Rural areas in the U.S. are now feeling the profound effects of mounting gas prices, more so than in other parts of the country, due to the combination of lower incomes and heavier dependence on farming equipment, tractors, pickup trucks and vans. In addition to other trends (gasoline theft, buying less meat, switching jobs for a shorter commute), the dilemma has led some farmers to turn to less energy-intensive forms of tilling land – or in a word, mules.
According to a recent survey by the Oil Price Information Service, Americans typically spend 4 percent of their after-tax income on gasoline. In rural areas however, such as the counties in the Mississippi Delta, families may spend up to 13 percent on fuel. It is a disparity that may not be so apparent in the Northeastern states, where families generally earn more, drive shorter distances or have better access to public transportation.Benefits of Mule Power
But with gas approaching $4 a gallon, T.R. and Danny Raymond, two farmers on a 40-acre farm in McMinnville, Tennessee, have now switched over by modifying their equipment to shift the weight equally between two mules. Though training the animals to pull the equipment is initially time-consuming, the substitution has meant that the Raymonds save $60 a day on fuel.
"They just eat hay and a little sweet feed, a little shell corn," T.R. Raymond says of his mules. "You gotta rub around on them and talk to them, stay acquainted with them, where they know you."
Of course, the Raymonds are not the only ones now falling back on good, old resourcefulness. "There's a lot of mule power around here," says T.R. Raymond. "When you get to where you can't afford the gas, you hook the mules up."
::NPR (with audio interview)
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