Expert on 1980's Farm Crises Dies

Nov 12, 2021  | 2 min  | Ep4713

Before we go tonight, we lost a frequent interview subject and farm crisis expert last week.

Dr. Neil Harl served through Iowa State University in many agricultural economics roles and provided insight and guidance through the 1980’s Farm Crisis.

Tonight, we leave you with part of the 2013 Iowa PBS documentary on the same subject which includes comments that make us take notice of today’s landscape. 

Harry Smith: 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, Economist Emeritus, Iowa State University: “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, Iowa Farmer: “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, Former Host of Market to Market: 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.

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