Ray Suarez: Sioux Center, Iowa, and the Ins and Outs of ‘Tractor Country’

BY Ray Suarez  December 9, 2009 at 9:00 PM EST

This Iowa town of just under 7,000 people has weathered the recession well, so far. Food prices spiked higher in the last few years, providing a steady income stream to the farmers of Iowa’s northwest corner. Government support for ethanol production also spurred demand for corn, one of the main crops in this part of the state.

But this visit to what Patchwork Nation’s map calls “Tractor Country” was a reminder that good times for some are not good times for all: as corn prices climbed higher in recent years, other farmers who buy corn and corn-derived feed to feed their cows and pigs had a tough time managing their production costs. Some pig farms closed, others cut back on production. Milk cows became expendable, as they got more expensive to feed even as pressed consumers were turning away from expensive milk products.

One interesting side note: the mayor of Sioux Center told me he’d consider it a big success if he could keep 50 percent of the kids who gradate from the local high school in or near town over the long run. Right now, maybe 3 of 10 remain in town, and more and more of the hard work in Sioux Center is getting done by Mexican immigrants, now 15 percent of the population in what still is the place with the most Dutch Americans in all 50 states.

*Editor’s Note: You can watch a Web-only video on how some farmers in Sioux Center managed to keep debt down by watching their balance sheets here*.