Friday, February 11, 2005

Keeping 'em Down on the Farm

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial Observer: Keeping Iowa's Young Folks at Home After They've Seen Minnesota

Love this writer's name: Verlyn Klinkenborg. This piece is about Iowa's efforts to retain its bright young people. There is a proposal to eliminate the state income tax for Iowans under 30. (I'll reprint part since the NY Times link will go behind a pay wall.)

"But $600, the average yearly state income tax for Iowan 20-somethings, is not enough to undo decades of social erosion. The problems Iowa faces are the very solutions it chose two and three generations ago. The state's demographic dilemma wasn't caused by bad weather or high income taxes ... It was caused by the state's wholehearted, uncritical embrace of industrial agriculture, which has depopulated the countryside, destroyed the economic and social texture of small towns, and made certain that ordinary Iowans are defenseless against the pollution of factory farming.

"These days, all the entry-level jobs in agriculture - the state's biggest industry - happen to be down at the local slaughterhouse, and most of those jobs were filled by the governor's incentive, a few years ago, to bring 100,000 immigrant workers into the state.

"Business leaders all across Iowa have been racking their brains to think of ways to spur economic development. But nearly every idea leaves industrial agriculture intact. That means a few families living amid vast tracts of genetically modified soybeans and corn, with here and there a hog confinement site or a cattle feedlot to break the monotony."

Klinkenborg writes that North Dakota and Iowa and Nos. 1 and 2 in "brain drain." I would have thought West Virginia would have been ahead of Iowa (West Virginia is actually losing population, along with North Dakota). WV may have fewer "brains" to begin with, however brains are counted.

North Carolina is the number 2 hog raising state, behind Iowa. NC is fortunate to have some growing urban areas, but parts of the state resemble this picture. Factory livestock farming seems to create a few big winners and a lot of losers (the neighbors of these huge stinking hog or poultry houses). A different wrinkle here is tobacco farming, which under the allotment system allowed small landowners to make a living as farmers. But the allotment system is on the way out, and it remains to be seen what will replace it.

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