Farmers and the Economy in the 30s

Although Roosevelt attempted to improve conditions for farmers and promoted government action for what he thought was their benefit, most farmers expressed what was at best a mixed reaction to his reforms, mostly because those same reforms made the government much more influential in the private lives of Americans.

Many politicians in the 1930s believed that the Depression in America was caused by problems that farmers were facing. If they were going to be able to improve the economy, they would need to improve policies affecting farmers.

So what were these deals meant to do for farmers, and what did they actually do?

There were several acts that were initiated by Franklin Roosevelt, and each was accompanied by strong reactions from the public, especially the farmers in question. Some, such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act, were thought to be unconstitutional, but it seems that most farmers were not financially able to do anything but accept the government attempts at controlling supply and demand for the farmers.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), was one of the first of many pieces of legislation President Roosevelt implemented shortly after he was inaugurated. THe AAA was meant to control the quantity of seven basic crops, including corn, wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, tobacco and milk. This control would balance supply and demand by coordinating how many farmers produced each of the crops, which would keep the prices up by keeping supply down.

Generally, people agreed that although it did not solve all the problems farmers faced, the AAA was helpful at keeping the economy from collapsing entirely. Its strength was that it organized action of the group.

Regardless of its benefits, the AAA had some negative consequences. Some farmers were able to purchase new equipment, giving them an advantage over farmers who still had to work with more primitive tools, thus covering less ground at a slower pace. This was where the Farm Security Administration came in. Tenant farmers, that is, farmers who did not own the land they worked on, would be able to borrow money at low interest rates so they could stay on the land and in some cases, purchase it completely. The FSA required that farmers receiving aid also learned basic business skills. This combination of government support and provision of tools for independent efforts was a fairly successful move on the part of the government.

The government also saw the need to modernize American farms in another way. In the year 1930, a mere 13% of farms had electricity, and the implications for everyday life were enormous. Chores of all kinds were done by kerosene light or by means of a battery operated light, which plenty of people did not have. It was a challenging problem for the government to deal with and required a long-term commitment for construction alone. It would also require time before people actually were able to put it to use. In fact, it was not until the late 1930s that electric lines, funded by low-interest loans from the government (provision of the REA, the Rural Electrification Administration), were able to reach rural neighborhoods.

Not only was the construction of electric lines across hundreds of miles of countryside a huge commitment, but the cost seemed like an unnecessary expense to many farmers. The payoffs in efficiency were, however, adequate to justify the eventual adoption of electricity, as well as a plethora of other progressive farming methods.