A season of uncertainty

Keeping kids down on the farm once they've seen the big city - or caught wind of how much some of the jobs there pay - has been a challenge since long before Dorothy left Auntie Em to hit the yellow-brick road (the "information highway" not yet having been paved).

It's getting harder.

News of job cuts across many sectors won't likely dampen the drive among many rurally raised youths to seek greener pastures.

Farming may be satisfying work, with its ties to the rich brown earth. But it hasn't been idyllic for decades.

Agricultural overproduction has sped the growth of federal farm subsidies, which trace their roots back to FDR.

The idea then: Get farming back on track, and pull away. But a short-term fix became a fixture.

A big farm bill in 1996 was perhaps the most aggressive bid to wean farmers off subsidies. Since then, though, the farming economy has continued to flag, calling for more funds under emergency legislation.

President Bush stemmed the flow a bit early this month, forcing the Senate to accept a smaller farm-spending bill ($5.5 billion) than it wanted. But the bailout continues, even as new battles loom in Congress over just how much Washington should do.

Beneath the economics debate lie the stories of thousands of farm families. Today's lead story looks at one in Iowa.

A great many farms are family businesses - as are more than 80 percent of all US business, by some estimates.

And many farms - and firms - are now wrestling with issues of "succession" as a wave of baby boomers gets set to retire.

Can family farms plow on?

Reach us at work@csps.com.

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