News from the Secretary By Larry Gabriel How to Keep 'Em Down on the Farm
There's a secret to keeping young people in a rural state like South Dakota.
The exit of young people from rural areas has been a social concern in this nation for more than a hundred years.
Social engineers have spent many years devising government schemes to solve the problem. The federal government invests about $10 billion a year in rural development programs.
Small towns in rural South Dakota acknowledge their dependence on agriculture. They see declining numbers of farmers and ranchers as a real threat to the welfare of their communities, when fewer customers shop the local stores and fewer children are enrolled in their schools.
That is part of it, but the trend toward fewer and bigger farms has continued since the late 1800s when agriculture began to become "industrialized" by modern equipment.
Some facts are unchangeable: you can't plant 2,000 acres each spring with a pair of horses and farmers are not returning to that pre-industrialized method.
We tend to overlook the fact that modern agriculture requires a lot of new support services. Ag service and support jobs outnumber actual farmers. More can be done in this area.
It's time we farmers and ranchers acknowledge our dependence upon the small towns. That may seem like an odd notion, but I assure you our future is dependent upon the rural communities as much as they depend upon us.
Why? Because people farm or ranch for the lifestyle and the community is an essential part of it.
Even if our children find some way to buy a farm or ranch and make a decent living from it, they won't do it just for the money. The "life" must attract them.
Who wants to go a million dollars into debt just for a "chance" at making a decent living by working twice as long as hourly wage earners?
That question is answered each time I pull into the driveway of my ranch after being gone for the week. Nothing in the world feels the same as "coming home" to the family farm or ranch.
The sense of identity and values gained from a rural community where everybody knows everybody and half the community will show up at your door in a time of need are unique.
If the young "feel" these things and share our values, they will be back.
They may try city life for a while, but if we keep the doors of opportunity open and give them rural communities with a high quality of life, one day they will pull into that driveway and wonder why they left.
The secret is that all of us working together can build just about anything we want, including whatever is needed to keep our young people in the state.