AGRICULTURE has long been a foundational component of Oklahoma's economy. The state usually ranks among the top five for beef production and in the top 10 for hog production. Likewise, we're typically among the top five states for winter wheat, pecan, and grain-sorghum production. Out of 44 million acres of land in Oklahoma, an estimated 35 million are farmland.
Yet despite those numbers, public understanding of food production is on the decline, due in part to agriculture's increasing efficiency. A century ago, nearly 40 percent of U.S. citizens were involved in agriculture. Today, that figure is less than 2 percent.
This change has left many citizens, particularly children, oblivious to the realities of agriculture. Bill Buckner, president of the Ardmore-based Noble Foundation, says the organization's research suggests many youth today are truly unmoored from the facts of life when it comes to food production.
“In the Noble Foundation's own interactions with students, we've learned that some did not know that hamburger meat comes from cattle,” he writes in the latest issue of Legacy, the foundation's magazine. Likewise, he notes a student recently visiting one of the foundation's horticulture plots was surprised to learn strawberries came from a plant.
That lack of knowledge could have major repercussions down the road if outside special-interest groups are able to sway those future voters to enact policies impeding food production. Buckner warns that “future decision-makers — today's youth — could inadvertently reduce this nation's capacity to produce for the world through poor policymaking, overregulation and a lack of commitment to research.”
Nationally, “green” activists are already promoting regulations based on the idea that agricultural practices are environmentally harmful, while animal rights groups often portray agricultural producers as mistreating livestock.
Several resulting initiatives and regulatory proposals have grabbed the attention of farmers and ranchers in recent years, such as the federal Environmental Protection Agency's overreaching dust-regulation proposal and a California regulation targeting poultry involved in egg production. These have prompted pre-emptive measures in some states, such as Oklahoma's “right to hunt” constitutional amendment and a “right to farm” measure in North Dakota.