Rural Policy and Planning

Mark B Lapping. The Handbook of Rural Studies. Editor: Paul Cloke, Terry Marsden, Patrick Mooney. Sage Publication. 2006.

Introduction: Roots and Branches

Because rural planning and policy can cover an array of issues and problems, such as housing, poverty, health care delivery, transportation, gender, land use, conservation and much else-indeed it is such a broad term as to almost lose meaning—it is perhaps best to recognize that the very notions of ‘planning’ and ‘planned change’ reflect the optimism, the belief in the power of empirical science, and the desire of people and states to shape both nature and society which accompanied the Enlightenment. As Isaiah Berlin pointed out throughout his long career as a student of ideas, many of these Enlightenment and ‘modernist’ impulses actually found their origins in utopian thinking (see, generally, Berlin, 1991).

The utopian tradition in Western thought proved to be particularly powerful for rural planning in that it so often reinforced positive representations and notions of rural life—conviviality, community, coherence, simplicity and organic integrity—at the very time when ‘modern’ was coming to be defined by city life and cosmopolitan ideas and lifestyles. The utopian impulse had a profound impact upon the rise of planning and community organization theory, as Thomas Reiner, amongst others, has pointed out (Reiner, 1963). In North America utopianism was further reinforced by a religious pluralism which encouraged rural communitarianism and experimentation among the Shakers, the Hutterites, the Amana Colonists, the Amish and other Mennonites, and similar groups which all saw in agrarianism both a positive statement framed by faith and a pattern of sustainable living (Lapping, 1997, 2001). In this way utopianism was for some a response to the excesses of industrialization, urbanization, secularism and alienation from tradition, work and family, which modernism seemed to represent.

In the United Kingdom, as elsewhere in Europe where ‘national romanticism’ was a major artistic and intellectual force, some of these ideas found further amplification in the ‘Arts and Crafts’ movement of William Morris and others, which had the village and the tradition of premodern craftsmanship at the centre of their critique of the modern world and their conception of the good society (Bunce, 1994; Heathorn, 2000). Rural simplification also developed deep roots in North America as well (see Schmitt, 1969; Shi, 1985). In understanding things in this way some early planners came to see the rural village, bucolic simplicity and organicism as essential counterpoints to the social chaos, alienation, class warfare and root-lessness so many came to see in the all-powerful forces of industrial capitalism and urbanization (Lears, 1981).

The first generation of planners who held an avowed interest in rural people and places included Raymond Unwin and Ebenezer Howard. They led the English ‘Garden City’ movement which sought to limit British urbanization by connecting cities—whose growth would be confined within specified physical limits through the creation of ‘green belts’ and other tools—with new smaller settlements nested in productive rural hinterlands and connected through rapid transportation. Howard argued that through controlling the use of land and its ownership the culture and the amenities of urban places could be made accessible to rural people, thereby improving the life of those who lived in the countryside. And the lives of those in cities would also be enhanced through the imposition of limits on urban expansion and by providing greater proximity to green space and natural landscapes. The noted planner Peter Hall aptly summed up what Ebenezer Howard attempted to do in his work and writing, most importantly in Garden Cities for Tomorrow (1902), when he wrote that ‘Howard was saying here that both existing cities and the existing countryside had an indissoluble mixture of advantages and disadvantages’ (Hall, 1992: 36). Some, including the great urbanist Jane Jacobs, have come to see these ideas as fundamentally ‘anti-urban’ (Jacobs, 1961), while Stephen Heathorn has argued that Howard was the leader of a loose intellectual movement whose sole ‘binding element’ was ‘a shared idealization of English rusticity’ (Heathorn, 2000: 120). Nevertheless, the ‘Garden City’ movement genuinely reflected an expression of the need for limits to and boundaries on the very social forces and technological processes—largely uncontested and rarely debated in the larger society—which were generating irreversible changes in people’s lives and the ordering of social and economic life (Richert and Lapping, 1998).

In North America these and related ideas found resonance among decentralists, regionalist thinkers and, most importantly, a small group of planners known as the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA). Composed of some of America’s truly most seminal planning intellectuals, Clarence Stein, Lewis Mumford, Catherine Bauer, Henry Wright, and Benton MacKaye, the RPAA implemented its own conception of the ‘Garden City’ ideal in the establishment of the new community of Radburn, New Jersey (Lapping, 1977) and through the late 1920s and 1930s continued to generate important plans and proposals, such as the introduction of comprehensive regional planning for the entirety of New York State, the elaboration of extensive systems of rural highways, rural electrification, new towns developed along the lines of the original ‘Garden City’ ideal, and regional natural resources conservation.

These ideas struck a responsive chord with other architects and planners, academics, social critics and ‘progressives’ across the country. This was especially true among a group of thinkers centred around the person of Howard Odum, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, who, during the 1930s, focused on the problem of regional backwardness and peripheral regions, most especially the American South. Odum and his colleagues, labelled the ‘Regionalists’, sought to understand the underpinnings of rural backwardness, dependency and poverty. As Friedmann and Weaver have rightly noted of them, ‘they wanted to fend off the attack of northern industrial interests and metropolitan culture on southern rural values; they wanted to alleviate agrarian poverty and racism’ (Friedmann and Weaver, 1980: 35; see, more generally, Dorman, 1993). Odum and the reformers advocated land reforms to break the hold of tenancy and to favour small and family farmers, both black and white, a transformation in southern agriculture away from export and cash cropping systems, like ‘King Cotton’ and peanuts, toward a more diversified food production model, the introduction of critically important physical infrastructure into rural areas, the provision of new rural credit systems and other financial institutions, the conservation of marginal lands and forests, and the establishment of a broad system of cooperatives, amongst other programmes and policies (Singal, 1982). All of this was to be done through a national commitment to social planning implemented on a regional basis and locally controlled industrialization (O’Connor, 1992; Odum, 1934).

Together these ‘roots and branches’ form what Hall has labelled the Anglo-American tradition’ in planning (Hall, 1992: 31). Though often neglected by the overwhelming urban orientation and bias among planners and policy-makers, many of the core and most seminal ideas about planning really sought to speak to the issues and problems facing rural people and rural places.

The Modernist Pose

If there were those who advocated rural policies that would substantially alter the nature of society and contest the urban-industrial model of development—which invariably required the continued underdevelopment of rural areas and places—there were others who struck a different ideological pose. Accommodation rather than resistance to the unfolding urban-industrial hegemony was the strategy which the Country Life movement adopted (see, generally, Bowers, 1974; Danbom, 1979). The movement was most active through the United States and Canada, although its impulses were extended to much of Europe and Australia through the promulgation of similar ‘modernization’ efforts (on the Country Life movement in Canada, see Jones, 1982). Country Lifers understood the impact of emerging technologies and aimed to secure for rural people an appropriate niche in the unfolding urban-industrial order, through the full adoption of technology and modern business principles to farming as well as the reform of many rural institutions. The leader of the movement, and head of the US Country Life Commission, was Liberty Hyde Bailey, Dean of the College of Agriculture at Cornell University, arguably then America’s foremost agricultural educator.

Bailey reflected the rising pre-eminence of the land-grant university model of public higher education in the United States. Created under the terms of the 1862 Morrill Act, nearly every state in the country accepted a federal authorization which permitted states to sell off federal lands with the receipts directed to the establishment of state colleges where agriculture, the mechanical arts, as engineering was then known, and home economics were to be taught. These institutions came to form the most significant ‘human capital’ engine in existence in rural America, combining teaching with applied research, through federally supported agricultural and forestry research stations, and direct assistance to producers in the field, via the jointly federally and locally sponsored Cooperative Extension Service, which maintained ‘agents’ in many rural counties throughout the nation. Cooperative Extension became the backbone of a unique system of technology transfer which, at every step, assisted farmers and country people to adopt new technologies to production, to bring scientific discoveries and innovations into the countryside, and to shape a new and more modern rural sector. Extension agents, along with management experts in the banking system, were, as Deborah Fitzgerald has called them, the ‘shock troops of rural transformation’ (Fitzgerald, 2001: 194). Together with agricultural economists in the newly organized Bureau of Agricultural Economics in the USDA, farm management experts were busy advocating a fundamentally different model for American agriculture, one which would see farmers ‘industrialize their farms’ (Fitzgerald, 2001: 100; see, too, Busch and Lacy, 1983; Taylor and Taylor, 1952). As one prominent Country Lifer put it, ‘the small farm of today is similar in its organization to the shop of yesterday, and must surely give way’ (Holmes, 1912: 523).

While the Country Life commissions continued to study, research and advocate for change in the rural sector, it was the First World War which made its agenda national policy throughout North America and much of Europe. As David Danbom has noted:

the war, then, was the pivotal occurrence in the industrialization of agriculture. It unnaturally speeded the attainment of agricultural efficiency to the point where depression resulted, which in turn decreed that the gains of the war would not be lost. Not only did the depression (1919-1920) assure the cities the cheap food that had been their primary goal all along, it also stimulated the sharp competition in agriculture which assured that it would become still more productive. And finally, then, war accelerated those trends which were breaking down rural social institutions leading to increased realization of the Country Lifers’ social goals. (Danbom, 1979: 104)

The Power of Power

The place where these two seemingly oppositional threads of thinking came together lies in the experience of numerous national governments in utilizing mega-projects to modernize their rural sectors. And the medium for doing this, for transforming, modernizing and radically altering the entire nature of rural living was electrification. By the 1920s more than two-thirds of the farmers in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Scandinavia had electricity while 90 per cent of American farmers did not.

American farmers and others would have to await the New Deal during the Great Depression before the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) would create a system of cooperatives which would bring power to rural Americans. Under the dynamic leadership of Morris Llewellyn Cooke, the REA made low-cost loans available to private utilities to bring power to farms, rural homes and local businesses. With electricity, farmers increased their productivity, the health-fulness of foodstuffs was enhanced through refrigeration and better sanitation, and the quality of life in rural America more closely approximated the standards of cities. But even before the creation of the REA, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) brought power to an important part of rural America, the watershed of the Tennessee River which encompassed parts of seven states of the South. The TVA was to become the model for rural development mega-projects throughout the world.

Ostensibly a flood prevention project, the TVA built a number of major dam projects on the river which developed its extensive hydroelectric capacity. The TVA used its control over electric rate structures to both modernize agriculture in the region—one of America’s poorest rural areas -and also to industrialize the Tennessee Valley. Textiles, chemical plants, pulp and paper mills and aluminium production all established themselves in the area (see, as examples, Chandler, 1984; Creese, 1990; Hargrove and Conkin, 1983; Martin, 1967; Selznick, 1949). The TVA represents a milestone in the evolution of rural policy in a number of significant ways. The TVA became the model for rural regional development throughout much of the world by encouraging a concentration on the development of an entire river basin and watershed and by fostering a large-scale or a mega-project approach which invariably required dams which, most importantly, produced electricity. Electricity became the currency of the TVA and all subsequent river basin development projects. It was heavily capital-intensive, centralized and promoted rural industrialization, the growth of settlements and the modernization and standardization of agriculture. The TVA development model used electricity and a relatively cheap rate structure to attract and to relocate development into a rural region from areas outside of it. In this way it established something of a precedent for the use of growth incentive policies which would redirect development from one place to another. By permitting economic opportunity to essentially ‘trickle down’ from these newly emerging metropolitan areas to rural places, rural people would be helped, as measured by the growth in personal income.

The TVA experience substituted the region for the local as the scale of analysis for rural planning and policy development. Hereafter rural development came to be expressed very largely as regional policy. To a great extent, then, the TVA model of rural development, which would also become the backbone of the plans for the Mekong River basin, the Aswan High Dam on the Egyptian Nile, the James Bay project in Canada and the Three Gorges Project in China, was fundamentally about altering rural areas, stimulating industrialization and urbanization, and changing the focus of planning and policy from the local to the regional scale of description and analysis.

The linkage between rural modernization and electrification reached its zenith in the Soviet Union (see, generally, Bailes, 1978). Prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, VI. Lenin penned the blueprint for the socialist reconstruction of the countryside, The Agrarian Question (1976), in 1907. Lenin saw an inevitable shift from a peasant-based agriculture-based on family production units, low-intensity technology and what he saw as ‘backward’ habits and processes—to a highly mechanized, large-scale production system based on communes as essential to the socialist development of Russia. Central to this vision was the electrification of all of Russia. As James C. Scott notes, Lenin was famous for asserting that ‘Communism is Soviet Power plus the Electrification of the whole countryside’ (Scott, 1998: 166). For the Soviet Union electricity became the metaphor for centralization, planning, mechanization, the destruction of the Kulak class and the modernization of the entire rural sector. Despite massive investments and numerous attempts to bring electricity to the countryside, ‘only one in twenty-five collective farms had electricity by the eve of World War II’ (Scott, 1998: 203). Though the Soviet Union aggressively dammed rivers, built power station complexes, felled whole forests and attempted to exploit the country’s hydroelectric potential to the fullest—often using forced labour from prisoners in the Gulag system—counterproductive effects could often be observed (Applebaum, 2003).

Electrification, through river basin planning and development, was one of the most significant paradigms and models for rural development. The provision of electricity had become a prominent rural policy throughout the world and in all types of national economic systems. The production and wide-scale distribution of electricity was seen by planners, economists, politicians, bankers and agricultural scientists as holding the potential to revolutionize rural areas and the lives of rural people. It was not the first time—and surely it would not be the last—when ‘technological fix’ would be advocated to address rural problems.

Depression and the Run-up to World War: A Policy Watershed

By the end of the 1940s, the centrality of federal or national governments to rural policy and planning would be complete for nearly all national political cultures. Clearly, the depth, the pervasiveness, and the longevity of the Great Depression, as well as the Second World War, hastened this development. Likewise, this was the period in which the equation that ‘agriculture was rural and rural was agriculture’ seemed to have been confirmed, despite the actual variety of ways rural people lived and worked. The practical result of this was that the central or federal agricultural ministries became the focal point for rural planning and policy-making and agricultural policy often became the contested landscape for rural and urban interests.

In both the United States and Canada the prosperity of the 1920s very largely bypassed rural areas as a depression gripped the agricultural sector.

At the outset of the Great Depression 44 per cent of the American population lived in rural areas and 22 per cent lived and worked on farms. Farmers suffered from low crop prices, often tied to an urban-biased cheap foods policy, surplus production and chronically low incomes. FDR’s administration implemented an array of programmes with a view to increasing the prices that farmers received for their crops and livestock under the broad heading of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. In 1934, additional support was provided for southern cotton and tobacco farmers through the Bankhead and Kerr Acts respectively. By 1936 these supply-management programmes were partially withdrawn because of a Supreme Court decision which found them to be unconstitutional (U.S. v Butler, 297 U.S. 1, 68, 1936). A substantially different constitutional regime in Canada permitted such supply-management approaches to develop and these have come to typify much of Canada’s contemporary agricultural incomes policy.

In 1938 an even more sophisticated programme was developed in the United States in the form of the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which established a complicated system of market quotas and acreage allotments for specific commodities (Cochrane, 1979; Tweeten, 1979). Although farm prices continued to fall, these programmes managed to prevent further drastic declines in agricultural incomes and achieved some degree of stability. The Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1936 was a watershed in American rural planning policy. Its focus upon the conservation of agricultural lands, the reduction of soil and fertility loss, and the need to apply rational and scientific methods to resource use came to be mirrored in the experiences and policies of many other nations’ planning systems. In the context of the United States serious federal concern over soil erosion and the need to conserve soil and land fertility preceded the New Deal by several years. While the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a number of advisory bulletins and brochures on soil conservation prior to 1928, it was in that year that Hugh Hammond Bennett’s Soil Erosion: A National Menace was published (Bennett, 1928).

Bennett was a pivotal figure in the establishment of a joint USDA-Department of the Interior effort to address the serious erosion problems which spawned the dust bowls which gripped the Great Plains in the early 1930s. In 1935 the Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act which, among other things, declared soil degradation to be a ‘national menace’, and crucially the national government began to see agriculture as a ‘strategic’ issue. Many nations would, in subsequent years, also adopt this same perspective and would come to equate the relative health and well-being of the agricultural sector with national security. ‘Soil conservation districts’ were formed, which FDR encouraged states to establish through the passage of the necessary enabling legislation (Steiner, 1988). By 1941, 41 states had formed ‘soil conservation districts’ through which a new set of institutions were introduced into the countryside to provide individual and district-wide soil conservation plans. There can be little doubt that the establishment of soil conservation districts constituted America’s first federally inspired rural planning effort. As a consequence of the programme farmers, forest land owners, soil scientists, watershed specialists and planners came together under the programme to form cooperative voluntary organizations to support planning to preserve and enhance rural lands and the communities which depended on these resources for their livelihoods.

With the subsequent passage of the Agricultural Adjustment Act a set of federal incentives was developed with the aim of shifting acreage from soil-depleting crops to soil-conserving ones, like legumes, grasses and other crops. The goal of this programme was two-fold. First, there was a genuine concern over soil erosion and the belief that too many highly erodible acres had been turned under the plough. Second, the programme was seen as a way to reduce commodity surpluses and thereby raise farm incomes. The law created county agricultural adjustment committees which continue to the present day. Combining conservation strategies—usually through land idling and retirement—with income-generating programmes became an established principle which has been carried forward in nearly every major subsequent piece of US federal agricultural legislation. In Canada similar problems also brought a federal government response in the form of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act (PFRA), the focus and emphasis of which was on resource conservation through internal rationalization and farm infrastructure support. PFRA has remained a valuable assistance programme through the region, though its emphasis has shifted to meet other needs (Lapping and Fuller, 1985). As in the case of the United States, the Depression years saw the Canadian federal government become the focal point for public sector rural development activity.

In the United Kingdom the years leading up to the Second World War also saw a renewed interest in rural areas and their problems. With roots in the Victorian era nature movement, British rural planning took on a distinctive ‘countryside’ or ‘Olde England’ orientation which reflected, in large part, the long involvement of various groups and organizations, such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest and Natural Beauty, the British Empire Naturalists Association, the Society for the Preservation of Birds, and many others. Beyond a strong commitment to preserving the countryside and traditional land ownership and management, access to the countryside and its many amenities was also an important part of the emerging planning regime in the UK. In 1932 the national government passed the landmark Town and Country Planning Act which is, as Paul Cloke has noted, ‘the traditional starting point for rural planning’ (1983: 75) in Britain. The act permitted local rural governmental authorities to develop planning tools to deal with actual or potential development pressures. Because landowners were given something approaching a ‘veto’ over any regulations that might be promulgated, the emphasis of the evolving planning system very largely ignored compulsory plan implementation and focused, instead, on the protection of amenities, such as areas of natural beauty, and historic buildings and sites. The effect on rural areas undergoing change was minimal.

On the eve of the Second World War, certain themes in rural planning and policy-making became clear. First, the Depression forced many national and federal governments to review and then to intervene in the agricultural sector. A fear of chronic rural depopulation was often tied to agricultural income policy initiatives. French agriculture, for example, which engaged fully half of the nation’s population at the turn of the twentieth century, witnessed a precipitous decline to only a third of all French workers by the end of the Second World War (Hervieu, 1994). Second, agriculture became coterminous with rural, somewhat to the exclusion of other dimensions of rural life. Third, agricultural resource utilization was often the specific focus of public policy. Planning, to the extent that it was institutionalized, tended to address land and resource issues rather than rural socio-economic problems and concerns. Governments were deeply concerned with agricultural and fibre production shortages and vulnerabilities. This was exacerbated during the Second World War. Yet the rudiments of rural planning and policy could be discerned in the years leading up to the war.

While in North America little was achieved during the war years per se- serious concerns over the fate of rural areas would manifest themselves only in the post-war era—in the United Kingdom a series of important reports were published during the war years—the Barlow Report on the Distribution of the Industrial Population (1940), the Uthwatt Report on Compensation and Betterment (1942) and the Scott Report on Land Utilization in Rural Areas (1942)—which would come to shape the structure, direction and nature of planning in the UK in general and rural areas more specifically (Whitby and Adger, 1993: 71).

Post-War Rural Policy

The years directly following the Second World War saw several rather profound changes in the way people and governments came to see and understand rural areas and, most especially, agriculture. Though writing essentially about Finland and Scandinavia, Granberg and Peltonen have defined a number of far more pervasive and universal ‘sea-changes’ in attitudes and policies. Among these was the realization that free markets and laissez-faire policy approaches too often failed to guarantee adequate food and fibre production. Second, that the political culture of much of Europe had to be reformed with a focus upon democratizing the countryside given that so many rural people came to support the fascist movement in the pre-war and war years. Perhaps in no place was this more necessary than in Germany, as Baranowski (1995) has so deftly shown. Third, wartime planning and intervention in the marketplace, which had become commonplace, carried over to many sectors following the war, including agriculture. Fourth, food self-sufficiency and income parity became joined as policy imperatives throughout the developed world. These two goals would come to drive agricultural and rural policy for decades to come. In the United Kingdom, as an example, the situation has been aptly characterized in this way:

Since the Second World War and the shift to an agricultural policy that has emphasized the protection of domestic production and the quest for self-sufficiency, the free market and laissez-faire approach that prevailed previously has often been portrayed as reckless and misconceived. Not only has it been condemned as the cause of extensive rural decline and impoverishment, but also for undermining the country’s food security and thereby rendering the UK dangerously exposed to food blockade. (Marsden et al., 1993: 48)

In the United Kingdom four key agricultural production strategies were employed, as embodied in the 1947 Agricultural Act, and stood well into the 1970s when membership in the European Economic Community brought yet another shift in agricultural policy. These included subsidy programmes which guaranteed minimum prices -the deficiency payment schemes—grants for the acquisition of equipment and support for on-the-farm improvements, the establishment of producer-controlled marketing boards to support prices, an extensive system of agricultural research and education, and the imposition of an import protection regime which would secure domestic producers (see, generally, Bowler, 1979, 1986). The practical effect of the 1947 law was to push agricultural production ‘at all costs’, as Cloke and White (1990: 44) have observed.

Elsewhere similar policies were also put into effect. ‘In the Nordic Countries,’ for example, ‘agriculture was protected from the international market by import restrictions and export subsidies.…’ (Granberg and Peltonen, 2001: 298). Finland promulgated an Agricultural Income Act which utilized a very complicated set of calculations in an attempt to peg the incomes of farmers to those of urban industrial workers. This was policy in Denmark, Sweden and Norway as well (Granberg, 2000; Lapping and Forster, 2000). Farmers throughout this region were also aided by a historically rooted and robust farmer’s cooperative movement. These, in turn, served as models for farmer’s cooperatives elsewhere, as in Ireland, for example (Tovey, 2001).

In North America agricultural policy took similar forms. Canada developed an extensive system of supply-management programmes both to stimulate production and to provide an incomes floor for its farmers. By the 1960s the federal government passed and implemented the Agricultural Rehabilitation and Development Act (ARDA) which ‘provided joint federal-provincial funding for soil and water conservation projects and land consolidation schemes designed to increase the productivity of farms’ (Weaver and Gunton, 1982: 11). Nowhere was this more important than in the western provinces where grain production defined much of the region’s agriculture and rural sector. The Prairie provinces had long been the focus of much of Canada’s rural settlement policy. From a population of slightly more than 400,00 in 1901, the region’s population grew to just under 2 million by 1921 (Census of the Prairie Provinces, as noted in Jones, 1982: 96). To aid grain producers in the Prairies the federal government supported the development of a transcontinental railroad system with subsidized freight rates to help farmers. This subsidy allowed farmers cheap shipment costs to millers and processing facilities in eastern Canada. To assist farmers in marketing their product throughout the world, the federal government established the Canadian Wheat Board ‘to ensure smooth transitions in prices from year to year and to assist in marketing the product’ (Cummings, 1989: 61). In these ways Canadian policy aggressively incorporated state intervention in the agricultural economy.

In the United States, the situation has been accurately summed up by Mann and Dickinson when they wrote:

[f]rom 1938 to the present the particularities of the farm acts have been modified many times to meet varying conditions such as war, differential market conditions for various crops and so on. In general, however, the current government programs incorporated many of the fundamental principles embodied in the New Deal legislation. In particular, government payments are made to those farmers who participate in market quotas, comply with acreage allotments and/or participate in land diversion programs. (Mann and Dickinson, 1980: 306)

Very importantly, as they point out, American agricultural policy during these years led to a situation wherein ‘increased productivity has not led to a decline in the need for state support, but on the contrary, as agriculture has become more productive, so state intervention has become more imperative, more extensive, and more expensive. Indeed ‘many of these state agricultural policies accentuate and perpetuate overproduction and inequalities in the countryside and hence function to reproduce those very conditions which called forth the need for state support in the first place’ (Mann and Dickinson, 1980: 316).

Across the mature capitalist and mixed economies agricultural policy as rural policy reached an almost inevitable end or what Vail et al. have called the ‘handwriting on the wall’. ‘By the early 1980s’, they write, ‘the core agricultural policy instruments used for decades in most advanced capitalist nations had created an economically untenable situation. The triple bind of chronic excess production, escalating public farm expenditures, and depressed international food prices was widely attributed to policy measures that inflated domestic farm prices, restricted imports, subsidized exports, and encouraged ceaseless technical and structural “rationalization”’ (1994: 1). The ‘crisis on the farm’ had become a permanent part of the rural landscape.

A Socialist Alternative

The socialist revolution which swept through Russia with the conclusion of the Bolshevik Revolution and the ensuing civil war brought profound and far-reaching changes to rural Russia. The new Soviet Union, initially under Lenin and then under Stalin, sought the rapid industrialization of the country by capturing the rural surplus and transferring it to the nation’s cities for investment in heavy industries. As Pallot has put it, ‘the economic purpose of these transformations was to reorganize agriculture in such a way as to provide for the transfer of resources from the countryside to the towns’ (Pallot, 1988: 120). To a very real extent, early Soviet policy had a strongly anti-rural orientation and attempted nothing less than the restructuring of rural life, even to the point of near-destruction.

To accomplish the re-creation of the rural regions of the Soviet Union a process of de-peasantization became ‘the order of the day’ through a sustained process of the forced collectivization of agriculture and rural labour. Private property was all but abolished and the rural bourgeois or middle class—the Kulak class—was physically removed or eliminated. Soviet policy, especially in the form of the National Economic Plans (NEP) and subsequent five-year plans, was little more than ‘a cover for a war against the peasants—some of whom were killed, others deported, and still others locked up in the huge farms under the auspices of the Party—Kolkhozes and Sovkozes’, (Furet, 1999: 144). In 1932, for example, a politically inspired and enforced famine was created in the Ukraine to destroy the peasants. Between 5 and 6 million people died in the Ukrainian operations (Furet, 1999: 145-6; see, too, Conquest, 1968).

The major policy tools implemented to bring about this de-peasantization were the mass collectivization of Soviet agriculture, the expropriation of land, the creation of massive state land reserves, the imposition of confiscatory taxes on farmers, and commodity prices well below cost. More specifically, the Soviet model of rural reconstruction relied heavily on the establishment of the kolkhozes, or collective farms, which were to be transitional institutions from private farming to the ultimate model of Soviet agrarian collectivization, the sovkhoze, or the state farm. However, by 1950 all-Union policy came to favour larger units and smaller cooperative farms were merged into bigger ones. The results of consolidation were felt immediately and these had some profound impacts upon the spatial organization of rural life. As Raun has observed of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, ‘from a peak of over 3,000 [kolkhozes] at the beginning of 1950, the number of collective farms declined rapidly to 1,137 by the end of 1951 and further to 1,018 by the end of 1952. At the later date they were divided into 934 agricultural kolkhozes and 84 fishing kolkhozes’ (1991: 180). Additional collectivization finally slowed toward the end of the Stalinist era.

Collective farms operated in an environment defined by state controlled central planning mandates, edicts and production goals. Alanen, citing the work of Clarke, has written that ‘the Soviet system was basically a variant of a barter economy: exchange, investments in production, etc. were the result of a complicated negotiation system rather than a straightforward command structure. Production goals were nevertheless assigned from above (the Politburo and central planning ministries) down to the bottom, where production plants like kolkhozes and sovkhozes were located’ (2001a: 129).

The Khrushchev era of Soviet leadership brought a number of important changes to farm life and rural policy throughout the Union. Levels of state interference were reduced, and collective farms could now purchase their own machinery, a move which brought about increases in farm productivity. Khrushchev also ordered the dismantling of some of the larger kolkhozes, though a number were transformed into state farms, or sovkhozes, which were coming to play an ever larger role in all-Union agriculture. With the relaxation in some areas of agricultural policy, small-plot private farming soon emerged and compulsory deliveries from such plots, as well as the high taxes placed upon them, were largely eliminated in 1959. What emerged in the kolkhozes was a symbiotic relationship between large-scale farming with small-scale plot agriculture. According to Alanen:

this symbiotic relationship, which was complementary and economically beneficial to both parties, had originally developed spontaneously during the post-Stalin era. It arose from the inability of the Soviet government and Soviet farms to control the co-operation between private plot farmers and tractor operators, but later kolkhoz leaders, and Soviet leaders more widely, came to realise its obvious advantages, and developed the system further with their own goals in mind. (Alanen, 2001: 133; 2001)

The obvious result of all of this, beyond an underperforming agricultural sector, was that ‘rural living standards suffered accordingly, agricultural workers became second-class citizens denied the legal rights of town dwellers, and they were poorly remunerated for their work in the collectives’ (Pallot, 1988: 120). A more subtle though no less transforming effect was the realignment of territory and rural space throughout the countryside in the USSR. The kolkhoz, or the collective farm, was rarely a farm. Rather it was a grouping of farms and villages linked together under a centralized administrative structure. This permitted authorities to begin the consolidation of living space and service units as they sought to achieve certain economies-of-scale in the provision of physical infrastructure and other improvements. Places termed ‘non-viable areas’ were simply slated to disappear. Adopting something akin to the notion of the ‘key settlements’ approach (see, generally, Cloke, 1983), which would also find favour in British and American planning circles, Soviet planners sought to consolidate rural institutions, concentrate resources and investments only in community centres that would anchor a number of interconnected settlements, and permit a more ‘rational’ approach to land utilization and community lay-out. But as Pallot has pointed out, in many regions of the Soviet Union the ‘lack of funds meant that village concentration never progressed beyond the planning stage…’ (Pallot, 1988: 126-7). The practical effect and impact of consolidation and the overall poor prospects of those who lived and worked in rural areas was that people, especially the young, left the Soviet countryside in droves. Nove indicates that ‘a lack of amenities had led to the out-migration of younger and more skilled peasants’ (Nove, 1990: 264). This in turn led to an endemic shortage of agriculture labour which required that soldiers and ‘voluntary’ brigades of students leave the towns for the countryside when harvests had to be brought in.

Some socialist countries, most especially Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, experimented with alternatives to the collectivist model of agricultural production. China, however, also sought alternatives to the Soviet model which it adopted after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. With the ‘Great Leap Forward’ programme in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the commune system was fully established, private property was all but abolished, agricultural prices were kept artificially low through very tight ‘command and control’ mechanisms and plans, and grain self-sufficiency was pushed at nearly all costs. The ‘cultural revolution’ spread havoc across the countryside with the majority of China’s farmers operating at a semi-subsistence level. By 1979 and the restoration of some degree of order drastic and significant changes occurred throughout the Chinese rural sector. Decollectivization became the norm with a return to family farming, agricultural prices were allowed to rise, internal trade restrictions on farm produce were relaxed and productivity increased markedly in grain, livestock and horticultural products. Rural incomes also increased, though not nearly as rapidly as incomes in urban and industrial areas (see, generally, Putterman, 1993). Productivity on the farm continued to rise, largely as a consequence of the adoption at the farm-level of new technologies, all the while migration from the countryside to the cities was also increasing. This led to substantial regional disparities between China’s urban centres -largely in the coastal provinces and the ‘special development zones’ of southern and eastern China—and the huge rural hinterlands of interior China. These divisions appear to be growing, and closing the income gap and narrowing the regional disparities continue to be major objectives of Chinese domestic policy (Liu, 2001; Tian, 1999).

It is perhaps one of the great ironies of the Soviet model of the socialist reconstruction of the countryside that it actually adopted as its model, its sine qua non, the American system of mass production, the industrialization of agriculture.

The Rural Planning System in the Modern State

The years after the Second World War ushered in the ‘Cold War’ in its many manifestations. As previously noted, agricultural policy and much of what passed for rural policy were often coterminous. In the West—democratic Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and North America -rural planning was often driven by programmes to foster food production to meet domestic needs. Often cloaked in the rhetoric of self-sufficiency and a renewed enthusiasm for the ‘rural idyll’ after the horror and chaos of world war and genocide, domestic food production at all costs became the hallmark of much of the thinking about rural areas (on the rural idyll, see, generally, Bunce, 1994). Along with this came a strong impulse toward protectionist policies to buttress domestic agriculture. This policy paradigm, what Marsden and his colleagues have called the ‘productivist regime’, defined agricultural policy specifically and rural policy more generally (Marsden et al., 1993). In much of Europe, this policy objective, which had implications for land-use policy, has remained largely intact even with the accession of nations into the Common Market/European Economic Community and the development of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Simultaneous with this thrust in agricultural policy was the emergence of various planning regimes which brought greater focus to economic growth, land use and natural resources/ environmental policy. In part a result of wartime mobilization and public sector spending to induce rapid industrialization, this new burst of activity was also derivative of a growing recognition across market-based societies that ‘modern industrial society requires public intervention to achieve national goals; assumes that such intervention must touch all fundamental social developments; must be goal-oriented, and effectively coordinated at the center; must be anticipatory rather than characterized by ad hoc solutions and timing dictated by crisis’ (Graham, 1976: xii-xiii). In the 1950s, France, for example, established its General Planning Commission (Commissarariat General au Plan) which issued a number of four-year national development plans. The Netherlands created a country-wide econometric model to guide growth and development, while the first social democratic government of newly democratized Japan issued a highly detailed set of national economic projections to guide reconstruction and industrial and spatial development. Even on the international level several new institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were founded to provide some degree of planned guidance in the realms of trade and fiscal policy. The rural sectors in both developed and developing economies were directly and indirectly effected by this new emphasis on public intervention in markets. It is also worth noting that these periods of interventionist and place-based rural programming have often been followed by a re-emergence of non-interventionist policies, which championed the marketplace and the efficacy of labour and capital mobility. Reviews of national rural planning systems in the United Kingdom and the United States will demonstrate these points.

The full range and nature of the rural planning regime in the UK has been well described and assessed by Gilg (1978). He, amongst others, places particular emphasis upon the importance of the 1947 Town and Countryside Planning Act as the defining statutory authority for the British rural planning system. Cloke concurs with this evaluation and calls the 1947 Act the ‘midwife to the organization of radical post-war planning in Britain’ (1989: 24).’ In essence the act created a system of restrictive controls which sought to achieve national objectives and goals within the framework of a nationally guided but locally operated and enforced system of land-use regulation.

The 1947 Act was subsequently amended a number of times and when one also considers the Local Government Acts of 1972 and 1974 -which altered the nature of local governance throughout the country—the UK had what Gilg has called ‘the most comprehensive piece of land-use legislation in the world’. This regime ‘gave land-use planners one major weapon—the power through regulation control to permit, impose conditions, or refuse applications for countryside developments, except most of those involved with agriculture and forestry’ (1978: 116). Along with the 1947 Act, the UK also passed into law the Distribution of Industry Act of 1945, the New Towns Planning Act of 1946, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949 and the Town Development Act of 1952. The Parks law additionally led to the establishment in 1968 of the Countryside Commission, the successor to the National Parks Commission, which had been an advocate for the national parks system, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs), rural footpaths and a particular conceptualization of the rural UK which had emphasized the leisurely, scenic and recreational values of the countryside. It has also been the source of considerable support for the Countryside Acts of the mid-1960s. Taken together this ‘remarkable burst of legislative activity’, as Peter Hall has called this period, established much of the contemporary planning regime in the UK (1992: 71).

As the century wore on, however, the needs of rural areas were downplayed as the ‘crisis of the inner cities’ came to dominate discussion and policy-making. Perhaps the death-knell for regional and rural development policy came with the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. Higgins and Savoie report that one of her key ministers quipped that a major achievement of the Thatcher years was ‘to bring regional development in Britain to an end and to stop all the nonsense’ (Sir Alan Walters, quoted in Higgins and Savoie, 1977: 265). While some rural areas benefited throughout these years, it was the nation’s urban areas which received the greatest attention in addition to the larger macro-economic problems confronting the UK.

Perhaps the most far-sighted aspect of the planning system in Britain was the collectivization or nationalization of development rights. This codified the notion that community rights superseded those of the individual land owner. Additionally, a ‘betterment’ levy was implemented. Any increase in land values as a result of development was defined as ‘the betterment value’ and was now subject to a tax. The rationale for this was clear. As Cullingworth has described it, ‘all betterment was created by the community, and it was unreal and undesirable (as well as virtually impossible) to distinguish between values created, for example, by particular planning schemes, and those due to other factors such as the general activities of the community or the general level of prosperity’(1985: 173).

In subsequent years a number of changes and amendments to the planning system were made. Indeed, the national planning systems established under the 1947 Act was becoming somewhat fragmented when, in 1974, Scotland assumed responsibility for planning in its territory and Wales achieved similar status and responsibility in 1996 (Alden, 2001). But for the UK, as with much of Western and Southern Europe, the CAP continued to be an important structural reality, largely because it persisted in stimulating agricultural over-production and high surplus food storage costs. The government attempted, in the mid-1980s, to take steps to reduce surpluses by implementing a package of programmes known as ALURE, which stood for Alternative Land Use and Rural Enterprise policies. This allowed for the delineation of environmentally sensitive areas with compensation to the farmer, a wood lots programme to take agricultural land out of production through increased afforestation, and by making it easier to convert farmland into urban uses by easing planning requirements and restraints (MAFF, 1987). Of these programmes it was the designation of environmentally sensitive areas and their removal from agricultural production uses which proved to be the most popular. Whitby and Adger note of it that ‘[t]he uptake of the agreement offered was remarkably rapid, reflecting some combination of the farmers’ enthusiasm for the objectives of the policy, the level of payments offered to those complying, ease of compliance with scheme prescriptions and the individual farmer’s view of future levels of price and income’ (1993: 69).

In 1985 the government made another change in that it permitted the agricultural ministry to use its budget to support environmental projects not directly linked to production. This was a harbinger of the growing influence and power of emerging interest groups, some of whom were settling in rural areas as part of a modest national trend toward counter-urbanization, along with the well-established rural Tory elite (Cloke, 1985). They tended to see the English countryside not solely as the locus of food and forest products production but also as the generator of prized environmental and leisure amenities. On balance, however, little really changed and the thrust of state policy remained focused on the provision and enhancement of the necessary infrastructure to support agricultural development (Cloke and White, 1990: 57). Writing in 2003, Terry Marsden concluded that despite over fifteen years of debate and policy crisis concerning the ‘arthritic’ nature of productionist support mechanisms within the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and the need to shift the emphasis towards a new social and environmental agenda, it is still the case that the main pillar of the CAP remains in this area in terms of funding. Moreover, it still tends to reinforce the logic of agricultural productivist scale economies by rewarding the largest volume producers, as well as ‘locking in’ many of the less productive producers and those least able to meet the demands such policy-designed ‘technological treadmills’ require. (2003: 19)

Robinson has concluded that the British experience with rural planning has been ‘piecemeal’ and ‘lacking focus’ (1990: 402). Yet Cloke maintains that by adopting a key settlements policy, which concentrated resources into growth centres, Britain generally avoided rural sprawl while successfully providing many of the necessary services for those living in villages and across the countryside (1988: 93). He further notes that rural planning in the UK has been defined by two seemingly contradictory impulses. As he writes: ‘almost regardless of which government has been in power, land-use planning has been used to strengthen the economic and political power of development interests’. Yet at the very same time he finds that the planning system also has an ‘enduring commitment to long-term conservation’ (Cloke, 1989: 43). This seeming paradox or tension perhaps was most apparent in the ongoing battles over development within the country’s green belts and came into its clearest focus during the ‘appeals-led period’ of the Thatcher years when developers made a number of successful appeals to the various Secretaries of State, who have overall operational authority over the British planning system, and who routinely overturned the judgements of local authorities on land use matters to support development at odds with local policies (Tewdwr-Jones, 1996). These tensions are but part of the larger differentiation in the ways that various interest groups, actors and governments understand and conceive of the UK’s rural landscape.

‘The essential features of the English planning system are… in many ways little changed from those introduced over 50 years ago with the passage of the 1947 Act’, as Baker (2000: 163) has observed. And while the Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions has issued a number of planning policy guidelines (PPGs) and regional planning guidelines (RPGs) over the years, the spatial focus of powers and responsibilities for the rural areas of the UK remain essentially focused at the national and local levels through structural plans at the county level and discretionary plans at the local level.

In the United States the rural landscape was permanently modified by at least one significant Cold War policy imperative. During the Eisenhower administration of the 1950s massive federal support went into the development of a country-wide interstate highway system—known as the National Defense Highway System -which was seen as a means both to decentralize defence production and installations and to provide for the rapid movement of armaments, goods and people across the entire nation. As America’s railroad system began to be replaced by trucking as the primary means for the transport of goods, the interstate highway system continued to grow and criss-crossed the country. Fortunate was the rural community with a highway interchange on the interstate system. Many towns and hinterland areas bypassed by the new transportation network simply went into decline. Those places attached to or located near the road network often experienced the reorientation of local land use patterns away from their central business districts or downtowns to the highway interchanges where strip development and sprawl soon came to define the landscape. In subsequent years the rise of ‘big box’ retailers, epitomized by Wal-Mart, sealed the fate of many downtowns and service centres. This may well have been one of the proverbial ‘unintended consequences of policy’. With hindsight it now seems astounding that policy-makers seemed almost unaware that public infrastructure investments, like the interstate highway system, would not have such profound land use and community development implications. The American land-use planning system, such as it was, proved largely ineffective in controlling or containing this transformation (Lapping, 1992: 231).

In time the interstate highway system sought to bypass busy metropolitan areas and a system of circumferential roads was built around them, most at the same scale as the interstates themselves. This brought many hitherto rural places within the ‘commuting shed’ of major cities and fed counter-urbanization pressures. This led to making communities and land within the rural-urban fringe among the most contested in America (see Furuseth and Lapping, 1999). What Murdoch and his colleagues wrote about the UK is likewise an accurate characterization of the nature of contestation in the United States: these areas ‘lie outside the main commuter zones. Here local agricultural, commercial and development interests may be politically dominant and these interests will tend to favour development for local needs. However, these traditional development interests are increasingly opposed by “incomers” who may be middle-class workers or retirees attracted to the area because of its residential environment. Thus the development process is marked by increasing conflict between old and new groups, but with no single interest attaining dominance…’ (Murdoch et al., 2003: 13).

Additionally the US federal taxation system provided handsome subsidies for home ownership as opposed to renting and further favoured new construction over renovation and rehabilitation. Taken together these investments and subsidies had the effect of making America a rapidly suburbanizing country, one in which both cities and rural areas were consistently losing population, housing, retail activity and jobs to the suburbs. By 2000 the United States had become, according to the national census of population, a suburban nation.

Unlike the British system, and those operative in most other advanced economies, the American federal or national presence in planning has historically been indirect. Indeed from 1968 to 1976 annual efforts to pass a National Land Use Policy Act failed to garner enough congressional support to become law. Planning authority, then, has traditionally been a local responsibility operating within a national ideological framework that has sought to minimize the role of government intervention and to maximize market-based initiatives and solutions to problems.

Having said this the federal government did provide some of the necessary legal infrastructure and resources to promote rural land-use planning. Again, during the Eisenhower years planning programmes received an enormous boost with the 1954 amendments to the federal 1949 Housing Act. Known as the ‘Section 701’ programme, the federal government provided matching funds to state and local governments to assist them in establishing and staffing local and regional planning commissions (Graham, 1976: 124, 162). Many of these were located in rural areas and regions.

As the federal government began to disburse more funding to locales through numerous programmes, a ‘grants economy’ began to emerge wherein local and regional bureaucracies competed with one another for such funding. The federal government refused to take responsibility for vetting which applications ought to receive priority for limited funding. It published ‘Circular A-95’, also a part of the ‘Section 701’ system, charging each state with naming an agency that would evaluate and recommend grant applications according to some priority ranking. Indirectly this seemingly bureaucratic rule had the practical effect of pushing a number of states to create or enhance state planning offices with the responsibility to plan, coordinate, review and rank applications, among other functions. Some of these offices, like Vermont’s, took the then bold step of establishing rudimentary statewide land use and growth management strategies and plans (Lapping, 1973).

The federal government created much of the legal and policy context within which the states operated. This framework was defined by a set of new environmental laws, the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, the Air Quality Act of 1967, the 1972 and 1977 amendments to the Clean Water Act, the Forest and Rangeland Renewal Resources Act of 1974, the National Forest Management Act of 1976 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 (see, for example, Pyle, 1999). A number of these federal laws concerned themselves with the planning and management of public lands in the federal or national domain. The size of these holdings is especially significant in the American West. In the state of Nevada, for example, fully 90 per cent of all land is federally owned and managed by branches of the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of the Interior. New management and planning regimes for such lands have had important implications for rural communities dependent upon ranching, mining, forestry and tourism. These programmes were not greeted with universal enthusiasm by all Westerners and a movement against planning and federal ownership emerged known as the ‘Sagebrush Rebellion’. It had the tacit support of President Ronald Reagan, himself strongly identified with Western and antigovernment interests and the movement to privatize federally owned natural resources. In time this movement morphed into the ‘Wise Use’ movement which continues to be active across the landscape (Jacobs, 1998). Overall, however, these federal policies and mandates reflected the growing strength of the environmental movement in the United States and the beginning of the ‘greening’ of rural and wild lands planning and policy (Lapping et al., 1989).

During the 1960s and 1970s important if oftentimes subtle changes within the local planning framework emerged, perhaps to alter forever how Americans understood the land and the countryside. Bosselman and Callies (1972) have called this period ‘the quiet revolution in land use control’. Popper saw it as a burst of imaginative ‘land-use reform’. This movement, which focused its critique on the limitations of local planning processes, ‘succeeded in obtaining the passage of a great deal of innovative land-use legislation embodied in new programs of centralized regulation. Most of these programs are administered at the state level…’ (1981: 3). Areas of critical or unique environmental concern, such as the California coast and the San Francisco Bay, New York’s Adirondack Mountain region, Massachusetts’s Martha’s Vineyard island and New Jersey’s Pine Barrens and the Hackensack Meadowlands, were among these pioneering or ‘quiet revolution’ planning innovations. In each case an extra-local planning authority was created to address specific land use issues with an eye toward protecting fragile environmental resources and attempting to balance economic development with emerging environmental priorities. Likewise projects of regional rather than purely local scale, such as the siting of major infrastructure facilities like waste management and disposal facilities, and especially the protection of agricultural lands, also came in for particular attention in many of these new planning systems. Yet if much of the experimentation with new land use planning and guidance systems was to be found at the state level, it was not true that all states were equally involved in the ‘quiet revolution’. Among those jurisdictions whose programmes have garnered the most attention are Vermont, Oregon, Florida, California, New York, New Jersey and Maine (Daniels et al., 1989; DeGrove, 1984; Healy and Rosenberg, 1979; Linowes and Allensworth, 1975; Popper, 1984; Rosenbaum, 1976).

No single issue quite defines the nature of rural planning practice in the United States to the degree that the preservation of agricultural land does. Indeed, protecting farmland appears to be a substantial planning effort in many developed nations, as Rachelle Alterman’s (1997) recently published comparative study of farmland retention strategies in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and Israel reveals.

Those who seek to preserve farmland come to the issue from many different perspectives though in some important ways the problem has also become closely identified with the strong desire ‘to save the family farm’ in the face of the rapid and widespread consolidation and industrialization of the American food system (Heffernan et al., 1999; Ikerd, 1995). (The family farm has been an important consideration in the European discourse on agriculture as well, see Peterson, 1986). The extent of farm land loss has itself been a matter of considerable debate. The National Agricultural Lands Study of 1981 -carried out jointly by the Pressident’s Council on Environmental Quality and the US Department of Agriculture—studied the problem intensively and came to the conclusion that between the years 1967 and 1975 approximately 1.2 million hectares of farmland was taken out of production annually due to retirement, urbanization, infrastructure development, and other factors (Daniels et al., 1989: 164). Immediately the study’s findings were attacked, even by economists with the USDA, which helped to sponsor and staff the study commission (Fischel, 1985; Gustafson and Bills, 1984; Simon and Sudman, 1982). Opposition to NALS and the emerging farmland preservation movement contended that increased productivity per acre, due to the adoption of new technologies and better farming techniques, made the loss of land largely irrelevant. In the aggregate, they argued, production was increasing and that, rather than the amount of land in production or the number of farms, was the crucial thing to assess (Bromley, 1991).

It was on the local and regional level, however, that the loss of farmland was perceived to be a substantial issue and it was here that policies were adopted to stem the tide of farmland loss. Literally every state has implemented some programme(s) to respond to the problem. A number of states and many local governments have adopted land use controls on development in the countryside. These measures have included the creation of agricultural districts, the establishment of agricultural zones within more robust zoning and planning systems, the review of public infrastructure investments to determine their growth-inducing potential, incentives for cluster housing, and similar measures. Every state, however, has sought to address the problem of the economics of land conversion, as Alterman notes, or the economics of agriculture itself (1997: 222; Lapping and FitzSimmons, 1982). Thus, all states have adopted some form of differential or preferential land taxation for farmland and most have implemented some form of a right-to-farm law in an effort to protect farmers from the sorts of lawsuits which non-farm rural residents have used to curb legitimate agricultural activities (Lapping and Leutweiler, 1988). Additionally, many states and local jurisdictions have created programmes to transfer or purchase the development rights or obtain conservation easements on agricultural land which lower tax assessments, reduce the costs of operation, provide farmers with capital for investment and retain land in permanent agricultural and open space uses (Pfeffer and Lapping, 1994). A growing number of states are seeking to give further help by providing subsidies for on-farm infrastructure investments to control pollution, direct support for diversification efforts, and a variety of marketing initiatives, including direct-marketing programmes to consumers (the most comprehensive treatments of measures used to protect farming in the United States are to be found in American Farmland Trust, 1997; Daniels and Bowers, 1997).

The farmland preservation problem is really many different problems and varies greatly from place to place. This reflects the diversity of interests within the rural planning mix. Some retention policies are oriented to enhancing the economic viability of agriculture in general. These have tended to find their greatest support among those in the farming community, the agribusiness sector and traditional small town America. Here most of the issues relate to the changing structure of agriculture, chronically low prices, marketing and trade. There is little competition from other potential land uses and so land use controls are seldom seen as necessary. Federal policies have been as important in such places as have local ones.

Others policies seem to be more appropriate for land in rural-urban fringe areas where the preservation of open space and the countryside as an amenity tends to define the planning framework as much as the desire to secure local or regional agricultural economies. The emphasis in such areas has tended to focus on growth controls, preventing rural sprawl, and securing land in permanent agricultural use. Economic viability also is an on-going concern and it is within these communities that support for niche marketing, organic production and direct marketing to consumers, as in farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture agreements, are common public policy objectives (Hinrichs, 2000: 16). Land use policy is the overriding planning framework. Others tend to support agricultural land preservation because of a deep concern over the loss of wildlife habitat and the other environmental benefits and services which farming produces. Here land planning is crucial and it is carried out both by local and state governments and, increasingly, also by private land trust organizations which increasingly acquire and manage land for biodiversity. And still other measures reflect the desire among urban consumers for the continuation of a cheap food policy. The larger point is that farmland retention programmes, the single most common rural planning policies implemented across the United States, are derivative of the many different and sometimes conflicting interests that seek to ‘drive’ rural planning.


Over the past half-century or so the landscape and political economy of rural planning and policy demonstrate an amazing consistency and lack of imagination in terms of their focus and orientation. In many national and international contexts an emphasis on agriculture as the rural persists. Even in the face of rapidly changing demographic, social, environmental and economic realities, policy frameworks all around the world continue to emphasize agriculture as the key sector for rural regions. As Thomas Rowley (2003), a research scholar with the University of Missouri’s Rural Policy Research Institute, has observed of the American situation:

policymakers continue to believe, or at least act as if they believe, that farming is the sum total of rural life, Therefore, policies aimed at supporting agriculture are touted as ‘rural economic and community development’ when in truth their effect on the larger economy and community is minimal. Yes they help, but most of the benefit goes to landowners (many of whom neither farm nor even live in the area) and many of the dollars head straight off the land, past the town, and out of the area, never to be seen again.

The situation is little different in the sprawling and highly diverse European Union. As Marsden has observed:

despite fifteen years of debate and policy crisis concerning the ‘arthritic’ nature of the productionist support mechanisms within the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and the need to shift the emphasis towards new social and environmental agenda, it is still the case that the main pillar of the CAP remains in this area in terms of funding. Moreover, it still tends to reinforce the logic of agricultural productivist scale economics by rewarding the largest volume producers, as well as ‘locking in’ many of the less productive producers and those least able to meet the demands such policy-designed ‘technological treadmills’ require. (2003: 19)

Reform of this policy model of rural development—the ‘agriculture-as-rural’ ‘productivist’ system—has been slow and halting and remains largely intact. Indeed, farm sector supports, domestic subsidies and import duties in mature economies not only pose significant problems for the rural sectors within the countries where these measures have long been implemented, but have now become a very real impediment for the development of ‘third world’ nations in that they are a barrier to trade in food commodities, their primary exports. In response to a strongly worded request from several developing nations—India, China and Brazil amongst them—for drastic cuts in such farm supports, the EU Farm Commissioner Frans Fischler declared that the ‘third world’ nations were ‘circling in a different orbit. If they want to do business, they should come back to earth’ (Miller and Newman, 2003: A7). In other words, a change in the dominant EU model is highly unlikely.

Change at the far margins is taking place, however, even if the pace is slow, halting and lacking in substantial financial support. The CAP in one form or another has been in place since 1962. Faced with growing demands for a more broadly based, nuanced and sustainable approach to rural development, the EU instituted a ‘Second Pillar’ of the CAP known as Agenda 2000′. The major element of it has been the Rural Development Regulation (RDR) which provides member states with a broad selection of strategies and tools from which each country can choose to meet its own unique and idiosyncratic conditions. To date both France and the UK have chosen comprehensive rural development plans to meet the diverse needs of their rural areas and places. In the case of the UK this has happened simultaneously with some other changes, such as the renaming of the Ministry of Agriculture as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Development. The approach, which the UK has selected under the terms of ‘Agenda 2000’, known as the Rural White Paper and the English Rural Development Programme, places a new focus on the revival of rural market towns, rural tourism and development, rural business and enterprise creation and a set of environmental objectives for the agricultural community to achieve as part of its operations. Yet John Bryden argues that while Agenda 2000′ has promoted some new thinking about a more robust rural development strategy, ‘it has turned out to be almost entirely composed of measures for farmers, and little concerned about the rest of the rural population (the majority), enterprises, and diversification. The mid-term review of the CAP (July, 2002) mentions rural development, but the proposals turn out to be focused almost entirely on agri-environmental measures’ (2002: 3). Marsden is just as critical of the new rules. As he writes, ‘the recent policy reforms under Agenda 2000, in addition to the new rural development regulation, expose a policy framework which will do little to shift the basic philosophy beyond its bias towards the industrial model’ (2003: 23).

Even in the face of some new and more localized programmes to support rural areas, such as the LEADER I and II programmes adopted by the European Commission to stimulate innovative solutions to rural problems (Jouen, 2001), renewed attempts by the EU to foster greater regional planning through spatial planning and redistribution and an ‘endogenous development agenda’ dependent on networking and local initiatives through the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) and similar initiatives (Faludi, 2001), or the initiative of the state of Texas (USA), which recently established an Office of Rural and Community Affairs (ORCA), both to split rural development from agriculture and to more effectively coordinate services and support for rural communities, rural planning and policy around the globe seems to remain fixed in its commitments.

These biases include a focus on the regional over the local, an agricultural-productivist paradigm, a reliance upon scale-economics within a neo-classical framework of analysis, a dependence on the provision of physical infrastructure and mega-projects to generate employment and capital and labour mobility, a fundamental disregard for indigenous peoples living in the rural periphery, and a fragmented and poorly coordinated service delivery environment together with out-dated governance systems. Together these elements consistently expose their own internal contradictions and move us only slightly closer to a model and a reality of genuine rural sustainability (Audriac, 1997; Williams, 2001).