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Outlook for the '90s : For business, the 1980s were a period of enormous turmoil. A Japanese siege of the high-technology and auto industries, a surge and plunge in oil prices, massive failures of financial institutions and a fearsome stock crash. The 1990s don't promise much peace and quiet. Here's a look at what business faces in the next decade. : AGRICULTURE

January 02, 1990|MARIA La GANGA

The headlines in the mid-1980s were ominous: "Farm Outlook: Bumper Crop of Bankruptcies," "Debts Could End Family Farm Era." But while the experts then were ringing the death knell for the family farm, no one today will say that the small farm is gone forever. Changed, yes. Obliterated, no.

The 1980s, many say, were the middle segment of a three-part cycle. The 1970s brought a surge of stupendous growth, investment and production, a binge that could not be sustained without a hangover. That hangover was the 1980s.

"Agriculture had to take a bath, and it took a real bath," said Marty Strange, program director of the Center for Rural Affairs in Walthill, Neb.

Many agriculture watchers place the beginning of the farm woes at Oct. 6, 1979, when the Federal Reserve Board introduced new tight-money policies that sent interest rates soaring.

Farm values had skyrocketed in the 1970s, and farmers used their newly valuable acreage as collateral for more loans. When the income from their farms could not cover expenses and banks could not extend their loans, many farmers lost their land.

When Strange considers the 1990s, he sees the third part of the cycle: recovery. Land prices are lower, and farms are becoming affordable again.

The 1980s also brought a growing awareness about the problems of chemicals in farming. The harvest for the 1990s is alternative or sustainable agriculture, a set of practices whereby farmers decrease their use of chemicals and increase care of the land.

But not all view alternative agriculture as salvation. Ross Korves, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, says environmental issues should not rule agriculture to the detriment of production.

"We do need to protect our resources long term because without good soil you can't have good crops," he said. "But we have to maintain that resource base while continuing to expand our per-acre output."

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