In The Numbers Game, Nebraska Scores Big Time

Nebraska Notebook

Rankings show the Cornhusker State's farmers and ranchers produce more and do so in a sustainable way.

Published on: September 6, 2013

I'm no numbers whiz, but I do find it fun to get caught up in numbers and rankings. To me, baseball is fascinating not only because I love the game but also because there is no end to the statistical possibilities—as in, "What left-handed pitcher, during the ninth inning of playoff games, leads the American League in walks?" No, I don't have the answer. It's just an example.

I've read of national rankings that can get downright silly and subjective like "the 10 friendliest states in the country" or the "100 best universities."

I was drawn to an agriculture exhibit at this year's Nebraska State Fair, set up the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and livestock and crop organizations. It presented talking points, displays and rankings for the crops and livestock we raise in Nebraska.

Let's start with corn rankings. Nebraska ranks No. 1 in popcorn production nationally, third in commercial corn production and second in ethanol output.

The "Cornhusker State" is No. 1 in total irrigated acres, with more than 8 million.

And the nation's farmers, Nebraska included, continue to produce their corn and soybeans in an environmental sustainable way. Corn produces have cut erosion 44% in two decades because of no-till and other reduced tillage methods, and the energy used to grow a bushel of corn has fallen 37% over the past 30 years. They grow five times more corn than they did in the 1930s on 20% less land. One acre of corn removes 8 tons of greenhouse gas.

Some tidbits on soybean production—the amount of land need to produce a bushel of soybeans has dropped by 35% since 1980. Yields have jumped 55% in the last 30 years, using fewer inputs and less water. Soil erosion per bushel of soybeans is down 66% since 1980.

The biotechnology traits developed in our crops allow for more food to be grown in more places using fewer chemicals and fewer natural resources.

Crop producers need to support livestock production in Nebraska. Here's one reason why: the state's hogs and pigs consume more than nearly 68 million bushels of corn and 1.2 million pounds of soybean meal per year.

We can't overlook Nebraska's beef industry, the largest agriculture sector in the state in terms of ag receipts.

Nebraska is first nationally in red meat production and commercial cattle harvest. It is second in the total number of cattle and calves, cattle of feed and beef exports.

That puts Nebraska in a great position for the future. As Ronnie Green, vice chancellor of the UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, explains: "In 2050, nearly 3 billion more people in the world will want animal protein in their diets."

Numbers may not tell the whole story but they do illustrate how important agriculture is to Nebraska.