Jack’s Insights: Thomas Jefferson, the Farmer | farm and ranch


A few weeks ago, Robynn and I, along with my four siblings and their spouses, traveled to Washington, DC, our nation’s capital, for a vacation to see the sites and enjoy the history.

Jack C Whittier Emeritus Professor – Nebraska University of Animal Sciences

One of the highlights for me was our visit to the Jefferson Memorial. As I stood in the memorial rotunda gazing at the large statue of Thomas Jefferson, I was impressed with Jefferson’s contribution to this country. He and other sages of our founding fathers were raised up to establish the wonderful country we know as America. Even with all the challenges facing our nation and our world, America remains an amazing place to live and work.

Jefferson’s contributions weren’t just to the independence and system of government we enjoy in America today, I also appreciate the love Jefferson had for agriculture. In a letter written to a British agricultural writer named Arthur Young, Jefferson said, “Farming has always been one of the most favorite pastimes of my life.” Moreover, one writer (Thomas Donald in 1889), went so far as to say that if “Mr. Jefferson had done nothing but help man to learn agriculture, he would have been a benefactor .

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Thomas Jefferson was also the main mover in facilitating the 1803 Louisiana Purchase from France, which added over 800,000 square miles to our growing nation. Much of this acquired land has been developed into the “breadbasket of the nation” – and indeed, for much of the world. I think Mr. Jefferson would be delighted to see the many advancements in agriculture that have evolved in the 219 years since those 800,000+ square miles were added to the United States.

The North Platte Valley where we live was part of this 800,000 square mile addition and has certainly become a major generator of agricultural goods and services. The early visionaries of the Nebraska Panhandle recognized the opportunity to harness the water resources of the North Platte River and develop an unrivaled canal system for irrigation. This has allowed cropping systems and corresponding animal production systems to develop, prosper and expand to this day.

Along with the natural resources of land and water in this valley, another key resource has developed in tandem – the human resource. It has been said that farmers and ranchers are the engine of the economy and I certainly do not dispute that statement. In the eight years we have been residents of this valley, we have met many amazing, caring and hardworking people. We also see the next generation of farmers ready to carry on the traditions of their ancestors in the Panhandle.

I remember the words spoken by Paul Harvey at the Future Farmers of American convention in Kansas City in 1978 entitled “So God created a farmer”. This masterpiece speech was later made even more popular when Ram Trucks used it in their Super Bowl XLVII commercial. If you haven’t read or heard this speech recently, open it on your phone and read it, or listen to it again on YouTube.

In my opinion, he represents well the qualities of those who are called farmers and agriculturists. I think you will agree.

Since I started by referring to Thomas Jefferson, I will end with a quote attributed to him, he believed that “those who work the earth are God’s chosen people”.

I couldn’t agree more completely.

Have a great month – enjoy the summer.


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