How ya' gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen...well, just about anything?

The family farm is home to fewer and fewer families: Photo by chefranden at
The family farm is home to fewer and fewer families: Photo by chefranden at

Almost lost in a lengthy report by the International Labor Organization was this astonishing tidbit: for the first time ever in the history of civilization, agriculture is not the world's dominant industry.

Farming developed about 10,000 years ago, as early hunter-gatherer societies discovered ways to grow crops and ensure a steady food supply. This allowed societies to support larger populations, and before you know it, you've got civilizations popping up all over the place. Surplus food allows civilizations to support new classes of workers not directly involved in food production: rulers, priests, artists, soldiers, chartered accountants, bicycle repairmen, telephone sanitizers.

But they were always in the minority, until now. The explosive growth of the service sector in recent years has catapulted it to first place, ahead of agriculture and manufacturing.

This may seem like old news to Americans. According to various websites I have not read thoroughly, about 75% of Americans were farmers in 1800. That percentage had dropped to 40% by 1900; was down to 15% in 1950; and had sunk to a mere 2% or so by 2000. In much of the rest of the world, however, farming was still by far the #1 occupation.

No more. The rapid growth of cities worldwide in recent decades has tilted the balance. Farmers, while still vitally important, are no longer the majority or even a plurality.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Ron Smith's picture
Ron Smith says:

The other thing important about the loss of ag as the #1 industry world wide is the leveling influence of agriculture on civilizations -- everything from our own civilization to Europe, China, Africa, etc. etc. As we grow more urban in character, we lose the leveling influence of ag. Witness the enormous changes going on in China which was heavily agrarian up until a few years ago. Now Chinese farms are becoming more mechanized, allowing more urban growth, sprawl, pollution, and some lead-tainted toys into our own Christmas lists in this country. We are losing professionals from rural areas, too. In western Kansas, where I am, it is hard to find new doctors, CPAs or even lawyers. Yet the distances to urban areas for local farmers is the same. It used to be that counties in Kansas in the late 1800s were laid out in such a manner that every farmer was within a day's ride by wagon or horse to the county seat town. Farmers needing routine crop leases or land contracts may have to eventually travel hundreds of miles for routine stuff. Or farmers are going to have to learn to use internet operations like blogs and lawyers who are internet saavy to keep from spending a hundred dollars in gas (if you're lucky) on long trips for preparation of a $50 farm lease.

posted on Wed, 09/12/2007 - 9:46pm

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