Rural Prosperity Still as Important as Ever

Dan Georgia, Industry News Release

Across America, more sincere attention is being focused on rural development and prosperity than at any other time I, or anyone I know, can remember. The Trump Administration is taking steps with infrastructure and USDA programming to nurture future greatness across the entirety of the fruited plain. I salute the President’s efforts. However, initiatives like this require extensive research and qualitative stakeholder involvement to sow success.


Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black
Photo courtesy of GA Dept. of Agriculture

Farmers have plenty to say on the subject. Take, for example, the owner of 520 acres in Missouri. A husband and father of 11, he begins a survey on rural prosperity by saying that he has done well. His neighbors, however, have done less well. Asked why, he says his views on the reasons why “are up for consideration.”

He says farm homes in his neighborhood are not as good as they should be because too many of them are encumbered by mortgages. He says the schools do not train boys and girls satisfactorily for life on the farm because they allow young people to get the idea in their heads that city life is better. The remedy to this problem, he says, is that “practical farming should be taught.”

Missourians are known for being straightforward.

To the question of whether the farmers and their wives in his neighborhood are satisfactorily organized, he answers: “Oh, there is a little one-horse grange gang in our locality, and every darned one thinks they ought to be a king.”

To the question, “Are the renters of farms in your neighborhood making a satisfactory living?” he answers: “No, because they move about so much hunting a better job.”

To the question, “Is the supply of farm labor in your neighborhood satisfactory?” he answers: “No, because the people have gone out of the baby business.”

When asked as to the remedy, he answers: “Give a pension to every mother who gives birth to seven living boys on American soil.”

I warned you.

To the question, “Are the conditions surrounding hired labor on the farm in your neighborhood satisfactory to the hired men?” he answers: “Yes, unless he is a drunken cuss.” He adds that he would like to blow up the stillhouses and root out whiskey and beer.

To the question, “Are the sanitary conditions on the farms in your neighborhood satisfactory?” he answers: “No, too careless about chicken yards and the like, and poorly covered wells. In one well on (a) neighbor’s farm I counted seven snakes in the wall of the well, and they used the water daily: his wife (is) dead now and he is looking for another.”

No, this is not creative prose. Yes, perhaps it is a creative presentation of actual responses to the President’s inquiry on the perennial topic of rural prosperity. The Missouri farmer was real; the President was Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1908, Roosevelt impaneled a “Commission on Country Life” that really helped jump-start discussion about the formation of the Cooperative Extension Service and Vocational Agriculture instruction. Rural electrification followed. We are still nourished daily by the generational fruit of that commission.

President Trump’s commitment to 21st century improvements in infrastructure and rural prosperity is authentic and long overdue. The information “superhighway” must be extended to all corners of the country. Our regulatory systems across every agency must be streamlined. Federal leaders should recognize that rural prosperity can be enhanced not so much by adding a good new government process as by eliminating a bad one.

Our ports and waterways remain agriculture’s gateways to world markets. Land-grant university research benefits every farmer and consumer. Appropriations that meet these critical needs of rural America are never an expense; they are always an investment in the future.

Thank you, President Trump, for recognizing that after 110 years, the Missouri farmer’s wisdom still reigns supreme. He ended his “Country Life” survey by stating that the most important single thing to be done for the betterment of country life is “good roads.”

I simply say, amen.

— Commissioner of Agriculture Gary W. Black

(Source: (Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919). An Autobiography 1913./Chapter XI, The Natural Resources of the Nation)