Farm stories

As recent stories in the Southeast Missourian have shown, farming is still important to this area as Cape Girardeau and surrounding communities continue to thrive as the biggest commercial, medical, industrial and educational center between St. Louis and Memphis.

There are, for example, more than 1,200 farms in Cape Girardeau County utilizing nearly 261,000 acres, according to the USDA Census of Agriculture in 2002. The farm census is taken every five years. Both the number of farms and the number of acres are down from previous census, reflecting a nationwide trend of fewer but more productive farms.

Missouri is No. 2 in the nation for number of farms (106,000), or 5 percent of the total number of U.S. farms. These farms produce nearly $5 billion a year in agricultural products. The Bootheel is the state's most intensely farmed area, owing to its fertile soil, flat fields and open spaces.

Successful farming today still involves hard work, long hours and tremendous risks. But research in every aspect of farm production from seeds to animal breeding to fertilizers to erosion control have made today's farmers more astute and better adapted to high production even in the face of such variables as the weather, fuel prices and government regulations.

For those of us who aren't farmers or no longer have ties to the farms of our early years, the abundance of food and other farm products is too often taken for granted. Our nation enjoys not just a huge selection of affordable farm products, but also a safe food supply that contributes to good health and nutrition.

Telling the stories of our local farmers is one way of reconnecting those who enjoy the fruits of agriculture with those who labor in the fields and barns. The more we understand how food and fiber reach the retail outlets where we shop, the more we will be able to appreciate the lives of our farmers.