The traditional economic base in rural areas globally is agriculture. Not surprisingly, in the minds of both the public and policy makers, the farm sector tends to be viewed as the lead generator of rural development across nations. Policy directed to agriculture has historically been synonymous with rural development policy in the United States (Browne et al. 1992), as well as most other nations (Barrett et al. 2010). In the US case, this sectoral approach to rural development persists even though less than 5 percent of rural Americans live on farms (Lobao and Meyer 2004, p._14). Researchers have long leveled the criticism that agricultural policy remains the de facto US rural development policy, with the result that rural elites (in other words, farm owners) are the major beneficiaries as opposed to the vast majority of rural people (Browne et al. 1992; Irwin et al. 2010; Lobao and Meyer 2004). In this chapter, we examine the manner by which agriculture has been studied as a sector generating rural development. By ‘agriculture’, we refer to and focus on the farm sector of the food and fiber industry. By ‘rural development’ we refer to a package of indicators of populations’ well-being, focusing particularly on socio-economic conditions. By the latter we include standard indicators of economic development as measured by economic performance such as aggregate income and employment; and a broader range of indicators on the distribution of material well-being, such as poverty rates and income inequality.
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