If ever there were so few doing so much for so many, look at farmers. As their numbers decrease, the demand for food and agricultural products increases.

The United States has 3.2 million farmers (operating 2.1 million farms per the 2012 Census of Agriculture). That is less than 10 percent of the U.S. population of more than 323 million.

And the number of farmers is declining. A new Census of Agriculture in 2017 is nearly certain to show fewer farmers and farms.

Some important facts:

• The average age of the principal operator on U.S. farms in 2012 stood at more than 58 years. That is eight years older than in 1982.

• The number of female farmers in 2012 declined by 6 percent from 2007.

• The number of new farmers having been on their current operation less than 10 years was down 20 percent in 2012 from 2007.

Some say technology has contributed to the shrinking agricultural numbers and that fewer farmers are needed. No question, technology on today’s farms is a key player. Modern-day equipment is high tech, with fewer people required to work the farms.

But technology comes with a cost. The equipment is high dollar, requiring farmers to make huge investments while they bank on unpredictable weather and up-and-down markets to determine their fate from year to year.

Fewer people are willing to venture into agriculture as witnessed by the numbers of children of farmers seeking other careers. And farming is nearly impossible as a career option for someone not in a farm family or having ownership or access to significant land. The investment alone is prohibitive.

But farming is not without a future. Our nation must eat, and farmers are the suppliers. They will survive – and must prosper in the process.

Nowhere is the future of agriculture any more important than The T&D Region. Orangeburg, Calhoun and Bamberg counties are key producers in nearly every aspect of agriculture in South Carolina.

Some statistics:

• Orangeburg County has 1,056 farms with an average size of 268 acres. The total land farmed is 283,128 acres. The county ranks first in total receipts for crops and livestock in the state.

• Calhoun County has 412 farms with an average size of 287 acres. The total land farmed is 118,382 acres. Calhoun County ranks 16th in total receipts for crops and livestock in the state.

• Bamberg County has 315 farms with an average size of 294 acres. The total land farmed is 92,524 acres. Bamberg County ranks 28th in total receipts for crops and livestock in the state.

The numbers are significant, but there is so much more to the stories of farmers than statistics. In The Times and Democrat’s special section today, “Farming 2017,” Staff Writer Gene Zaleski puts you in touch with the region’s farmers.

They battled back from the disasters of flooding and a hurricane in 2015 and 2016.

They hope that a bountiful year for major crops in 2017 will mean a good year for them despite low commodity prices.

They lament the future of their farms if children or associates do not take up the farming mantel.

And they leave you to read between the lines that many of them would choose no other life and career.

Too many people – even in a rural location such as The T&D Region – know little about farming. Take a trip through the pages of today’s special section. You’ll find it interesting, informative – and a lesson in appreciation for the few feeding so many.

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