Vilsack Says Rural America is "Less Relevant." Is He Right?
Over the weekend, I read some comments from current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (the former Governor of Iowa) about the state of rural America that gave me pause. Sure, there is an inflammatory quality to his comment that rural America is becoming "less relevant", and arguments abound that could refute such an indictment. Yet on the surface, the electoral map seems to support his point, with a vast sea of red states seemingly unable to surpass the starbursts of blue urban population.
Having spent some formative growing-up years in the farming communities in eastern North Dakota, I remember well hearing my friends and their dads (farmers) bemoaning the state of farming, of being told not to grow wheat in the mid 1980s. These were proud folks running family farms, and the thought of having to take subsidies to not grow crops was anathema to them. Historically, we've had farm bills and subsidies since the Great Depression. Nowadays, there are tremendous economic pressures to end or at least drastically reduce those subsidies.
Mind you, I'm not a farmer, nor am I a fan of subsidies. But Vilsack may very well be right when he points out that despite the vital importance of rural America (the food supply, energy development, etc.), the fact is that the population of such areas continues to shrink. And with that shrinkage comes the loss of political influence. I'm not sure how they gain it back.
What happens when the subsidies give way to fiscal pressures? Can the family farms survive, or will they succumb to the corporatism and conglomeration of the growing agribusiness sector? Would this further suppress rural population growth, or might it have the opposite effect of revitalizing the agricultural sector?
It strikes me that squeezing out the voices of those so vital to maintaining our food supply is a very bad idea. Is it possible to reverse the trend?