.


GMO

Genetically modified organism: an organism or microorganism whose genetic material has been altered by means of genetic engineering.


Antibiotic

Any of a large group of chemical substances, as penicillin or streptomycin, produced by various microorganisms and fungi, having the capacity in dilute solutions to inhibit the growth of or to destroy bacteria and other microorganisms, used chiefly in the treatment of infectious diseases.


Hormone

Also called phytohormone. Any of various plant compounds, as auxin or gibberellin, that control growth and differentiation of plant tissue.


Fertilizer

A chemical or natural substance added to soil to increase its fertility


Fungicide

A chemical that destroys fungus.


Family Farm

A family farm is generally understood to be a farm owned and/or operated by a family; it is sometimes considered to be an estate passed down by inheritance. It contrasts with farms operated as collectives, trusts, non-family corporations or in other institutionalized forms.


Seed Treatment

The term "treated" means given an application (seed coating) of a pesticide or fungicide that’s designed to reduce, control or repel disease organisms, insects, or other pests that attack seed or seedlings grown from treated seed. Treated seeds can reduce the amount of pesticide of fungicide that has to be applied to the land.


Pesticide

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the government body that regulates pesticides in the U.S., a pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating any pest.


Organic

Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.


Glyphosate

According to the National Pesticide Information Center, Glyphosate is an herbicide. It is applied to the leaves of plants to kill both broadleaf plants and grasses. The sodium salt form of glyphosate is used to regulate plant growth and ripen fruit.

Glyphosate was first registered for use in the U.S. in 1974. Glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. People apply it in agriculture and forestry, on lawns and gardens, and for weeds in industrial areas. Some products containing glyphosate control aquatic plants.


Ionophore

Antibiotics improve production efficiency of healthy animals by preventing infection. Production-enhancing antibiotics are classified as ionophore or non-ionophore antibiotics. Ionophores are used in animals and not human health, and do not have any link or possible effect on antibiotic resistance in either people or food animals.


Hydroponic Farming

Hydroponic farming is a growing area of commercial food production. It is also used for home food production by hobbyists. In a hydroponic system, a nutrient-dense water solution circulates through the plants’ roots and replaces the need for soil and traditional fertilizers. This sci-fi-esque technique allows farmers and gardeners to grow food in kitchens, basements, windowsills and roofs.

http://modernfarmer.com/2013/06/dirt-free-farming-will-hydroponics-finally-take-off/


Beta-agonists

Beta-agonists (beta agonists), such as ractopamine and zilpaterol, are animal feed ingredients that help animals make the most of the food they eat. Farmers and ranchers work with their nutritionists and veterinarians to provide the ingredient for the right animals at the right time, when they typically gain excess fat. Beta-agonists help animals maintain their natural muscle-building ability, resulting in the leaner meat while maintaining flavor and juiciness.


Water Runoff

Water runoff occurs when storm water, snowmelt, or other water moves over or through the ground and collects and carries away natural and human-made pollutants. As it relates to the farm, farmers and ranchers are concerned with fertilizer, manure and pesticide use and how that can affect local waterways.


Neonicotinoids

Neonicotinoids are a type of insecticide that affect the central nervous system of insects. According to the EPA, there have been uncertainties identified since the initial registration of the insecticide and the environmental impact and effects of neonicotinoid pesticides, specifically as it relates to pollinators.


Quick Answers

Farming and Ranching

01

What is the average size of an American Farm?

WHAT IS THE AVERAGE SIZE OF AN AMERICAN FARM?

According to the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture data:

There are approximately 2.1 million farms in America; the average size is 434 acres. An acre, by comparison, equates to a little less than one 100-yard length American football field. 97 percent of U.S. farms are family-owned.

  • Small family farms, averaging 231 acres, make up 88 percent of farms and 48 percent of total farm acres in the U.S.
  • Large family farms, averaging 1,421 acres, make up 3.9 percent of farms and 13 percent of farm acres in the U.S.
  • Very large family farms, averaging 2,086 acres, make up 4.6 percent of farms and 23 percent of total farm acres in the U.S.
02

What is the average age of an American farmer?

According to the U.S. Labor Department, the average age of farmers and ranchers is 58. This is not because farmers are among America’s oldest workers – their average age has been growing rapidly for approximately 30 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture. The Census, which is published every five years, shows that during the past 30 years the average age of U.S. farmers has grown by nearly eight years, from 50.5 years to 58.3 years.

03

How Many American Farms are Family Run?

According to the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture, 97 percent of farms are family farms. The Atlantic also recently reported that for farms with $1 million or more in gross revenues, 88 percent are family farms. While some farms and ranches have been deemed corporations, the title has little to do with the makeup of the farm or ranch. Rather, forming a corporation is a standard business practice across all sectors of the economy. It not only assists with accounting, but it also protects a family’s interests.

04

What is the Role of Large Farms in America?

When some people think of big farms, they immediately believe they are “factory farms.” Often, large farms and ranches are deploying the most innovative processes in sustainability and animal welfare because they have the resources to do so. In addition, large farms can be better equipped to deal with growing regulatory requirements. Large farms and ranches create economies of scale that can keep prices low. Agriculture employs 14 percent of the U.S. workforce (or approximately 21 million people).

05

What is Antibiotic Resistance?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria or other microbes to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm.

06

Are Animals Kept Indoors Force Fed to Grow Quickly?

No. This is not the reason why a farmer or rancher would choose to raise animals indoors. Indoor housing is beneficial to protecting animals from weather, bacteria and predators. It also helps to ensure that animals are receiving a proper, nutritious and balanced diet.

It is not true that cattle in feedyards, where beef cattle are finished on a diet of grass, grains and other feedstuffs, are force fed. Feedyards do not force cattle to eat. Feedyard cattle have ample space to roam and the ability to eat from the feed bunk at their own pace and leisure.

Many indoor facilities have surveillance equipment that not only allows farmers and ranchers to keep watch on their animals, but also ensures they are adhering to humane feeding practices.

07

Which Foods are GMOs?

Ten crops – corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, potatoes, apples and squash – are available from GM seeds for commercial use in the U.S. These crops have been developed primarily for herbicide tolerance and insect and disease resistance; helping farmers to maintain yield while reducing the level of inputs needed and protecting the environment. A few of the above mentioned crops are credited with saving specific crops from disease.

Produce items are often mistaken for being GMO, including things like pluots and different colored carrots, but these were developed through other breeding techniques.

08

What are GMOs?

From an agricultural standpoint, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants developed through a process in which a copy of a desired gene or section of genetic material from one plant or organism is placed into another plant to achieve a desired trait, such as resistance to an insect or improving the ripening process in order to better meet a customer’s market need.

09

Are Organic Crops Pesticide Free?

Organic farmers have the opportunity to use pesticides and fungicides on their crops, just like conventional farmers. Organic farmers choose from organic certified pesticides and fungicides, which are outlined by the USDA Certified Organic program. According to Scientific America, there are more than 20 options that qualify for U.S. Organic Standards. Some of these options include copper and sulfur anti-fumigants and the naturally occurring Bt toxin. Even in the case of organic and natural pesticides, you should always be safe, take the proper precautions and follow application directions before use.

10

What are Seed Treatments?

The term “treated” means given an application (seed coating) of a pesticide or fungicide that’s designed to reduce, control or repel disease organisms, insects, or other pests that attack seed or seedlings grown from treated seed. Treated seeds can reduce the amount of pesticide of fungicide that has to be applied to the land.

11

Do Farmers Overuse Chemicals on Their Crops?

Farmers are better managing the tools they need.

For example, in 2007, roughly 877 million pounds of active ingredients were applied to U.S. cropland. In comparison, in 1980, roughly 1.1 billion pounds of active ingredients were applied. So, usage went down while yields went up.

Additionally, pesticides peaked in 1999, with 956 million pounds used compared to 2007 when only 877 million pounds were used. Reductions in inputs have greatly reduced the environmental impact, especially for water quality.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-practices-management/chemical-inputs/pesticide-use-markets.aspx

12

What is Water Runoff?

Water runoff occurs when storm water, snowmelt, or other water moves over or through the ground and collects and carries away natural and human-made pollutants. As it relates to the farm, farmers and ranchers are concerned with fertilizer, manure and pesticide use and how that can affect local waterways.

To combat water runoff issues, farmers and ranchers are better managing the tools they use to reduce runoff. For example, in 2007, roughly 877 million pounds of active ingredients were applied to U.S. cropland. In comparison, in 1980, roughly 1.1 billion pounds of active ingredients were applied. So, usage went down while yields went up.