Federal Coordinating Lead Author:
Carolyn Olson, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Chapter Leads:
Prasanna Gowda, USDA Agricultural Research Service
Jean L. Steiner, USDA Agricultural Research Service
Chapter Authors:
Tracey Farrigan, USDA Economic Research Service
Michael A. Grusak, USDA Agricultural Research Service
Mark Boggess, USDA Agricultural Research Service
Review Editor:
Georgine Yorgey, Washington State University
USGCRP Coordinators:
Susan Aragon-Long, Senior Scientist
Allyza Lustig, Program Coordinator

Agriculture and Rural Communities

In 2015, U.S. agricultural producers contributed $136.7 billion to the economy and accounted for 2.6 million jobs. About half of the revenue comes from livestock production. Other agriculture-related sectors in the food supply chain contributed an additional $855 billion of gross domestic product and accounted for 21 million jobs.

In 2013, about 46 million people, or 15% of the U.S. population, lived in rural counties covering 72% of the Nation’s land area. From 2010 to 2015, a historic number of rural counties experienced population declines, and recent demographic trends point to relatively slow employment and population growth in rural areas as well as high rates of poverty. Rural communities, where livelihoods are more tightly interconnected with agriculture, are particularly vulnerable to the agricultural volatility related to climate.

Climate change has the potential to adversely impact agricultural productivity at local, regional, and continental scales through alterations in rainfall patterns, more frequent occurrences of climate extremes (including high temperatures or drought), and altered patterns of pest pressure. Risks associated with climate change depend on the rate and severity of the change and the ability of producers to adapt to changes. These adaptations include altering what is produced, modifying the inputs used for production, adopting new technologies, and adjusting management strategies.

U.S. agricultural production relies heavily on the Nation’s land, water, and other natural resources, and these resources are affected directly by agricultural practices and by climate. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme precipitation events in many regions in the United States. Because increased precipitation extremes elevate the risk of surface runoff, soil erosion, and the loss of soil carbon, additional protective measures are needed to safeguard the progress that has been made in reducing soil erosion and water quality degradation through the implementation of grassed waterways, cover crops, conservation tillage, and waterway protection strips.

Climate change impacts, such as changes in extreme weather conditions, have a complex influence on human and livestock health. The consequences of climate change on the incidence of drought also impact the frequency and intensity of wildfires, and this holds implications for agriculture and rural communities. Rural populations are the stewards of most of the Nation’s forests, watersheds, rangelands, agricultural land, and fisheries. Much of the rural economy is closely tied to the natural environment. Rural residents, and the lands they manage, have the potential to make important economic and conservation contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation, but their capacity to adapt is impacted by a host of demographic and economic concerns.


Agricultural Jobs and Revenue

The figure shows (a) the contribution of agriculture and related sectors to the U.S. economy and (b) employment figures in agriculture and related sectors (as of 2015). Agriculture and other food-related value-added sectors account for 21 million full- and part-time jobs and contribute about $1 trillion annually to the United States economy. From Figure 10.1 (Source: adapted from Kassel et al. 20171).

Population Changes and Poverty Rates in Rural Counties

The figure shows county-level (a) population changes for 2010–2017 and (b) poverty rates for 2011–2015 in rural U.S. communities. Rural populations are migrating to urban regions due to relatively slow employment growth and high rates of poverty. Data for the U.S. Caribbean region were not available at the time of publication of this report. From Figure 10.2 (Sources: [a] adapted from ERS 20182; [b] redrawn from ERS 20173).

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