Do people leave when the wells go dry? An interdisciplinary model of environmental change and local development
Laszlo J. Kulcsar, Kansas State University
Rural depopulation has been the dominant demographic trend for agricultural regions in the United States for a long time. Farm consolidation and mechanization resulted in requiring fewer laborers, and agricultural dependence slowly displaced other industries providing employment. Modern migration to the cities has been going on since the 1950s. Yet, despite these trends, some rural places were able to turn their declining population trends around by aggressively extracting natural resources and developing value added industries. Such fortunes, however, last only until the natural resource is available. This paper discusses various scenarios of community development, natural resource use and their impact on population trends in the American Great Plains, using irrigation agriculture and meat processing in semi-arid Southwest Kansas as the case study. It utilizes a unique interdisciplinary framework, in which separate models of various dynamic components of the big picture (such as groundwater, agronomy, economics and demography) are put together to make an experimental assessment of future population trends. This paper discusses not only the scenarios and the results, but also the theoretical and methodological challenges of linking population models to environmental change, particularly in an interdisciplinary context.