We have a crisis in America today that goes unnoticed and ignored. Rural America is dying. Young people have been leaving the farm for years. The population of rural America is going down, poverty is higher than urban America and the health of rural Americans faces greater challenges than their urban counterparts. The average age of a farmer is 55, our agrarian way of life has an aging problem. My friends, both political parties have failed rural America.
From the early days of colonial America, and the early days of the Republic, people of all walks of life idealized the agrarian way of life. Farmers were looked upon as individuals who lived an independent life, hard working and self reliant. The simplicity of what was viewed as a rural existence and the simple abundance of using what he produced, was idealized and romanticized. Even in the early days a real farmer’s life was more difficult than people who lived in the city could imagine. Up until the Industrial Revolution we were still an agrarian society. Gordon Woods painting, the American Gothic, of a farmer and his wife in the 1930’s was still the vision that most people held of the life of an American farm family. Today’s reality is far from the romantic view of farm life, the question being was life ever like the myth of agrarian life.
What of rural America today? There are 2.2 million farmers now. The average cost of production is a little over $109,000. While only one in four farmers earn the gross total exceeding $50,000. Family farm income averages about $84,000 but 85% of that income comes from non-farm income.
For example, one of my first cousins in North Carolina has worked in the lumber mill for years making enough money to sustain the farm. Another of my cousins in North Carolina is helped by his wife working. Life is tough on the farm these days, and it has been so for some time.
Problems are with them every day. Not only do they have to deal with the weather and the fact that they have to be a good business man to run the family farm or a commercial farm, you have to deal with the changing demographics. There is a growing Latino population that works the fields. For years another key problem is that young people flee the farm for the city. The average age of a farmer today is 55 years old, and farm communities have a high percentage of farmers who work over the age of 65. The birth rate is lower and you have health problems. There are fewer doctors per 1000 people. High poverty exists in a lot of rural counties in America. More people seek Social Security Disability because of the wear and tear on the body that a farmer experiences from the long hours and years of hard work that they do.
The up and down commodity prices make it difficult to predict what will happen from one year to the next. Soybeans are now produced by many farmers because they have been getting a good price for them. Farmers are still ripped off by the loophole that exists in crop insurance and American farmers still pay for the R&D of a company like Monsanto, while farmers in Australia pay a much lower price for the weed kill than what our American farmers pay for the same bag of weed kill. The Middle Man still lives in the biggest house while the family farmer works as hard as one can work for less money than the one who packages it and sends it to the marketplace where either the American people enjoy what is produced or a family overseas enjoys the food that we produce here in America. What Congressmen and women speak up for the American farmer these days? It is darn right hard to hear any of them speak about these critical issues.
Farming is not the ideal that it is sold to us as being, the romantic picture of farm life is a myth.
There two types of farm areas, high density farms in the Eastern part of the country and in the West you have a much lower density rate of farmers in the western states.
Small town America has shown a different picture of life in rural America during the years of 1970 and 2007. You can see for yourself by going to whitehouse.gov.
The percentage of people working in agriculture, forestry and fishing is going down in both high density areas and low density areas. The only areas of growth are in the service industry and in the world of finance.
If it were not for the huge productivity gains made by commercial farming the danger that is real in rural America would be more in the news. But the danger signals are there, an older farm population, with young people fleeing the life of a farmer should sound a loud and resounding warning signal for the future.
Farm price supports are still needed. As my first cousin would say if it were not for price supports both the commercial enterprises and the family farm would not be able to make it.
Farmers are naturally independent, as they have to pretty much depend on themselves to fix whatever is wrong with their equipment. Being so busy, and with little time to spend on political lobbying they are increasingly frustrated and angry because they feel ignored and underappreciated. Even though, many are now Republican, they find our system unresponsive to their needs. If any candidate can represent their frustration with the insiders can find support among these disenchanted voters.
Broad strategies for improving life in rural America do exist. The general framework on what is needed to be done is there but the execution and the specific plan for the different types of farm situations have not been put into action. Both political parties are pretty much silent on solutions and action. Farmers tend to be the last to complain, it is not part of their nature. Regardless, Government and business need to work together to save the family run farm businesses that are out there. Inaction brings about stagnation and a lingering set of problems that need to be addressed goes ignored. We need to continue to produce our own food. Farmers who work so hard and who do so much for us deserve to live a life worth living It still should be a way of life that younger Americans can aspire to. It is a way of life worth preserving.