American farmers are in debt to the tune of $409 billion, up from $385 billion last year and reaching levels of the 1980s agriculture crisis, the agriculture secretary told Congress Wednesday. And loan demand among farmers is "historically high," Sonny Perdue added, per Reuters. Low interest rates and stable land prices have masked the problem, he said. Still, "farm debt has been rising more rapidly over the last five years, increasing by 30% since 2013." The government does worry about a drop in farmland prices, an economist said last week, but has seen no signs of that yet. In the '80s, low crop prices helped cause farmers to fall behind on high-interest loans on land and equipment.
This time, per Reuters, the causes include low commodity prices, storm damage to crops, and trade disputes that have closed export markets. To ease farmers' losses from the trade battles, the Trump administration has promised as much as $12 billion in aid. More than $8 billion has been paid so far, Perdue said, but there's no aid package planned for this year. Perdue said last year, per Axios, that farmers "will make their best business decision for 2019 without the expectation" of federal aid. (The payments to farmers didn't please everyone.)