US farmers: more satisfied than most Americans

Farmers excel at far more than just raising bumper crops - and must to survive when a record harvest such as this year's grain harvest seeds as many problems as a poor crop.

According to a detailed survey carried out for cotton producers, the typical American farmer also deserves top marks for:

* Preserving traditional family values.

* Enjoying his work despite its high-risk aspects.

* Taking an active role in community life.

* Supporting the US political system.

* Cashing in on modern technology.

* Turning his farm into an efficient and productive business.

The study by Research & Forecasts Inc. for the cotton producers' marketing arm, Cotton Incorporated, offers a profile of American farmers today - along with a preview of ''the farmer of the future.''

For those convinced that farmers do nothing but gripe about government meddling, bad weather, low commodity prices, and high farm production costs, it is reassuring to learn that ''farmers are significantly more satisfied with their work than Americans as a whole. An overwhelming 95 percent of farmers say if given the choice they would prefer to continue in their present occupation compared with only 60 percent of the general public.''

This picture of almost unanimous job satisfaction comes from interviews with 461 cotton farmers and a control group of 99 farmers who have switched from cotton to other crops.

Based on this coast-to-coast selection of farmers and other recent studies, it is clear that farms are becoming larger and more capital intensive. The report explains that since cotton farmers have been forced to make greater investments in new technology and equipment than most farmers, cotton farmers offer a prime example of where the farm sector as a whole is headed.

But even with commercialization and urbanization squeezing the nation's 50, 000 cotton producers, the report's reassuring conclusion is that the ''family farm'' owned and primarily operated by family members is here to stay.

The Cotton Incorporated report finds that ''almost 9 out of 10 farmers (87 percent) say that they believe their children will inherit their farms; only 3 percent say that they will sell their farms. The remaining small number of farmers say other family members will inherit the farm (5 percent) or that it will be run by a corporation (5 percent), but judging from current -statistics, it is likely to be a family corporation.''

Perhaps more important than a farmer's own plans for his farm's future is his children's attitudes. The report's answer is that ''the more highly educated and the young are not abandoning the farm but returning to it, bringing with them a new optimism, a new hope for rural revitalization.''

Politically, the report see farmers sticking to the right: ''Our data show that cotton farmers have a distinctly more conservative orientation than the general public: 6 out of 10 farmers identify themselves as conservatives, compared with only 3 out of 10 members of the public as a whole. And while one-quarter of Americans (24 percent) term themselves liberal, a mere 7 percent of farmers consider themselves so.'' The report finds that farmers with the largest holdings, and thus most representative of farming's future, are more solidly conservative, Republican, and opposed to government supports than small farmers.

''The farmers are united as conservative believers in the system,'' the report states. ''Analysis shows all segments of the farmer sample emphatically agree that America provides a good living for all those willing to work hard. All the subgroups are virtually equal in their level of agreement that our nation's major problems can be solved through traditional politics, and all groups report much higher levels of voter participation than the general public.''

As for what lies ahead, the report concludes that ''the research findings suggest that the farmer of the future will have a high net worth and high level of education; operating in a milieu of more complex roles - manager, marketing specialist, scientist, and engineer - he is likely to view himself more as a businessman rather than as a farmer.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.