There was a time when every family in Iowa lived on a farm or had relatives who did. Economist Mark Immerman with the Rural Data Project at Iowa State University says just since 1990, the number of Iowans working on farms has fallen from 130-thousand to about 105-thousand today. Immerman says “People have been leaving the farm forever,” pointing out when he was a kid, farm families had five, six or more kids on the assumption that one would keep farming and the others would go off to a university or to work somewhere else.
He says today farm families are smaller, but kids still leave the farm. He says many worry that young people are “leaving the land.”
Immerman says the education system’s always been set up to handle kids who’ll leave the farm — because at one time you needed more kids to do the work than could stay around and farm once they’d grown up. Farming’s mechanized now and is no longer a back-breaking job. Immerman says when he was a kid, his grandfather and people like him were done with farming by age fifty, unable to do the work any more — but today people can do farm work right up to retirement age, or past it. Statistics show Iowa’s farmers are older, as a group, than ever before and Immerman says part of the reason is that mechanization that’s made the labor easier.
Immerman jokes that “People like progress, it’s change they hate,” and says while we bemoan the end of a rural lifestyle, it’s because we all want to live in town. While he hears a lot of people who’d like to get away from that change to urbanization and go back to the way we were before — but, he says, “they don’t want to be part of the going-back.” Part of the reason is low pay in farm jobs, but Immerman says we cause that by shopping for the lowest prices for food and farm commodities.