The Current Farm Downturn versus the 1920s and 1980s Farm Crises: An Economic and Regulatory Comparison

Wendong Zhang, Kristine Tidgren
February 2018  [18-WP 577]

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Zhang, W. and K. Tidgren. 2018. "The Current Farm Downturn versus the 1920s and 1980s Farm Crises: An Economic and Regulatory Comparison." Working paper 18-WP 577. Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, Iowa State University.


Purpose – This paper examines the current farm economic downturn and credit restructuring by comparing it with the 1920s and 1980s farm crises from both economic and regulatory perspectives.
Design/methodology/approach – This paper closely compared critical economic and regulatory aspects of the current farm downturn with two previous farm crises in the 1920s and 1980s, and equally importantly, the golden eras that occurred before them. This study compares key aggregate statistics in land value, agricultural credit, lending regulations, and also evaluates the situations and impacts on individual farmer households by using several case studies.
Findings – We argue that there are at least three economic and regulatory reasons why the current farm downturn is unlikely to slide into a sudden collapse of the agricultural markets: strong, real income growth in the 2000s, historically low interest rates, and more prudent agricultural lending practices. The current farm downturn is more likely a liquidity and working capital problem, as opposed to a solvency and balance sheet problem for the overall agricultural sector. We argue that the trajectory of the current farm downturn will likely be a gradual, drawn-out one like that of the 1920s farm crisis, as opposed to a sudden collapse as in the 1980s farm crisis.
Originality/value – Our review provides empirical evidence for cautious optimism of the future trajectory of the current downturn, and argues that the current downturn is much more similar to the 1920s pattern than the 1980s crisis.
Keywords: Farm crisis, farm downturn, land value, farm income, agricultural credit, interest rate
Manuscript Type: General Review