News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary By Larry Gabriel What is the value of an American farm?

Why should the rest of the country continue to give us financial support when only about one in 750 citizens live on a viable farm?

We who live in agriculture-dependent rural America are well aware of the social benefits our portion of the country provides to the society as a whole, but there is a real debate about how important we are to Congress.

Two groups appear to be the most concerned about how much money the federal government spends on agriculture in rural America. The first are farmers (mostly owners of small family farms) who depend upon that money

for economic survival. The other group impassioned about subsidies is social engineers.

The second group wants to control this money for other objectives, such as redistributing wealth, manipulating international trade, promoting environmental agendas or some other social goal.

Promoting rural economy has long been a goal of our federal government. Some assume farm subsidy programs boost the local rural economy, but the programs are not accomplishing that goal.

According to a recent study prepared by the "Center for Study of Rural America" for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, farm subsidies may have a negative impact on local rural economic growth.

The study contains two very telling maps of counties in the United States. One map shows the top 25 percent of counties dependent upon government farm payments. The other shows counties with zero or negative employment growth. They both highlight the same general area � the Great Plains.

The authors conclude from the evidence that "Farm payments are not providing a strong boost to the rural economy in those counties most dependent on them. Job gains are weak and population growth is actually negative in most of the counties where farm payments are the biggest share of income."

It would be easy (based on this report) to jump to the conclusion the Great Plains is being emptied of its rural population because of the federal farm subsidy program.

No logical person would make that leap. It is easy to claim a program failed but we really don't know what these areas would be like today if the farm subsidy programs had never existed. Likewise, saying it failed does not take into account a number of other social changes that have caused or contributed to the current trend of rural decline.

About all we know for a fact is that some people are leaving but those of us who love it here will still be here making it better for the next

generation with or without federal subsidies.

I am not worried. People discover what they can do only when they must. The people of the plains will do whatever it takes. That's the way we are.

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