Loss of the Small Family Farm
My brother-in-law was born and raised in a small community surrounded by family farms and although he did not become a farmer, he has watched with sadness as the small family farms disappear. To be competitive in farming today means having thousands of acres or huge herds of livestock and using technology to produce more for less cost. Early pioneers arrived in the midwest claimed a homestead of 100 acres. Clearing the land by hand and building simple dwellings, these early settlers created close-knit, rural communities. Many of these communities are dying as the number of people living and working nearby continues to decline.
Some have asked if we are experiencing a farm crisis like that of the 1980s. Today, large farms continue to add land and dominate the market. One farmer in Kansas has accumulated more than 30,000 acres. As farms continue to increase in size, technology has made it possible for fewer people to manage more acreage. Fewer people working on the farm means shrinking rural communities. In the last decade, the number of young people leaving rural areas for urban has increased. The lack of jobs and academic opportunities are often cited as the reason for this exodus.
This data from a Wall Street Journal article highlights the dominance of large farms:
Farms with $1 million or more in annual sales—only 4% of the total—now produce two-thirds of the country’s agricultural output, the largest portion since the U.S. Agriculture Department’s census began tracking the statistic in the ’80s.
Walmart’s AI Powered Store
In a bid to keep up with rival Amazon, Walmart has opened a new store using Artificial Intelligence software and hardware to automate many of the tasks once completed by humans. The stated goal of the use of AI and robots in stores is to free up employees from repetitive tasks and shift their focus to other tasks such as helping customers. According to Walmart, the goal is not to get rid of employees. Regardless of their goals, new advances in technology will lead to a need for fewer employees and lowered labor costs.
In addition to this new lab store, Walmart recently announced the deployment of thousands of robots in its stores. An article on Yahoo listed the number of robots and their tasks:
The plan is to roll out 1,500 new autonomous floor cleaners, called the “Auto-C,” 300 additional shelf scanners dubbed the “Auto-S.” In addition, 1,200 more FAST Unloaders will automatically scan and sort items from trucks, and 900 more pickup towers are expected to retrieve customers’ online orders.
The major concern regarding the use of robotics and artificial intelligence is the potential disruption to the labor market. New jobs will be created, but will displaced workers be able to retrain for them.
Jack Kelly, in his article for Forbes about Walmart’s use of robots, concludes with this important question:
“If you follow this trend to its natural conclusion, who will buy all the products and services if we’re all out of work?” – Jack Kelly
For more on the issue read our earlier blog post: Robotics and Artificial Intelligence.
Can I really say I understand your situation if I have never experienced it myself? This is a difficult question to answer. I think about the needs of others on a daily basis and am fortunate to be working for a company dedicated to improving peoples lives. Even so, I wonder if I really understand what others experience. There have been times in my life when I did not have enough food and there were many years where it was difficult to pay the bills. These experiences pale in comparison to the stories I read about people in our country struggling to provide the bare necessities for their families. I am especially concerned about the children who find themselves living in poverty. They have no choice.
The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) has this data on their website:
About 15 million children in the United States – 21% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold, a measurement that has been shown to underestimate the needs of families.
The effects of poverty on child development have been well documented. Children living in poverty often struggle in school and more health issues than typical. Here is one organization that is working to improve the lives of children: Save the Children.