Davis County – Drought of 1983
Bloomfield, Davis County, Iowa
In 1983, Davis County was one of hundreds of counties across the Midwest declared a drought disaster area by the United States Government. A summer of present heat and absent rain had destroyed the agricultural center of America in one of the worst droughts of the century. As a whole, the nation lost nearly half of its total corn crop, falling from 8.4 billion bushels to an estimated 4.8 billion. The drought hit some areas harder than others. In Davis County, per acre yields fell from 125 bushels to 25-35, a much more significant loss than many other counties.
The drought affected much more than the crops. In Bloomfield, Davis County’s largest city, one of the two banks in town was forced to close. The Exchange Bank, a privately-owned and uninsured bank, was closed by the State after inspection of the bank’s books. With around 5,000 customers at the time, the closure impacted Iowans from all over the county. Bloomfield’s population at the time was under 3,000. With the Exchange Bank’s closure, depositors would be lucky to get 50% of their original balances. In the end depositors recuperated only 10 cents on the dollar.
Bloomfield continued facing trouble as much of the area was suddenly without money. Local businesses witnessed a drastic decrease in activity. Davis County and the City of Bloomfield postponed collection of bills.
Many farmers in Davis County, who were already applying for Home Administration (FmHA) disaster loans, were left with no savings to help cover the losses from the drought. The situation worsened for the State when FmHA approved only 478 of 2,215 loans. Davis County applicants received a 48% approval rate because the area was one of the state’s counties most impacted by the drought. Even with the loans, most of the area’s farmers were in significant debt.
Terry D. Paris, one of the farmers in Davis County, was unable to get a FmHA loan. He faced losing 600 acres of his 820-acre farm. Without the land, Paris and his wife would have lost their only source of income. “I don’t know what we’ll do. There are no jobs to be had around here. We could retrain, but he couldn’t get a job,” said his wife, Vicki Paris.
FmHA’s reasoning for his loan rejection was a concern that many farmers in the area would continue worrying about after 1983: the soil can no longer support the production of previous years. While improvements in efficiency created increases in land productivity, the Missouri border counties of Iowa continuously face drought. As the rest of Iowa sees increasing flooding, these lower portions of the state deal with drier, more prolonged droughts that rival the disaster of 1983.
Sources: “FmHA head to visit Bloomfield,” Fort Madison Daily Democrat, October 15, 1983; Ward Sinclair,“For Iowa Farm Region, Drought Wasn’t the Last of the Disasters,” The Washington Post, January 30, 1984; Andrew H Malcolm. “Drought Disaster Declared by U.S.” The New York Times, September 3, 1983; Winston Williams, “Bank’s Failure Dazes a Town,” The New York Times, September 16, 1983.