More and more residents of rural America are working in industries outside of agriculture, a new report concludes.

According to an analysis from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange and the University of Missouri, the share of agricultural employment in non-metro counties fell 8.9% between 1970 and 2019, a factor they attribute to “increasingly diverse employment opportunities as commuting expands and industry sectors evolve.”

The loss of jobs directly tied to production agriculture has been filled by a growth in service jobs, including retail, restaurants and health care positions, which grew by 17 percentage points over the time period.

“This increase in service sector jobs brought employment opportunities for lower-skilled workers, in retail and restaurants for example, but also the need for higher-skilled jobs in health care, business operations, information technology, and finance,” the report said. “Many of these jobs offered higher, stable pay for farmers/ranchers and, in turn, became their primary source of income.”

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Broader job trends show those counties are growing in occupational diversity, but the report notes “geography and natural resources play a role in how nonmetro regions have evolved.” 

The report also found off-farm income is becoming increasingly important for farms and ranches; supplemental income was a contributing factor for the alternative employment, but more reliable health care benefits also were key. According to the report, 82% of farm household income comes from off-farm sources.

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