Eideard

Rich and poor divide up rural Iowa – guess who gets the land?

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Bidding on farmland that went for more than $14,000 an acre

At an auction in northwestern Iowa, 314 acres of cropland fetched $4.5 million this July. The price reflects a booming worldwide demand for grain that has showered wealth on some farmers and tripled land values in Iowa in the past decade. The surge is creating local millionaires. It’s also fueling an income divide in rural areas that had long been the province of urban America…

“Iowa had had historically low levels of inequality, but now it is skyrocketing,” said David Peters, a sociologist at Iowa State University in Ames who specializes in income disparity. “Today you have far fewer farmers and a small number earning larger and larger incomes. It doesn’t spread through the economy like it used to.”

Booming worldwide demand for grain has showered wealth on farmers by tripling Iowa land values in the past decade and setting them up for record profits this year, even in the face of the nation’s worst drought in more than half a century…

Land that had long produced boxcars full of corn and soybeans is now yielding a new crop: locally grown millionaires. In doing so, it has brought to the nation’s rural areas the kind of income divide that had long been the province of urban America.

Less-populated areas dominate the ranks of U.S. counties where income inequality widened the most in recent years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data…These rural counties reflect divergent recoveries in the first two years since the last recession ended in 2009. During that time, the top 1 percent of Americans captured 93 percent of real income growth, compared with 65 percent during the recovery from the 2001 recession, according to an analysis by Emmanuel Saez…

The split has produced climbing levels of need in the nation’s breadbasket. Food-stamp demand in Iowa rose 6 percent in July from a year earlier, according to the latest government data. That’s twice the 2.9 percent nationwide increase…

Historically high land values have given farming in Iowa the appearance of a private basement poker game, where the pot keeps getting bigger while the players — the landowners –don’t change. Struyk has a seat at the table, along with his increasingly elderly peers. Fifty-five percent of the state’s farmland was owned by people 65 and older in 2007, almost double the percentage of 25 years earlier, according to survey data from Iowa State…

While Iowa’s unemployment rate is lower than the national average, it understates the disparities in the state’s rural economy as young people shrink the labor pool when they move in search of better opportunities, Peters said. The census showed that two-thirds of Iowa’s 99 counties, including O’Brien, lost population in the last decade, with many people moving to metropolitan areas, or out of state.

RTFA for lots of detail and not a heckuva lot of solutions for Iowa’s farming country poor. A contrast to the world of most of America’s multi-millionaires for whom money is a commodity unto itself.

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Written by Ed Campbell

October 20, 2012 at 8:00 am

One Response

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  1. Reblogged this on Ye Olde Soapbox.

    Michael B. Calyn

    October 21, 2012 at 1:34 am


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