A few excerpts follow --
"An Introduction to the Center for the Study of Rural America"
October 13, 1999
Agriculture is redefining the way it does business. Many farmers no longer
grow the generic
commodities of the past. Instead, they have signed on as the first link in
a more tightly
choreographed food system. The key component in this choreography is the
business alliance known
as the supply chain. In a supply chain, farmers sign a contract with a
major food company to deliver
precisely grown farm products on a pre-set schedule.
The move to supply chains is a tidal wave of change sweeping through
agriculture and rural America.
Once confined to a handful of products, such as chickens and vegetables,
supply chains are
beginning to dominate hog production and are spreading to grain. In 1997,
for instance, nearly 60
percent of all hogs in the United States were sold under some form of
contract, compared with less
than 5 percent in 1980.
Supply chains change not only how agriculture does business but also who
does business. In almost
all cases, supply chains include relatively few farmers since the firm
putting the chain together wants
to minimize the costs of managing its alliances. For instance, the pork
industry may end up with less
than 40 chains that will engage a fraction of the 100,000 hog farms now
scattered across the nation.
Thus, farmers increasingly want to know how they can stay in the rapidly
changing game of
agriculture. Without doubt, some will be left out.
While redefining the farming business, supply chains are literally
redrawing the rural landscape.
Indeed, agriculture’s new geography may be its most profound and least
understood new feature.
For the past 200 years, a hallmark of commodity agriculture in the United
States has been its wide
dispersion. Corn, for instance, has been grown across more than 1,000 miles
of the nation’s
midsection, from the rolling hills of Pennsylvania to the wide-open
prairies of Nebraska. Supply
chains lead to a much different geography—one based on concentration in
relatively few rural
places. In that sense, the highly concentrated poultry industry may be
prelude to the future.
This new geography will turn into an economic revolution for rural America.
Many rural places’
dependence on commodity agriculture will continue for the foreseeable
future. The struggle for these
"commodity communities" will be building an economic future with fewer
farms, fewer banks, and
fewer businesses. Meanwhile, some rural communities will hitch themselves
to the new world of
supply chains, but relatively few communities may ultimately prosper in
Rural policy must embrace broader issues
The final issue is rural policy. The economic changes now sweeping rural
America will raise a broad
new slate of policy issues in the new century. While agricultural policy
was rural policy throughout
the 20th century, a much broader approach will be required if rural America
is to achieve its
economic potential in the 21st century.
In closing, a vital part of the U.S. economy, rural America is undergoing
enormous changes as the
20th century draws to close. Agriculture, currently in a deep slump, is
also being transformed by a
new way of doing business—supply chains. The ebb and flow of rural
America’s other industries
have left a deeply divided rural economy—a number of booming growth havens
and a countryside
full of communities being left behind. Unlocking rural America’s economic
potential in the new
century will fall in part to a new generation of rural policy, a policy
that must extend far beyond
agriculture. Obviously, a lot is happening in rural America, and there is
plenty of work ahead for
those of us in the new Center. We look forward to sharing the news from
rural America’s new
Charles Benbrook CU FQPA site www.ecologic-ipm.com
Benbrook Consulting Services Ag BioTech InfoNet www.biotech-info.net
5085 Upper Pack River Road IPM site www.pmac.net
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864
208-263-5236 (Voice) 208-263-7342 (Fax)
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