|Rural America: What Is Happening to
Rural Communities and Culture?
Sources of Income. In 1999, net farm cash income was $55.7
billion, while other sources of income contributed $124 billion to the total
income of farm families.1 Most rural counties do not depend on agriculture for
their economies; on average, seven of eight rural counties derive income from a
mix of farming, manufacturing, services, and other activities.2
Rural Poverty. Poverty in rural areas has been
consistent for the last 40 years, with rates of 20% or more in the rural South,
Appalachia, the Ozarks, the Mississippi Delta, and the Rio Grande Valley.3
Poverty rates in most agriculturally-based counties in six of the major
agriculture-producing states (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota,
and South Dakota) are greater than in the metropolitan counties in those
states; the rates in the smallest agriculturally-based counties are 60%
Culture. Studies for the past 50 years show a
correlation between a growing concentration in agriculture and a loss of
businesses and civic society in rural towns. Fewer farms and ranches mean fewer
agricultural support services and farm-related businesses, since larger and
more intensive farms can deal directly with national or global agribusiness.
Fewer farm families mean fewer children in rural schools, fewer community
services, and fewer churches; the average age of a farmer is estimated to be
about 55 years.5
1 Department of Agriculture, Food and Agricultural
Policy: Taking Stock of the New Century (September 2001), 4.
2 Food and Agricultural Policy, 12.
3 Food and Agricultural Policy, 90.
4 Jon M. Bailey and Kim Preston, for the Center for Rural
Affairs, Swept Away: Chronic Hardship and Fresh Promise on the Rural Great Plains
(June 2003), 1.
Department of Agriculture, 1997 Census of Agriculture, Table 1.