Ag Science Delivers More Value than Cents-Off Coupons – Nov. 22, 2011

 In these challenging economic times, consumers are looking to save money in any way they can. This certainly is true at the grocery store where many customers turn to coupons, advertising circulars and loyalty cards to keep more dollars in their pocket at the checkout line.

The diversity of American agriculture succeeds in providing our nation’s consumers with a vast array of food products. Shoppers today can select foods based on production practice, locale or value pricing. They can make those purchases at traditional grocery stores, specialty venues, large discount chains, farmers’ markets or even farm-direct stands.

Regardless of where shoppers go to make their food purchases, however, price always comes into play. And for people who make their decisions on price alone, it is important to remember that food prices could be much higher if it weren’t for the efficiency of today’s agriculture and food systems.

Compared to other nations, American-grown food is affordable. That is a fact that today is often taken for granted—so much so that many scoff at its mere mention. But even in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately environment, it is still valuable to look at the underlying reasons for the success.

Modern farm families and the methods they use to grow food help ensure U.S. food affordability and quality is among the best in the world. This fact goes far beyond any relief provided at the checkout counter by the redemption of a cents-off coupon.

Foremost among the tools farmers use is a delicate but precise combination of nutrient management, crop protection and advancements in biotechnology. A precise plan to control insects, weeds and plant diseases allows farmers to grow more food using fewer resources on fewer acres.

Since the 20th century, U.S. farmers have relied on advances in science and technology to meet the food needs of an ever increasing global population. It has been a true miracle of science, but it has also been a miracle of economics.

A new study conducted for CropLife America by agronomist Mark Goodwin reveals the economic benefits of pesticides. The research finds that American families save 35 percent on fresh fruit and 45 percent on fresh vegetables because of efficiencies in crop production as a result of crop protection products. The average savings on food from the use of conventional crop protection techniques for a family of four is 47.92 percent overall.

Goodwin’s research also shows that the use of crop protection products adds $82 billion in increased yield and quality to field, nut, fruit and vegetable crops. Increased crop production from the use of crop protection products results in more than 1 million jobs generating more than $33 billion in wages for U.S. workers, according to Goodwin’s research.

The use of modern crop production tools by farmers also reduces the need for tillage, which cuts fossil fuel use by 558 million gallons per year. And thanks to scientific techniques, farmers now produce four times as much corn and wheat as they did in the early 1900s, without impacting forests or wetlands.

Because of modern agricultural practices and equipment, including satellite and computer technology, methods used to control weeds, insects and diseases today are very precise. Farmers also follow a strict set of regulations and are educated in selecting and applying only those crop protection products allowed by federal mandates.

As Goodwin’s research shows, you can put a very valuable price tag on the economic benefits that American agriculture brings to the checkout counter. It remains a topic worthy of mention, even though for many consumers it has become a basic expectation. But being able to meet that expectation also has helped put other food quality choices in reach for all Americans.

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John Hart is director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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