One of my gripes with the USDA is it fails to put farm economic figures in context with either the nation or the globe. My experience is most farmers have wildly inflated ideas of their contribution to their local and national economies.
Here's how to find out for yourself. Click here for county level income numbers. (How the people in your county earn a living)
- Click on CA05 - Personal income and detailed earnings by industry
- Choose NAICS data for the most recent. The BEA switched industry categories a few years ago - this is the new list.
- Pick a state, click next.
- Pick a county (or the whole state) and year (s), hit "Display"
In almost all rural counties I have looked up transfer payments are 3-10 times higher than farm earnings.
I was personally stunned when I first looked up Edgar County, IL. It's covered with farms and has no big city, and yet farms contribute only about 8% of the local income. Meanwhile, transfer payments bring in 21%.
My conclusion: to save rural America, save Social Security.
Many producers like to argue that just means farmers aren't getting paid enough, but crimony - how high would prices have to get to move it up much? For example, in IL farms contribute all of 0.4% of the Gross State Product.
Some also say we should judge by gross income (sales), but then you would have to judge other industries the same way. Besides, why are we so proud of how little we keep of the dollars that flow through our farms? The BEA sets the rules for measuring economic clout, and it uses your schedule F. Farmers can't play the game AND referee too, ya know.
Illinois is not about farms. Neither is IA, IN, ND, SD, MN, CA, NJ, etc. Look it up for yourself.
As a rule farmers are upset when I share these numbers. I have been accused of "talking down" farmers. If the facts are disrespectful to our image of ourselves, my assertion is the problem is with our self-image.
We don't have be the center of attention to be a vital part of a community or state economy. In fact, when we stop insisting it's all about us, we improve our chances of being truly happy.