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Rural population decline poses ag program challenges

As congress continues to wrangle over raising the nation’s debt ceiling and reining in the burgeoning debt, agriculture braces to accept another cut in important farm programs that provide some semblance of a safety net.

Members of Congress who represent farm interests in both the U.S. House and Senate have made the case, countless times, that cutting funds from agricultural appropriations is spitting in the ocean. The percentage of the nation’s budget spent on farm commodities is so small to begin with that cuts to these programs are meaningless—symbols rather than sincere efforts to reduce the deficit.

But farm programs remain a good target. Congressmen opposed to farm bill spending have only to utter the word “subsidy” to stir up support for cuts in programs that the American public neither understands nor worries about to any great extent.

Farm spending makes a great target when so much of the U.S. budget is off limits. A recent report from the non-profit Population Reference Bureau explains why it is so easy to slice farm program funds. Few voters are affected. And the number decreases all the time.

The Population Reference Bureau’s latest calculations show the U.S. rural population at an all-time low of 16.32 percent. Way less than that make a living from farming, but rural America continues to depend to a large extent on agriculture to support small-town businesses, local schools and essential services.

The decreasing rural population will play an even bigger role in rural America’s economic well-being as state legislatures use these new numbers to make re-districting changes. Fewer folk in rural areas means more political clout moving to cities.

It’s no surprise that rural populations are lower in states with large metropolitan areas. New York State, for instance has only 7.88 percent of the population living in rural areas. Connecticut is rated as 8.7 percent rural.  Both Rhode Island and the District of Columbia are rated with a zero percent rural population. Massachusetts has only 0.41 percent of its residents living in rural areas.

Texas rural residents account for only 12.07 percent of its population, but Oklahoma has 35.97 percent of the population considered rural. Mississippi is 55.56 percent rural.

Holding the top spot for rural residents is Vermont with more than 66 percent of its population living outside urban areas.

Some key agricultural states such as Mississippi and Oklahoma continue to have large rural populations, but the overall outlook for rural representation appears dim. And that means rural residents must do even more to make certain their voices are heard by local, state and regional elected officials.

This is not a time to grease those squeaky wheels.


TAGS: Legislative
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