The power and skill of the American farmer has become legend. He feeds about 80 people besides himself.

Despite increasing food prices, Americans continue to eat cheaply because of the farmer's ingenuity. Americans spend less of their income for food than anybody in the world - only 11 percent.Canadians spend 13.4 percent, the British 14.5., West Germans 17.6, Italians 25.6, Mexicans 31.7, South Koreans 36.1 and Chinese 52.6. People in Indian spend 53.1 percent of their income for food and in Niger they spend a whopping 61.6 percent.

Nevertheless, American farmers continue to earn less from the dollars Americans spend for food.

According to a report from the American Farm Bureau published this month, the American farmer's average share of each dollar consumers spend on food, including food eaten out, is 25 cents. The other 75 cents goes for processing, packaging, transportation, advertising and sales.

Only three years ago, in 1985, the farmer's average share of the consumer's food dollar was 31 cents.

The decline is drastic and has been occurring steadily over the past dozen years or more. The price of food continues to rise, but the farmer is not sharing in this increase. He received no more money for his work this year than he did last year, even though the price of food went up.

When you notice a jump in the price of a food item at the grocery store, the chances are that it is the processor, the packager, the trucking company, or the store that is making more profits - not the farmer.

According to the American Farm Bureau, the farmer's share of what consumers spend varies from one food item to another. On the average, 57 percent of what consumers paid for choice beef went back to the cattleman, but just 7 percent of the final cost of bread went to the wheat farmer.

Farm producers realized 9 percent of the cost of canned tomatoes, 18 percent of the dollar spent on fresh oranges, 61 percent of the cost of eggs and 49 percent of the food dollar spent on whole milk.

Based on these figures, Utah farmers are better off than those in some other states because Utah has a strong beef and dairy industry, and a large egg industry. It does not rely on wheat for most farm income.

Nearly 77 percent of Utah's agricultural cash receipts come from livestock and livestock products. Hay, a money-maker this year, represents nearly 7.5 percent of the state's farm income.

If farmers want to earn more of the food dollar, they have to grow more high-valued crops and control more of the production chain. Farmers who dry their grain, store it themselves and sell it directly to consumers are making more profits than those who simply sell it from the field to a middleman.

Farmers who process and can or package their own vegetables and fruits are making far greater profits than those who sell their fruit and produce to brokers.

Cattlemen who keep their calves and turn them into steers and then slaughter them and transport the beef to market are collecting a lot bigger share of the food dollar than other beef producers who are only involved in a short part of the food chain.

Cherry growers who turn their crop into a gourmet specialty - sugared cherry raisins - can them, label the cans, and sell them to retailers are earning greater profits than orchardmen who sell their crop at wholesale.

Not all cattlemen can afford to set up packing plants and buy trucks to ship their packaged meat to market, but cooperatives can help farmers build such an industry.

Specialization is another way toward profits, some farmers contend. They are not interested in keeping a long part of the food chain, but only in managing a small, but highly lucrative section of it, cutting their overhead to the bone and minimizing their labor costs.

Specialty crops, such as nuts and canned trout, is another area where profits have been made in Utah.

Farmers who believe they will be successful in agriculture in the future say they are cutting costs in every corner of their operation, building net profits as high as possible, and watching the market carefully so they can produce what people want and need - the commodities that will bring the highest profits.

Above all, successful farmers are innovative and imaginative, ready to explore new avenues, ready to use science and technology, and ready to open new markets wherever possible.