Farmland auctions in Iowa now resemble a dressed-down spectator sport with Sotheby's prices, a reflection of the yawning divide that has opened in some of the most bountiful stretches of rural America, Bloomberg reports.
Farm earnings in the state and throughout the U.S. increased at eight times the rate of nonfarm wages from 2008 to 2011, fueling resentment and straining the social fabric of places with deep egalitarian roots.
"Iowa had had historically low levels of inequality, but now it is skyrocketing," said David Peters, a sociologist at Iowa State University in Ames who specializes in income disparity. "Today you have far fewer farmers and a small number earning larger and larger incomes. It doesn't spread through the economy like it used to."
Booming worldwide demand for grain has showered wealth on farmers by tripling Iowa land values in the past decade and setting them up for record profits this year, even in the face of the nation's worst drought in more than half a century, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects.
Land that had long produced boxcars full of corn and soybeans is now yielding a new crop: locally grown millionaires. In doing so, it has brought to the nation's rural areas the kind of income divide that had long been the province of urban America.