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Young: The changing fabric of rural America

Although we avoid going to the grocery store or out to eat or stopping by to see neighbors the way we might have before the COVID-19 pandemic, not a lot has changed for Jim and me. Livestock care hasn’t changed, and the day-to-day work on the farm hasn’t changed.

I work from my home office more frequently than before, and the ag meetings I might have attended are either postponed or being held online. I spend more time physically apart from people than before the pandemic.

Every year about this time I begin work on my operations budget for next year at Brownfield. It is a little easier to crunch numbers when I am not in a building with other people who interrupt my focus.

Many people dread budget work, but I truly delight in it. Budget time is one of my favorite times of the year because it is the time when I can dream the dream and make plans for the coming year.

I keep my pencil very sharp, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about new and different things we can do. Oh, sure, it would be so easy — but not much fun — for me to do the same thing we did last year.

I will stay committed to delivering the timely and relevant information “traditional” farmers and ranchers want and need, but I know the rural communities and farms that we serve through local radio stations are changing.

Research completed a few years ago by Purdue University with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service gave us more than a snapshot of how much the fabric of rural America has changed in the past two or three decades.

The study revealed that farmers can be “classified” according to where their income comes from and by a couple of other factors that were not even a consideration 20 years ago.

Ruralpolitans make up 47% of all U.S. farm households. A ruralpolitan usually has a white-collar job and in some cases both spouses have white-collar jobs.

The commercial or traditional farmer represents 15% of U.S. farm households. The farm operator with a spouse working off the farm or a senior near retirement that is still active on the farm represents 38% of farm households.

I know it sounds crazy, until you drive down the gravel road or blacktop and look at the new homes or the old homes with new owners that drive 30 miles or more to work each day.

There is a blacktop road bordering our farm to the south, connecting two other rural highways. Highway U is no more than three miles of road.

In February 2002, when we moved in, there were few houses along the road. Seven new homes have been added along that short stretch of road in just two years. Land prices have more than doubled in that time.

I’m not saying it is all bad, and I’m not suggesting it is all good. I am saying it is not the rural America where I grew up.

As a manager for radio networks in rural America, I can create and deliver programming that best serves all of you who live in rural communities.

Hopefully, those of you whose feet are firmly planted in the soil can share your experiences and knowledge with ruralpolitans. There is a great deal to be learned from them, as well.

Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.

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