Date of this Version
Many changes have occurred in rural Nebraska in the past twenty years. Globalization, centralization of agriculture, and an increase in telecommunication technologies have prompted many adjustments for rural Nebraskans. Given all these changes, what do they prefer to happen in the next twenty years? What do they prefer agriculture, their communities, their family structure and local government to look like? Also, are the futures they prefer similar to those they expect to see?
This report details results of 3,036 responses to the 1999 Nebraska Rural Poll, the fourth annual effort to take the pulse of rural Nebraskans. Respondents were asked a series of questions about their preferences and expectations for the future in the following areas: agriculture, population, employment, community, government, family and technology. Comparisons are made among different subgroups of the respondents, e.g., comparisons by community size, region, age, occupation, etc. Based on these analyses, some key findings emerged:
• One-half of rural Nebraskans prefer the population of rural Nebraska increase by 150,000 during the next twenty years, and more than three-fourths of rural Nebraskans prefer (a) the rural population be evenly distributed across the state, (b) the continued existence of all of the state’s smaller towns, and (c) the traditional variety of businesses within Nebraska’s rural communities. While 50% of the respondents prefer a hypothetical increase of 150,000 in the state’s rural population during the next twenty years, only 13% prefer a population decrease of the same amount. Eighty-four percent prefer that the majority of the rural population be evenly dispersed throughout the state (rather than clustered along the interstate corridor); 85% prefer that all of Nebraska’s rural communities with less than 500 people continue to exist twenty years from now; and 88% prefer that Nebraska’s rural communities have all of the traditional variety of businesses such as banks and grocery stores.
• Preferences for the future relative to the role of agriculture and small non-agricultural businesses in the rural economy were somewhat mixed. Nearly one-half (48%) of rural Nebraskans prefer a future in which the state’s rural economy becomes more dependent upon agriculture and the majority of the non-agricultural employment in rural Nebraska is concentrated in businesses with ten or fewer employees. At the same time, approximately one-half (52%) of the respondents were either (a) undecided about their preferences on these two issues or (b) preferred a future rural economy that was less dependent upon agriculture and in which the majority of non-agricultural employment was provided by businesses with at least 100 employees.
• More than three quarters of rural Nebraskans prefer that no farms in the state be owned by non-family corporations twenty years from now. Less consensus in preferences exists in three other areas related to agriculture: preferred farm size, the role of biotechnology, and producing for global markets. Eighty percent of the respondents prefer that no farms in Nebraska be owned by non-family corporations twenty years from now. When asked about the future size of Nebraska’s farms, 38% were undecided about their preferences, 33% prefer the average farm size to increase by 200 acres, and 29% prefer it to decrease by the same amount. Similarly, 43% were undecided about the use of biotechnology by Nebraska’s farms twenty years from now, 36% prefer that it be in use, and 21% prefer it not be used. Slightly more than one-half (56%) of the respondents prefer a future in which Nebraska’s farms are producing for a global market, 23% prefer a market structure in which Nebraska’s farms are producing for local and regional markets, and 21% are undecided about their preferences in this area.
• While rural Nebraskans were generally more positive toward telecommuting and telemedicine than toward biotechnology, a significant proportion of rural Nebraskans were also undecided as to where they stood relative to these two technological applications. Fifty-six percent of the respondents prefer a future twenty years from now in which telecommuting by rural Nebraskans is commonplace and 49% prefer the widespread application of telemedicine in rural Nebraska. However, at least one-third were undecided about their preferences relative to a future in which telecommuting and telemedicine would be commonplace in rural Nebraska.
• The vast majority of rural Nebraskans would like to see traditional, two-parent families in the future. Eighty-nine percent prefer that most families in rural Nebraska be traditional, two-parent families twenty years from now. Only four percent prefer that most families be non-traditional.
• Most rural Nebraskans would like to see funding for public education (K - 12) increased in the future, a continuation of independent county governments, and government providing the majority of local governmental services. Sixty-seven percent prefer the funding for public education be increased in the future. When asked about their preferred structure for local government, seventy-three percent prefer keeping independent county governments rather than moving to a regional government system. Seventy percent prefer local government continue to provide the majority of local governmental services, while fifteen percent prefer these services be privatized (contracted to private firms).
• For many aspects of rural Nebraska’s future, what rural Nebraskans prefer to see is not what they expect to see. A considerable gap exists between rural Nebraskans’ preferences and expectations about the future of rural Nebraska. This difference is greatest in terms of the future role of corporate farming and the continued existence of the state’s smaller communities. Specifically, 80% prefer that twenty years from now none of the farms in the state will be owned by non-family corporations, but only 29% expect that to be the case. And, 85% prefer that all communities with fewer than 500 people will still exist twenty years from now, but only 35% expect this to happen. Three other areas where the divergence between future preferences and expectations is very large follow: 84% prefer that the majority of the rural population be evenly dispersed throughout the state twenty years from now, but only 37% believe that will occur; 88% prefer that all rural communities will have the traditional variety of businesses, but only 44% expect that to happen; and 89% prefer most families in rural Nebraska will be traditional two-parent families, but only 48% expect this will occur.