The farm crisis of the 1980s in Iowa: its roots and its inner workings

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Atkinson, Sue
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Community and Regional Planning

This thesis examines the farm crisis of the 1980s, by beginning with the ideology underlying the farm policy. At the time of the American Revolution, there was considerable discussion about the nature of governments and the relationship to people. Enlightenment philosophy was influential in this discussion, as well as philosophies from previous ages. As the new American Republic was emerging from the British mercantile system and taking its place in the world capitalist system, there was a difference of opinion as to which policy to adopt for the best development of the resources. For the first 100 years of the Republic, the political factions generally fell within either the free trade philosophy put forth by Adam Smith, or what came to be called the American System of protection.;As each side of this ideological debate gained political control of Congress, the resulting enacted legislation determined the development of banking, money, trade, and the availability of resources (mainly land). The farmer movements (in response to crises) prior to the 1980s were reflections of problems arising from both the establishment of new systems within a new Republic, as well as the political debate over policy. The creation of the Farm Credit System, beginning with the Land Banks in 1916, should have solved the problem of available credit for farmers on terms they could handle with their erratic income cycles. By the crisis of the 1930s, it was apparent that support for farm income would be necessary for farmers to service their debts and keep the rural economies going. When the Farm Credit System was expanded in 1933, Congress also enacted the Agricultural Adjustment Act (which became known as the permanent farm legislation).;This legislation (representing the protectionist ideology) was adjusted and expanded through 1949. After 1953, it was overridden by successive farm bills that would sunset, requiring new legislation to continue to suppress the permanent income supports. Beginning in 1944, the Committee for Economic Development (composed of representatives from 200 of the largest companies and representing free trade ideology) began writing policy papers calling for the removal of resources from farming in order to make it more efficient. In 1971 the Department of Agriculture issued a report that said a few corporate farms could meet the food needs of the country. Farm bills continued to reduce the price supports and take land out of production until the 1996 farm bill removed what remained of the price supports. By examining the 1980s farm crisis through the workings of the Farm Credit System (the country's largest farm lender), it can be shown that the problem was one of low farm income that could not service the debts.;The low farm income was the result of policy based on free trade ideology. This ideology called for the restructuring of agriculture in the belief that it would become more efficient. The move to corporate agriculture is being finalized now. These two different ideologies, that have been the underlying forces in political control over policy since the beginning of the country, are still present today. This creates problems for those who must deal with the restructuring of agriculture that is taking place.

Fri Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 1999