On February 12, President Lincoln’s birthday, let’s take a moment to appreciate the many impressive accomplishments that our Nation’s 16th President achieved during his four years in office. Many of those accomplishments have a direct tie-in to the success of American agriculture. Lincoln’s birthday is especially important to us because 2012 is the 150th anniversary of USDA. Lincoln signed into law an act of Congress establishing the department in 1862.
We will celebrate Lincoln’s vision for the country and the potential he saw in America’s farmers at USDA’s major event to commemorate our department’s anniversary, USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum on February 23-24 in Arlington, VA. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack will give the keynote address and moderate a historic plenary panel with former Secretaries of Agriculture that have been invited to share their views about the future of agriculture in America.
On May 15, 1862, when Lincoln founded USDA, it was during the midst of the Civil War, at a time when agriculture was a contentious issue. But because his vision for the country and the potential he saw in America’s farmers to find new ways to cultivate the land, he signed into law three pieces of legislation during a three month span in 1862. He had a profound and lasting impact on U.S. agriculture and society:
- May 15, 1862 – President Lincoln’s signed the Department of Agriculture Act to establish the Department
- May 20, 1862 – President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act – stimulated Western migration by offering qualified individuals 160 acres of public land for settlement and cultivation.
- July 1862 – President Lincoln signed the Morrill Act - grants of Federal land to establish public land grant universities to teach agriculture and engineering.
Today, America’s farmers and ranchers provide a safe, ample food supply for our nation and the world. American agriculture is a bright spot in our nation’s economy. Since 2009, median farm family household income rose 4.9 %. Farm sector earnings reached a nominal record with net farm income of $100.9 billion for 2011. Agriculture exports reached record levels in 2011, continuing a year after year trade surplus.