AgDM newsletter article, May 2000

The farm situation -- what lies ahead

Paul LasleyBy Paul Lasley, extension sociologist, 515/294-0937,

Third in a series of three articles by Lasley, director of the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll.
This series of articles draws on information received through the poll, conducted since 1982, which asks farmers' views on a variety of rural and agricultural issues. The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll is funded by ISU Extension and the Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station.

There is not agreement on the extent or seriousness of the farm financial situation.  Some producers had high yields in 1999, and these yields have partially offset the low prices. The high yields combined with generous government programs have tended to widened the gaps between producers that did not have high yields or were not entitled to program payments, or produce livestock. 

This is a time for communities to pull together and display the kind of caring attitudes that characterizes rural culture.

Don't generalize

Part of the debate about the magnitude and seriousness of the current situation, is because of the widely different circumstances. For some producers, 1999 was a record income year, and for others it was a financial disaster.  Some producers are discouraged and have already left or are making plans to exit farming, and yet others are enjoying record incomes. 

Because it is not possible to identify those with financial problems from those who are fortunate, unless one has access to detailed personal financial records, sweeping statements about the status of the farm economy must be tempered.             

Factors beyond our control

There is an entire set of factors that lie beyond the farm or beyond individual producer control that will shape the US farm economy.  Some forecast that the farm prices will languish until the surpluses are reduced, while others are more optimistic.  Regardless of how long it takes the farm economy to recover, we need to be mindful of the longer term issues of what kind of communities and rural culture are being created by the seemingly wide disparity among farm families. 

The wide discrepancy between producers may have little to do with personal abilities, but rather reflect historic conditions, fortuitous circumstances, or just plain luck.

The support of others

Even though people respond differently to income loss and financial uncertainty, an important part of accepting and dealing with adversity are feelings that others care.

Make good decisions

Hope is central to our very existence. It is when hope is gone, when dreams are taken away, when our world is turned upside down, when we hurt--this is a signal to re-examine our values. Sometimes losses cause us to appreciate what we have, or nudges us to get our priorities in order. 

Perhaps it is during times of adversity that we should focus on what is truly important in our lives. Many of us know people who have struggled to save the family farm only to discover that in saving the farm, they lost the family. Sometimes we take actions to fix one problem, only to discover that in doing so we have created a new problem.

Difficult choices require that we be clear about our values, what are our priorities and our goals, what is truly important to us.

Farm families are resilient

It is easy to underestimate the resiliency of farm families.   All of us know people that after being a dealt a severe blow, such as a diagnosis of cancer, the death of child, or other similar heartbreaking event have been able to pick up the pieces, get their lives together and move forward. These people are seemingly able or equipped to deal with adversity. Maybe its hope, or perhaps determination, resolve, strength, fortitude, mettle, or courage. This quality of character to successfully deal with adversity might be called "grit”.

Finding solutions

There is no single solution to the current problems that grip agriculture.  However, producers and their families will be seeking solutions that best fits their operations.

However, we need to encourage everyone to show forbearance as producers make these difficult decisions. This is a time for communities to pull together and display the kind of caring attitudes that characterizes rural culture. These are difficult times, and while we can not reverse the trends, we can make the transitions easier by demonstrating concern and care for our friends and neighbors.


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