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Southeastern Geographer Vol. 21, No. 1, May 1981, pp. 54-63 INTENSITY OF AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION AND DISTANCE FROM THE CITY: THE CASE OF THE SOUTHEASTERN UNITED STATES Morton D. Winsberg The relationship between agriculture and the city has intrigued social scientists ever since J. Heinrich von Thünen published his theory of agricultural land use in 1826. (I) Von Thünen lived in a period when freight movement was slow and expensive and constituted a large share of total agricultural production costs. These high costs led him to conclude that a farmer's land use decision, or his methods of production, were dictated by distance from markets. Farmers living near cities had a competitive advantage over those more distant and could choose from a wider range of agricultural commodities and cultivation practices. Those who lived near markets and who wished to maximize profits generally chose intensive farming. Farmers who lived farther away selected less intensive types of agriculture, or, if they produced the same commodity , used more extensive techniques. In this century, particularly in the economically advanced nations, transportation systems of such density and efficiency have been built that the share of freight in total production costs has declined. This has put von Thiinen's relationship between farm and market into question. (2) The relationship of modern agriculture to cities has been altered by changes other than the decline of transportation in agricultural production costs. (3) Communications in the modern nations have improved to the degree that few areas are now so geographically or culturally isolated from centers of technological innovation to be at a serious disadvantage in the dissemination of information. The services of financial institutions today penetrate deeply into the rural areas of advanced nations and provide farmers greater opportunity to borrow capital. Marketing arrangements between farmers and retailers have changed. For example, vertical integration of food processing industries has become more common and supermarket chains increasingly are contracting directly with Dr. Winsberg is Professor of Geography at The Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL 32306. Vol. XXI, No. 1 55 farmers for produce. Improvements in commercial plants and animals as well as in the systems to produce them economically have afforded farmers the opportunity to engage in types of agriculture that previously could not be entertained. (4) Rapid growth of cities and subsequent urban sprawl also have had their effects upon agricultural land use near cities, a problem early recognized by geographers. (5) THE PROBLEM. The South is an excellent region to study the changing relationship between agriculture and the city. The region's transportation system was sufficiently dense by the middle of the twentieth century to give it efficient intraregional and interregional connectivity, but the area remained rural and poor when compared to other parts of the nation. In 1950 its rural population was 21 percent higher than that of the nation and its per capita income was 34 percent lower than the national average. (6) Transportation costs may not have dictated that farmers near large cities would choose either different types of agricultural production than those more distant, or different agricultural systems to produce the same commodity. Other factors, however, were operative that could have. The diffusion of agricultural information, especially in remote rural areas, was often inadequate. Land tenure arrangements , notably sharecropping, retarded the introduction of new types of agricultural production as well as new systems to produce traditional products. Low levels of rural education fostered conservatism among farmers and a reticence to innovate. Small as well as poor local markets provided few opportunities for farmers to introduce commercial food production. The poor articulation of financial institutions with rural areas frequently prevented those who were willing to engage in modern farming from the borrowing the capital to do so. For many of the South's farmers the commercial plants and animals they raised and their systems of production had changed little from the beginning of the century. In 1910 cotton and tobacco accounted for 35 percent of the region's land in crops, while in 1950 their share had only fallen to 28 percent. (7) In the period between World War II and today the South underwent a radical social and economic transformation. Today...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-6929
Print ISSN
0038-366X
Pages
pp. 54-63
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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