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Harvesting for a Hungry World

A Harvest for The Holiday Season


This holiday season, you should get together with 154 of your closest friends and thank a farmer. The average farmer feeds 155 people in the United States. Putting a feast on all your tables on Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah is a more sizeable chore than you might imagine, requiring enormous effort, resolve and scientific innovation.

In 2017, widespread summer floods from Wisconsin down to Florida and Texas damaged or destroyed millions of dollars worth of crops.1 Hurricane Maria was particularly unkind to farmers in Puerto Rico, ruining some 80 percent of the territory’s crop value, according to Carlos Flores Ortega, the Secretary for the Department of Agriculture for Puerto Rico.2.

In Wisconsin, farmers purposefully flooded their marshes to aid in the harvesting of cranberries; the tiny, tart berries, which contain pockets of air, float to the surface to be scooped up by harvesting equipment.

Farmers in Illinois, who grow more pumpkins than all the 49 other states combined, carefully bred “processing pumpkins” — the pumpkins made into pie that have meatier and tastier insides than the ornamental pumpkins carved up on Halloween.

Science of Scent

The makings of the Thanksgiving meal — potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and even turkey — share many of the same flavor compounds. That is why the feast has such an appealing taste and aroma, explains the Institute of Food Technologists.

And the aroma is what matters most. The science of making your taste buds salivate on Thanksgiving has more to do with the nose than the mouth.

By the time you’re enjoying that savory feast, farmers have put the Harvest Moon long behind them, but their labors are far from over. They must then clean the equipment, spray for weeds, and tend to their fields, never sure when the ground will become totally frozen.

“Consumers don’t realize is how hard people are out there working to produce the food for them,” says Kent Meschke, a farmer in Little Falls, Minnesota, whose family has raised turkeys for nearly half a century. “If there’s a problem in the middle of the night, we’re out there taking care of it. We produce a wholesome, nutritious product that our own family eats.”

Breeding Benefits

Over the past century, the world population has grown exponentially from 1.75 to 7.2 billion today. In many parts of the world, food scarcity is the norm, and 800 million people suffer from consistent hunger.

To feed all these people, the modern farmer must be knowledgeable and tech savvy. Plant-breeding techniques are used to develop new hybrids and varieties of crops that can improve yields. These crops can adapt to difficult growing conditions, resist pests and diseases, and provide important nutritional benefits.

Consider the sweet potato. Nearly synonymous with Thanksgiving, it is much more than just a delicious holiday side dish. Domestic consumption of sweet potatoes has nearly doubled since 2000, going from 4.2 pounds per capita in 2000 to 7.5 pounds in 2015, according to the USDA.3

So while you’re enjoying your holiday turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and sweet potatoes, pause a moment to thank the hard-working farmers: They’re changing the world through their labor, dedication, and application of scientific breakthroughs.



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