Tag Archives: Rural Life

After 45 years covering agriculture in Kansas and Missouri, I will “pull the pin” (retire) from Kansas Farm Bureau Jan. 31. I’ll put my pen in the desk drawer, close my computer, hang up my camera and turn off the phone. Don’t worry Insight will continue.

But I will not forget this vocation of agriculture and more importantly the men, women and children who call this vocation their own.

Who knows?

After a few months I may put pen to paper and write about this most honorable profession once more.

The opportunity to advocate on behalf of agriculture for 45 years has given me a reason to believe. No other career I could have embarked on would have fulfilled my inner need to remain connected to a life I was born into 70 years ago in northwestern Kansas.

My family and four others literally carved the community of Angelus out of the prairie during the waning years of the 19th Century. Before settling in northwestern Kansas, they’d settled in up-state New York by way of Germany in the early 1830s. From there they moved to a small farm near Milwaukee, Wis. A decade later, on to Wein, Mo. and finally the short-grass prairie on the great High Plains.

Growing up in a family of hard working, dedicated German and French immigrants, I was destined to “tell the story of agriculture.” I will carry a place in my heart for the farmers and ranchers who remain a part of this vocation as long as I inhabit this old world.

After four decades of writing a weekly column, starting “Kansas Living” magazine, producing “Insight” on the radio, “Voice of Ag” radio spots, writing speeches for three Kansas Farm Bureau presidents, video production and managing KFB’s print media department, far too many events occurred to mention them all. Here are a few highlights:

Droughts, killing freezes, brutal winters with blizzards and loss of livestock, farm bills including the Freedom to Farm spearheaded by Kansas’s own Sen. Roberts, Russia’s Boris Yeltsin cutting wheat at the Rau farm in Sedgwick County followed by a visit from the white combine.

The advent of animal welfare including PETA and HSUS, Waters of the U.S. in a semi-arid western Kansas, the over appropriation of irrigation out of the Ogallala Aquifer, yearly Governor’s tours, Farm Bureau members lobbying congress in D.C. led by KFB President John Junior Armstrong in ’78.

So much history, so much fun and so many wonderful farm families. The opportunity to visit farms and ranches in all 105 counties. The chance to visit with members – in their pickups, combines or drive through a pasture filled with fleshy momma cow-calf pairs – as they proudly showed me their farms and shared the intimate details of their lives and livelihood.

I also witnessed the sorrow and pained hurt in the eyes of a wheat farmer a few minutes after a hailstorm hammered his crop into the ground. Followed by his vision and hope for the next great year.  I’ll never forget and always cherish these moments.

I will remember always the friendships forged with farmers and ranchers throughout Kansas. We all share a love of this business of agriculture, each other and our Farm Bureau organization.

This continues to make Farm Bureau the best. We care on a personal level. Our families and lives became intertwined.

We share common concerns. Kansas agriculture remains a moving target, always changing. What’s right for you, may be wrong for me. Still, in Farm Bureau, we work together to find solutions for our shared industry.

At the end of the day, week, month or year, we love our great organization. We’re unafraid to tilt at windmills like the brave Don Quixote. We toil behind the scenes “to finish the task,” driven by dedicated farm and ranch leaders and dedicated staff, we make a difference in the agricultural vocation.

While it may seem like a long, hard road, it’s been an exhilarating ride. One I wouldn’t change for anything. I’m truly honored and humbled to have served with each one of you.

God bless.

Recent articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post discuss preferences for rural living and if rural economies can be saved. Data from the Nebraska Rural Poll and other state surveys are used to further explore these topics.

Residential Preferences

The Washington Post piece by Christopher Ingraham examined recent Gallup Poll data that showed many Americans would like to live in a rural area. If so many people would like to live in rural areas, why is population in nonmetropolitan areas declining? Preferences and reality don’t match for many Americans. While 27 percent of Americans would prefer to live in a rural area if they could live anywhere they wish, only 15 percent currently live in such a place. Ingraham and Gallup’s Frank Newport state that job concentration in metro areas is preventing the movement to rural areas.

Ingraham goes on to present arguments for living in rural areas. Many positives are found in rural life, such as higher levels of happiness and well-being, better natural environments, safe neighborhoods, and affordable cost of living.

A survey of new residents to the Nebraska Panhandle conducted in 2007 also sheds light on reasons people choose to live in rural areas. In fact, the type of places the new residents moved from was related to their reasons both for moving from their previous location as well as their reasons for moving to their new home (Cantrell et al., 2008). Migrants originating from metropolitan areas were significantly more likely than their non-metropolitan counterparts to identify high cost of living, fear of crime and general safety concerns as push factors that were important or very important in their decision to move from their previous residence. Similarly, the new residents originating from metropolitan areas were significantly more likely than their non-metropolitan counterparts to indicate that seeking a less congested location was an important pull consideration in selecting a Panhandle location. Indeed, this was reported as an important consideration by 65 percent of those moving to the Panhandle from a metropolitan location. They were also significantly more likely to identify the pull of lower cost housing, a simpler pace of life, a safer living environment, lower taxes, shared values and an improved environment for child-rearing than were their non-metropolitan counterparts.

Nebraska Rural Poll data from 1998 also examined residential preferences similar to those explored by Gallup. That data found the opposite trend from that found nationally. For rural Nebraskans, the proportion currently living in the country was greater than the proportion preferring to do so. Fifty-one percent of the respondents lived in the country, compared to only 34 percent who would prefer this residence type. Overall, rural Nebraskans who don’t currently live in their preferred community size tended to prefer communities larger than their current location. However, it is important to note that within these general preferences there was a marked tendency for rural residents in smaller towns to prefer smaller rural towns, for those living in larger rural towns to prefer larger towns, etc. The least preferred community size was a large city. Only one percent of rural Nebraskans would prefer to live in a place with a population in excess of 500,000.

Economic Realities

These differences in residential preferences lead to the economic disparities between urban and rural areas discussed more in the New York Times piece by Eduardo Porter. Porter examines the “Hard Truths of Trying to ‘Save’ the Rural Economy,” presenting evidence of economic decline in rural America. Some of the evidence provided includes economic recovery occurring in metropolitan areas that is not occurring overall in rural economies:  by 2017,  the largest metropolitan areas had almost 10 percent more jobs than they did at the start of the financial crisis while rural areas still had fewer.

The rural Nebraskans who expressed a preference for living in larger communities than their current location may indicate a desire for increased economic opportunities that are presumed to be greater in larger places. Further evidence of the struggle between preference for small town living and economic realities are shown in Nebraska Rural Polldata. Consistently, the Rural Poll has found that rural Nebraskans are most satisfied with various social and environmental dimensions including their marriage, family, friends, the outdoors, their safety and general quality of life. They are less satisfied with economic factors such as job opportunities, current income level, and their ability to build assets/wealth and financial security during retirement.

Looking closer at the makeup of their household incomes can help better understand this financial dissatisfaction. Rural Poll data from 2014 revealed many rural Nebraskans piece together their incomes from self-employment and multiple job holding. Just over four in ten employed rural Nebraska households (42%) have multiple job holding by members of the household. And, multiple job holding was more prevalent for residents of smaller communities. Similarly, self-employment activity was also more likely in smaller communities. Over one-half (58%) of employed households living in or near communities with less than 500 persons have at least one person who is self-employed, compared to 31 percent of households living in or near communities with populations of 10,000 or more. These employment patterns show why Nebraska has historically had low levels of unemployment.

The health of the rural economy is important to Nebraska overall. In an economic overview by the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, they highlight that nonmetropolitan areas in Nebraska accounted for nearly 30 percent of the state’s GDP in 2016. Nationwide, nonmetropolitan areas account for about 10 percent of total economic output.

Utilizing broadband technology is argued to be promising to enhance economic opportunities in rural areas. Robert Gallardo responded to the New York Times article by arguing that disparities in connectivity between rural and urban areas have not yet allowed this to occur. He argues that investment in broadband connectivity and digital skills can help encourage a rural rebound.

A recent study of digital readiness among Nebraska households using the Internet revealed a device and internet access divide between metropolitan and rural Nebraska households. However, despite this divide, rural Nebraska households’ utilization of the internet compared evenly or more favorably to that of metropolitan households. And, they rely more heavily on using smartphones, mobile data and libraries for their internet access. Overall, Nebraskans have much room to improve their impacts and benefits from the Internet. Only about one-quarter of households earned money online by selling, freelancing or renting.

While economic realities in rural areas can be challenging, many opportunities exist. Improving digital readiness and connectivity in rural areas has the potential to increase residents’ benefits and impacts from Internet use. And, with the state’s low unemployment rate, many unfilled job opportunities are available. Since many Americans express a preference for rural living, community quality of life amenities can be the factors that ultimately lead persons to choose to move to rural areas. If economic opportunities can be improved, this would pave the way to more people choosing to do so.

“I know farming is expected to be just another business. But I believe farming will always be a way of life as much as a business for me.”
A longtime farmer friend conveyed this message at Kansas Farm Bureau’s centennial annual meeting. He is not a retired farmer thinking of old ways and old days.
While he’s cultivated and no-tilled many an acre, harvested thousands of bushels of wheat, raised countless cattle and more importantly a wonderful family, this gentleman remains a vibrant, modern farmer from western Kansas.
Truth be known, there are many, many like-minded individuals who take pride in their chosen professions of farming and ranching.
Without a doubt today’s farmer/rancher knows very well his or her vocation constitutes a business. Many carry a ton of debt on their shoulders while at the same time realizing their livelihood hinges on the fickle fate of Mother Nature. Still, they understand this business of agriculture is more than dollars and cents.
“My most important possessions remain my family and way of life,” my sage friend said. “That’s who I am. That’s who I will always be.”
Some of his fondest memories include late suppers during the bustle of wheat harvest with everyone gathered around the back end of a pickup, eating cold cuts as the golden Kansas sun sinks under the horizon on the wide-open Kansas plains. Other recollections involve covered picnics in the hay field on a late summer Sunday.
How could he forget a story about a walk through the old red barn about midnight to check on a young heifer ready to calve while listening to other cows shifting in their stanchions and chewing their cuds.
And the smells – not just manure, but freshly turned soil, or new-mown hay, a just-filled trench silo full of silage or a barn full of Holstein cows on a cold, winter day.
It’s no secret the farm and ranch vocation may be one of the few remaining holdouts where those who toil on the land seek to balance the headlong search for economic viability with emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Most family farmers and ranchers have not lost sight of this tight-rope act. They understand to stay in this business of farming/ranching, they must continue to learn how to farm more efficiently, and smarter. Without a profitable operation, they would be forced to leave their land. To exist anywhere else would be inconceivable.
Farmers and ranchers remain emotionally tied to the sights, sounds, smells and the rewarding performance of planting, growing and harvesting crops as well as feeding, raising and continuing the life cycle of healthy livestock. The indefinable desire to carve out a life with the earth and sky remains an overpowering force that belongs in their hearts.
Could it be when asked about their vocation, farmers and ranchers often refer to it as a “business,” rather than a way of life?
Or could it be they are wise enough to know – that must be their answer?