Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Great Plains Drain

What is causing people to leave the plains?

A big reason is improvements in farming technology. Tractors in eastern Colorado do not resemble the vehicles that trundle around farms on the east coast and in Europe. They are many-wheeled monsters, sometimes driven by global positioning systems. Toby Johnson says his 40,000-acre (16,200-hectare) ranch in Cheyenne county employed between eight and ten workers in the 1950s. It now has two, including him. When old farmers retire, their plots tend to be swallowed up by larger, more efficient operators.
via The Economist


Audacious Epigone said...

Aargh, I was going to answer with the obvious--major improvements in farm technology. I've certainly seen it around the KC metro area, with an increase in the number of 'farm boys' (big guys in snug jeans, huge wallets (really!), t-shirts tucked in, cowboy hats) out and about. That doesn't typically characterize eastern Kansas.

We don't need more agricultural labor, we need more of this kind of mechanization.

Fat Knowledge said...

When you say huge wallets, are we talking George Costanza wallet size?

As for more agricultural labor vs. mechanization, seems like there is an inexorable trend toward mechanization. But, I would assume you are referring to whether we need cheap Mexican laborers. In this case, I thought the cheap labor was needed for picking fruits and vegetables, not so much for wheat, corn and soy (which I assume is mainly what is grown on the plains). This migration seems more about 20 farming families being reduced down to 10 and not having much to do with migrant workers.

I wonder if you get to a point where the tracks of land don't get any smaller, not because of the economics, but because you want enough neighbors around to still have a town and schools. But, I haven't spent enough time in rural areas like this to know if this is a real concern or not.

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