Why did US farmers fare poorly even as most other segments of the US economy prospered during the 1990s? I develop three arguments to explain why US agriculture was prospered in the 1970s but has underperformed relative to the rest of the US economy in most of the 1980s and 1990s. Measures of the performance of US agriculture are based on 50 years of historical data starting with 1949. The three arguments are: (1) Agriculture does well in early stages of a period of time when there is rising inflation. However, the 1990s were dominated by periods of low and declining inflation; (2) Agriculture prospers when export markets are strong. Export markets have been weak because of factors such as the strong US dollar, weakness in economies of major importers, and increasing ability of foreign countries to produce basic agricultural commodities for their own use, and (3) Changes have occurred in consumer tastes and preferences for agricultural commodities and products, both here and abroad, and farm-level production systems have been unable to fully accommodate these changes. There have also been changes in US families that have resulted in more two-career households, less time spent in the kitchen, and more pre-prepared and restaurant meals consumed.


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