Few Americans appreciate the extraordinary efforts needed each year to purchase seed and fertilizer, to maintain farm machinery and livestock, to plant and nurture and harvest crops in the face of brutal and unpredictable natural forces. Nor do most understand the stress created by the shifting economics of global agricultural markets.
A once stable and productive segment of society is breaking apart. Kathy and Marlin Langner of Dickens, Iowa, told me that people are being uprooted from their land, young people are fleeing in large numbers and once valued members of society are being labeled ''surplus people.'' Three of their neighbors have gone to other states and now drive a truck, sell insurance and work in a packing plant.