Agriculture: Feeding and clothing the world

Drive any direction out of Cape Girardeau, and the region's agriculture sector quickly becomes apparent.

From the corn fields of Southern Illinois to the cattle operations north of the city to the row crops grown to the west and south, agriculture is big business.

How big?

"Our area produces $830 million in ag sales every year," said Brian Gerau, president of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, during the chamber's 41st annual agri-business tour earlier this month.

He said agriculture-related commerce drives about $57 million in tax revenue each year. That's not chicken feed. Well, actually ...

Though agriculture revenue can vary significantly from year to year based on markets here and abroad, the state's agriculture industry generates roughly $10 billion annually.

Missouri Department of Agriculture counts more than 1,100 farming operations in Cape Girardeau County alone. These operations cover about 200,000 acres.

Across the state, farms and ranches contribute a host of products, including soybeans, corn, cattle and calves, hogs and poultry. The Bootheel adds rice and cotton to the mix.

The thing about the agriculture industry is this: It spiderwebs throughout communities.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about one in 10 jobs in the United States is in agriculture or industries related to agriculture. This includes millions of people working in food service, textiles and all manner of companies making tractors, plows and even plastic pipe that has evolved row-crop irrigation across the South.

And agriculture jobs continue to change. While there are fewer farmhands these days, as equipment has become larger and more productive, other jobs -- technology-heavy jobs -- are sprouting.

Finally, our nation's agricultural producers are among the most innovative in the world, always searching for ways to produce more with lower input costs and with an eye toward conservation.

We are thankful for our nation's agriculture industry -- and proud of the men and women who feed and clothe the world.