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        Iowa | Activity 6.3: Causes and Effects of the 1980s Farm Crisis

        Students watch videos about the 1980s farm crisis and complete a graphic organizer about the causes and effects of the crisis.

        Lesson Summary

        Students watch videos about the 1980s farm crisis and complete a graphic organizer about the causes and effects of the crisis.

        This lesson is part of "Great States: Iowa | Unit 6: Industry: Lumber, Grain, Coal, Agriculture." In this unit, students will investigate the major successes and challenges of resource use in Iowa.

        Time Allotment

        20 minutes

        Learning Objectives


        E.SS.3.14: Describe the role of various financial institutions in an economy.

        H.SS.3.25./H.SS.4.23: Explain probable causes and effects of events and developments.

        H.SS.4.26: Explain how Iowa’s agriculture has changed over time.

        H.SS.5.24: Explain probable causes and effects of historical developments.



        1. Distribute the Farm Crisis Causes and Effects handout to students.

        2. Tell students they will be watching a series of videos that discuss the causes and effects of the farm crisis in the 1980s. Explain that many farmers were brought to ruin by failed policy, mountains of debt, and two severe droughts, from which many could not recover. Instruct students to begin filling in the chart as they watch each video.

        3. Play the video, The 1970s See Good Times in Agriculture: 1980s Farm Crisis | 3 [2:05], which is about agriculture before the farm crisis.

        4. Ask students, “What happened to US agriculture in the 1970s?” [Poor weather conditions resulted in diminished yields overseas, causing demand for US products to explode.]

        5. Explain that during the farming boom, wheat prices doubled and corn prices tripled. In 1979, the Federal Reserve adapted its policies to combat the inflation. As a result, interest rates soared to record highs by 1981, making it more expensive for farmers to buy equipment or invest in more crops.

        6. Play the video, Causes: 1980s Farm Crisis | 2 [4:15]. NOTE: a section of the video is about a farmer committing suicide. If this topic is too sensitive for the class, skip 1:59–3:00.

        7. Ask students to share what they were able to record on their handouts during the second video. [The video mentions failed policy, debt, boom & bust in land and commodity prices, and drought as causes; closed banks, lost farms, and suicide as effects.]

        8. Play the video, Impact on Rural Communities: 1980s Farm Crisis | 16. [3:40]

        9. Ask students, “What impacts did the farm crisis have on banks and cities?” [Farmers defaulted on loans and banks closed; factories that made farming equipment closed leading to urban unemployment.]

        10. Allow five minutes for students to finish filling out their handouts based on what they learned from the videos and class discussion.

        Answer Key:


        • Following the grain deal with the Soviet Union, commodity prices rose, and 1973–74 were prosperous, which encouraged farmers to invest in additional equipment and plant more crops. [video 1, 1:35]
        • In 1979, the Federal Reserve changed policies to combat inflation raising interest rates to very high levels; this caused a problem for farmers who needed to take out loans for land, equipment, and supplieshigh debts for farmers. [class discussion]
        • Severe droughts in 1983 and 1988. [video 2, 1:05]


        • Farmers defaulted on loans and lost their farms. [video 2, 1:35]
        • Economic crisis wiped out a third of Iowa’s farms. [video 2, 3:20]
        • Banks closed, and millions of dollars were lost. [video 3, 1:13]
        • Small town businesses closedrural unemployment. [video 3, 1:55 and 3:00]
        • Factories that produced farm equipment closed urban unemployment. [video 3, 2:00]
        • Businesses remained consolidated, leaving many empty storefronts. [video 3, 3:07]



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