Bill Gates and his foundation have elevated the problem of hunger to a position it hasn’t held for quite some time; thankfully, he believes that modern agriculture is part of the solution.

This week, USDA reported that the number of U.S. households in 2008 that struggled at times to put enough food on the table numbered 17 million or 14.6% of U.S. households. That’s an increase of 4 million households since 2007 and the highest total since the series began in 1995. Given the state of the economy and unemployment figures, that number should be higher yet again in 2009.

These certainly aren’t heartwarming statistics but they do point out the necessity of increasing food production in order to feed a growing world that’s already partially hungry.

This is an area that puts the triumvirate of animal welfarists, radical environmentalists and socialists on the defensive. Their attacks on modern agriculture and their drive to increase regulation and its resulting reduction in supply and increases in cost are contrary to food security issues.

Moreover, the average American understands that feeding a hungry world is a noble act and a worthwhile goal, and they support the farmers and ranchers who are working tirelessly to achieve it. This is an issue that brings an important perspective to the debate, and most Americans realize that its answer lies in modern agriculture not growing organic vegetables in windowsills.

As reports, the average American is now three generations removed from farming as a livelihood. That’s why, in recognition of the 22 million Americans who work on farms or in farm-related jobs, 16 states proclaimed Nov. 20 as “Thank your Farmers and Ranchers” day. This came as a result of beef checkoff and state beef council efforts around the “Give Thanks” campaign. Participating states include: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

“Farmers and ranchers not only provide the food we eat, but also help sustain rural communities, preserve open space and wildlife habitat, and protect the environment,” says North Dakota Stockmen’s Association (NDSA) president Jack Reich, a Zap, ND, rancher.

Here are a few farm facts:

  • The average U.S. farmer feeds 144 people/day, compared to 46 people in 1960.
  • U.S. consumers spend 10% of their disposable income on food, compared to 22% in the UK, 26% in Japan and 28% in South Africa.
  • Farmers and ranchers provide food and habitat for 75% of the nation’s wildlife.
  • The U.S. beef industry is comprised of 1 million beef and dairy producers, 75% of whom work on operations at least two generations in the family.
  • The average U.S. farm is 441 acres; 99% are classified as family operations. About 41% of total U.S. land area is farmland.
  • And 85% of U.S. grazing lands are unsuitable for crops; grazing animals on this land more than doubles the land that can be used to raise other foods.