Look to the 1980s for Lessons

Look to the 1980s for Lessons

Editor looks back over three decades.

I finished my 30th year with Indiana Prairie Farmer this week, starting as a field editor on Aug 3, 1981. In a multiple- part series, I'll reflect on what I thought was significant from the past 30 years in agriculture in Indiana.

Dark clouds were on the horizon as 1981 began. Coming off the boom years of the 1970s, farmers and businesses were already cutting back on expenses. Coming from teaching, where the salary in those days was far below standard, I was quite happy with the way things were . But that would soon change.

The crop year in 1981 in Indiana featured a very wet spring and very late planting. My first assignment was to prepare articles for the September 1981 issue on how to handle wet corn, everything from feeding it to cattle to how it might dry down. As it turned out, the stories should have been useful, because there was a lot of wet corn that year.

Then 1983 featured a mid-season drought. The only saving grace for some was that it was also the PIK year, where the government paid farmers not to grow corn. Corn prices went up after it was obvious the yield was impacted, but 'up' then meant form $2 to $3 dollars, or in that range.

During the same time, land prices plummeted. Farmers who had bought farms thinking good times would continue found they couldn't make payments. Some sold farms. Some exited farming. Those that stayed adopted a very different attitude about acquiring more debt than made sense on paper. Banks and lending institutions learned lessons as well, some losing money, some winding up with farms.

The 1985 Farm Progress Show was a tell-tale sign of the times. The crowd was smaller, and definitely older in make-up. At the younger farmers were discouraged and decided to stay home- they weren't interested in seeing equipment they couldn't afford.

Then things slowly turned, prices recovered and those remaining began showing profits. Land values began a climb that would last, for all practical purposes, through current times. It was slow at first, as $3,000 ground had dropped to $1,000, even some good ground. The trick in those days was finding a buyer.

As the 1980s closed, agriculture was getting back on its feet. Some were still struggling to get their house back in order. Hats off to those who stuck it out and paid off their debts, rather than bail out through bankruptcy. It was still too early to realize what was coming, but there was talk of Monsanto developing Roundup Ready soybeans, that could be sprayed with Roundup. That was the harbringer of things to come.  

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