It is the season for meetings.

From now through February, nearly every agriculture related group in the country will hold a meeting to discuss the current issues of the day. Every producer should attend at least one of these meetings if possible.

The next farm bill will be the main topic of discussion, at most of these meetings, but what good is a new target price or loan rate if there is no one left in rural America to farm the land and use these new programs. The most important title in the next farm bill may not be the commodity title or the conservation title, but the title that deals with rural development. Rural America is in crisis and something needs to be done to prevent rural areas from depopulating completely.

Recently, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation did a study of rural, suburban and urban residents' perceptions of rural America. The results were positive and ominous. "Overall, we found that respondents hold overwhelmingly positive views of rural life, seeing it as a repository of strong values and religious faith, close-knit communities, hard work and self-sufficiency," said Anna Greenberg, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Inc. "But respondents' admiration of rural Americans and romanticization of rural life is tempered by their understanding that rural Americans face serious economic hardships and threats to their way of life."

The general economy in this country may have gone in to recession beginning last March, but the agriculture sector of that economy has been in recession for the past four years. Drive down the main street, in any small town, in the High Plains, and the reality of these economic hardships is plain to see.

According to Rick Foster, vice president for programming, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, most of the people who responded to their study view rural America as a treasure chest of American values. "If we depopulate rural America through out-migration, what happens to these values," he asked.

What can be done to improve the quality of life in rural America and stop the movement of the best and brightest to urban centers?

Mark Drabenstott, vice president and director of the Center for the Study of Rural America, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, made a suggestion, at a recent hearing before the Kansas Legislature's Special Committee on Agriculture, that bears further examination. During his presentation, Drabenstott said that no single farm law or rural initiative can solve the problems facing rural America. According to Drabenstott, a much broader approach to rural development is needed. He said maybe it is time for a 21st century Country Life Commission.

President Theodore Roosevelt established a Country Life Commission, in 1908, and appointed Liberty Hyde Bailey, dean of the College of Agriculture, at Cornell University, as chairman. This group accomplished two things that improved rural life, at that time, the rural parcel post and a system of federal credit.

A Country Life Commission is not a new idea, but certainly one worth discussing at the next meeting you attend.

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