The Changing Structure of Agriculture and Rural America: Emerging Opportunities and Challenges

CRS Report for Congress
RL31172The Changing Structure of Agriculture and Rural
America: Emerging Opportunities and Challenges
October 30, 2001
Tadlock Cowan
Visiting Scholar in Economic Growth and Entrepreneurship
Resources, Science, and Industry Division

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

The Changing Structure of Agriculture and Rural
America: Emerging Opportunities and Challenges
When agricultural production and related businesses dominated rural economies,
policies that strengthened and improved agriculture tended to strengthen and improve
the well-being of most of America’s small communities and rural residents. As the
strength of this linkage declined over the past century, many have felt that rural policy
has been left largely fragmented and unfocused, comprising a patchwork of programs
and initiatives rather than a coherent policy. Yet agriculture remains the primary
policy framework for Congress’s consideration of rural issues. Significant changes
are occurring in the structure of the U.S. agro-food system. These changes are likely
to pose important questions about the direction and coherence of current rural policy.
Several significant trends in this evolving structure of agriculture are discussed in this
report: (1) a continuation in the trend toward fewer and larger farms; (2) a potential
acceleration of that trend as production shifts to more tightly integrated and vertically
coordinated production through supply chains; (3) greater environmental pressures
on conventional agricultural production practices stemming from urban and suburban
interests; and (4) changing food consumption patterns.
Conditions in rural America today are quite mixed. Some rural areas, such as
those within commuting distances of metropolitan areas or blessed with environmental
amenities and/or affluent retirees, are thriving. Other rural areas with little
employment, few public services, persistent poverty, and fewer possibilities, are
spiraling downward. Declines in farming and in many rural areas and opposition to
industrializing trends in agriculture are compelling policymakers and rural areas to
seek new sources of job growth, innovative ways of providing public services to
sparse populations, as well as new ways of integrating agriculture into changing rural
economies. Manufacturing, a major focus of rural economic development over the
past 40 years, is also threatened by increasing low-wage international competition.
Congress has expressed its concern with rural communities most directly through
periodic omnibus farm bill legislation, most recently in the 1996 Federal Agricultural
Improvement and Reform Act (P.L.104-127) and in its current deliberations over a
new farm bill, the Farm Security Act of 2001 (H.R.2646). The Farm Security Act,
as recently passed by the House, has a rural development title. Questions have been
raised about whether agriculture policy and rural policy are compatible given the large
proportion of rural non-farm communities. There are questions about whether current
rural policies tend to reinforce rural communities’ past competitive advantage or
whether they assist the creation of entrepreneurial capacity within rural areas to
generate new competitive advantage. While significant debate exists over what
elements might comprise a comprehensive, integrated rural policy, continuing along
past policy paths seems increasingly less likely to produce the socioeconomic
conditions that will assist rural America in developing vibrant, competitive, and
sustainable communities for the future.

Introduction ................................................... 1
Historical Foundations....................................2
A Changing Relationship..................................3
Policy Questions........................................5
The Structure of Agricultural Production: Background and Analysis.........6
Farm Structure..........................................6
The Emerging “New Agriculture” of Supply Chains..............9
Agriculture and Community...............................13
Alternative Production Systems and Changing Food Consumption Patterns
................................................ 19
Summary ............................................. 21
An Overview of Contemporary Rural America.........................22
Rural Population Characteristics............................22
Rural Economic Characteristics............................24
Rural Poverty..........................................26
Farming Communities...................................27
Summary ............................................. 30
Public Policy and the Changing Opportunity Structure of Rural America.....31
USDA Rural Development................................31
Agricultural-based Innovation in Rural Development............33
Current Legislation......................................39
Conclusions ................................................... 40
Appendix A: Chronological Overview of Selected Rural Development
Provisions, 1987-2000
.................................................... 43
Appendix B: Targets and Objectives of Major Business, Housing, and Physical
Infrastructure Support Programs in U.S.D.A. Rural Development Mission
.................................................... 51
Appendix C: Rural Community Advancement Program (RCAP) Funding
Obligations, FY 1997-2002...............................57
List of Tables
Table 1: Food and Fiber System Jobs by Region, 1997....................4
Table 2: Employment Characteristics of Farming Dependent Counties ......28

The Changing Structure of Agriculture and
Rural America: Emerging Opportunities and
Rural America’s problems and opportunities appear as recurrent themes when
agricultural policy is debated. Issues affecting the economic structure of U.S. food
and agricultural production often lead to parallel discussions about their implications
for rural America. This is understandable given the close connections between
agriculture and rural life that for so long have characterized U.S. rural history.
Although that relation is considerably more complex today, to speak of rural America
and not immediately to appreciate the major role that agriculture has played in shaping
the rural physical landscape and rural social organization is all but impossible.
However accurate or idealized these perceptions are, rural America and its agrarian
ethos continue to hold a distinctive if not unique place in the minds of most citizens.
Contemporary policy concerns about rural well-being and the future potential of rural
America are, at root, concerns about the wide range of people, businesses, and
institutions inhabiting a special place in U.S. social and economic life.
Conditions in many parts of rural America today are quite mixed. Some rural
areas, such as those adjoining metropolitan areas or blessed with environmental
amenities and/or affluent retirees, are thriving. Other rural areas, locations of the
businesses that more economically privileged areas can afford to forego or, worse,
locations with little employment, few public services, and fewer possibilities, are not
doing well. The significant socioeconomic development possibilities that do exist in
many of these areas will be influenced by rural and agricultural policies that reflect and
that build on the important capacities that rural areas might develop and expand.
Public policy for rural development is made more difficult by the fact that rural
planning and development involves multiple policy objectives targeted by multiple
policy instruments. The Government Accounting Office identified 88 programs
administered by 16 different federal agencies that targeted rural development.2 While
these programs have unquestionably benefitted many families, businesses, and
communities, significant inequality and structural disadvantages exist between
different rural areas as well as among the 20% of the population currently living in
rural America.
While many federal agencies address rural issues, this attention is more often
than not an adaptation of predominantly urban and suburban-based initiatives or of

1Prepared under supervision of Jean Yavis Jones, Specialist and Head of Agriculture and Food
Policy Section, Resources, Science, and Industry Division.
2Rural Development: Federal Programs that Focus on Rural American and its Economic
Development. GAO/RCED-89-56-BR, January, 1989.

farm support programs. The Eisenhower Administration, however, began a Rural
Development Program in 1955 directed at assisting low-income farmers. Since the
1972 Rural Development Act (P.L.92-419), rural policy has been a specific concern
of the Congress. The Rural Development Act of 1980 (P.L.96-355) proposed an
integrated approach to rural issues based on the need and goals of local communities,
sub-state areas, and multi-state regions.
Omnibus farm bills have been among the most highly visible vehicles by which
the Congress has regularly addressed rural issues. Title VII of the 1996 Federal
Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act (P.L. 104-127, the 1996 farm bill)
contains a rural development title. Provisions in that title reflect the Congress’s
concern with provision of physical infrastructure, creation and expansion of rural
businesses, and the quality and availability of housing. Concerns for public service
and improving rural social welfare are also apparent in provisions supporting
telecommunications development and the Fund for Rural America. Title VI of the
proposed 2002 farm bill (H.R.2646) recently passed by the House also deals with
these issues and provides for new funding to support strategic rural development
planning and innovations in value-added agricultural businesses.
Historical Foundations. The rural sector has always played a vital role in
U.S. prosperity and well-being. A review of federal policy for the rural sector reveals
four dominant themes over the past 200 years: (1) land distribution and management,
(2) human resources and physical infrastructure development, (3) financial support for
farmers and ranchers, and (4) poverty alleviation.3 Until the 20th century, rural policy
meant mostly the distribution of approximately a billion acres of land from the federal
government to private ownership. Through government-provided roads, canals,
bridges, and railroads, the federal goal was to stimulate population expansion and
settlements as rapidly as possible. In 1862, the Homestead Act altered the existing
system of fee simple purchase of acreage from the government to a system of free or
inexpensive land grants of 160 acres to settlers willing to live on the land for at least
five years. In addition, the railroad grants of 1862 reinforced the dominant objective
of federal policies at that time to settle people, create communities, establish
transportation and communication capacity, and develop wealth through agriculture,
mining, and forestry.4 The establishment of the Department of Agriculture in 1862
created within the federal system a significant institution for the rural constituency.
The objective of the Morrill Act of 1862 was to build up the human capital of the
frontier societies, as well as the long-established agricultural economies of the East
and South, through federal land sales to support what would later become the Land
Grant universities.
Land distribution and infrastructure development and support tended to define
federal rural policy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. By the end of the 19th century,
the number of farms was declining as cities grew in economic importance and
unemployed agricultural labor migrated to urban areas. The positive social values
presumed to characterize small towns and agrarian livelihoods, however, became an

3Lapping, Mark B. “American rural planning, development policy and the centrality of the
federal state: An interpretive history.” Rural History 3(2); 219-242, 1992.
4Shannon, Frederick A. The Farmer’s Last Frontier: American Agriculture, 1860-1897.
Armonk, NY; M.E. Sharpe, 1989 (1945).

important theme of rural policy. A reform movement, deeply suspicious of cities and
urban residents and strongly committed to the Jeffersonian/romanticist idealization of
farming, emerged during the early 20th century. Taking its name from the Country
Life Commission established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, the Country
Life movement sought to speak for rural America and its interests and came to define
much of the debate over rural development in the pre-World War I era.
With clear understanding of the emerging power of the urban-industrial system,
Country Lifers sought a secure place in it for rural America. They argued that the
rural sector lagged behind more dynamic sectors because rural areas had failed to take
advantage of advanced technologies and institutional reforms to create modern,
progressive rural and agriculture sectors. The Country Life movement placed an
emphasis on improved technology, specialization, efficiency, and modern education
and training as sources for solutions to rural and agricultural problems. To a
significant extent, the Country Life movement established the direction and focus thatth5
rural development policy has taken into the 21 century. From these historical
underpinnings, rural economic development, farming modernization, and rural social
welfare have been regarded as inextricably linked.
Box 1: What is Rural? A ChangingRelationship. This view of the
Rural and non-metropolitan populations have oftenrelations between rural
been treated as synonymous. Metro and non-metrodevelopment, farming, and rural
areas are defined on the basis of counties. Metrowelfare is considerably more
areas contain (1) core counties with one or moredifficult to sustain today as the
central cities of at least 50,000 or with a Censusstructure of contemporary
Bureau-defined urbanized area (and a total metroproduction and changing global
population of 100,000 or more and (2) fringeagro-food markets lessen the
counties that are economically tied to the corerole of agriculture in rural
counties. Non-metro counties are defined as thoseeconomies and rural social life
places outside the boundaries of metro areas thatand as urban and global systems
have cities with populations under 50,000. Ruralincreasingly influence virtually
areas comprise places with open territory and fewerall areas. In the 316 farming
than 2,500 residents. Urban areas comprise largerdependent counties (i.e., where
places and densely settled areas around them. As the20% or more of labor and
relation between metro and non-metro areas
becomes more complex, researchers are beginningproprietor’s income is derived
to use more precise categories, e.g., non-metro-from farming), policy changes
adjacent,/non-metro non-adjacent areas, rural-urbanthat affect farm commodity
commuting codes, etc. See John B. Cromartie andpayments or credit can still have
Linda L. Swanson, “Census tracts more preciselylarge impacts on community
define rural population and areas.”Ruralbanks, schools, and local
Development Perspectives, Vol. 11, 3, pp.31-39,businesses that depend on farm
May, 2001.spending. But agriculture policy
(or more specifically, farm
commodity programs) as proxy

5Lapping, op. cit., p. 225. It must also be noted that the changes advocated by the Country
Life Commission were resisted by many rural people who did not welcome the implications
of a more industrialized agriculture. See Danbom, David. The Resisted Revolution. Ames,
IA: University of Iowa Press. 1979.

for rural development policy and rural well-being is substantially less influential in
other rural economies. In rural areas today, less than 8% of the workforce is
employed in farming and agricultural services; and most household income for most
farm families now comes from off-farm sources. While the extent of dependency as
measured by jobs in the food and fiber system varies significantly by region, only 2%
of rural residents identify farming as their primary occupation (See Table 1); and net
farm income today amounts to only 2-3% of total non-metro personal income. There
is, in fact, now remarkable similarity in the sectoral shares of employment (i.e.,
agriculture, manufacturing, industry, and services) between metro and non-metro
places.6 While a strong farming sector is and will remain a cornerstone to rural well-
being in farm-dependent regions, most rural people have little or no direct relation to
Emerging policy issues surround the question of whether current farm policies,
which rely heavily on commodity support payments and subsidies to a few production
sectors, help or hinder the future development of economically viable rural
communities. Research, for example, has suggested that larger farm program
payments as a share of total cash marketing receipts are associated with greater
population loss from rural counties after controlling for other variables affecting7
population migration. Continuing socioeconomic and population decline in farming
and rural areas and Congressional concern over the costs of supporting the remaining
farms and related businesses are compelling policymakers and rural areas to seek new
sources of job growth, innovative ways of providing public services to sparse
populations, and new ways of integrating agriculture into changing rural economies.
Table 1: Food and Fiber System Jobs by Region, 1997
(in percentages)
Occupation Northeast North South Midwest West United
Central States
Farming 2.23 6.44 7.24 19.49 7.97 7.49
Food Processing4.455.995.328.345.495.59
Textiles 5.00 .78 7.32 1.34 2.94 4.37
Other Manufacturing6.057.605.254.793.535.37
Wholesale and38.5135.1232.7529.5432.1733.73
Transportation 2.55 2.63 2.37 2.55 2.36 2.48
Food Service25.3828.8526.0023.0927.8326.50
Total 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00 100.00
Source: USDA/ERS analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce data

6Mills, Edwin S. “The location of economic activity in rural and non-metropolitan united
states. Pp. 103-133 in E.N. Castle (ed.), The Changing American Countryside. University
of Kansas Press, Lawrence, KS, 1995.
7Goetz, Stephen J. and David L. Debertin. “Rural population decline in the 1980s: impacts
of farm structure and federal farm programs.” American Journal of Agricultural
Economics 78(3), August, 1996.

What, then, are some of the major sources driving change in agriculture at this
time and what might their implications be for rural communities and for rural policy
more generally? While by no means an exhaustive listing, four interrelated trends
shaping the contemporary structure of agriculture seem especially pertinent in
understanding potential changes that may affect significant parts of rural America.
First, farm structural characteristics like size, specialization, and organization are
likely to continue having important implications for rural areas, especially in those
areas where agriculture is a significant part of the rural economy, but also in areas
where small, mixed-production farming enterprises exist within a varied local and
regional economy. Second, vertical integration and coordination in production are
accelerating certain changes in the organization of agriculture and, with it, how rural
communities and regional economies might adapt to the effects of these new forms
of production. These two changes are, in important ways, driven by an increasingly
competitive global agro-food production and trading system and underscore the
importance that shifts in the macro-political economy play in driving change in local
areas. Third, environmental concerns are assuming an important role in agricultural
production decisions and may assume an even greater role in shaping agricultural
policy in the future. Fourth, while the implications remain unclear, changing food
consumption patterns, especially in the advanced industrial economies, are shaping
social and technological practices in agriculture. These changing consumption
patterns also potentially open new development possibilities based on local
innovations in agricultural production, processing, and marketing.
Policy Questions. Congressional interest in rural policy involves a wide
range of issues, including agriculture, forestry, and mining, community infrastructure,
natural resource conservation and management, and economic development. Current
challenges to and reform of existing federal rural policies is evolving in an
environment of increasing concern about national competitiveness, a shift away from
agriculture toward manufacturing and services, new federal political strategies, and
the emergence of new political interests. A restructuring rural America is producing
pressures for different policies and raising new questions about what Congress’s role
should be in shaping rural policy. Among them are:
Does Rural America both require and warrant distinctive policies oriented to its
particular social, geographic, and economic characteristics?
What role can federal policy play in assisting rural areas to assemble the
information, services, infrastructure, and work forces needed to attract and retain new
sources of economic growth?
Should rural policies focus largely on local economic development or on broader
aspects of rural welfare and sustainability?
Do existing rural policies reinforce older competitive advantages or are they
assisting rural areas in creating new sources of competitive advantage?
What elements would comprise comprehensive, flexible, integrated rural

What is the most effective relation between states, local communities, and the
federal levels in designing and implementing rural policies?
The Structure of Agricultural Production:
Background and Analysis
Farm Structure. The first census (1790) showed that the U.S. was primarily
an agricultural economy. By 1880, only about half the population was still farming;
the 1920 census found nearly a third of the total population in farming and nearly two-
thirds of rural America in farming. While the steady decline in farming has long been
noted, perhaps one of the most profound transformations of rural America since the
1920s has been the shift from a largely independent class of farm operators and small
retail businesses that serviced farming needs to a mostly manufacturing and service
sector and wage-earning rural America today. Although wage labor also
characterizes farming, an important shift in agriculture has been in the emergence of
a dual farm structure, one made up of large commercial farms producing the bulk of
agricultural commodities, and a small-farm sector that, while comprising the larger
number of farms, contributes little proportionately to total value.8 This duality in farm
structure is not entirely new. For example, small commodity production in the ante-
bellum South existed alongside large plantation holdings; and large cattle ranches in
the West continue to exist alongside much smaller ranches and mixed-farming
enterprises. The degree of this duality, however, has greatly intensified in the past 25
years as the proportion of large, industrialized farms has grown.9
Land and the policies that underlie its acquisition and use are central to the
history of farming. The three predominant uses of land in the contiguous 48 states are
grassland pasture and range (578 million acres), forest (553 million acres), and
cropland (455 million acres).10 Grassland pasture and range, 31% of major land uses
in the 48 states, has declined since the mid-1960s when it was 636 million acres.
Cropland includes land used for crops, cropland idled (including land for the
Conservation Reserve Program), and cropland used for pasture. These components
vary more than total cropland. Cropland used for crops has ranged from 383 million
acres in 1949 and 1982 to 331 million acres in 1987; corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay
accounted for 80% of all crop acres harvested in 1999. 11 Total cropland varied about
8% between 1945 and 1997, ranging from 478 million acres in 1949 to 444 million
acres in 1964. The 1997 cropland base of 455 million acres was the lowest since


8For a broad overview of U.S. agriculture production and farm structural characteristics, See
Canada, Carol, Agriculture in the United States: Selected data, CRS Report 30712, October,
9Albrecht, Don E. “The changing structure of U.S. agriculture: dualism out,
industrialization in.” Rural Sociology 62(4), 1997.
10USDA. Economic Research Service. Agricultural Resources and Environmental
Indicators, Chapter1.1. 2000
11 Ibid.

No broad trend in cropland use is discernable. Rather, cropland use reflects two
major cycles where cropland moves from idled land to crop use and back again.
While total cropland has varied up and down and generally declined since 1969,
greater shifts have occurred between cropland used for crops and cropland idled,
mostly because of federal programs. Cropland idled in federal programs has
decreased about 25 million acres since 1995 with the elimination of annual commodity
set-aside requirements and changes to the Conservation Reserve Program.12
Box 2: Farm TypologyThe official definition of afarm is an operation producing
Small Family Farms: Sales less than $250K$1000 in gross agriculture sales
Limited-resource Farms: Farms with salesannually. Attempting to better
under $100K, farm assets under $150K, andunderstand the ramifications of
total operator income under $20Ka changing farm structure,
Retirement Farms: Small farms whoseUSDA developed a different
operators report they are retired*typology of farms in the mid-
Residential/Lifestyle Farms: Small farms1990s (Box 1) based not only
whose operators report a major occupationon sales, but also on the
other than farming*occupational choice of the
Farming-Occupation Farms: Small farmsoperator, operator household
whose operators report farming as their majorincome, and farm
occupation*characteristics. Using this
Lower-Sales Farms: Sales less than $11Ktypology, survey data from the
Higher-Sales Farms: Sales between $100K1997 Agriculture Resource
and $249,999Management (ARM) Study
Large Family Farms: Sales between $250K andrevealed that “large”, “very
$499,999large”, and “non-family” farms
Very Large Family Farms: Sales of $500K or
moreaccounted for 61% of the value
Non-Family Farms: Non-family corporations andof U.S. farm production, but
cooperatives as well as farms operated by hiredmade up only 8% of the farm
managersunits. “Higher-sales” small
*Excludes limited-resource farmsfarms (at 18%) and all other
small farms13 (at 21%) account
Source: USDA-ERS, 2001 for 39% of the value of
production, but incorporate

72% of total farm asset value,

including land. Regardless of farm type, the household wealth of most operators who
listed farming as their major occupation came from the farm and these households also
had an average net worth of $1.4 million, considerably higher than the U.S. average
of $205,900.

12 Ibid.
13The definition of “small farm” was developed by the National Commission on Small Farms
in its report, A Time to Act (1998), which used the $250,000 gross sales as its cutoff.

A similar 1996 ARM survey also revealed other important operating
characteristics of farms and farm households.14 While “large” and“very large” farm
operators reported farming as their major occupation, household income from off-
farm sources was not insignificant for these farm households, averaging 30% and 18%
respectively. By 2001, “large” farm households derived nearly 40% of total income
from off-farm sources. “Very large” farms had household incomes averaging
$193,800 (4 times the average U.S. household income of $47,100) according to the

1996 survey and, along with “large” farms, tended to specialize in cash grains.

“Large” and “very large” farms account for only 8% of farms, but they produce
nearly 57% of total agricultural value.
Approximately 50% of all U.S. farms in 1996 were “limited resource”,
“retirement”, and “residential/lifestyle” farms, but they accounted for only about 6%
of total agricultural production. These farm households relied almost entirely on off-
farm income sources. “High-sales” farms, most of which are located in the Lake
States, Corn Belt, and Northern Plains, had household incomes not significantly
different from the average U.S. household income and derived 57% of household
income from off-farm sources. As with “large” and “very large” farms, “high-sales”
farms also tended to specialize in cash grains as well as dairy. Over one-third of
“retirement” farms and nearly half “residential/lifestyle” farms specialized in beef
production. For another 21% of “retirement” farms, payments from the Conservation
Reserve Program provided the sole source of farm income.
“Lower-sales” farms had average household incomes of $31,500, significantly
lower than the U.S. average. These farms also relied heavily on off-farm income
sources and often specialized in beef production rather than cash grains. “Limited-
resource” farms are found mostly in the South (62%) and over half specialized in beef.
Most “limited-resource” farmers did not report farming as their main occupation;
nearly 49% were retired. Over 40% of Black farmers are “limited resource” farmer
compared to 13% of White farmers. Household income for “limited resource”
farmers averaged $13,600, but because they lost an average of $3000 on their farming
operations, their average household income was actually $10,600, about a fifth of the
national average.
These data suggest that traditional farm support programs including the
transition payments under the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act of
1996 (P.L.104-127) may be of limited use to most farms and thus potentially make
contributions to rural well-being only in those areas where there are “large”,“very
large”, and “non-family” farms specializing in crops supported by farm payments.
While direct payments to farmers have tripled since 1996, they represent only a
fraction of total federal spending in non-metro areas, averaging about $182 out of a
total of $4,725 per capita federal spending in 1998. Metro areas in 1998 averaged
about $5,212 per capita in federal funding. In the 316 farming-dependent counties,
average farm payments are much higher, averaging $937 per capita out of a total of

14Hoppe, Robert A. “Sources and levels of farm household income vary by type of farm.”
Rural Conditions and Trends, 9,No.2 (1999):107113.

$5,369 in per capita federal spending in 1998.15 In these counties, farm payments
can have important effects, especially in their capacity to support other rural
businesses. In the past several years, emergency farm payments have been a
significant factor in preserving farming and related businesses in regions where
farmers specialize in cotton, grains, and dairy. Farms specializing in beef or fruits and
vegetables are not recipients of direct farm support payments, although certain
commodities, e.g., apples, have been the target of emergency payments over the past
several years.
The characteristics of farms and farm households influence and are influenced
by the surrounding rural socioeconomic environment. From the evidence presented
above, for example, proximity to off-farm income sources strongly influences
household income. Whether off-farm employment is high or low-wage, seasonal,
part-time, etc., may also influence the stability or type of farming enterprise as well
as the resources that can be directed to the enterprise. Similarly, proximity to urban
and suburban markets could make certain types of farming more successful in the
future, e.g., high-value organic production, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nurseries.
As the typology in Box 1 suggests, the official definition of a farm, based only
on sales, lumps together groups with significantly different characteristics, needs, and
future prospects for growth. Declines in bulk commodity prices, for example, may
affect different groups of farmers differently. Such declines may suggest large effects
on specialized grain farms, but, when total household’s income is considered, the
actual effects may be different depending on farm size and efficiency, where the farm
is located, the farm operator’s managerial capabilities, off-farm income sources, etc.
Similarly, for retired farmers or residential/lifestyle farms, declines in farm prices may
be only modestly important, if at all, to changes in household income. In either case,
broader macroeconomic changes can often have equal or greater effects on household
incomes and rural areas more generally than the farm economy alone.
The Emerging “New Agriculture” of Supply Chains. The long-standing
trend toward fewer, larger, and more specialized commercial farms and ranches in the
U.S. (horizontal integration) is well documented. Not only have these trends been
observed for many years, recent data suggest they may be accelerating as pressures
increase from global competitors and as new agricultural technologies continue to
reinforce the substitution of capital for labor to create scale efficiencies. Rapid and
increasing consolidation and coordination (vertical integration) in agriculture are
indicators of a more fundamental restructuring occurring in the food and fiber system
today. A growing share of commodity producers, mostly within animal production
currently, are joining “supply chains.”16 A supply chain is a tightly organized
production, processing, and marketing system formed by agribusiness firms that, in
its most coordinated form, could potentially link each step of food production from
proprietary genetic material to the grocery shelf. Poultry raising, especially broiler

15Gale, Fred. “Farm payment and the rural economy.” Agricultural Outlook, October,


16Drabenstott, Mark. “Rural America in a new century.” Main Street Economist, Federal
Reserve Bank of Kansas City, October, 1999.

production, is almost completely conducted under producer contracts with
approximately 40 firms producing 97% of all broilers.
A distinguishing characteristic of supply chains is their reliance on contractual
agreements, licenses, joint ventures, integrated ownership, and other business
arrangements with different segments of the food system. These alliances with
producers may permit contracting firms to by-pass more traditional commodity
markets. To better insulate themselves from price volatility and dwindling markets,
many commodity producers are abandoning their independent operations and
adopting contract commodity production arrangements with agribusiness firms.
According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, about 35% of the total value
of U.S. agricultural production in 1998 was produced under some form of contractual
arrangement.17 Piglets, for example, raised under contract can be provided by the
agribusiness firm; fed on specific livestock feed provided by the firm and on a
schedule stipulated by the firm; to be delivered at a specified time and weight to the
firm’s slaughtering plant where the meat is packaged and transported either to a
grocery or to a processed food plant and finally retailed to the consumer.
Depending on the degree of vertical integration, a food company could pass the
hog to each stage along the food line, perhaps never relinquishing actual ownership
until the consumer purchases the product at the meat case or in a frozen dinner.
Starting, perhaps, with the intellectual property rights of a genetically modified
organism (e.g., proprietary swine breeds with higher lean-to-fat ratios or those less
susceptible to certain diseases common to intensively raised livestock), raising,
slaughtering and processing, and ending with the retail sale of the pork product, the
supply-chain revolution occurring in livestock production is a model increasingly
being looked to by other sectors, e.g., speciality grains, fruits and vegetables,
tobacco. 18
Like previous agricultural changes, technology will likely play a key role in the
evolution of supply chains. In the past, technology has been a major force in driving
the shift of farm activities off the farm and into the input industries. Advances in
agricultural biotechnology can be expected to do the same, but with a distinct
variation. Initial biotechnology development in agriculture focused on changes in bulk
commodities, e.g., herbicide resistant soybeans and pest resistant corn. Much current
research in biotechnology is focused on the characteristics of farm products, not just
how the products are produced. Proprietary products lend themselves to the structure
of supply chains as the contractor firms target new bio-engineered products to
particular market niches. Some farmers in some regions may choose to continue
producing bulk commodities; other farmers may choose to contract with an
agribusiness firm to produce a value-added bio-engineered product.
As supply chains and other forms of vertical integration become more prevalent
in a production sector, the number of growers supplying the commodity is likely to
decrease. This has occurred in poultry; it is currently occurring in pork production;
it has started in beef; and niche markets are likely to make it occur in some crops.

17Agricultural Resource Management Study, 1998.
18Nearly 100% of flue-cured tobacco is now produced under contract.

While marketing contracts may displace few resources from farms and communities,
production contracts under integrated ownership may have significant local effects.
By contracting with only a few very large producers, a firm can achieve significant
economic efficiencies, in part, by minimizing the transaction costs associated with
managing many business alliances and by minimizing various marketing risks. As
swine production has followed supply chain arrangements, for example, the number
of hog producers has declined from nearly 500,000 in the early 1980s to
approximately 85,000 in 2001.19 This shift in commodity production through supply
chains may also be reflected in a decline in the number of hog slaughtering plants over
the past twenty years from over 500 to about 180. Some industry observers believe
that under a supply chain arrangement, 50 or fewer pork producers and 12 state-of-
the-art packing plants could, in the near future, supply the entire U.S. pork market.20
Some contract producers might find themselves with decreasing power to
negotiate the terms of their contracts as the relative power of large processors to
determine the conditions of production increases.21 Although some states, e.g.,
Minnesota, have adopted measures to better protect contract producers, some
observers believe that because producers negotiate individually with a processor,
often with contract confidentiality clauses, individual producers can be at a
disadvantage.22 In 1997, approximately 42% of hogs were produced under contracts
and 57% of hogs were sold under marketing contracts.23 While the movement of
supply chains into cattle production has been much slower than it has into swine
production, the consolidation trend is much stronger in the cattle feeding sector. In

1980, large feedlots (<32,000 head) accounted for less than a third of market share.

By 2000 that share had increased to nearly half.24
As agribusiness firms consolidate to more seamlessly integrate their production
systems, formerly independent producers could find their marketing options reduced.
The consolidation across sectors of the beef processing industry over the past decade,
for example, has resulted in the U.S. Department of Justice designating the sector

19Barkema, A., M. Drabenstott, and N. Novack. “The New U.S. Meat Industry.” Federal
Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Review, Second Quarter, 2001.
20 Benjamin, G. “Industrialization in hog production: implications for midwest agriculture.”
Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, 1997
21Some economists have suggested that rapid expansion of consolidation in agriculture has
also exposed agribusiness firms to increased financial pressures. Such stress could leave
producers who are dependent on contracts or marketing agreements with large agribusiness
firms vulnerable. See Kohl, David. “Reflections and perspectives” Ag Lender, June 21,


22Etka, Steve. “Contract agriculture: serfdom in our time.” National Campaign for
Sustainable Agriculture, Update, June, 2001
23Lawrence, J., G. Grimes, and M. Hayenga. “Production and marketing characteristics of
U.S. pork producers, 1997-1998. Research Report, Department of Economics, Iowa State
University, 1999.
24Barkema, A. et al., op. cit., p.37.

“highly concentrated” and the pork industry as “moderately concentrated.”25 Some
researchers believe that increasing consolidation in agriculture through mergers and
acquisitions of other links in the food chain could reduce market opportunities,
increase the potential for anti-competitive activity, reduce the ability of some farmers
and independent producers to obtain fair prices, and/or reduce product choice. Other
industry experts would argue that in some industries fewer firms may result in greater
market efficiencies and, particularly for the case of agriculture, perhaps less extensive
environmental implications stemming from many small, dispersed producers. A few
firms producing at high output, it is argued, can be more economically efficient than
many firms with smaller market share.26 Further, these researchers argue, market
power can be kept in check through threats by innovative competitors eager to
capitalize on the inefficiencies of certain market abuses.27
What is of particular significance, if still poorly understood, are the implications
for rural areas in the supply chain revolution in agricultural production. Historically,
agricultural production was relatively widely distributed across the rural landscape.
Supply chains appear to be redrawing the landscape of dispersed agricultural
production. Poultry production and swine production were once widely dispersed
across the country. Today, broiler production, which is almost exclusively done under
producer contracts, is found mostly in the South and Southeastern U.S. and upper
Midwest. Poultry processing plants are even more concentrated within those regions.
Similarly, beef production, with large feed lots and nearby meat packing plants,
suggests a very different agricultural geography, one with potentially significant social
and environmental effects on rural communities where such production occurs.
Rural areas specializing in producing bulk commodities for supply chains, e.g.,
farm-dependent areas in the Great Plains or Corn Belt, are likely do so in a local or
regional environment of decreasing diversity, and over time, still fewer farms. Other
rural communities, however, will attempt to connect themselves to the supply chains
as new sources of employment. The emergence of large livestock feeding operations
and meat packing facilities proximate to Midwestern communities may have different
socioeconomic impacts than current forms of commercial agricultural organization.28

25In its antitrust oversight, the U.S. Justice Department measures industry concentration by
the Herfindahl-Hirschmann Index (HHI) rather than the more commonly used measure of the
market share held by the top four or five firms (CR4 or CR5). The HHI is calculated by
summing the squares of the individual market shares of all firms in a particular market. An
HHI below 1000 indicates an unconcentrated market; an HHI between 1000 and 1800 is
moderately concentrated; an industry with an HHI over 1800 is highly concentrated. In 1998,
the HHI was 1936 for beef processing and 1036 for pork processing.
26King, John L. “Concentration and technology in agricultural input industries. USDA-
Economic Research Service, AIB-763, March, 2001.
27Several bills have been introduced in the 106th and 107th Congresses that address
concentration and antitrust issues. For a review see Heykoop, Jerry and Alejandro Segarra,
Merger and Antitrust Issues in Congress, CRS Report RS20562, January 2001.
28For example, immigration to and high-turnover in Midwestern meat packing facilities has
had impacts on many small school systems, on housing, and on community social services.
See Fitchen, Janet. “Why rural poverty is growing worse: similar causes in diverse settings.”

Even then, the number of rural communities that benefit from the employment that
processing and meat packing will bring, is likely to be limited. Rural areas that
become supply chain hubs may benefit, but it may often occur at the expense of those
other rural farming communities that do not or cannot attract a supply chain hub to
their regions.
Agriculture and Community. Some research has suggested that farm scale
and other management characteristics are associated with certain community
characteristics. This research has been controversial since Walter Goldschmidt’s
pioneering 1944 research on two California farming communities conducted for the
USDA’s Bureau of Agricultural Economics.29 A substantial body of evidence has
shown that communities characterized by large-scale, especially industrial, farm
structures are often associated with adverse community socioeconomic conditions,
e.g., lower community standards of living, less economic diversity, fewer community
services, less vibrant retail trade, etc., than communities with other types of farming
enterprises.30 The direction of that statistical association, however, remains unclear
as does the strength of the relationship and, even more important, the processes that
underlie it. Moreover, for policy purposes, it would likely be very difficult to reliably
predict the kind or degree of any positive community gains that might occur through
policies to limit the growth of farm size. However, a variety of characteristics of local
and regional agricultural production, as with any other industrial sector, are likely to
interact in different ways with the wider rural economy and to be broadly associated
with the overall quality of rural life.
Research conducted as part of the Office of Technology Assessment’s (OTA)
1986 report, Technology, Public Policy, and the Changing Structure of American
Agriculture supported the relationship reported by Goldschmidt between industrial
farming and community quality of life in its analysis of Florida and several Western
states.31 Research in other regions, however, has cast doubt that the relations that
Goldschmidt and others documented are generalizeable to all regions, especially
regions that do not have a history of industrial farming. In the South, for example,
both large-scale and small-scale farms were associated with relatively low standards
of living while mid-size farms were associated with higher standards of living. But
even here, scale may well not be the most influential variable on community
characteristics. Southern communities where small-scale tobacco farming is an
important economic activity, for example, have tended to benefit from federal tobacco

28 (...continued)
Pp. 247-267, in Emery Castle (ed.), The Changing American Countryside: Rural People and
Places, Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1995.
29Walter F. Goldschmidt. As You Sow: Three Studies in the Social Consequences of
Agribusiness. Montclair, NJ: Allanheld, Osmun and Co., 1978.
30Counties with the most industrialized agriculture are found in California, Arizona, Texas,
and Florida. Of these, California and Texas are among the top 10 states with the most
agricultural workers.
31MacCannell, Dean and Edward Dolber-Smith. “Report on the Structure of Agriculture and
Impacts of New Technologies on Rural Communities in Arizona, California, Florida, and
Texas. Report prepared for the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, 1985.

program support while areas once dominated by sharecropping, another small-scale
production system, are among the poorest rural areas in the U.S.
While rural areas surrounding some industrial farms dominated by manager-
worker relations and dependent on large, mostly unskilled labor forces can be
associated with adverse socioeconomic effects,32 large-scale, owner-operated farms
generally show positive effects. This is especially true in the Midwest. A survey of
9000 U.S. pork producers showed that in the total of 1530 pork farmers who returned
their surveys, large producers paid the highest wages to workers, had more generous
benefits, and better working conditions than small pork firms.33 As these observations
might suggest, any association between farm organization and various community
characteristics appears to be mediated by the size and economic diversity of the
community, the region, the kinds of agricultural commodities produced, and a rural
area’s proximity to urban-suburban areas.
Although research on the effects of supply chains and vertical integration on
rural communities is at an early stage, the geographic concentration of production
may be one important outcome affecting rural communities over time. To compete,
innovations in alternative production models may hold some promise for agricultural-
led development. For example, rather than the standard economic efficiency model
of maximum yield per unit of input, farming operations that maximize optimal energy
efficiency per unit of input or maximum nutritional efficiency per unit of input, or
minimal environmental impact per unit of input, may have attractions to some farmers
and consumers, especially those in areas near metro regions.
Equally important, however, the social organization of the local and regional
non-farm economy also exerts important effects on the surrounding area suggesting
that newly created opportunities in the non-farm economy may have significant impact
on the farm economy and the rural economy more generally. As supply chains and
other forms of vertical integration and coordination come to characterize various
production sectors, the kinds and degree of local and regional impact may vary
considerably depending on the broader characteristics of the regional economy and
on the existence of local capacities for generating innovative alternatives or
complements to these forms of production.
Agricultural Production and the Natural Environment. Agriculture
affects a wide range of natural resources. To take but one significant case, modern
agriculture fundamentally transformed the landscape and ecology of the Great Plains
over the past 125 years, converting virtually all of the native tall-grass prairie into
intensive crop production (see Box 3). Agriculture continues to produce a number
of environmental effects on natural resources, some of which may also provide
environmental amenities for alternative economic purposes, e.g., water quality and
recreational activities. As urban and suburban development continues to push into

32 California has more farm workers than any other state. The Central Valley of California,
the richest agricultural area in the world, however, has an unemployment rate three times the
national average (New York Times, June 18, 2001, A1, A14).
33Hurley, T., J. Kliebenstein, and P. Orazem. “The structure of wages and benefits in the
U.S. pork industry.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 81, 1997.

rural farmland and as the structure of agriculture evolves, environmental aspects of
agriculture are also becoming more visible to and, in some cases, less acceptable to
non-farming interests than in the past. Large livestock feeding operations continue
to be resisted by some farming communities.
Box 3: New Plans for the Great Plains RegionSoil erosion and aquiferdepletion are long standing
In the 1930s, the federal government strung togetherconcerns of both farm and non-
a set of public grasslands across Nebraska,farm groups. Sediment and
Wyoming, and North and South Dakota and thennitrogen runoff from crop
rented the grazing rights to ranchers at rates that,fertilizers continue to create
today, are less than 15% of the price ranchers mightsurface water quality issues in
pay on private lands. The Forest Service hasmany states as does the manure
recently released the Northern Great Plainsrunoff from livestock
Management Plan which, if implemented, willoperations. The Gulf of
create a new approach to overseeing the region’sMexico’s oxygen-depleted zone
eight National Grasslands and two National Forests.may be one of the most visible
Environmentalists and federal biologists havenational water quality concerns
complained that the existing grazing arrangementstemming from agriculture.34
has led to overgrazing and extensive damage toMany scientists and non-
wildlife habitat and water resources. Under the newscientists also believe a variety
management plan, ranchers could see their grazing
privileges reduced by 10% or more. The plan alsoof environmental issues attend
calls for increasing the population of prairie dogsthe widespread use of pesticides
which state and federal governments have spentand herbicides used in most
millions attempting to eradicate over the pastfarming operations. Loss of
century. Ranchers in the region have vowed towildlife habitat and, until
challenge the plan in court. (Source: Paul Thacker,federally regulated, draining and
“A New Wind Sweeps the Plains.” Science, 292,filling wetlands accompanied
June 29, 2001: 2427.large-scale, fence row-to-fence
row, monoculture production.
More recently, the scale of some farming and commodity processing operations,
especially those in cattle feeding, poultry, and swine production, has further raised the
profile of large-scale, industrial agriculture’s environmental impacts. While larger
facilities may offer certain production efficiencies, they can also increase the
concentration of environmental problems, sometimes to the point where they produce
significant costs that must be dealt with. The rapid growth and concentration of
confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs), for example, have raised concerns35
about the impact on water pollution, flies, dead animal disposal, and offensive odors.
In North Carolina, where swine CAFOs are becoming a major part of the rural
agricultural economy, the environmental impact of such operations may also have
unequal social effects on rural residents and communities. While providing jobs in

34Some scientists and fertilizer industry leaders have argued that no conclusive data exist
identifying the sources of nitrate and nitrogen that enters the Mississippi River and, from
there, into the Gulf of Mexico. See “Hypoxia, fertilizer, and the Gulf of Mexico.” Letters,
Science, 292, 25 May 2001: 1485.
35See Copeland, Claudia and Jeffrey Zinn. Animal Waste Management and the Environment:
Background for Current Issues. CRS Report 98-451 ENR, April, 1999.

relatively poor areas, a recent study of the environmental impact of swine CAFOs,
for example, revealed that such operations were five times (controlled for population36
density) more likely to be located in poor, nonwhite communities. In addition, most
swine CAFOs, which use waste “lagoons” that can contaminate ground water, are
located predominantly in areas heavily dependent on well-water.
While some of these environmental concerns may not be necessarily new,
widespread information and increasing opposition to what many perceive as
unacceptable environmental impacts have made environmental factors increasingly
important aspects of agricultural production decisions. With rural areas now more
closely integrated with suburban and urban systems, environmental aspects of
agricultural production may be perceived by some as intrusive and highly
objectionable. Individuals and communities have responded not only to environmental
problems stemming from existing agricultural operations, but they are also resisting
potential future problems. Over the past two decades, several voluntary programs
addressing the environmental effects of agricultural production have been
implemented at the federal level. These programs, e.g., the Conservation Reserve
Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, and Environmental Quality Incentives
Program, have played a significant role in reducing soil erosion, protecting and
restoring wetlands, and creating wildlife habitat.37 However, these programs do not
take into consideration location or urbanization in deciding where they should be
Significant environmental problems occur in most regions, although their scope
and severity are dispersed unevenly across the rural landscape. While much of
agriculture often is exempt from certain environmental regulations affecting other
industries, agriculture is subject to federal regulation under the Food Quality
Protection Act of 1996, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and
specific regulations under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
pertaining to farm workers. The Clean Water Act also authorizes states to control
water pollution from CAFOs through a permitting process that requires certain
technologies or adherence to particular standards. Some problems, such as odor, are
not federal concerns. Regulatory oversight of agriculture’s environmental impact
could increase in the future, especially given the strong and widespread public support
for environmental policies.
New environmental regulations could add further costs to certain kinds of
agricultural production and lead to searches for innovative ways to meet the
regulations. Large, well-managed enterprises may be better able to meet new
environmental regulations targeting agriculture. Small farms, and those working on
very thin profit margins, could find any new environmental regulation particularly
onerous if they imposed production costs that made the enterprises no longer
economically viable. Depending on the region, costs to farmers for environmentally

36Steve Wing, D. Cole, and G. Grant. “Environmental injustice in North Carolina’s hog
industry.” Environmental Health Perspectives, 108(3): March 2000.
37For a review of federal programs in and spending for environmental and agricultural issues,
see Zinn, Jeffrey. Conservation spending in agriculture: trends and implications. CRS
Report RL 30331,October, 1999.

sound practices can be significant and they may also produce few clear economic
benefits to the farmer relative to these costs. The benefits of these conservation
practices, for example, often disproportionately benefit non-farmers, primarily through
improvements to environmental quality. Public policies that would provide flexible
assistance to help farmers and ranchers respond to environmental concerns on
productive land (e.g., “green payments”) may help many farmers create
environmentally sounder management practices and could offer development
opportunities for local and regional innovations in environmental service industries.
In some industries, (e.g., automobile design and manufacturing, oil drilling),
federal regulation has spurred technical innovations. In agriculture, soil conservation
policies played an important role in promoting research on conservation tillage
techniques; and to reduce pesticide use, integrated pest management techniques have
been successful in some areas. More recently, integrated crop management practices,
a form of production that focuses on the entire farming operation as a system rather
than simply targeting particular inputs to particular pests, has shown promise in some
areas. Further research into these and other practices, while representing only a small
part of contemporary production, may offer future possibilities for enhancing
productivity and reducing the costs on small and/or marginal farming enterprises and,
thereby, increasing their chance of survival.
Agriculture may also provide the important local and regional environmental
amenities of open space and wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge, and wetlands, as
well as marketed agricultural products. Small farms in rural New England, for
example, are important to that region’s strong tourism industry as well as to
agriculture and dairy production. “Grown in Vermont,” “New Hampshire Apples”
and “Maine Blueberries,” play a role in regional food retailing (often at premium
prices) catering to visitors and local residents alike.38 The agro-environmental
landscape that produces these agricultural commodities may, in some ways, be as
valuable to local rural economies as the actual agriculture commodity, and may be39
developed to provide alternative economic opportunities. California’s Napa Valley,
a global wine production center, is also a major tourist region where visitors come,
in part, to view a landscape of commercial agricultural cultivation. While not all rural
areas have such “branded geographies,” agricultural landscapes may often provide
significant natural and cultural amenities that traditional markets find difficult in
valuing under existing economic models. Recent research into new methods of

38See Hinrichs, Clare C. “Consuming images: making and marketing Vermont as a
distinctive rural place.” Pp. 259-278 in Melanie DuPuis and Peter Vandergeest (eds.),
Creating the Countryside: The Politics of Rural and Environmental Discourse.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.
39This concept of agriculture’s “multifunctionality” is an important policy position in the EU
and Japan. These countries have used OECD and WTO venues to argue that preserving
landscape amenities is sufficient reason that these subsidies should not be seen as violations
of agriculture trade agreements. The U.S. and other countries have refuted this position
insofar as trade is concerned. Recent Congressional debate over reauthorizing the Northeast
Interstate Dairy Compact, however, seemed to recognize the importance of the small farm in
the New England landscape as part of the rationale for continuing the Compact.

valuation for rural amenities may become increasingly important to future agricultural
and rural development policies.40
Suburban development can impose environmental costs on rural and agricultural
lands, for example, through poorly constructed septic systems that often accompany
rapid housing development in rural areas with little zoning regulation. To some
observers, the loss of agricultural land to suburban development is, itself, a significant
environmental cost.41 Low-density farming operations lying on the edge of the urban
fringe are particularly vulnerable to conversion. Farmland owners, especially those
at the urban fringe, often make land use decisions under pressures of suburban
expansion. As land values increase in rural areas adjacent to metro areas, farmers that
want that option can be tempted to cash out. While 82% of all farmland is located in
rural areas, data from the 1997 Census of Agriculture indicated that a third of all
farms are located within metro areas and that these farms controlled 39% of farm
assets. Most metro farmers operate small-scale enterprises and earn most of their
income from off-farm sources; a smaller group is focused on high-value production
mostly in fresh fruits and vegetables. According to USDA’s National Agricultural
Statistics Service, the average per acre value of “urban-influenced” farmland is nearly
three times higher than “non-urban-influenced” farmland.
State and local land use policies are the primary means of preserving rural
amenities. Citizens across the U.S. have long supported state and local initiatives to
retain private land as “open space.” All states have some form of tax preference or
other means of valuing the use of farmland. At the federal level, the 1981 Farmland
Protection Policy Act required that federal agencies conduct reviews to minimize the
extent to which their programs contributed to the irreversible loss of farmland to non-
agricultural uses. The 1990 farm bill (P.L. 101-624) created the Farms for the Future
program, a pilot program that offered federal loan support to state and local
governments to purchase conservation easements on farmland. The 1996 farm bill
(P.L. 104-124) superseded the Farms for the Future program and directed USDA to
purchase agricultural conservation easements on “prime and unique” farmland to
protect it from non-agricultural use.
Negative environmental aspects of agriculture can lead to significant conflict
with non-farm interests as “right-to-farm” legislation revealed. This state legislation
stemmed largely from the conflict between non-farm residential development into
areas where farms, often large farming operations, predominated.42 Farmland

40A recent conference hosted by USDA focused on the contribution that natural and cultural
amenities make to the development of rural areas. See Valuing Rural Amenities. Paris,
OECD, 2000.
41According to the American Farmland Trust, agricultural lands are converted at a rate of
approximately 1.5 million acres per year in the U.S.
42Many states passed such legislation as a defense against nuisance lawsuits that arose when
non-farm land uses extended into agricultural areas. Most right-to-farm laws adopted a
“coming to the nuisance” doctrine to protect farming operations, i.e., an individual chose to
move to an area where an objectionable environmental condition existed. Depending on how
particular laws were drafted, prospects of legal challenge varied. In a decision in 1999, for

preservation, however, can also be compatible with urban-suburban development.
For metro-agriculture particularly, policies that protect farmland provide one way to
preserve a viable local agriculture. A local government can purchase the development
rights from a landowner (voluntarily) and forever keep the land designated as
farmland; or the landowners can sell the development rights to developers which
permits the latter to build on other lands at higher densities than may be allowed by
current zoning. While development pressures on farmland can be intense at the urban
fringe, the non-farming public has been generally supportive of public efforts to
protect farmland. With such strong public backing, public policies that encourage and
support sound environmental practices on the farm may play a significant role in
improving agriculture’s environmental record, in retaining viable urban-fringe
agriculture, in conserving open space, and in minimizing land use conflicts.
Alternative Production Systems and Changing Food Consumption
Patterns.43 Changing consumer demand patterns are becoming important factors
shaping the social organization of agricultural production, especially in Europe, the
United States, and Japan. Food safety issues have become a major vehicle that critics
of conventional agricultural practices use to inform the public about the global
organization of the food and fiber system, especially the food systems of the
developed industrial economies. For example, widely disseminated reporting on and
policy responses in Europe to bovine encephalopathy (“mad cow” disease), foot-and-
mouth disease, and poultry feed contamination, have reinforced concern in some
consumers’ minds that conventional production methods in agriculture can be
threatening to human health. Continuing consumer uneasiness with genetically
engineered commodities in many processed food products and increasing knowledge
and concern about the environmental costs of industrial agriculture have led some
consumers to seek food products they believe are superior to foods grown and raised
under conventional production methods. Such trends point to the extent to which
agro-food markets are becoming increasingly segmented and may offer new
opportunities to meet these new consumption demands .
Higher incomes and increasing urbanization are significant factors leading to
demand for higher quality food, for food produced in certain ways, and for labor-
saving products.44 Most purchasers of organic foods and animal products (e.g., eggs,
meat, and dairy) from creatures grown under “free-range” systems and slaughtered
under what many consumers believe to be more humane methods tend to be well-

42 (...continued)
example, the Iowa Supreme Court held in Bormann v. Board of Supervisors that such laws
constituted a “takings” under the Fifth Amendment.
43Data for this section draws on two reports: Lohr, Luanne, “Factors affecting international
demand and trade in organic food products,” and Mitchell, Lorraine. “Impact of consumer
demand for animal welfare on global trade” in Anita Regini (ed.) Changing Structure of
Global Food Consumption and Trade. WRS-01-1, USDA, Economic Research Service,
May, 2001
44Interest in organic products extends to industrial crops as well. For example, consumers
seem willing to pay a significant premium for organic fibers in apparel. See Nimon, Wesley
and John Beghin. “Are ecol-labels valuable? Evidence from the apparel industry.”
American Journal of Agricultural Economics 81(4), 1999,

educated, urban, and high-income earners. Heightened awareness of safety and health
concerns have also changed U.S. food consumption patterns over the past 20 years.
For example, the share of red meat consumption in total meat consumption in the diet
declined from 79% to 62 % between 1979 and 1999 while the share of poultry
consumption rose from 21% to 38% over the same period. Per capita fruit and
vegetable consumption increased by 25% from 1979-1999. Facilitated by changes in
shipping technology, trade in horticulture and high-value produce also has grown.
Wealthier countries, whose citizens have more information about food risks, tend
to demand higher food safety standards. In 1996, for example, Congress enacted the
Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) to overhaul the standard setting process for
pesticides. The FQPA, among other provisions, targeted children for pesticide
protection and required more pesticide information on food products. Those with
higher incomes are often also willing to pay more for perceived higher safety levels.
For example, they are willing to pay for foods grown in particular ways, e.g.,
“organic,” “sustainable”, “low-input.” While growth in organic food is fairly well
publicized, other labels attesting to how a food is raised are also beginning to appear.
In th U.S., “eco-labeled” food such as food raised by Integrated Pest Management
techniques, or “Low-Chem” in Japan, and “Green Foods” in China have created new
food markets. In the U.S., taste, freshness, and quality are among the top reasons
cited for organic purchases; in Japan, food safety is the primary reason consumers
purchase organic foods. In the European Union, retailers advertise food safety and
health aspects of organic food. Environmental protection in food production is also
major argument presented by European retailers.
These trends, while currently small relative to the total value of global
agricultural trade, may suggest more fundamental changes occurring in the global
food system. They do not necessarily portend a trend back to traditional production
methods. Modern organic agriculture production, for example, is quite technically
sophisticated and relies heavily on scientifically developed inputs.45 Similarly, free-
range/hormone-free beef and pasture-raised poultry methods often require a
knowledge-intensive system of grazing and rotation. Nevertheless, growth rates in
organic markets have been quite large. Nearly 20-30% of consumers claim to
purchase organic food regularly, accounting, in part, for the 15-30% growth rates in
organic markets over the past 5 years in Europe, Japan, and the U.S. Continued
growth may lower the 10-30% premiums over conventional that organic growers now
receive, but they are likely to remain sufficiently attractive to those growers looking
for economic advantages. Finally, changes in food consumption patterns are occurring
parallel to and, arguably, are reinforced by increased awareness of the environmental
impact of much industrial agricultural production and associated food safety
concerns. 46

45A significant portion of organically certified produce, e.g., carrots, celery, lettuce, is also
raised by conventional growers who set aside some of their land for organic techniques as a
high-value niche within their own predominantly conventional operations.
46Researchers have observed substantial demand and willingness to pay a premium for foods
grown in environmentally sound ways. See Blend, Jeffrey R. and Eileen O. van Ravenswaay.
“Measuring consumer demand for ecolabled apples.” American Journal of Agricultural

U.S. growers and ranchers are eager to develop new global markets. Exchange
of organic products internationally is also rapidly increasing. Recent establishment
of national standards for organic production in the U.S. and Japan compatible with
EU standards is likely to boost organic trade among these three trading blocs.
Demand is growing in Japan for goods such as fresh produce, frozen foods, baked
goods, and prepared meals, among other consumer goods. The organic ingredients
market is also expanding for pickles, fresh fruits and sweeteners for jams, oils and
semi-finished produce. These may represent new opportunities of growth for both
large and smaller-scale U.S. producers who can develop innovations in organic
production, processing, and branded marketing.47
Summary. Change in the structure of agricultural production and
environmental concerns are changing how agro-food commodities are produced,
where these agro-food commodities are produced, and who is producing them. The
broad overview of some contemporary trends shaping agricultural production
presented above may be briefly summarized:
!Under current conditions, the trend toward fewer, larger, more highly
capitalized, and specialized farming operations is unlikely to be reversed.
!Supply-chains represent a significant structural dimension of increasing scale
and integration and suggest that marketing and production contracting will
become an important organizational factor in conventional agricultural
!Supply-chain expansion may further reduce the number of farms as well as,
perhaps, geographically concentrate certain kinds of production, e.g., livestock
production, speciality grains, and fruits and vegetables.
!Conventional agriculture is likely to remain a significant if diminished part of
the rural economy if present conditions continue and deepen. Farm dependent
counties, especially those that produce mostly bulk commodities, will face
greater competitive pressures from a globalizing agro-food system.
!The diversity of farm household income strategies as well as the diversity of
local and regional rural economies are important variables in assessing the
relation between agricultural policy and rural development policies.
!Environmental concerns about current trends in agricultural production are
likely to increase, especially in those rural areas at the urban-suburban fringe.
Although potentially affecting the organization of current production, such
concerns could also propel producers toward new opportunities for agro-
environmental innovations.
!Changing food consumption patterns may become an important source of
innovation in alternative agricultural production systems.

46 (...continued)
Economics 81(5), 1999
47For information on U.S. organic food regulation, see Rawson, Jean. Organic foods and the
USDA national organic program. CRS Report RS20799, January, 2001.

An Overview of Contemporary Rural America
Rural America has long been an indirect target of public policy. In the past 30
years, federal legislation has directly targeted rural development issues. What has
changed over time is perhaps less the general policy concern with rural America than
rural communities to which traditional policies are directed. The absence of coherent
rural polices to meet changing conditions could have important implications. The
proportion of the national population living in rural areas (20%) has been remarkably
stable over the past 120 years. Yet, rural conditions have changed dramatically over
that time. Rural policies for the 21st Century are confronting a highly diverse rural
America, one that is home to traditional economic activities of farming, mining,
fishing, and timbering, but also a rural America that is more socially and economically
diverse and one with complex ties to metropolitan areas and to a global system that
steadily shrinks time and space.
Rural Population Characteristics. Approximately 55 million persons reside
in non-metropolitan areas in 2001, nearly 20% of the U.S. population. After years of
little or no growth in population, rural and small towns grew faster than suburban and
urban areas in the 1970s. In the 1980s, however, this trend reversed during the
general recession and farm crisis, and the number of retirees moving to rural areas
declined. A shift occurred again during the 1990s when most non-metro counties
either increased their growth rates, shifted from a 1980s loss or gain, or, continued
a decline, although at a somewhat reduced rate. Population growth was highest in the
Mountain West and lowest or non-existent in the Great Plains, Mississippi Delta, and
Corn Belt. Non-metro counties adjoining metro areas accounted for almost two-
thirds of all non-metro growth, increasing about 12% on average. Much of this
growth stemmed from metro residents relocating to the adjoining non-metro areas and
from other sources of immigration. Despite this net inflow of people from metro
areas, the rate of net migration into rural areas, which had steadily increased during
the early and mid-1990s, dropped to one-half of 1% during 1997-1999. This more
recent decease in rural net migration has also occurred among college graduates.
Because many low-growth farming areas also lack the attraction of natural amenities
such as those found in the Mountain West or Florida, they are unlikely to experience
future population growth without new sources of employment.
Geographic patterns of population growth during the 1990s also reveal
important changes that could affect agricultural production and rural life in coming
decades. About three-fourths of the approximately 13% national population growth
between 1990 and 2000 occurred in the South and the West. In a recent New York
Times analysis of the 2000 Census based on census tracts, demographers measured
rural, suburban, and urban categories by persons-per- square-mile.48 Overall, the
U.S. is about 15% more urban today than it was in 1990, a reduction in the nearly
21% suburban growth from 1979-1980. The declining growth in rural populations
relative to urban populations that began in the mid-1990s following a period of
expansion in the early 1990s, resulted, in part, from growing urban centers that had

48Suburban was defined as 320-3200 persons per square mile; rural was defined as less than
320 per square mile; and urban more than 3200 per square mile. See Firestone, David. The
New-look suburbs: Denser or more far-flung. New York Times, Aril 17, 2001: A1, A14.

lost population in previous decades, e.g., Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Boston. By
1997-1999, the non-metro population growth rate was little more than half of the
metro rate.
This 21st Century “urban renaissance” is occurring alongside the continuing
development of the rural landscape. More than 17,000 square miles of rural land
reached suburban or urban densities during the 1990s, a land area larger than the
states of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, and New Hampshire combined. Over
1.5 million acres per year of that land were developed farmlands. Most of the rural
loss was in the South which is also evincing a spatial form of suburban development
much different from other parts of the U.S. In the South, suburban developments are
occurring in areas much farther from cities than ever before and they are occurring in
some cases as chains of medium-density areas hundreds of miles long following major
Southern transportation corridors. One Georgia county (Habersham County), about
2 hours from Atlanta and considered entirely rural in 1990, began achieving suburban
densities with the arrival of over 7,800 people, a 28% increase over the decade.
Many of the county’s newcomers were Hispanic workers attracted to jobs in the
county’s expanding poultry processing plants.
During the 1990s, population remained stable or grew in those rural areas and
small communities that were able to attract jobs in service-oriented development, the
major source of employment growth in metro economies. Farm-dependent counties
generally saw no growth or lost population in the 1990s. Immigration was the major
source of growth in the U.S. population; and suburbanization was the dominant
spatial model, a model somewhat different from the suburbanization of the past 50
years. While about 75% of all residents and nearly 90% of immigrants live in urban
areas, the immigration into rural and agricultural areas may be more socially
significant than these broad data might suggest.
Immigration is extremely important to farming, meatpacking, and textiles; and
immigrant professionals, e.g., physicians, also play an increasingly important role in
many rural areas. Much of labor intensive agriculture is located in geographically
large western counties classified by the census as metropolitan areas. Crop
production, fruit and vegetable farming, and meat packing industries are heavily49
reliant on farm workers. The dominant group of immigrants are Latinos or
Hispanics from diverse regions of South and Central America. These immigrants
accounted for nearly 20% of the national non-metro growth. Some are new
immigrants from central Mexico and non-Spanish speaking Indians of southern
Mexico and Guatemala. In the Upper Midwest, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans
from the Rio Grande River Valley along with a few middle-class Cubans and Puerto
Ricans and other Latin Americans also reside. The majority of Latino or Hispanic
immigrants into the Upper Midwest arrived to work in the region’s new and
expanding swine and turkey processing plants. In the Lower Midwest, immigrants
took jobs in the meat packing plants.

49See Levine, Linda. “Farm labor shortages and immigration policy. CRS Report RL30395,
June, 2001.

Rural Economic Characteristics. As with other industries, agriculture
confronts ever more competitive pressures to cut unit production costs. The Bureau
of Labor Statistics projects a 13% decline in farmers and farm managers between

1998 and 2008, the largest projected decline in any occupational category.50

Employment in agricultural inputs, processing, marketing, retail and wholesale sectors
is projected to grow only minimally. Non-farm employment, on the other hand, is
projected to grow 14% between 1998 and 2008 with the service sector providing
practically all the job growth, e.g., personal, business, and health services,
communications, finance, insurance and real estate, and transportation. Most of the
growth seen in the agricultural related sector over the past 20 years has been in the
service-oriented food retail and wholesale activities.
Rural policy focuses primarily on the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.
Technological efficiencies in agriculture played a significant role in reducing
employment opportunities in agriculture over the past 100 years; manufacturing was
seen as the most promising source of replacement employment. Beginning in the
1950s, rural planners and policy makers identified the location or relocation of urban
manufacturing plants and branch plants as primary sources of new rural employment.
While this economic development trajectory had important effects on rural incomes
in those areas fortunate enough to attract plant relocation, the winners often simply
displaced other needy communities similarly vying for plants.51 “Smoke-stack” chasing
development policies undergirded by infrastructure development, tax holidays and
rebates, and public subsidy of business relocation costs have, in many cases simply
moved jobs to new communities without necessarily increasing net employment.
Branch plants, for example, are rarely technologically innovative and are unlikely to
be significant generators of new jobs or higher paying jobs. By the 1980s, many of
these manufacturing plants were in economic trouble. The cost advantages of low-
wage rural U.S. workers began to decline with growth in international manufacturing
coupled with a strong U.S. dollar. The lower labor costs found in rural areas in the

1970s began to shift to new manufacturing sites in Southeast Asia, China, Mexico,

and the Caribbean in the 1980s where labor was even less costly (See Box 4).52 Even
when rural manufacturing began to grow somewhat in the late 1980s, job levels were
still far below those of the 1960s.
Rural earnings growth continues a national trend of rising real earnings in both
metro and non-metro labor markets. The rise in women’s earnings is the primary
component of rural labor market increases from 1990-1997. Real weekly average
earnings in 1997 dollars for women rose 8.5% while men’s real weekly earnings rose

50Thomson, Allison. “Industry Output and Employment Projections to 2008," Monthly Labor
Review, November 1999, pp. 33-50.
51The development of the small-scale steel mill, for example, meant that steel production could
relocate to small rural areas with cheap electricity rather than to coal mining communities, just
as the latter were beginning to suffer significant job losses.
52Labor costs may not explain all the reasons for manufacturing losses in rural areas. Case
evidence has suggested that economic and political powerlessness and managerial competency
deficits may also be causes of rural manufacturing decline. See Knapp, Tim. Rust in the
wheatbelt: the social impacts of industrial decline in a rural Kansas community.”
Sociological Inquiry, 65(1)Winter, 1995:27-67.

by less than 1%.53 Despite
Box 4: North Carolina Manufacturingthe strength of the economicexpansion during the 1990s,
In 1993, North Carolina ranked first (followed byhowever, over 25% of rural
Mississippi) in the percentage of workers inwage and salary workers
manufacturing jobs, 25.7%. Seven years later it hadearned full-time-equivalent
dropped to sixth place with 19.6% of the state’swages below the poverty
workers in manufacturing jobs. In the last five yearslevel for a family of four in
alone, North Carolina lost nearly 58,000 of those1999 ($17,000).
manufacturing jobs and the factories that produced
them to overseas factories. Over 60% of these jobsSince the early 1990s,
were in North Carolina’s non-metro areas. By earlyrural earnings growth
2001, fewer than half of the 400,000 textile and apparelgenerally has outpaced urban
jobs that dominated North Carolina employment in theearnings, due, in part, to the
1980s remained. While the state’s economy was ablesluggish recovery from the
to create nearly 700,000 service sector jobs, the new
employment sectors (e.g., finance, technology) in theearly 1990s recession in
booming metro areas of Charlotte and Raleigh-Durhamurban areas. Earnings among
are not able to absorb all these losses, especially as thethe lowest paid rural workers
national economy has slowed. Many of these ruralhave risen more slowly than
workers who lose manufacturing jobs often lack thefor the rest of the labor force
education and training to compete for new serviceeven as their education levels
sector jobs; and their rural counties often lack thehave increased. Current low-
resources to attract new sources of higher-wagewage employment rates in
employment. (Source: David Firestone, “A Chiefrural areas remain higher
Exporter, and Not at All Pleased About It” New Yorkthan in the late 1970s despite
Times, February 23, 2001: A11a better educated workforce
and a very low national
unemployment rate. This may suggest that public policies attending primarily to
human capital issues in at least some rural areas may not be effective in and of
themselves. Although most low-wage workers are women, men’s share of low-wage
work in rural areas has risen over the past 20 years. Despite an increase in job
growth in late 1998, the pace of employment growth in rural areas slowed from an
average of 1.8% between 1990 and 1995 to about 1.5% in 1999.
In 1997, rural areas lagged behind urban areas by at least $9,000 in real per
capita income. This gap has widened since the late 1980s, exacerbated by the loss of
manufacturing jobs. Earnings per job also remain consistently and substantially lower
in rural areas than in urban areas ($35,151 versus $23,619 in 1998 dollars). In part,
lower rural earnings may reflect the lower college graduation rates of rural workers
even though high-school completion rates have come close to matching those of
urban areas. In addition, the types of manufacturing operations that relocated to
rural areas were predominantly non-union and required lower-skilled workers than54
other manufacturing jobs, e.g., assembly, warehouse shipping. The fact that rural

53USDA’s Economic Research Service calculations from the Current Population Survey data,


54Local officials and business elites eager to promote a “pro-business” environment can also
be very influential in determining the types of employers that locate to rural areas. In North
Carolina, a high-wage, unionized United Airlines maintenance facility was successfully

areas have also seen growth in particularly vulnerable populations, e.g., minorities and
single female headed households, may partly explain the metro/non-metro gap in real
earnings per job, although by a substantial margin, most rural poor are not minorities,
Rural Poverty. The poverty rate for rural areas in 1999 was higher than that
of urban areas (14.3% versus 11.2%). The changing location of economic activities
within the U.S. and across international borders, technological changes, and real
minimum wage rates have been especially hard on those rural areas where large
clusters of low-wage workers reside. Over 500 rural counties (23%) are defined by
the 1997 Census of Agriculture as being in “persistent poverty.” These counties had
20% or more of their populations at or below the poverty level for each of four
census years (1960-1990). Most of these persistently poor counties are in the
Southeast and Delta regions, Native American reservations, core Appalachia, and the
lower Rio Grande Valley. Agriculture is often a significant economic sector in these
regions, but as with national trends, its role has declined. A large pool of poorly
educated residents, high proportions of minorities, and mostly low-wage
manufacturing and part-time service employment in persistently poor counties help
explain why these areas have found it difficult to improve household incomes.
High unemployment, poorly educated workers, substandard housing, and
inadequate public infrastructure characterize persistent poverty counties where, in
addition, the majority of limited-resource and minority farmers also reside. Many
poor rural areas have low-wage employment opportunities, long distances to services
and jobs and lower automobile access, little public transportation, and lack of child
care options.55 Persistently low per capita incomes often translate into low levels of
human capital investment. With little growth in rural high-skill employment and
downward pressure on wages in low-skilled employment, many persistent-poverty
counties, especially in the South, are very badly positioned to reverse these trends.56
Some observers have also concluded that rural poverty in certain states, e.g.,
California, is actually being re-created through immigration, driven, in part, by the
expansion of low-wage, immigrant intensive agriculture.57
It must be emphasized that the rural experience is highly variable from county
to county and from region to region.58 Highly aggregated socioeconomic indicators

54 (...continued)
prevented from locating to that state in the mid-1990s.
55Informal work, i.e., unrecorded labor, is often an important source of income in rural areas.
Welfare reform legislation’s work mandates do not recognize work in the informal sector.
Thus, rural residents in very poor areas are doubly burdened by the loss of welfare support
without necessarily being able to replace their lost income through employment in the formal
56Nord, Mark. “Overcoming persistent poverty – and sinking into it: income trends in
persistent poverty and other high poverty rural counties, 1989-1994.” Rural Development
Perspectives, 12(3), 1997:2-10.
57Taylor, J. Edward, Philip Martin, and Michael Fix. Poverty Amid Prosperity: Immigration
and the Changing Face of Rural California. Urban Institute, Washington, DC, 1997.
58It should be noted that in 1960 there were over 2000 rural counties (out of about 3300 total)

can often be misleading. Average job growth, unemployment rates, and earnings in
many rural areas adjacent to metro areas are often as high as those within metro areas.
But this is due in part to the fact that many of the jobs in adjacent non-metro areas
within commuting distance to urban areas are service related, especially business
services, or high-skilled manufacturing employment, jobs which pay higher wages on
average. Other rural areas, e.g, Native American reservations, may have
unemployment rates of up to 75% although average metro and non-metro
unemployment rates are similar (4.3% vs. 4.6% respectively in 2001).59 Rural
communities that captured some of the spillover of urban affluence did well in the
1990s and may be able to maintain that advantage if they increase the proportion of
their high-wage service sector employment. For many other rural communities,
however, especially those remote from urban areas, lacking amenities, with a high
proportion of poorly educated working-age residents, the 1990s offered little change
in fortunes, and future prospects remain unattractive in many circumstances unless
there are significant changes in local and regional institutions, infrastructure, and
entrepreneurial capacity.60
Farming Communities. In 1997 there were 316 farming-dependent
counties (20% or more of total labor and proprietors’ income derived from farming)
and 312 farming- important counties (10%-19.9% of income from farming). The
more dependent a county was on farming in 1997, the larger the decline in the number
of farms and the increase in sales per farm. In other words, the growth in fewer and
larger farms was greater in farm-dependent and farm-important counties than in other
rural communities less reliant on agriculture. Farming-dependent counties lost an
average of 12,500 farms between 1987 and 1997; farming-important counties lost
10,600 farms over that period. Other non-metro counties lost 6,700 farms between
1987-1997. The average 1997 sales per farm in farming dependent and farming
important counties, however, was $233,900 and $161,200 respectively compared to
$69,200 for all other non-metro counties.
Farming-dependent counties are concentrated primarily in the Great Plains,
Western Corn Belt, and parts of the Northwest and Southeast regions. These
counties are also geographically isolated with very low population densities (11.8
persons per square mile versus 36.3 persons for other non-metro counties). This can
create barriers to new economic development, especially service related development.
Very low densities and few large metropolitan regions within commuting distances
increase the costs of infrastructure development, transportation, and other public
services. Many rural areas are beginning to participate more in the service sector, but,
as was the case with many manufacturing jobs, the service jobs rural areas are able to

58 (...continued)
with 20% or more of their populations in poverty. By 1990, this number had shrunk to 765.
While some of this reduction can be explained by poor non-metro counties becoming poor
metro counties, the nearly two-thirds reduction points to a genuinely remarkable change in
rural poverty.
59Rates are based on civilian, non-institutional populations, 16 years and older, 2nd Quarter,

2001. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

60Duncan, Cynthia. Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America. New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1999.

attract are often lower-wage personal services rather than higher wage producer and
professional services. Non-metro areas predominantly in the Midwestern and
Southern states gained the most food manufacturing jobs in the 1990s, but only 357
counties out of a total of 2,310 non-metro counties gained 50 or more food
processing jobs between 1990 and 1996. Most of the jobs were in meat and grain mill
products. With their lag in creating new jobs, farm-dependent counties are also losing
their younger and better educated residents, a potentially significant barrier to creating
and sustaining new economic activities in the future. Again, aggregate statistics about
sectoral shifts in rural employment can often be misleading without more detailed
information on particular county and regional patterns of employment, job loss,
income sources, etc.
Many farming-dependent and farm-important counties were characterized by
continuing farm losses, low-wage job growth in the service sector and declining
populations during the 1990s. Table 2 provides data on the structure of employment
in these counties. Farming-dependent counties are concentrated in the Great Plains
and Corn Belt, but, even here, non-farm employment accounted for over 80% of the
jobs held. Earned income contributes about 62% of total personal income in farming
dependent counties while the remainder comes from unearned sources such as
dividends, interest, rents, and transfer payments. Farming in these counties
contributes about 30% of earned income.
Table 2: Employment Characteristics of Farming Dependent
Counties (1)
Farming DependentFarming ImportantOther Non-Metro
Number of Counties3163121,662
Total Employment,1,347,0002,328,00024,359.000
%Total Goods37.235.929.5
Producing Employment
%Total Farming18.312.05.3
%Total Manufacturing10.615.716.2
%Other Goods8.48.27.9
Producing Employment
% Total Service61.162.368.7
%Business Services12.311.811.7
Employment (3)
%Retail Trade14.015.517.6
%Government 16.1 15.2 15.9
%Other Service18.719.823.5


%Employment Change,11.313.614.1
%Change in Goods4.46.43.7
Producing Employment
%Change in Farming-6.4-6.8-6.9
Employment, 1990-
%Change in12.414.54.4
Employment, 1990-
%Change in Other24.714.610.5
Goods Producing
Employment, 1990-
%Change in Service13.916.817.7
Employment, 1990-
%Change in Business9.212.614.4
Services Employment,
%Change in Retail20.120.421.2
Trade Employment,
%Change in7.28.96.9
Employment, 1990-
%Change in Other19.023.725.2
Service Employment,
Average Per Capita$19,413$18,489$19,131
Income, 1997
Source: USDA-ERS calculations based on Bureau of Economic Analysis and Bureau of Census data (1)
(1)Percentages do not sum to 100 due to suppression
(2) Goods producing industries include farming, agricultural services, manufacturing, mining, and construction
(3)Business services includes transportation, public utilities, wholesale trade, finance, real estate, and insurance
While farm-dependent counties may lag behind other non-metro counties in
creating jobs, their income levels compare more favorably to those in other non-metro
counties. Average per capita incomes in farm dependent counties, although lower
than average metro incomes, are somewhat higher on average than incomes in other
non-metro counties. But inflation adjusted total personal income in farm-dependent
counties grew only 13% between 1990-1998 compared with 21% in other non-metro61
counties. This suggests that the agricultural sector, while not a sufficient condition
for rural well-being today, remains, nonetheless, an important factor in some local and
regional rural economies. Government farm payments, moreover, may be more

61 Gale, Fred. “How important are farm payments to the rural economy?” Agricultural
Outlook, October, 2000.

significant to farm-dependent economies than other non-metro areas because these
payments tend to attenuate the impact of fluctuations in household incomes in areas
more vulnerable to the volatility of the farm economy. Farm-dependent counties
received, however, only 37% of farm program payments in 1998 while 19% went to
metro counties and 44% went to non-farm dependent non-metro areas.62 In the
absence of other economic opportunities, the loss of such payments to farm-
dependent areas could hasten population loss and failure of farming related or other
rural businesses. The extent to which these counties might also begin developing
local and regional capacity to expand into innovative, value-added agricultural
production, for example, or to create new employment opportunities outside
agriculture is likely to become an important factor in improving socioeconomic
circumstances in the future.
Summary. Given the diversity characterizing rural areas, any generalizations
should be taken with caution. Distance to metro areas, local and regional economic
mix, the presence of environmental amenities, the role of agriculture, and
demographic characteristics can make vast differences in the socioeconomic profile
of an area and any comparisons to other areas. Still, some broad patterns do emerge
in 2001:
!Enormous diversity, sparse populations, and complex interdependencies with
urban, suburban, and global geographies characterize rural areas.
!Rural America as a whole held its own economically fairly well in the 1990s,
although many areas continue a slow decline.
!Rural counties dependent on farming continued to lose population and tend to
gain, at best, lower-wage jobs. Farm household incomes, however, tended to
be higher than non-farm households in farming-dependent counties.
!Non-metro population growth is tied to net immigration rather than natural
increase, suggesting that social, economic, and environmental conditions in
rural areas will strongly influence their future growth.
!While it is necessary to factor in the role of agriculture in rural and regional
economies, current agricultural policy alone can no longer be equated with
addressing rural policy issues more generally.
!Non-metro areas continue to lose population relative to metro areas, although
remote rural areas are losing the most; non-metro areas adjacent to metro areas
are likely to continue to grow and become part of metro areas.
!Rural areas have, on average, older, less-educated, and poorer residents than
urban areas. Many farm dependent counties continue to lose college
!Non-metro areas, especially those where agriculture is a significant part of the
local and regional economies and where environmental amenities are scarce are
likely to face formidable problems if current trends in agricultural production,
population growth, and employment persist.
!Rural America mirrors national declines in primary sectors such as agriculture
and manufacturing and growth in service sector employment, although wages
and real earnings per job in rural areas lag behind those of urban areas and the
relative lack of economic diversity can make many rural areas vulnerable.

62 Ibid.

Public Policy and the Changing Opportunity
Structure of Rural America
A wide range of rural problems such as low wages, declining jobs, lack of
infrastructure, weak educational systems, concentrated poverty, and shrinking
population has been addressed at the federal level, but only in piecemeal fashion. No
comprehensive rural policy has ever existed in the United States, although limited
regions have been targeted with a more coherent focus such as Appalachia through
the Appalachian Regional Commission.63 Evidence presented above suggests that
rural policies based on agriculture support programs are even less likely than in the
past to provide the single major policy focus around which decision makers might
forge viable rural development policies for the future. The dominant thrust of U.S.
agricultural policy and the policies increasingly necessary to build and strengthen rural
communities coincide in general in only a few agriculture-dependent counties today.
For over forty years, manufacturing has provided employment to replace lost farm
jobs; but, for reasons discussed above, its potential as an engine of sustainable future
growth and development also reveals significant limitations. The service sector will
be important to rural areas, but here as well, the types of service sector jobs and
related wage levels in rural areas can differ significantly from those of urban areas.
While agriculture remains central to rural well-being in many regions, rural
development in the future is likely to be driven more by changes in the global political
economy, the structure of a global agro-food system itself, the social and economic
diversity that rural communities and regions draw upon, the relations between rural,
urban, suburban, and international geographies, and the particular demographics of
local areas.
USDA Rural Development. Rural policy has been an expressly identified
concern of Congress only since the 1972 Rural Development Act (P.L.92-419),
although the Eisenhower Administration did create a Rural Development Program in
1955 aimed at low-income farmers. Legislation affecting rural areas, however, has
been significant since the Nation’s founding. At least 16 federal agencies target rural
areas within their program missions, but the 1972 Rural Development Act) designated
USDA as the lead agency for coordinating federal programs that target rural areas;
and the 1980 Rural Development Policy Act (P.L96-355) directed the Secretary of
Agriculture to prepare a comprehensive rural development strategy. Broadly
speaking, that strategy over the past twenty years has emphasized categorical grants
and loans for community and infrastructure development, business and government
economic assistance, housing and credit assistance, and several other programs,
including farm assistance programs. Reflecting nearly 10 years of emphasis on
making more effective use of existing rural development funds and programs within
a governing philosophy of a reduced federal role, the 1990 Rural Economic
Development Act (Title XXIII of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act;
P.L. 101-624), created the Rural Development Administration in USDA, established
technical and managerial assistance programming, and redirected loans to support
technology initiatives and a Rural Incubator Fund among other programs. Appendix
A provides a selective chronological overview of major rural development legislation

63Even here, Appalachian Regional Commission funding is focused on infrastructure
development, particularly transportation..

from 1987-2001. The 2002 House farm bill (H.R.2646) passed by the House in July,
2001 emphasizes value-added agricultural businesses, telecommunications
development, and strategic rural and regional development planning.
The mission of the rural development agencies within USDA is to “enhance the
ability of rural communities to develop, to grow, and to improve the quality of life by
targeting financial and technical resources in areas of greatest need through activities
of greatest potential.” Four agencies in USDA are responsible for the mission area:
the Rural Housing Service (RHS), the Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBS), the
Rural Utilities Service (RUS), and the Office of Community Development (OCD),
which provides community development support through Rural Development’s field
offices. The mission area also administers the rural portion of the Empowerment
Zones and Enterprise Communities Initiative and the National Rural Development
Partnership. Appendix B presents an overview of the funding objectives and targets
of the major loan and grant programs supporting rural housing, business
development, and infrastructure under the RUS, RBS, and RUS.
Title VII the 1996 Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act (the FAIR
Act), also referred to as the 1996 farm bill, P.L. 104-127) further devolved rural
policy to State governments by streamlining some rural development efforts through
the Rural Community Advancement Program (RCAP). The RCAP supports a
Community Facilities program and consolidates funding for 12 rural development loan
and grant programs administered by the RUS and RBS. RCAP was designed to
provide greater flexibility in targeting financial assistance to local needs and permits
a portion of the various accounts’ funds to be shifted from one funding stream to
another. Appendix C provides programs and funding levels for RCAP from 1996-
2002. Under the FAIR Act, Congress also created the Fund for Rural America and
several loan and grant programs to enhance telecommunication technologies in rural
areas.64 The Fund for Rural America, a competitive grants program with two purposes
– first rural infrastructure projects, and second, research with a rural emphasis –
represented a significant change in federal funding in that the program was mandatory.
The Fund, however, has not been fully funded by appropriators.
These various direct-assistance programs reflect, in part, the search for broad
federal policies that are relevant to most rural communities most of the time and that
make measurable improvements in the lives of rural citizens and communities. It
would be difficult to minimize the importance of providing safe drinking water and
solid waste management facilities where there are none, or decent, affordable housing,
or the establishment of a fire department and an accessible health clinic. In that sense,
rural development can take the form of responding to the program goals of
categorical grants and loans perhaps at the expense of responding primarily to the
diversity of specific community needs as local communities might define them. This
may help explain why attitudinal surveys find that “rural development” can often be
a rather nebulous concept to many citizens. The federal programs are well-known and
supported by local officials and rural development professionals; but often the

64For current budgetary overview of USDA rural development programs, see Appropriations
for FY2002: U.S. Department of Agriculture and Related Agencies, CRS Report RL31001,
June 2001.

connections between constructing a new water and waste disposal system, the loss of
a major employer, the decline of a rural downtown area and the targets of “rural
development policy” are unclear to many rural residents. This is ironic at one level
because urban “community development” generally enjoys strong support among
urban beneficiaries, especially when local residents play a significant role in defining
and determining the direction of development.
Creating and expanding the opportunity structure for all rural America represents
a significant policy challenge. An appreciation of the enormous diversity of rural
America need not overwhelm the justifiable effort to craft more flexible,
comprehensive federal rural policies. On one hand, asserting that the needs of rural
residents may be more appropriately decided at local levels or that generally targeted
rural development programs have a hit-or-miss record does not necessarily mean an
end to the federal role. On the other hand, simply extending current rural policies may
leave many communities further behind. For example, only the most remote and/or
impoverished rural areas today lack access to central power generation, clean water,
and sewerage. And it is arguable that remoteness rather than community facilities
plays the larger factor in the failure to develop. It is substantially true that no one-
size-fits-all rural policy is likely to be effective everywhere. It is another matter,
however, to find agreement on policies that recognize these differences. Factors that
may influence success in producing new competitive advantages within the diversity
of rural America include:
!more flexible policies that support development of local capacities to identify
and act on local needs;
!comprehensive programs that better integrate rural development within larger
urban-suburban-rural territorial development planning;
!integrated development policies that recognize agriculture as a business sector
embedded within a larger business planning and support network.
As the discussion above noted, the rural sector has often been regarded by
policymakers as closely connected to if not synonymous with the agricultural sector.
Since the 1950s, rural policy also sought to make rural areas attractive to
manufacturing employment by building and improving the physical infrastructure of
rural areas, by making improvements in the quality of housing, and by programs that
encouraged business to locate or expand branch plants in rural areas. Certainly,
infrastructure, housing, and sustainable employment generation programs will
continue to be needed in any comprehensive rural policy, but exactly what
infrastructure is needed may vary from region to region depending on an areas’s
socioeconomic base, its demographic characteristics, and a community’s objectives.
Alternative agriculture production systems and/or new agriculture-based businesses
may well have different infrastructure needs and different business development needs
than either more traditional agriculture or traditional business development have
required in the past.
Agricultural-based Innovation in Rural Development. If agricultural
policy has tended to see rural well-being as simply a corollary of a strong agricultural
production sector, rural development professionals and agencies generally ignore
contemporary agriculture as a viable economic base with potential for significant
growth opportunities in rural America. Nearly 50 years of steadily declining farm

numbers and steadily increasing farm sizes and efficiencies explains much of this
disconnection. In fact, agriculture lost its status as a major rural growth engine many
years ago. An industrialized agriculture dominated by export-oriented commodity
production and a federal agricultural policy that directs most resources toward
enhancing these sectors may seem to provide little in the way of a viable base on
which rural development professionals and local residents might build future
development opportunities. Agricultural policy, as it is currently constructed, could
become even less relevant to rural residents as other changes pull rural America into
new relations with urban areas. Some observers have argued that farm institutions,
e.g., financial institutions, political, research, and educational organizations are not65
well-equipped to become effective rural institutions. Others have argued that by
continuing to absorb the majority of development resources directed to rural areas
and, thereby, making it difficult to create new areas of competitive advantages in rural
America, current agricultural support programs can actually hurt rural communities.66
In metro farming or farming within commuting distances to metro regions,
diversification of the agricultural enterprise and experiments with different forms of
production may offer opportunities to integrate agriculture more broadly into rural
development planning. While diversification in some ways runs counter to the logic
of both horizontal and vertical integration in agriculture, policies that better
coordinate agriculture with other business development may produce both new
opportunities for preserving and enhancing agriculture as well as new rural
development possibilities through agriculture. One avenue for connecting agriculture
to broader rural business planning is value-added agriculture.
Value-added enterprises. Value-added agricultural production has become
widely seen as a means for creating opportunities for primary producers to capture
more of the value of their commodities. In June, 2001, Secretary Veneman
announced nearly $10 million in value-added agricultural market development grants,
25% for renewable energy alone. The 2002 House farm bill (H.R.2646) passed in
July, 2001 also would provide authorization for $60 million per year, FY2002-2011,
for value-added agricultural production including establishment of Agricultural
Innovation Centers for technical assistance to value-added enterprises. Value-added
production, processing, and/or marketing could permit producers to increase the share
of the household food dollar now captured by commodity marketers and up-stream
processors. With increasing market segmentation, high-quality, differentiated
products hold some promise for expanding or preserving the role of agriculture in
many rural areas while adding to regional economic diversity. While the term is a
catch-all phrase for a variety of processes, the growth areas of most value-added
agriculture are of two general types: (1) value-added food products that are perceived
to offer consumers a higher level of quality, greater nutrition, convenience, or foods
produced in particular ways, e.g., organic; and (2) industrial, non-food value-added
products derived from grains or oil-seeds, e.g., ethanol, soy oil, corn-starch. These

65Browne, William P. The Institutional Failure of National Rural Policy. Report prepared
for the Rural Policy Program, Aspen Institute, Washington, D.C., 1991.
66Stauber, Karl N. “Why invest in rural America - and how? A critical public policy
question for the 21st century.” Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City,
Second Quarter, 2001

two broad categories of value-added agricultural products have potentially different
implications for rural communities.
Much current discussion of value-added food products concerns either premium
pricing for food products or value-added food processing. Value-added processing
aims at capturing more of a commodity’s food value at the local level. Food
processing is a highly competitive, global business requiring constant product
differentiation. This type of value-added production also tends to be labor intensive
and to require more skilled workers, especially in product development and
marketing. Small, innovative firms may be particularly capable of developing this type
of production for both domestic and international markets. For example, value-added
production of a genetically modified proprietary commodity or, food produced
through organic systems are also examples of enhanced economic value for which
consumers are willing to pay a premium over similar but undifferentiated products.
The policy question that arises for rural communities is whether value-added food
processing offers as viable a
development path for
Box 5: Investments in Value-Added Agriculturecommunities as it might offer
enhanced opportunities for
A study of the value-added industry in Illinoisparticular farmers.
estimated that farmers growing specialty corn and
soybeans between 1999 and 2005 would see theirIndustrial value-added
combined income rise by $79 million over thatagricultural production uses a
period.considerably larger volume of
agricultural commodities than
Agra Resources Co-op built and operates adoes value-added food
successful ethanol plant at Albert Lea, Minn.production, but this type of
Owned by 500 Iowa and Minnesota farmers, itproduction tends to be capital
doubled its production capacity in less than twointensive and may employ fewer,
years and doubled the value of each farmer’s
initial investmentand lower-skilled workers
relative to the investment
Golden Oval Eggs began in 1994 with more thanneeded or the value of the
$20 million in equity from 700 corn producers inoutput. Corn-derived ethanol as
Iowa and Minnesota. It has doubled capacity.a gasoline blending ingredient is
Producer-investors received $3.77 per bushel ofprobably the best known
corn delivered in 1998.example of an industrial value-
added business, but a variety of
Dakota Growers Pasta began operation in 1994. Itother products are also possible
has 1,100 durum wheat producer members. Inthat may have industrial uses,
early 1998 it became the second largest pastae.g., starch, corn gluten. Corn-
maker in the U.S. with a capacity of 500 millionstarch based packaging, e.g.,
pounds per year. Its goal is to become the nation’spacking “peanuts,” and packing
largest provider of private label pasta.
made from pulp flax straw and
South Dakota Soybean Processors is anstraw-based particle board are
organization of 2,100 farmers from South Dakotaother examples of industrial
and Minnesota that began processing soybeans invalue-added agriculture. To the

1996. They process 70,000 bushels of soybeansextent that industrial value-

per day and sell as far north as Canada and westadded plants are owned by
to the Pacific Coast.outside firms, the effects on
rural development could be

more limited than, for example, producer-owned, value-added cooperatives. These
so-called “New Generation” cooperatives are focused more on creating and supplying
emerging niche markets. These coops create dual contracts where farmers are
obligated to deliver a certain amount of a commodity and the cooperative is obligated
to buy the commodity. New Generation coops have been organized to process alfalfa,
bison, carrots, cattle, and milk among other products.
Industrial value-added agriculture may make an excellent economic fit for some
rural areas, especially those farming-dependent areas with large supplies of bulk
commodities.67 For example, in the Red River Valley in Minnesota, a sugar beet
growers’ cooperative purchased processing plants 25-30 years ago that today employ
1800 unionized workers.68 Box 5 lists examples of other industrial value-added
agricultural businesses.
As the agro-food system continues to segment globally and new demands are
placed on food products by consumers, other opportunities for high-end food
products may open for innovative alternative agricultural production systems and their
surrounding rural communities. Value-added foods grown and processed organically,
regionally-branded food products, and foods that can be produced and locally
marketed within metro areas could provide significant new opportunities for
agricultural innovation.69 Small, innovative farms and value-added agricultural
business located within metro regions could find their location ideal for growing a
small business. Growing and marketing products to ethnic communities might also
provide new markets for growers within commuting distances to urban markets.
Internet marketing may also be an option for more remote farms and communities
developing value-added food products.
The increasing consumer orientation of the agricultural economy could open new
entrepreneurial activity for rural areas. New marketing channels, alternative
production systems, and local use, however, can create different community and
regional demands. Under various policy incentives, local and regional governments
and businesses might increase their purchase of regionally produced value-added food
and industrial products. Research on the impacts of agricultural regulations on
smaller producers might be necessary. Farms and agricultural businesses that are
oriented to food products rather than bulk commodities may also increasingly require
the kinds of business services that non-agricultural businesses have long relied upon,
e.g., advertising, marketing, management consulting, information systems. While
USDA Rural Development’s Rural Business and Cooperative Service programs can

67Experience in Sweden also suggests that on-farm processing strengthens the competition of
domestic bulk commodity production more than bulk commodity production alone. See
Eckman, S. “The economics of on-farm processing: model development and an empirical
analysis.” Journal of the International Association of Agricultural Economists 18(2), 1998.
68Witness statement at Field Hearing of the House Agricultural Committee, Sioux Falls, South
Dakota, May 2, 2000.
69The term “value-added” has historically referred to manufacturing. In the sense used here
however, agricultural products grown in particular ways or that contain some particular
characteristic that produces a price premium to the grower over the standard commodity is
also “added value.”

play a central role, the programs of the Department of Commerce’s Small Business
Administration and Economic Development Administration are also useful resources70
within integrated value-added business strategies. By specifically targeting small and
diversified farms for business development within a broader business and economic
development strategy, local areas may open new opportunities for developing
entrepreneurial capacity in local areas.71
Agricultural innovation and environmental policies. As discussed
above, the environmental aspects of agricultural production are likely to become more
important in the future. With populations becoming more clustered around urban and
suburban areas, agriculture is finding itself under new regulatory pressures which may
also create new opportunities for value-added agriculture in food products. A variety
of new community and regional growth planning mechanisms in many areas of the
country have recently been subsumed under the general term of “smart growth
planning.” These programs are originating at local, regional, and state levels.
Regional smart growth symposia have been held in such high growth areas as Atlanta
and South Florida and others are planned for Chicago and Colorado. While smart
growth planning can describe a wide range of land use policies, there are four general
principles that unify this perspective on regional growth: First, smart growth
legislation tends to encourage and support mixed-use land development, i.e.,
integrating industrial, housing, and retail uses rather than zoning them into separate
areas as much older growth planning advocated. Second, smart growth policies
generally favor locating new development within center cities and their older suburbs
rather than spreading out into fringe areas. Third, the emphasis on increasing density
in already built-up areas has meant planning at a scale capable of producing
pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with a greater emphasis on public transit. Fourth,
smart growth policies place strong value on preserving and enhancing critical72
environmental areas, especially farmland and open space preservation. It is this
latter emphasis that has most relevance to non-metropolitan areas.
Smart growth initiatives in many urban and suburban areas have implications for
agriculture. To the extent such initiatives become more widely adopted, they may be
expected to further influence agriculture and farmland in and near metro regions.
Programs that help preserve farmland can help maintain viable local agriculture.
Through purchase of development rights (PDR) and transfer of development rights,
local areas can help ensure that farmland is preserved. The USDA’s Economic

70Developing and expanding value-added manufacturing of agricultural products might take
a lesson from the success of manufacturing extension centers that have proven successful in
improving the performance of small firms. See Ehlen, Mark A. “The economic impact of
manufacturing extension centers.” Economic Development Quarterly, 15(1), February,


71The development research literature has begun paying close attention to the role of networks
in successful rural development strategies: “Vertical” networks that link rural spaces into the
agro-food sector and “horizontal”networks that link rural geographies into more general and
non-agricultural process of change. See Murdoch, J. “Networks - a new paradigm for rural
development.” Journal of Rural Studies 16(4), October, 2000.
72 Nickerson, Cynthia. “Smart growth: implications for agriculture in urban fringe areas.”
Agricultural Outlook, April, 2001.

Research Service has identified 1,062 counties that have land subject to some degree
of urban influence. Many of these counties also contain significant amounts of crop
and pastureland. While some observers have pointed to various “green payment”
proposals as a means of both helping maintain farming preservation as well as
supporting farm household income, smart growth policies in conjunction with
alternative agricultural production systems might also play a role in producing new
agriculture products to meet urban and suburban needs.
Farmers markets are common in many urban and suburban areas. Other direct
marketing arrangements are also possible in metro areas. The Small Farm
Entrepreneurial Development Initiative was one policy recommendation in the
National Commission on Small Farms 1998 Report, A Time to Act. This initiative was
conceived as a way to preserve farming and farmland. The initiative also pointed to
the value of agricultural preservation in narrowing the distance between consumer and
producer. With growth in organic markets and concern with food safety discussed
earlier, direct marketing of farm products could become an important rural
development strategy for many areas. Producing higher-value agricultural products,
such as low-input or certified organic products, grass-fed beef, and regionally-
branded products, could stimulate development of new agricultural practices that are
compatible with suburban smart-growth policies and urban proximity. By restricting
state funding to those areas designated as high growth, smart growth policies might
lower conversion pressures on farmland by driving up the costs of development
outside designated growth areas.
For farm-dependent counties and other areas heavily reliant on the production
of bulk commodities, other environmentally related innovations could present
additional growth opportunities. Although much research remains to be done, carbon
sequestration, i.e., storing atmospheric carbon dioxide within soils or biomass, has
been suggested by some as a valuable environmental amenity suitable for agricultural
areas. Not only does carbon sequestration help build up the carbon content of soils,
it may offer new sources of income to growers as an environmental resource for
reducing a major greenhouse gas. Bioplastics and biofuels also offer some potential
for agriculturally-based environmental innovations. While Agricultural Research
Service research is at a basic stage, new agricultural crops with environmentally useful
characteristics might offer growers new markets:
!Cuphea, native to temperate regions of the U.S., offers some potential to
replace oils currently used in detergents and other industrial products, e.g.,
coconut and palm oil.
!Vernonia oil (epoxy oil) has the potential to replace solvents in paints and
become part of the finished coating which could reduce pollution from
!Meadowfoam (Limanthes alba) has been modified chemically to develop new
products for personal care, lubricants and detergent industries.
!Crambe is currently grown in North Dakota. With development of new
markets for its oil and meal, the crop could become an important industrial
!New products for jojoba, commercially raised for its oil and exported to
Europe and Japan, might have greater commercial potential with development
of new co-products.

!Currently, soy oil is being manufactured in Nebraska to address an important
agriculturally related environmental problem. An estimated three million
gallons of petroleum-based oil are used to lubricate irrigation-well shafts in
arid states. There is long-expressed concern over this oil seeping into
groundwater supplies; soy oil is proving to be a valuable substitute.73
Creating and expanding new opportunities may require reconsidering how
agriculture is integrated into overall rural development trajectories and how it might
become better integrated and better positioned within rural and regional economies.
Under current structural conditions, it is difficult to see how the trend toward reduced
farming activities will change. Under different policies, however, it is possible to see
agriculture becoming a more viable part of rural development as well as a source of
business innovation in many parts of the U.S. Although agriculture’s role will differ
in the overall economic mix of a region, if there exists a social objective of
maintaining farms and farming communities within larger regional economies, public
policies that help create and support new competitive advantages for agriculture as
part of a comprehensive policy for rural America are likely to be decisive.
Current Legislation. The 107th Congress has shown considerably interest in
agricultural innovation and value-added agriculture. H.R. 2402, the Agricultural
Producers Marketing Assistance Act would provide grants to assist value-added
businesses by, among other provisions, creating an Agricultural Innovation Center
demonstration project to provide technical assistance, business planning, and
marketing development to start-up firms. Additional legislation includes tax credit
provisions for ethanol production (S.907), the Value-Added Development Act for
American Agriculture (H.R. 1093), and the Farmers’ Value-Added Agricultural
Investment Tax Credit Act (H.R. 1094). Other related legislation to encourage
business innovation includes the Entrepreneurial Incubators Development Act of 2001
(H.R.1418), which would provide legal, technological, and intellectual property rights
assistance to small and medium-sized firms. The Renewable Energy from Agricultural
Products (REAP) Act (H.R.2000) would create tax credits for electricity produced
from biomass and agricultural waste. The Working Lands Stewardship Act of 2001
(H.R. 2375) would provide grants to assist conventional farmers in their transition to
organic production and the promotion of farmer-to-consumer marketing. The
Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 (P.L.106-224) provides research funding
for developing genetically altered tobacco as a medicinal crop (Sec. 222) and for a
corn-based ethanol research pilot plant (Sec. 226). The legislation also provides for
$15 million in competitive grants for technical assistance and business planning for
value-added agriculture product marketing. Finally, Section 602 of the Farm Security
Act of 2001, the 2002 House farm bill (H.R. 2646) passed in July, 2001, amends the
2000 Agricultural Risk Protection Act (P.L.106-224) to permit $60 million to be used
for value-added grants for each fiscal year 2002-2011. Not less than $5 million of this
funding for FY2002 and not less than $10 million for FY2003-2004 is provided for
grants to establish Agriculture Innovation Centers for technical assistance to value-
added agricultural businesses.

73An estimated 100,000 gallons of Soy Bio-drip irrigation oil is projected to be sold this year
by a plant in Nebraska. See Carlton, J. “Farm community gets creative to survive.” Wall
Street Journal, June 6, 2000.

Perhaps a central question in any discussion of rural policy is, What is the “rural
issue” about which policy makers, the public, and the private sector should be
concerned? Is it that many rural communities lag behind urban areas on a list of
various socioeconomic indicators? Is it poverty? Is it simple economic growth in
non-metro regions or something more broadly called “community development?” Is
it the conservation and preservation of rural social, economic, physical, and
environmental capital? A corollary question is whether existing policies reinforce
current competitive advantages in rural areas or exacerbate disadvantages? Are rural
polices helping rural areas organize and direct local resources to create new
competitive advantage? Do current farm polices, which rely heavily on commodity
support, help or hinder the development of economically viable communities?
Inasmuch as rural communities will have to respond to complex social and
macroeconomic issues far outside their control, is developing local capacity for
managing future change a useful way of thinking about the goals of rural policy?
While such questions defy simple answers, they may help frame a discussion of how
a changing global agro-food system and rural America are altering the effectiveness
of current policies and point to where public policy might assist rural communities and
residents in building on their own distinctive capacities to encourage new investment
and new opportunities.
Rural policy today is not characterized by an integrated set of federal programs
designed for rural people. More often than not, most federal rural programs have
been modest extensions of programs designed for urban areas, e.g., Department of
Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Interior. When
agriculture dominated rural economies, policies that strengthened and improved
agriculture tended to strengthen and improve much of rural America. Although the
agriculture/rural development linkage has declined significantly, rural development
policy has not evolved into an integrated set of programs. USDA is the lead agency
in coordinating federal rural policy and still has the largest budget of any federal
agency directed toward rural development issues, even though social transfer
payments, e.g., Social Security, Medicare, put more federal funds into rural areas than
any program. Past Congressional action has recognized the importance of policy
integration and federal coordination, but these initiatives were not fully implemented.
The 1996 Farm Bill (P.L.104-127), for example, called for establishment of an
Interagency Working Group, comprised of senior-level officials from all federal
agencies providing services in rural areas. More recently, the Congressional Rural
Caucus emphasized the fragmentation of rural policy in their recommendations for
appointment of a Special Assistant to the President for Rural Affairs and for
designation of rural policy leadership within each federal department. These initiatives
have not been fully realized.
For rural areas adjacent to metro regions, it may not be unreasonable to consider
how strengthening and improving urban and older suburban areas could be as
important a de facto rural policy as any policy targeting rural areas specifically. Rural
areas adjacent to urban areas where small and medium size towns exist are sites of the
most dynamic non-metro growth and diversification today. Little on the horizon
suggests that this dynamic is likely to change significantly in the coming decade; smart

growth policies could reinforce it. For such a territorial approach to be effective,
metro areas would have to integrate the non-metro adjacent areas into their
development planning decisions, which raises political jurisdictional issues. But
thinking of rural areas in conjunction with urban and suburban planning (and vice
versa) could offer new opportunities for rural development generally and for metro
and urban-fringe agriculture particularly were agricultural to be better integrated into
regional economic and environmental development strategies. Innovations in
diversified, value-added farming operations supported by new marketing channels
represent niche business opportunities that could contribute to the overall economic
mix in non-metro regions within commuting distances of urban areas. The kinds of
agricultural and business infrastructure and services that such agricultural production
might require, however, may be different from that which has long supported
traditional, commodity agricultural production.
For remote rural areas, the problems are more daunting. Sparse populations
spread over wide distances make the provision of public services and the construction
and maintenance of new infrastructure extremely expensive. Agricultural areas,
however, even those predominantly reliant on production of bulk commodities, could
develop more value-added innovations suggested by the structural changes noted
above, e.g., identity preserved commodities for supply chain production. Producer-
owned cooperatives have a venerable history in rural America. Innovative business
models that build on that tradition might offer new opportunities for producers in
farm-dependent areas.
Rural development policy today remains focused primarily on the agricultural
and manufacturing sectors. While this served many rural areas well in the past, it is
a matter of debate whether such a sectoral focus provides the most effective,
coherent, and comprehensive policy perspective for the future. To the extent that
rural revitalization is an important public objective, farm policy is unlikely to be the
major vehicle by which such revitalization can be accomplished. Such concerns,
however, do not mean that the traditional rural economy of agriculture, mining, and
timbering can be ignored. To the contrary, agriculture will remain an important
economic sector in many non-metro areas; and it will be critical in farming-dependent
areas. Restructuring and invigorating agriculture will be very much a part of any
comprehensive rural policy. Farming operations in metro regions, especially smaller
and moderate-sized operations, should also be part of any comprehensive
development and planning policies. However, new policies that also focus on rural
areas as distinctive if varied geographies, containing a mix of economic activity and
future possibility might open different development paths and new competitive
advantages. Comprehensive rural development policies that improve the capacities of
rural areas to meet future challenges should help to strengthen the agricultural sector
within these local economies.
Successful commercial farms will most likely continue to grow in size and to
supply most of the bulk commodities sold domestically and internationally. The
evolution of supply chains over the next decade is likely to further change the relation
between these farms and their surrounding communities. If a goal of public policy is
to enhance the potential of agriculture throughout metro and non-metro regions,
publicly funded research on alternative production systems and new marketing
channels might be a consideration. Publicly funded research to enhance farmers’

value-added activities might also improve some farm household incomes. How such
businesses might also improve the general well-being of rural areas is unclear,
although to the extent that farmers are able to capture a greater share of the value
chain at the site of production, the local profit picture is likely to improve. Other
farms, the vast majority of which do not make significant contributions to traditional
agricultural production, may benefit from assistance to become more effective
producers and marketers under alternative production systems. Given the increased
concern over the costs and distributional inequities in current farm payment programs,
the Congress is likely to consider how farm polices might be redesigned to
strengthen agriculture within the mix of rural economic activities, perhaps targeting
payments where they may have more important community effects rather than to
areas where they have little impact on development planning.
Regional policies that better link urban, suburban, and rural geographies may
create new costs but also contribute to new benefits in jobs, infrastructure, and
education. In the past, a competitive agriculture sector and, later, a growing
manufacturing sector, were seen as the way to establish and maintain rural prosperity
and well-being. A rapidly changing global agro-food system and new rural realities
suggest that policies more directly targeted to building new competitive advantages
in rural America can only become assets to whatever forms agricultural production
might assume in coming years.

Appendix A: Chronological Overview of Selected Rural
Development Provisions, 1987-200074
100th Congress, 1987-1988
P.L.100-219 (12/29/87)
The Rural Crisis Recovery Program Act of 1987. Amended the Rural Development
Act of 1972 to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to provide grants for educational,
retraining, and counseling assistance to farmers and rural families who had been
adversely affected by the rural economic crisis of the 1980s.
P.L.100-242 (02/05/88)
Housing and Community Development Act of 1987. Amended the Housing and
Urban-Rural Recovery Act of 1983 to limit interest rates on elderly and handicapped
housing loans.
Title III: Rural Housing. Amended the Housing Act of 1949 to extend rural housing
insurance and guaranty authority through FY 1989. Directed the Secretary of
Agriculture, subject to appropriations, to carry out a FY 1988 and 1989
demonstration rural housing voucher program. Funds such program through the Rural
Housing Insurance Fund.
Directed the Secretary of Agriculture, subject to appropriations, to carry out a
moderate income rural housing guaranteed loan demonstration program.
Restricted occupancy in rural housing for elderly or handicapped projects to persons
whose incomes conform with low-income tax credit eligibility requirements.
P.L.100-387 (08/11/88)
Disaster Assistance Act of 1988.
Title III. Subtitle D: Rural Businesses. Directed the Secretary to make rural
industrialization loan guarantees to assist rural businesses (including cooperatives)

74The legislative provisions listed and briefly summarized here are confined primarily to those
rural community and economic development initiatives involving (1) physical infrastructure
development and expansion (2) housing issues and (3) business and industry related issues.

and Indian tribes and organizations adversely affected by drought, hail, excessive
moisture, or related conditions in 1988.
Directed the Secretary to conduct a survey of agriculture-related rural businesses to
determine the adverse effects of the 1988 drought and report to the appropriate
congressional committees.
Expressed the sense of the Congress concerning the need for comprehensive rural
economic assistance.
Title IV: Subtitle A: Water-Related Assistance. Water Management for Rural Areas.
Authorized the Secretary to: (1) undertake water-problem related projects, including
research, grants, technical assistance, loans, and extension services; and (2) cooperate
with other Federal agencies, State or local units, universities, Indian tribes, or public
or private entities.
101st Congress, 1989-1990
P.L.101-82 (08/14/89)
Disaster Assistance Act of 1989. Title IV: Rural Businesses. Directed the Secretary
to provide loan guarantees through the Rural Development Insurance Fund to rural
business enterprises that suffered disaster damage in 1988 or 1989.
Title V: Water-Related Assistance. Amended the Consolidated Farm and Rural
Development Act to direct the Secretary to establish an emergency water assistance
grant program for rural and small communities with significant water quantity or
quality shortages or declines. Obligated at least 50% of program funds for rural
communities of less than 5,000 persons.
P.L.101-402 (10/01/90)
Amended the Emergency Low Income Housing Preservation Act of 1987 to extend
specified emergency low-income housing programs.
P.L.101-501 (11/03/90)
Augustus F. Hawkins Human Services Reauthorization Act of 1990. Authorized the
use of discretionary grants for: (1) planning and development of rural housing
(including low-income rental housing) and community facilities; and (2) instructional
(rather than recreational) activities for low-income youth. Required that instructional
activities be carried out on the campus of an institution of higher education.

P.L.101-555 (11/15/90)
Authorized appropriations for the National Telecommunications and Information
Administration for FY 1990 and 1991. Directed the Secretary of Commerce in
conjunction with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to establish an advisory
panel to develop recommendations for the improvement of rural health care through
the collection of information needed by health care providers and for improvements
in the use of communications to disseminate such information.
P.L.101-220 (12/12/89)
Amended the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of
1977 to authorize research into new commercial products from natural plant
materials. Amended the Disaster Assistance Act of 1989 to make earthquake losses
in ornamentals, orchards, forest crops, and rural business enterprises eligible for
disaster assistance under such Act. Increased such rural business enterprise assistance
limits to $300,000,000.
P.L.101-624 (11/28/90)
The Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990. Title XXIII: Rural
Economic Development Act of 1990 - Subtitle A: Amended the Consolidated Farm
and Rural Development Act to establish in the Department the Rural Development
Subtitle B: Coordination of Rural Development Efforts. Established: (1) a Rural
Partnerships Investment Board to provide lines of credit for rural economic
development revolving funds; (2) in the Treasury the Rural Business Investment Fund;
and (3) local revolving funds. Amended the Consolidated Farm and Rural
Development Act to: (1) establish a delivery system for certain rural development
programs; and (2) revise water and waste facility financing provisions.
Subtitle C: Water and Waste Facilities. Amended the Farm Credit Act to authorize
lending for water and waste projects. Established a rural wastewater treatment circuit
rider program.
Amended the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act to establish: (1)
emergency community water assistance grants; and (2) water and waste facility loans
and grants to alleviate health risks.
Subtitle D: Enhancing Human Resources. Provided for enhanced rural community
access to advanced telecommunications. Amended the Consolidated Farm and Rural
Development Act to: (1) authorize loans for business telecommunications
partnerships; and (2) establish rural emergency assistance loans
Subtitle E: Rural Business and Emergency Assistance. Amended the Rural
Electrification Act of 1936 to: (1) establish a technical assistance unit; (2) defer

economic development loan payments; and (3) establish in the Treasury the Rural
Incubator Fund to promote rural economic development.
Amended the Rural Development Act of 1972 to establish: (1) an Extension Service
rural economic and business development program; and (2) a program to provide
rural citizens with technical and management training. Amended the Consolidated
Farm and Rural Development Act to establish rural technology grants. Amended the
Rural Development Act of 1972 to establish rural development research grants.
Amended the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to provide for the appointment of an
Assistant Administrator for Economic Development.
Subtitle G: Rural Revitalization Through Forestry. National Forest - Dependent
Rural Communities Economic Diversification Act of 1990. Authorized the Secretary
upon a rural community's request, to establish a rural forestry and economic
diversification action team to develop a plan to promote economic diversification and
enhance local economies dependent upon national forest resources. Authorized the
Secretary to make loans to economically disadvantaged communities for related
Subtitle H: Miscellaneous Provisions. Amended the Consolidated Farm and Rural
Development Act to: (1) establish local income-based loan rates for health care and
related facilities; (2) establish a loan restructuring and servicing program for distressed
community facility program borrowers; (3) authorize broadcasting system grants; and
(4) revise and extend through FY 1995 the grant program for financially stressed
farmers, dislocated farmers, and rural families.
102nd Congress, 1991-1992
P.L.102-237 (12/13/91)
Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act Amendments of 1991. Title VII:
Rural Development. Amended the Rural Development Act of 1972 to authorize the
Secretary to make grants to academic medical centers and land grant colleges to
establish rural health leadership development education programs.
Title III: Farmers Home and Rural Development Programs. Appropriated funds for:
(1) Office of the Under Secretary for Small Community and Rural Development; (2)
Farmers Home Administration; (3) Rural Electrification Administration; and (4) Rural
Development Administration.
P.L.102-428 (10/21/92)
Rural Electrification Administration Improvement Act of 1992. Amended the Rural
Electrification Act of 1936 to revise discounted loan prepayment provisions.

P.L.102-550 (10/28/92)
Housing and Community Development Act of 1992. Title VII: Rural Housing.
Amended the Housing Act of 1949 to extend for FY 1993 and 1994 the authorization
of appropriations and loan guarantee and contract authority for specified rural housing
programs. Directed the Secretary to carry out a rural housing voucher program to
assist very-low income families and persons to reside in rural rental housing.
Established within the Farmers Home Administration an Office of Rental Housing
Preservation to provide technical and financial assistance to projects for the
preservation of rural rental housing.
Prohibited the transfer of any rural housing program to the Rural Development
Title XIV: Housing Programs Under Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act.
Subtitle A: Housing Assistance. Directed the Secretary of Agriculture to make
available for lease or purchase at least 10% of Farmers Home Administration-acquired
single family properties in each fiscal year for housing for the rural homeless. Provided
for program participation and employment of homeless persons.
Directed the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a rural homelessness grant program,
with priority given to communities not receiving significant McKinney Act assistance.
Public Law: 102-551 (10/28/92)
Amended the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 to direct the
Administrator of the Rural Electrification Administration to: (1) encourage the
development of consortia to provide health care or educational services through
telecommunications in rural areas of a qualified local exchange carrier service
area; and (2) provided grants ($1.5 million maximum award, three-year maximum
disbursement) for such purposes. Extended the termination date for certain distance
learning and medical link programs provisions of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation
and Trade Act of 1990.
103rd Congress, 1993-1994
Public Law: 103-115 (10/26/93)
Amended the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 to redefine
"rural community"for purposes of assistance programs for forest-dependent rural

P.L.103-129 (11/01/93)
Rural Electrification Loan Restructuring Act of 1993. Amended the Rural
Electrification Act of 1936 to prescribe guidelines under which the Rural
Electrification Administrator (the Administrator) makes insured electric and telephone
loans Authorized appropriations for: (1) electric hardship loans; (2) electric municipal
rate loans; (3) telephone hardship loans; and (4) telephone cost-of-money loans.
Amended the parameters of the rural telephone bank loan program.
Amended the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act to authorize the
Secretary of Agriculture to make loans for water and waste disposal facilities serving
certain rural residents to any borrower to whom a loan has been made under the Rural
Electrification Act of 1936.
P.L.103-318 (08/26/94)
Northern Great Plains Rural Development Act. Established the Northern Great Plains
Rural Development Commission to study the economic needs of, and develop a
ten-year rural economic development plan for, the Northern Great Plains (North
Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa ,and Minnesota).
P.L.103-354 (10/13/94)
Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994. Title II: Department of
Agriculture Reorganization Subtitle C: Rural Economic and Community
Development. Authorized the Secretary to establish in the Department the position
of Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Economic and Community Development
to succeed the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Small Community and Rural
(Sec. 232) Provided for the establishment in the Department of: (1) the Rural Utilities
Service; (2) the Rural Housing and Community Development Service; and (3) the
Rural Business and Cooperative Development Service. Abolished the Rural
Electrification Administration.
P.L.103-427 (10/31/94)
Amended the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act to expand the eligibility
for certain rural development grants and loans through FY 1998 of certain timber
dependent communities adversely affected by the Forest Plan for a sustainable
economy and a sustainable environment.

P.L.104-127 (4/4/96)
Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996. Title VII: Rural
Development Subtitle A: Amended the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade
Act of 1990 to repeal: (1) the rural investment partnerships program; and (2) the
water and waste facility loan and the rural wastewater circuit rider programs.
(Sec. 704) Revised the current rural distance learning and medical link programs into
programs to finance the construction of facilities and systems to provide rural areas
with telemedicine and distance learning services.
Subtitle B: Chapter I. Amended the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act
to increase the amount of grants authorized to be made by the Secretary for water and
waste facilities. Revised the definition of "rural" and "rural area," for the purposes of
eligibility for grants and loans for such facilities, to limit eligibility to only those cities,
towns, or unincorporated areas with populations of no more than 10,000. Revised
the purposes for which the Secretary may make rural business development grants to
include training in interactive communications technologies to develop international
(Sec. 743) Eliminated the program of emergency community water assistance grants
for smallest rural communities.
(Sec. 747) Revised rural industrialization provisions.
(Sec. 780) Repealed the Rural Business Incubator Fund.
(Sec. 793) Established in the Treasury a Fund for Rural America for rural research,
development, and housing.
Chapter 2: Rural Community Advancement Program - Amended the Consolidated
Farm and Rural Development Act to establish a rural community advancement
program of grants, loans, guarantees, and other assistance to local communities and
federally recognized Indian tribes. Established in the Treasury a Rural Development
Trust Fund.
Title VIII: Research, Extension, and Education. (Sec. 886) Rural Development
Research and Education Amended the Rural Development Act of 1972 by inserting:
`The rural development extension programs shall also promote coordinated and
integrated rural community initiatives that advance and empower capacity building
through leadership development, entrepreneurship, business development and
management training, and strategic planning to increase jobs, income, and quality of
life in rural communities

105th Congress, 1997-1998
P.L.105-185 (6/23/1998)
The Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998. An
original bill to ensure that federally funded agricultural research, extension, and
education address high-priority concerns with national or multi-state significance, to
reform, extend, and eliminate certain agricultural research programs. The bill
extended authorization of the Fund for Rural America (original authorization in the
1996 bill, P.L.104-127) to FY2003 for $60 million each fiscal year
106th Congress, 1999-2000
P.L.106-136 (12/7/1999)
Perkins County Rural Water System Act of 1999. Directed the Secretary of the
Interior to make grants to the Perkins County Rural Water System, Inc. (South
Dakota) for the Federal share of the costs of: (1) planning and construction of the
System; and (2) repairs to existing public water distribution systems to ensure
conservation of resources and to make such systems functional under the new System.
P.L.106-224 (6/22/2000)
The Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 provides research funding for
developing genetically altered tobacco as a medicinal crop (Sec. 222) and for a corn-
based ethanol research pilot plant (Sec. 226). The legislation also provides for $15
million in competitive grants for technical assistance and business planning for value-
added agriculture product marketing
P.L.106-382 (10/27/2000)
Fort Peck Reservation Rural Water System Act of 2000 Directed the Secretary of the
Interior to plan, design, construct, operate, maintain, and replace the Assiniboine and
Sioux Rural Water System (Water System) within the Fort Peck Indian Reservation
in Montana. Directed the Secretary to enter into a cooperative agreement with the
Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board regarding the Water System.
107th Congress, 2001-2002

Appendix B: Targets and Objectives of Major Business,
Housing, and Physical Infrastructure Support Programs in
U.S.D.A. Rural Development Mission75
Rural Utilities Service Programs
(1) Water and Waste Disposal Direct and Guaranteed Loans. Direct loans go
to public bodies, organizations operated on a not-for-profit basis, and Indian tribes on
federal and state reservations for development of storage, treatment, purification, or
distribution of water or for collection, treatment, and disposal of waste in rural areas.
A rural area may include an area in any city or town that has a population not more
than 10,000. Applicants must be unable to obtain sufficient credit elsewhere to
finance actual needs at reasonable rates. Loans are repayable in not more than 40
years, or the useful life of the facility, whichever is less. Loans carry interest rates not
in excess of the current market yield for comparable term municipal obligations. The
interest rate on loans will not exceed 5% (they are currently being made at 4.5%) for
those areas where the (1) median household income of the service area falls below the
higher of 80% of the statewide non-metro median household income or the poverty
level; and (2) the project is needed to meet applicable health or sanitary standards,
The intermediate rate, which is halfway between the poverty rate and the market rate,
with a ceiling of 7%, applies to those projects that do not meet the requirements for
the poverty rate but are located in areas where the median household income does not
exceed 100% of the statewide non-metro median household income. Guaranteed
loans are made to the same groups and for similar purposes except that loans are
guaranteed by RUS for 80% of the loan amount or, in exceptional circumstances,
90% of the loan amount. The interest rate is negotiated between borrower and
(2) Water and Waste Disposal Grants: Grants are made to public, quasi-public, and
nonprofit associations for purposes similar to loans. Grants are directed to projects
serving the most financially needy communities. Grant are made to communities that
have a median household income that falls below the higher of the poverty level or
100% of the state’s non-metro household income. Grant amounts provide higher
funding levels for projects in communities that have lower income levels but they may
not exceed 75% of the eligible development costs of the project. In addition, between
1% and 3% of the grant funds appropriated each year for water and waste are
available for technical assistance and training to assist communities in identifying and
evaluating alternative solutions to problems related to water and waste disposal,
preparing applications, and improving operation and maintenance practices at existing
(3) Solid Waste Management Grants. Grants made to non-profit organizations to
provide technical assistance in rural areas and towns with populations up to

75Source: 2002 Budget Explanatory Notes for Committee on Appropriations, Volume 2

10,000, and to provide technical assistance to local and regional governments for the
purposes of reducing or eliminating pollution of water resources and improve
management of solid waste facilities.
(4) Community Facility Direct and Guaranteed Loans. Loans are made for
constructing, enlarging, or improving essential community facilities in rural areas and
towns of not more than 20,000 population. Eligible applicants must demonstrate that
they cannot obtain funding in the commercial market. Applications for health and
public safety projects receive the highest priority. Interest rates are determined by the
median family income of the area and range from 4.5% to 5.375%. In the case of
guaranteed loans, the loans are made by a private lender and the interest rate is
negotiated between lender and borrower.
(5) Community Facility Grants. In most cases, these grants are used in
conjunction with the direct loan program to make community facilities available, (e.g.,
fire stations, community centers) to the neediest communities, which often cannot
afford even direct loans without additional subsidies. These grants were authorized
under the 1996 farm bill (P.L.104-127).
(6) Electric Distribution Direct Loan Program. Direct loans made to finance
electric distribution facilities. Interest rates are tied to the economic conditions of the
areas served and the costs of providing services to the area. Most loans are made at
an interest rate tied to a published index of municipal interest rates. Most RUS-
financed systems have their loan rates capped at 7%; more distressed areas can qualify
for hardship loans at 5%. RUS electric borrowers provide service mostly to the
poorest non-metro counties or those experiencing the greatest population depletion.
Borrowers must generally obtain approximately half their capital needs from the
private sector. RUS guaranteed loans are made by the Federal Financing Bank,
National Bank for Cooperatives, and National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance
Cooperation. The interest rate on loans by the Federal Financing Bank is based on
the Treasury’s cost of money plus 1/8%. Most loans are made for 35 years and are
secured by the borrower’s electric system assets.
(7) Telecommunications Loans. Loans made to furnish and improve telephone
service, including a variety of related telecommunications purposes, in rural areas.
RUS lends directly to rural telecommunication systems and guarantees loans made by
other lenders. Interest rates depend on the financial condition of the borrower system
and the costs of providing service to rural subscribers. Cost of money loans are
supplemented by loans from the Rural Telephone Bank. Most rural systems are
eligible for loans at a hardship rate of 5%.
(8) Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loans. This program provides financial
assistance to rural community facilities, e.g., schools, libraries, hospitals, and medical
centers. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 targeted rural areas because of the
difficulties they have in providing high quality education and medical services. This
program helps rural schools and hospitals obtain and use advanced
telecommunications for health and educational services.

Rural Business-Cooperative Service Programs
(1) Business and Industry (B&I) Guaranteed Loans. This program finances
business and industry acquisition, construction, conversion, expansion, and repair in
rural areas. Loan funds can be use to finance the purchase and development of land,
supplies and materials, plus pay start-up costs of rural businesses. Eligible applicants
include individuals as well as public, private, and cooperative organizations. RBS
may guarantee up to 80% for loans of $5 million or less, 70% for loans between $5
and $10 million, and 60% for loans exceeding $10 million. Although the RBS did
make direct loans to groups in FY2001 and in previous years, the FY2002 budget
does not request direct funding due to the high rate of default.
(2) Rural Intermediary Relending Program. These direct loans are made to
private non-profit corporations, state or local government agencies, Indian tribes, and
cooperatives who, in turn, lend the funds to rural businesses, private non-profit
organizations, and others. Assistance from the intermediary to the ultimate recipient
must be for economic development projects, establishment of new businesses, and/or
expansion of existing businesses, creation of new employment opportunities and/or
saving existing rural jobs.
(3) Rural Business Enterprise Grants. These are grants to encourage the
development of small and emerging business enterprises; creation and expansion of
rural distance learning networks; and to provide educational instruction or job training
related to potential employment for adult students. Grants are also available to
qualified non-profit organizations for provision of technical assistance and training to
rural communities for improving passenger transportation services or facilities.
(4) Rural Business Opportunity Grants. Grants made to public bodies, non-profit
organizations, Indian tribes, and cooperatives for training and technical assistance to
rural businesses, economic planning for rural communities, or training for rural
entrepreneurs or economic development officials.
(5) Rural Economic Development Loans. Zero-interest loans for RUS borrowers
who then re-lend the funds at zero interest to businesses.
(6) Rural Economic Development Grants. Grants to establish a revolving loan fund
program to promote economic development in rural areas. The revolving loan fund
provides capital to non-profit organizations and municipal organizations to finance
community facilities in rural areas that promote job creation and education and
training to enhance marketable skills, or improve medical care.
(7) Rural Cooperative Development Grants. These grants are made to fund the
establishment and operation of centers for rural cooperative development with their
primary purpose being the improvement of economic conditions in rural areas. Grants
may be made to non-profit institutions or higher education institutions. Grants may
be used to pay up to 75% of the cost of the project and associated administrative
costs. The applicant must contribute 25% from non-

federal sources. Grants under this program are competitive and awarded on specific
selection criteria.
(8) Empowerment Zone/ Enterprise Community Initiative. The EX/EC Program
is a grant making initiative whose objective is to revitalize low-income rural
communities in a manner that attracts private sector investment. The purpose of the
program is to demonstrate the value of innovative and strategic alliances between
State, Federal, and local resources to improve the economic strength of rural
communities. The first three years of the 10 years authorized for Round II EZ/ECs
has been funded through the 1999, 2000, 2001 Agriculture Appropriations Acts.
Rural Housing Service Programs
I. Home Ownership Programs
(1) Section 502 Housing Direct and Guaranteed Loan Programs. The program
provides fixed-interest mortgage financing to very-low (less than 50% of median
family income in the rural area where they live) and low income (50-80% of median
family income) families who are unable to obtain credit elsewhere. Loans are
subsidized at a graduated interest level from 1% over Treasury’s cost of money,
depending on family income. The program also provides “supervised credit” to its
borrowers to help them maintain their homes during financial crises. This program
also offers a 90% guarantee as an encouragement to private lenders to make loans
to rural residents whose incomes are between 80 and 115% of the median county
income. Loans may be up to 100% of market value or acquisition costs, whichever
is less, thereby removing the down payment obstacle.
(2) Mutual Self-help Technical Assistance Grant Program. This program allows
very-low and low income rural Americans to use “sweat equity” to reduce the costs
of home ownership. Nonprofit organizations and local governments may obtain grant
funds to enable them to provide technical assistance to groups of families that work
cooperatively to build their houses. Typically, future homeowners use Section 502
direct loans to finance their mortgages and, through their own labor on the house
construction, are able to reduce costs by 10-15% while learning construction skills.
(3) Section 504 Rural Housing Loan and Grant Program. This program provides
grant assistance up to $7,500 ($15,000 at the Secretary’s discretion) to very-low and
low-income homeowners to remove health and safety hazards from their houses.
Grants are limited to elderly home owners (age 62 and older) whose incomes are 50%
or less of the median in the rural area where they reside.
(4) Section 533 Housing Preservation Grant Program. This program provides
funding through nonprofit groups and government agencies to very-low and low-
income home owners to repair their houses, and to rental property owners for the
rehabilitation of units which will be rented to very-low and low-income families.
(5) Section 523 Rural Housing Site Loan Program. This program provides funds
to nonprofit organizations to develop building sites for participants in the Self-Help

Housing Program. The nonprofit organizations resell these improved sites to program
participants at cost. Interest rates on the loans is 3% and the nonprofit organizations
repay the loans when they sell these properties.
(6) Section 524 Rural Housing Site Loan Program. This program is very similar
to the Section 523 program above except that once the sites are developed, they may
be provided to any low- or moderate-income person, not just to the Self-Help
II. Rental Housing Programs
(1) Section 515 Rural Rental Housing Direct Loans. This program uses a public-
private partnership to provide subsidized loans at 1% to limited-profit and nonprofit
developers to construct or to renovate affordable rental complexes in rural areas. The
low interest rate helps keep debt service low in order to support below-market rents.
Many of these projects also use low-income housing tax credit proceeds. The
program is typically used in conjunction with the Section 521 Rental Assistance
Program. With assistance, tenants pay a maximum of 30% of their income toward
rent and utilities. Some 515 projects also use Housing and Urban Development
Section 8 project-based assistance which enables additional very-low income families
to be helped.
(2) Section 538 Rural Rental Guaranteed Loan Program. This program provides
90% loan guarantees to certified lenders to make rental housing affordable to low and
moderate-income residents. For the nonprofit sector, the program covers 97% loan-
to-value rations.
(3) Farm Labor Housing Program Direct Loan Program. This program provides
direct loans to farm owners, public bodies, and nonprofit organizations to provide
living quarters, furnishings, and related facilities for domestic farm workers. The
Section 514 loans have a 1% interest rate and a maximum of 33 years. The Section
516 grants are used in conjunction with the loans to finance affordable, off-farm rental
housing to low-wage farm workers. Grants are available only to governments or
nonprofit organizations. Farm workers who lease 514/516 units must be either US
citizens or permanent residents and the majority of their income must come from farm
(4) Section 521 Rental Assistance Program. The objective of this program is to
help mitigate the burden on more than one in five rural household who pay more than
30% of their income on housing costs. Rental Assistance is project-based assistance
used in conjunction with Section 515 and Section 514/516 programs. The program
provides rental assistance directly to the owners of some

Rural Housing Service-financed projects under contracts specifying that beneficiaries
will pay no more than 30 of their income for rent. The subsidy goes to the housing
unit, not an individual tenant.

Appendix C: Rural Community Advancement Program (RCAP)
Funding Obligations, FY 1997-2002 (in thousands of dollars)
FY97 FY98 FY99 FY00 FY01(est) FY02(est)
Total $2,461,090$2,764,323$2,822,105$2,549,958$3,728,354$2,829,032
Business and$828,750$1,120,716$1,206,452$978,694$1,811,880$1,000,000 (a)
Industry Directand
Rural BusinessEnterprise$47,728$37,347$36,410$39,407$47,056$40,568
Rural Waterand Waste$836,084$802,201$727,258$776,341$934,866$984,069
DisposalDirect and
GuaranteedLoans (b)
Community $226,529 $285,879 $277,780 $296,277 $473,000 $472,405
Facility Directand
Loans andGrants
Water and$519,599$515,593$571,035$557,542$556,248$529,490
Waste Disposal
Solid WasteManagt.$2,400$2,587$2,670$2,735$3,532$3,500
Rural BusinessOpportunity$500 (c)$3,750$3,700$3,000
RuralCommunity$6,000 (d)$6,000$5,987
Develop. Initiative
Source: USDA. Explanatory Notes for Committee on Appropriations, Various years
(a) No direct loans in FY2002 budget request
(b) Excludes disaster supplemental grants
(c) First year for this grant account
(d) First year for this grant account