Every summer, we get the chance to celebrate our state’s No. 1 industry at the Missouri State Fair. After 200 years of statehood, agriculture remains Missouri’s heart and soul. Long gone are the days when nearly every family lived and worked on a farm – today, less than 2 percent of Americans are farmers or ranchers – but farms remain every bit as important as they were at our state’s founding in 1821.
The 2021 Missouri State Fair’s official theme, “Our Missouri Celebration,” will remind fairgoers how important agriculture has been to our state’s first 200 years. In 2016, a study found that agriculture contributes more than $88 billion to Missouri’s economy. Agriculture is a growing industry. Missouri is now the global hub of innovation and change in agriculture and is leading the charge to break barriers once thought impossible.
Just 17 years before Missouri became a state, the Lewis and Clark Expedition set off from Camp Dubois near St. Louis, then a tiny trading post home to fewer than 1,500 people. Working their way upriver west to Kansas City and north to St. Joseph, these explorers left behind an inspiring spirit and vision for the future that lives on today.
At our bicentennial, Missouri stands as the worldwide epicenter of biotechnology. More plant science Ph.Ds live and work in the St. Louis region than any other city on the planet. The Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, running from the University of Missouri in Columbia to Kansas City and St. Joseph, is home to the largest concentration of animal health companies in the world. Missouri is where ag innovation happens.
This exciting future for agriculture will be on display at the Missouri State Fair. Visitors to the Missouri Farm Bureau building on the fairgrounds in Sedalia will learn about how early farming methods have been improved, allowing modern farmers and ranchers to grow and raise far more than in the past while using fewer resources. Today’s farmers use much less fertilizer, pesticides, and water per unit of production than ever before — and, on average, each farm grows enough food to feed an astonishing 166 people.
To remember and recognize the contributions of farmers to Missouri’s first 200 years, many displays will highlight the history of farming in the state. Next door to the Farm Bureau building, at Mizzou Central in the MO-Ag Theater, visitors can peruse the histories of nearly 30 “Founding Farm” families that have been farming the same ground since before statehood. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the trailblazing pioneers who bravely settled the land that produces such a bounty today.
The Missouri State Fair is a fun experience for people of all ages — from concerts and rides to food and dirt track racing. But while you’re there, don’t pass up the opportunity to see the hard work of our youth on display in the 4-H and FFA buildings or see them in action showing their livestock, poultry, and rabbits. Make sure to explore the educational displays throughout the fairgrounds and learn more about our state’s top industry. I think you’ll be impressed with what you see.
Garrett Hawkins, a farmer from Appleton City, is the president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.