Vol. V, No. 3, Winter 1992

Fall 1987

The Opportunity of Bad News

An OzarksView by By Roy Blunt

Roy Blunt is Missouri's Secretary of State

Beef and milk markets were headed down, along with the prices of wheat, corn, and other traditional grain crops. Productivity efficiency lagged and the long arm of competition got longer. The time was the mid- 1950s and the challenge to Ozarks agri-business was one of moving from a regional to a national economy.

These circumstances came to my mind many times over during the last year as I served as co-chairman of the Missouri Opportunity 2000 Commission, and as the commission discussed the economic struggle in the best agricultural areas of our state to compete in an international agricultural economy.

Early in its deliberations, the commission received a report from Dr. Robert Glenn at Southwest Missouri State University and Eric Thompson, the former head of the Missouri Farmers Association, Inc. titled "Rural Missouri in Transition." That report began for me a thought process of reliving and in many ways, considering for the first time, the transition that has occurred in the Ozarks during the last four decades.

Glenn and Thompson stated that different agricultural regions of Missouri are in very different stages of a continuing transition. They pointed out that Missouri's more "marginal" agricultural areas are not impacted nearly as much by the dynamics of the international grain markets as are the "best" agricultural areas of our state. Their report created a forum in which the commission was able to evaluate the vitality and sense of optimism that permeate most parts of the Ozarks today.

The Ozarks reflects a set of rising expectations stimulated in part by the increasing tempo of economic activity. Unlike the economic reverses experienced in much of our country's rural economy in recent years, the transition in the Ozarks was away from what had been mostly a cashless economy to one combining an off-the-farm paycheck with continued significant on-farm production.

Ozarks communities responded to the postwar economic potential offered by tourism and retirement, and with equal vigor individuals began to seek sources of off-farm employment. My Dad, my uncles, and most people we knew, "went to town" to work for the first time, and, in most cases, continued to farm as well. Some of them felt fortunate to be able to work the night shift so they could farm during the day.

Evenings, weekends, and holidays became the time for tending crops and haying for many families. Others milked the cows morning and night and worked off the farm between those two essential commitments in the milk barn. The Ozarks became populated with many who were not "hobby" or "part-time" farmers, but who considered themselves to have two full time obligations.

Communities like Cassville, with a population of 2091 in the 1980 census, began the process that today has resulted in more than 1,800 manufacturing jobs in half a dozen separate locations and endeavors. Everyday, people come from miles around to work in these manufacturing jobs, and then return home to their other efforts producing crops and livestock.

In most cases the milk cows were replaced by hogs and beef cattle as native Ozarkers welcomed new neighbors, outside investments, and more jobs. The heritage of hard work as a means to combat hard circumstances coincided with new opportunities, creating the dynamics ora significant new economy.

From the Missouri River to the Arkansas, from the Mississippi to the Plains, the results have been powerful. Young people have generally found job opportunities not too far from home, people who move to the Ozarks often don't want to move away, and a sense that things will only get better is not hard to find


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