Rural America and the Great Agricultural Transition
Mythical Farmers Farming is the American capitalist ideal of a people, morally and spiritually strong, selling the products of their hard labor. We gain insight into this national mythology through the work of Max Weber -- a German sociologist whose most important works were written in the early 20 th century -- and his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism . What is the Protestant ethic? It is derived from Calvinism, a sect of Christianity that expressed the following logic regarding the fundamental uncertainty of one’s relationship and fate with the Lord: (a) people are born sinners and are not predisposed to love the Lord, (b) only the Lord can save people from their sin and allow them into Heaven, (c) only select people are atoned for their sins, and not everybody is selected who wants to be selected, (d) no one knows for certain whether they will be selected.
People do not like uncertainty. This uncertainty about whether they will be elected into Heaven had made people want to search for any sign of certainty. Glorifying the Lord was seen as a sign. Lifestyles that glorified the Lord were evidence of salvation, and a reduction in the uncertainty. Thus, it is what people do on Earth that helps people cope with the uncertainty . Salvation =
What did people do to satisfy the Lord? They engage in capitalistic enterprises and adhere to the Protestant ethic: -- Frugality and thrift : not spending more than you have, and keeping debts to a minimum. Luxury is bad, living on the minimum to survive is good. Don’t live on credit. -- Hard work : people must be willing to engage in their tasks with enthusiasm, no matter the difficulty in terms of time and physical or emotional strength. -- Industriousness : all time and effort must be in the pursuit of generating money. An occupation, what Weber calls a “calling,” must be about making money. Being idle is bad, being energetic about (income producing) work is good. -- Profit -Seeking : Industriousness should lead to generating more money; in particular, more money should be generated than expenses incurred. Making money is good, making a profit is better. Profit seeking is the ends, i.e. making money is the goal, not the means to the goal. Further, profit seeking must not go against the other elements of the ethic, i.e. the idea that one “would go through hell for gain, even though he scorched his sails” is bad. Thus the mythical American farmer embodies all that is foundational for modern American capitalism: frugality, hard work, industriousness and profit seeking (but not to scorch their barns).
http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/demographics.html What is a farm? Like any concept, farms are a matter of definition. According to the USDA, “A farm is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were, or normally would be, produced and sold during the Census year.” http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Fact_Sheets/farm_numbers.pdf “ According to Ross Korves, Deputy Chief Economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, there are eight types of farms in the United States…” Farm Type Number of Farms Percent of Farms Non-Family Farms 42,300 2.0 Farming Sales > $500,000 61,300 3.0 Farming Sales $250,000 - $499,999 91,900 4.5 Limited Resource 150,300 7.3 Farming Sales $100,000 - $249,999 171,500 8.3 Retirement 290,900 14.1 Farming Sales < $100,000 422,200 20.4 Residential/Lifestyle 834,300 40.4 TOTAL 2,064,700 100.0
During the 20 th Century the number of farms and people living on farms decreases, dramatically so after World War Two.
Farming as an industry is losing workers (declining in percentage of the workforce) and is increasingly less important to the U.S. economy (as percent contribution to GDP).
Meanwhile, as farming declines, average acreage per farm grows…
… as does gross sales per farm and value of farm land and buildings. These trends are indicative of great changes in the farm structure of the U.S. and increasing inequality within the farming occupation.
Farm Structure of the United States -- 40.8 percent of America is farm land http://www.ers.usda.gov/statefacts/us.htm -- Most farms in the United States are small (about 60 percent). http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Fact_Sheets/demographics.pdf -- Most farms are individually or family-owned (87 percent), while only 4 percent are corporate farms, and most of those are family-owned. http://www.ers.usda.gov/statefacts/us.htm -- Despite their small number, large farms vastly out-produce small farms: Large-scale family farms (annual sales of $250,000 or more), plus nonfamily farms, made up only 12 percent of U.S. farms in 2007 but accounted for 84 percent of the value of U.S. production. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/EIB66/EIB66_ReportSummary.html -- Farms under corporate contract produce disproportionately to everyone else in livestock production: “Approximately 3 percent of farms operate under production contracts, but they produce almost all of America’s poultry, more than half of its hogs and one quarter of its cattle” (L&M 2004: 14). -- Small farms are declining while large farms are growing; mid-sized farms are shrinking at the fastest rate (L&M 2004).
Growing Inequality between Farmers The Size Advantage Like large businesses in other areas of production, large farms have a competitive advantage over small farms; they have more yield, greater distributional reach, and can therefore control prices of their inputs and outputs better than small and mid-sized farms. Farming is getting expensive, another competitive advantage for large farms. Farms spent 241 billion in production expenses (gasoline & fuel, fertilizer, seed, feed, livestock and farm labor), a 39 percent increase from 2002. http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Fact_Sheets/economics.pdf
The Subsidy Advantage Large farms have another competitive advantage: U.S. government subsidies go to large farms more than any other type. A subsidy is financial assistance – welfare, in other words – from government to farm. In 2007, total government payment to farms was 8 billion dollars over 840,000 farms. This means that only 38 percent of all farms received the subsidy. While the USDA reports the average payment is $9,523, this hides the high level of inequality in who gets subsidies and how much. http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Fact_Sheets/economics.pdf . In terms of inequality, 10 percent received 3/4ths of all subsidy money in 2007, and $29,658 average per year between 1995 and 2009. By contrast, the bottom 80% received an average of $572 per year between 1995 and 2009. http://farm.ewg.org/ http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Fact_Sheets/economics.pdf Growing Inequality between Farmers
The Urban-Rural Divide The U.S. is becoming more and more of an urban-based society. Year Rural Urban 1980 20% 80% 1990 18% 82% 2000 17% 83% 2010 17% 83%
The average job pays better in urban areas: the earnings per job in 2008 for urban areas was $52,699, while in rural areas it was $36,180. Rural areas have more poverty: Poverty rates (2009) in urban areas are 13.3, while in rural areas it is 16.6.
Education inequality is also in evidence. Urban residents are more likely to graduate from high school, though the gap is narrowing. While rural residents are just as likely, if not more, to have a high school degree, urban residents are more likely to have a college degree, and the urban-rural divide is widening. Education (Persons 25 and older) Rural Urban Total Percent not completing high school 1980 41.8 31.6 33.5 1990 31.4 23.3 24.8 2000 23.5 18.8 19.6 Percent completing high school only 1980 35.0 34.4 34.6 1990 35.2 28.9 30.0 2000 35.9 27.1 28.6 Percent completing college 1980 10.6 17.6 16.2 1990 12.4 22.1 20.3 2000 15.1 26.4 24.4
Information comes from various sources, including: Labao, Linda and Katherine Meyer. 2001. “The Great Agricultural Transition: Crisis, Change, and Social Consequences of Twentieth Century US Farming.” Annual Review of Sociology 27:103-124. Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Environmental Protection Agency, Agriculture Demographics 101: http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/demographics.html United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) US Fact Sheet US Agriculture Income Population etc.: http://www.ers.usda.gov/statefacts/us.htm USDA: Structure and Finances of US Farms: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/EIB66/EIB66_ReportSummary.html USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture, “Demographics”: http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Fact_Sheets/demographics.pdf USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture, “Economics”: http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Fact_Sheets/economics.pdf USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture, “Farm Numbers”: http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/Online_Highlights/Fact_Sheets/farm_numbers.pdf Environmental Working Group: http://farm.ewg.org/