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Abandonment of Farm Land in Kentucky John Fraser Hart Indiana University The abandonment of farm land is a fact of growing importance in the United States, and a fact which will require some new thinking from geographers. For more than a century one of the dominant themes in the geography of this country was the taming of the wilderness. The frontiersman became one of our folk heroes, as he strode boldly across the continent to fell the forest, break the sod, and convert the wilderness into productive farm land. But now his descendants have begun to abandon the land which he so laboriously cleared. The amount of farm land in the United States did not immediately start to decline, however, when the frontier was closed—whenever that date might be. Except for a slight drop in 1924, the acreage of farm land in the conterminous United States increased consistently at each Census until 1955 (Fig. 1). Between 1950 and 1960, however, the amount of land in farms in this country has declined by more than 40 million acres. Total Farm Land, 1900-1960 1960 = 100 - 110 100 90 80 1900 1920 1940 1960 Figure 1. Change in total farm land acreage in the United States and in the East between 1900 and 1960. Data from various Censuses of Agriculture. 2 The Southeastern Geographer The loss of farm land is more dramatic if the figures for the 11 states of the West are subtracted from the national total. The East lost more than 50 million acres of farm land in the decade between 1950 and 1960. By 1960 the acreage of farm land in the East had dropped back to the level of the First World War. And this is no mere Census artifact, the result of recent changes in the official definition of a farm. Only 6 million acres of farm land have been lost as a result of the change in definition. (1) The loss or abandonment of farm land, of course, is no new thing. It has occurred in three major ways. First, thousands of acres which were once used for farming have been converted to such other uses as cities and highways , reservoirs, and military reservations. Second, land abandonment, with subsequent re-clearance, has been so regular in parts of the South that it amounts to a system of woodland fallow. And third, in some areas farm land has simply been abandoned. Where is the land which has gone out of farming? Why was it abandoned , and when? To answer these questions we will have to go into the field, but before going into the field we shall have to go into the library to find where field work can be done most effectively. Although I shall deal with the library—particularly the Census—side of the problem here, I must warn that the field identification of abandoned land is extraordinarily difficult , and I suggest that this is an extremely important problem for future research. This paper is based upon data drawn from the various Censuses of Agriculture since 1910, but I am very well aware that abandoned farm land is very slow to show up in the Census. Field work indicates that a long, slow, period of gradually increasing underuse precedes complete abandonment, and farm land often is abandoned in fact quite some time before it disappears from the pages of the Census. This report is part of a larger investigation of farm land abandonment in the eastern United States. Two factors appear to warrant special consideration of Kentucky as part of this project. The state has an exciting range of physical variety, from the lush and lovely Bluegrass to the tangled mountain fastnesses of Appalachia. It was intensively studied by geographers during the 1920's, when Sauer already had the perception to map abandoned farm land, and we also have such excellent early land use studies as Gibson's work in Warren County. These provide a bench mark against which subsequent changes may be measured. (2) Except for a brief recovery in the early 1930's, Kentucky has been losing farm land since 1910 (Fig. 2). In Kentucky, however, as in a number of other...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-6929
Print ISSN
0038-366X
Pages
pp. 1-10
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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