The second half of the 1980s saw farmers slowly beginning to recover, as farmland values began bottoming out in 1987. Drought hit the stage big time in 1986 in the southeastern U.S., then across much of the Midwest in 1988.
Farm technology continued to improve efficiency. For example in 1987, it took only 2.75 labor-hours to produce 100 bushels of corn (1-1/8th acre) with a tractor, 5-bottom plow, 20-ft. tandem disk, planter, 20-ft. sprayer, 12-ft. self-propelled combine and trucks.
U.S. agricultural exports peaked in 1981 at $43.8 billion, then declined until 1987 when President Reagan lifted the grain embargo against the Soviet Union.
Other notable events:
- A U.S.-Canada trade accord in 1988 initiated free trade in all commodities.
- Biotechnology was becoming viable to improve crops and livestock.
- Railroad and trucking industries were deregulated.
- Anti-smoking campaigns and legislation began to impact the tobacco industry.
- Rural populations were in decline as low prices and indebtedness impacted many farmers in the Midwest.
- Willie Nelson organized the first Farm Aid concert to benefit indebted farmers in 1986-1988.
- USDA scientists indicated that ag chemicals infiltrated groundwater more than previously thought.
- The Food Security Act of 1985 lowered government farm supports, promoted exports and set up the Conservation Reserve Program – which retired 30 million acres by 1989.
The following 1985 stories in this part 2 gallery reflect more cautious optimism and a renewed spirit to become a better financial and agronomic manager. You’ll be amazed by: the farm computers of the day, early sprayer controls, the challenges with too much tillage and erosion, the seriousness of farm economics, numerous agronomic practices and much more.