Iowa study: Small towns benefit from large farms

Critics of the trend towards large-scale agriculture argue that the quality of life in rural communities has suffered as farms—and especially livestock farms—have grown in size.

However, recent studies by Iowa State University sociologists suggest that large-scale farming has actually improved the overall social fabric of small towns in Iowa.  ISU professor of sociology Steve Sapp coordinated the studies.

“We wanted to know, is large-scale agriculture—are large-scale hog confinement operations—a negative influence on the quality of life in these communities,” Sapp says, “and we found that there are small favorable effects—not a boom—but at least not negative, so far.”

The ISU study was conducted in small towns in all of Iowa’s 99 counties during the decade from 1994 to 2004.  Sapp says it looked at income growth, unemployment rates, crime and several other factors that help define the quality of life in a community.  It also focused on areas of the state that have seen the greatest expansion of large-scale hog operations.   Sapp says while the studies show the favorable impact of large-scale agriculture on small-town quality of life has been modest, it’s not the negative news that some might have expected  to hear.

“This is not talking about the immediate neighbors that have to suffer the consequences of living near large hog confinement operations,” says Sapp. “This is looking at the community and the overall quality of life in the community—and the census figures,  as well as survey data from the residents shows—at least it’s not a strong negative.”

The ISU study was funded the USDA’s National Research Initiative.

AUDIO: Steve Sapp (6:30 mp3)

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