In the late 1970’s, Wisconsin agriculture experienced unprecedented profits due to increasing exports and production. Surplus crops were traded to larger international markets who were willing to pay more. As profits rose, farmers underwent major expansion projects to ensure their success would continue. With this expansion came the bearing of significant debt for many Wisconsin farmers. At the time, current profits allowed farmers to pay these debts back with ease, but it was the façade of continued growth that became the downfall of the agricultural industry. Unpredictably, in 1979 due to a Soviet embargo, agricultural exports decreased more than 20%. Small farming communities were slammed with crops they could no longer sell, farmland that no longer had value, and a lot of trouble on the horizon.
By 1984, nearly a third of all midwestern farmers were experiencing a massive depression. Banks, unwilling to loan to a dying industry, saw massive struggle and foreclosure across the region. Quickly, then Governor Tony Earl asked WHEDA to come up with an answer. At his behest, WHEDA drafted the solution within the week. The CROP Program, the first of many WHEDA agricultural ventures, sought to provide one-time loans of up to $20,000 for immediate relief to farmers. Providing lenders with up to 90% loan guarantees, the risk to banks was negligible, and soon, money was flowing back into the hands of Wisconsin agriculture.
The program was supported nearly unanimously amongst farmers. In its first year alone, WHEDA provided over $11 million, and its success allowed the program’s budget nearly to double in the following year. By June of 1986, the program provided 1,300 CROP loans. Due to the sheer number of loans handed to a depressed industry, WHEDA bore massive risk. However, the program was an overwhelming success, and the winds of change blew favorably on the state’s agriculture.
Despite the success of the CROP Program, the weather of Wisconsin refused to cooperate. Sweltering in the summer heat, a massive drought swept through every county in 1988. However, WHEDA remained steadfast in its new alliance with farmers, forming the DROUGHT Relief Program. With the creation of the CROP Program, WHEDA began the first of many economic ventures which would allow Wisconsin farmers to reap a harvest of benefits.