USDA: Celebrating 150 years of innovation
President Abraham Lincoln is known for many achievements during his lifetime, but a little known triumph of his – that affects farmers and ranchers greatly – was the establishment of the United States Department of Agriculture 150 years ago.
On May 15, 1862, President Lincoln signed into law a bill establishing a new Department of Agriculture, which was specifically directed to acquire information through “practical and scientific experiments” and to collect and propagate “new and valuable seeds and plants” and distribute these to the nation’s agriculturists. It is clear, Lincoln was a man beyond his time.
A Man with a Vision
Lincoln understood the importance of agriculture to America, and, as importantly, he realized science and technology played a major role in the farming industry. Without a doubt, I believe Lincoln today would embrace the many technological advancements farmers use on their farms, including biotechnology.
Lincoln once wrote: “Every blade of grass is a study, and to produce two, where there was but one, is both a profit and a pleasure. And not grass alone, but soils, seeds and seasons – hedges, ditches and fences, draining, droughts and irrigation – plowing, hoeing and harrowing – reaping, mowing and threshing – saving crops, pests of crops, diseases of crops and what will prevent or cure them … the thousand things of which these are specimens – each a world of study within itself.”
The federal government was, from the beginning of its involvement in agriculture, dedicated to scientific progress in farming. This commitment continues today and is shared by farmers and ranchers across the country, regardless of the methods of food and fiber production they use – organic, conventional or biotechnology. They all need science.
Full Speed Ahead
The importance of science and innovation – biotechnology in particular – to agriculture will be significant as we face several challenges in the years ahead. The world’s population just passed the 7 billion mark. According to the World Food Program, the best estimate is that 1 billion people (one in seven) are hungry and food insecure. By 2050 the world’s population will rise to 9 billion people. This means we must double world food production by 2050 in order to meet this challenge.
Further, we must accomplish this hefty goal while realizing that our Earth is fragile. To take care of our environment, we must embrace agriculture research, science, innovation and biotechnology. When it comes to medical care, communication and transportation we accept the importance of innovation. We need to do the same when it comes to the production of food.