Farm Programs

A Farmers' Life Before the Depression
An example of the new machinery being used in the 1920s.

There was no group hit harder by the Depression than the farmers, because not only did they suffer through the 1930s, but the 1920s as well. At this point in time, 1/5 of all Americans were poor farmers. These farmers had efficient farm machinery and top of the line fertilizer, so why were they suffering? Farmers also contributed in the stock markets by investing in brand new farm products such as gasoline powered tractors. Then their new products produced so much more food than they had in the past, and need for thier products was going down. Most of the western farmers grew wheat, but Americans werent eating as much bread. The cotton that was being grown in the south was being replaced with rayon. Overseas, tarriffs were being made with the Europeans so shipping was uncommon. Prices fell since nothing was being bought. For example, in 1920 a bushel of wheat was $2.94, in 1929 it was $1, and well into the Depression, it was lowered to $0.30. Tenants became much more common as a way to save money and pay off debts, but typically it didnt work. Once the stock market crashed, things got even worse for American farmers.

The New Deal and Farmers
During the first three years of the Depression, farm incomes fell by 2/3 because now no one had any money to buy the products they once didn't need. Acres of farm land were auctioned off to pay debts- 1/4 of Mississippi's farm land was sold during the Depression. By 1932, if farmers were to meet their debts, they would have to grow and sell 2.5 times as much corn, 2.7 times as much wheat, and 2.4 times as much cotton that was grown in 1929. Those who were tenants in the Great Plains were evicted immediately after the Dust Bowl because there was no soil to farm. Clearly, the farmers needed help from the government to get them out of their predicament. Thankfully, many programs were made to help all aspects of the farm problem.

Installing electricity and running water were one of the most prominent ideas to combat the farming crisis. Since just the north eastern part of the country had electricity at this point, installing it would be a long process, especially during the Depression. To prove that, in 1935, 6 million farms still had no electricity out of the total of 6.8 million farms in America. Private utility programs were not happy with this new edition of the Deal; they claimed the prices would be too much. However, Roosevelt kept trying, believing it would truly help if farmers had electricity. His next step was to create the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) - a corporation whose job was to build 21 dams along the 40,000 square miles of the Tennessee river. This created electricty for at least 10,000 farm families, which helped a good bit. Next, Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), which binded utility companies into installing electricity for those who lived no where near the Tennessee River. Many more small programs were signed and created by Roosevelt to help farmers, such as the Soil Conservation Service (a program designed to fight erosion and nature disasters), the Farm Credit Administration (made foreclosure easier for farmers), and the Commodity Credit Corporation (allowed farmers to pay loans with stored products from the past instead of money). The most important and significant program created was the Agricultural Adjustment Act, commonly known as the AAA.
The hands of a farm woman show how much of a struggle the Depression was for farmers.

The AAA's main purpose was to form a partnership between the government and major farm producers. Leading the charge was Henry Wallace, the Secretary of Agriculture. To manage this feat, farmers would have to reduce their supply of goods so the prices could escalate again. The main producers assigned quotas for themselves as companies, and met with farmers they supporting them to agree on a "domestic allotment" per farm. No farmer was forced to participate in the Act, but it would not be a smart choice to do so- farmers were paid for each acre of land they did not seed. Although it was a smart idea, there were many problems that needed tweaking. First of all, the timing was horrible- the Act was signed in 1933 after crops had been planted, producing virtually no participation. The government agreed to give farmers money if they destroyed their crops and killed livestock, which did help the farmers. However, the rest of the population was furious- there were so many that had nothing to eat, but farmers were destroying perfectly good food. On top of that, the Act wasn't doing its job for everyone. The main farmers received the income and managed to pay off some loans (farmers' income doubled from 1933-1936) but the sharecroppers and tenants were even worse than before. Many were forced off the land because there was no need for them; the government paid main farmers for doing nothing with their land and machinery still kept improving. For example, a main farmer in Mississippi bought 22 tractors with the government's money, and evicted 160 tenant families. Overall, 3 million tenant and sharecropper farmers were forced out of the land due to the AAA. Those that stayed didn't receive any income because the land did not belong to them. During the Depression, the Agricultural Adjustment Act had a mixed reputation. However, after being the hardest group hit by the Depression, farmers had began to recover.