Iowa Public Television

 

Farming Today Still Impacted by the Farm Crisis

posted on October 10, 2013


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This segment is part of the The Farm Crisis documentary, which examines the tragic circumstances faced by farmers for most of the 1980s, when thousands were forced into bankruptcy, land values dropped by one-third nationally, and sky-high interest rates turned successes into failures seemingly overnight. 

So what do current conditions mean for today's farmers?  Some experts say farmers are much less leveraged.  And as fate would have it, agriculture helped lead the nation back from the economic abyss during the latest recovery as farm exports, commodity prices and net farm income all soared to record highs.  Rural land values also have climbed to unprecedented levels in recent years, fueling talk of bubbles and prompting some to wonder if history will repeat itself.

Neil Harl: We don't know whether it may occur in 2020, 2030, 2040 or earlier.  But it's likely to happen again when people forget the lessons learned in the 1980s.  Now, right now, agriculture is doing very well.  But I do urge everyone in the agriculture sector to think twice and to run in their business plans a worst case scenario, not just a best case scenario.

Kristin Hagedorn: And I think that particularly when you're dealing with situations like this it isn't just somebody losing their job or losing a business, this was a whole, it was whole families that were involved and it was, you know, generations of families that were involved.  And I think that's important not to lose sight of.

Mark Pearson: You can't borrow your way to prosperity.  The markets are going to change.  And you have to be diversified.  You have to be able to have, you have to have cash but you need to keep debt low and not high and not overleveraged and I think that has been the big lesson of the 1980s.  What we need to have on an ongoing basis is an ability to compete in the world.  If you give the American farmer the chance to compete in the world he'll take on everybody.

Farming is cyclical and often unpredictable.  Ask any farmer, big or small, about their job and they will talk of flooding and drought, rising costs and fickle markets.  Yet most farmers love what they do.  For them, agriculture is a virtuous gamble where the odds of a bountiful harvest get better the harder they work.

2013 - My farm was saved during the farm crisis of the 1980s because of the support of my parents and my own commitment to keeping it in the family.  Ironically, the farm had become the property of my family during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  My grandfather loaned money to the buyer of the farm.  But when the man was unable to repay his loans he was forced to relinquish the land to my grandfather.  In 1936 he and my grandmother gave the farm to my folks as a wedding present.  The farm is now debt free and in a trust for my three children, the third generation of the family to own it.


Tags: agriculture documentaries farm farm crisis farmers Iowa rural