I’ve been accumulating a (digital) stack of pictures of many agricultural related structures: dilapidated and forgotten country homes, rusted grain elevators, overgrown silos, that sort of thing. I decided an entry on the farm crisis that gripped the Midwest in the late 70’s and 80’s would be most appropriate. This also gives me an opportunity to use some pictures that I really couldn’t write a full entry on individually.
The Farm Crisis of 1980
Much like how mother nature often has cycles of drought and wet years, the American economy often exhibits similar traits. The economy of the United States during the early and mid seventies was healthy; interest rates were low, meaning farmers could borrow money relatively cheaply and at little risk. However, during the late seventies, the economy began winding down; a downturn in production caused interest rates to skyrocket, a bad omen for farmers who rely on loans to purchase equipment and land.
The shrinking economy caused a ripple effect in commodities markets as well; consumers were simply not spending as much money across the board. Commodity prices took another hit after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in January of 1980 occurred. President Jimmy Carter protested the occupation of Afghanistan and military campaigns of Russia by placing a trade embargo on grain sails to Afghanistan which crippled the foreign markets for American produced grain and corn. In April of 1980, President Carter publicly announced the state of the economy as being in a recession after inflation reached nearly ten percent and interest rates climbed upwards to 18-20 percent. (Source: http://millercenter.org/president/carter/key-events)
With less demand for their products, and lower commodity prices, farmers across the Midwest became burdened with insurmountable debt. Many would simply take out more loans in hopes that the economy would turn around in the coming years.
Many farmers lost their homes, land and their livelihood. Family farms dried up; only the wealthiest of landowners were able to keep their operations afloat. Foreclosed land and implement auctions became common place with many farmers simply trying to sell anything they could to generate some sort of income. It was during this period that many of these wealthier landowners were able to buy up several hundred to a thousand acres of land at a time which lead to a decrease in the number of farmers overall, but an increase in the amount of acres farmed nationwide. This lead to a ripple effect that can still be felt today and that is the start of the sharp decrease in young, start-up farmers. Many eager rookie farmers took out loans in vast amounts only to be caught up trough of the economic downturn; farming simply wasn’t profitable, and without some sort of incentive, it was largely avoided as an occupation. This lead to a sort of exodus of the younger generation to where more jobs could be found- primarily in bigger cities.
In many of my entries, the shells of former farm houses still remain despite their vacant status; a grim reminder of their past lives.
(Yeah, ok, this is hardly college-level writing, but I whipped this up in like 30 mins. I plan on expanding this section when I finally get to writing my book.)