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Farmers During the Great Depression

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Framers During tThe Great Depression 

            During the 1930s many people became affected by a crisis that targeted the economic factors of thise country. Tension and disparity arose and took its toll on society. This period was seen as a depression era in U.S. history that became known as The Great Depression. Everyone in the United States faced hardships some were seen more rapidly or had a more severe impact than others. As the top of the social pyramid descendent to middle class it dragged all the other social levels with it. When this occurred the lower level of society was left homeless, facing immense poverty, and jobless. Other people like farmers also faced very similar hardships throughout this era. Farmers lost their farms and faced many economic hardships because of the bank crisis during The Great Depression.

          Farmer’s lifestyle before The Great Depression lifestyles before The Great Depression were was prosperous and successful. They were able to benefit from new innovations of machinery that would make harvesting easier and more profitable. Thomas Jefferson stated, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty…” and interest by the most lasting bonds. ” ( McArthur 11). At this point cultivation was at its peak and farmers where making enough money to pay off their expenses. Farmers were successfully contributing to the demands of food production after WW1. However, buying the machinery necessary for vast results in food production became a problem. Farmers had to risk everything in order to gather the money necessary to buy machinery. When farmers started to take out loans from the bank or use their farms as a collateral for a loan; agreements were set up between farmers and the banks that stated if the debt was not paid then the lender had the right to claim ownership over their land and farm (McArthur 26). Farmers thought with new machinery in farms, vast production with little labor was guarantied to make their sales more profitable. The price of wheat was at its highest because of the demand for wheat after WW1. In 1914 farmers could sell a bushel of wheat for $0.93 and in 1919 it rose to $2.30. However in 1920 the price of wheat declined dramatically, but farmers continued to grow at the same rate (McArthur 24). However, Gail B. Stewart writes in her book The New Deal, “Even before the Great Depression was a thought, the Southwestern farmers could barely scrape by on three hundred dollars a year. Four out of every five of them didn't even own land” (26). Constant droughts ruined farmer’s harvest and left them with no produce to sell. Resulting in a farm with all this machinery that could indeed increase food production, but the harsh climate was not suited for cultivation leading to a farm full in debt.

            It was a dark day for many people in the United States in October 29, 1929. The first step of an unexpected, overwhelming, and pervasive crisis in U.S history; that lead to the starvation and disparity of many people who live through this era. The stock market crash and had taken its toll on society which sparked what is now known as The Great Depression. Farmers before the depression were already suffering and this event was just an addition to their miserable hardships. According to Dietmar Rothermund in his book The Global Impact of The Great Depression, “The projection of business cycles fits into such a general theory of an economic equilibrium as it postulates a regular sequence of upswings and downturns. Many attempts have been made to fit the Great Depression into such a regular pattern, but its impact was so sharp and unprecedented that it cannot be explained in this way”  (1). The Great Depression was not like any other national crisis and citizens of the United States where confuse and in despair for a solution. They had no prior knowledge of the effects this event might bring upon them. Despite efforts made in the being stages of the depression no one could imagine or stop what was to come. When the stock market crashed so did the banks, “Many banks failed (went out of business) when their loans could not be repaid. The number of commercial banks declined from 26,000 in 1928 to about 14,000 in 1933. Depositors rushed to retrieve their money, a process known as a run on the banks, and the federal government was forced to close all the banks for four days in 1933 to stem the panic” ("Banking"). The money that the depositors had put into the banks had been lean out and lost because of lack of repayment to the bank. This cause panic to the depositors which lead to the “run on the bank” crisis described in the article “Banking” that cause banks to go out of business. A major cause of the banking crisis was that farmers were unable to pay back their immense debts from money lean out to purchase new machinery for their farms, and their mortgage payments were also unpaid or behind with payments.

            These were few hardships that farmers faced during the great depression. Other hardships that farmers faced were the profit amounts from their products according to Torn Morain, “When prices fell [because of the stock market crash] they tried to produce even more [crops] to pay their debts, taxes and living expenses. In the early 1930s prices dropped so low that many farmers went bankrupt and lost their farms” (Morain, Torn 1). As farmers increase the surplus of farming products those products prices dropped. Instead of helping the farmers the increase in cultivation surplus only made the situation worse. Farmers and other people had no money to pay off their mortgage payments their farmers and homes where taken away by the banks. In the article “The Price of Salvation (Mortgage Foreclosure)” this tragic event resulted in, “7 out of 100 homeowners fell behind in their payments and another 3 were in foreclosure. [However, some banks did] allow families two years to redeem farms lost to foreclosure [and other banks] allowed some families to stay on their farm property as renters.” Farmers and their family had no where to live but their cars. All their possessions were gone and could only keep what they could take on their long and unknown destination.

            In the mist of The Great Depression another crisis was taking place throughout the plain regions. This crisis was dramatically affecting farmer’s lifestyle and adding more tension to inhabitants of this area. This time period within The Great Depression was referred as the Dust Bowl era. Inhabitants in this area suffered from, “…wind erosions [and droughts] during the 1930s...including parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado, [southern part of the Great Plains, which made it impossible for farmers to grow their crops with up to]… 8 to 10 cm of topsoil blown away” (“Dust Bowl”). Intense wind erosions and constant droughts made it impossible for production of crops throughout the southern part of the Great Plains in the United States. People, including farmers, suffered with health problems from all the dust and lack of money was very common throughout the Dust Bowl era. The Dust Bowl originated:

[in a]… region covered with hardy grasses that held the fine-grained soil in place in spite of the long recurrent droughts and occasional torrential rain…these lands [were use for wheat cultivation after WW1 and ]…left the soil exposed to the danger of erosion by the winds that constantly sweep over the gently rolling land. Beginning in the early 1930s, the region suffered a period of severe droughts, and the soil began to blow away. The organic matter, clay, and silt in the soil were carried great distances by the winds, in some cases darkening the sky as far as the Atlantic coast. (“Dust Bowl”)

           Unpredictable droughts cause the soil to become loosen because of lack of harvesting; making the soil vulnerable to wind erosions. When enough soil reached the point in which a simple blow of air unbalance the tranquility of the surface; colossal dust storms are form as results from fragile soil encountering violent winds throughout the Great Plains. Southwestern farmers experience the most hardships during the Dust Bowl era that made it virtually impossible for rich soil to be restrain within the farmers fields (“Dust Bowl”). Causing disparity, panic, and devastation among many farmers and their families leading to the migration out of their useless farms and into the cities or other states. According to the article “Dust Bowl,” “Thousands of families migrated west ward, and about a third of the remaining families had to accept government relief.” Many families were heading to California were jobs and opportunities for a new life were offered. However, many families that staid behind had turn to government relief problems hoping  for a change in their misery.   

            The government started intervening to help farmers rebuild their farms and commercial profit to make their lifestyle prosperous within the Dust Bowl era. The Farm Credit Association (FCA) was establish in 1933 by the government to help the agricultural sector of the economy.  The FCA main purpose was, “to assure the reliability and solvency of the Farm Credit System (FCS) and the various farm credit securities, for borrowers and investors alike” ("Farm Credit Administration."). The FCA act provided support to farmers that were facing hardships throughout the Dust Bowl era and The Great Depression. The two main components of this act consisted of, “…long-term and short-term credit to farmers… long-term mortgage loans help farmers acquire property or refinance existing debts; short-term loans are needed to finance crop and livestock production and marketing.” (“Farm Credit Administration”). Farmers that were able to benefit from the FCA act found their way out of their miserable problems they were facing and into a prosperous life. However, the FCA only gave loans to farmers and did not offer sufficient cultivation systems that farmers could use to make those loans profitable. The government was able to resolve that problem by passing an act called the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) in 1933. This act raised cultivation and farming produce by, “…reducing production of staple crops, thus raising farm prices and encouraging more diversified farming. Farmers were given benefit payments in return for limiting acreage given to staple crops” (“Agricultural Adjustment Administration”). The major cause of decling crop prices was that farmers where harvesting too many surplus production; establishing the AAA farmers were able to balance between the surplus needed and the demand from customers. The AAA sparked various acts that would benefit both the farmer and the Earth’s soil in future years. The Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act which was established in 1936 and the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 were two acts sparked from the AAA. Both acts had their own functions and had major effects on farmers:

…the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, which encouraged conservation [of soil to hinder the Dust Bowl era] by paying benefits for planting soil-building crops instead of staple crops [that would just add to the devastating storms seen throughout the Dust Bowl]. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 empowered the AAA in years of good crops to make loans to farmers on staple crop yields and to store the surplus produce, which it could then release in years of low yield. (“Agricultural Adjustment Administration”).  

These two acts reinforced the AAA act and where efforts made by the government to hinder the Dust Bowl progression. Farmers had options of government relief programs offered throughout the Dust Bowl era that would help them overcome their hardships and struggles.

              Devastation, disparity, and fear was seen within the lives of American citizens. The Great Depression was unpredictable and unimaginative to many citizens of the United States. The poor economy of the county was affecting its citizens from every social statues within every society. Farmers at this time period had encountered many economic hardships resulting from homelessness to immense poverty in certain situations. They were able to find relief offered from government relief programs, but the damage had already took its toll on the farmer’s life.   




Works Cited

“Agricultural Adjustment Administration.” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2007. 1 March 2009. <http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/history/A0802770.html>. 

"Banking." Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia. 2008. <http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-

            2008 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved>.

“Dust Bowl.” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia. 2008. 8 March 2009.   



"Farm Credit Administration." Federal Agency Profiles for Students 1999. Opposing Viewpoints          Resource Center. Gale Group 8 Mar. 2009   <http://find.galegroup.com/ovrc/infomark.do?&contentSet=GSRC&type=retrieve&tabID =T001&prodId=OVRC&docId=EJ2118000050&source=gale&srcprod=OVRC&userGroupName=toll77988&version=1>.

McArthur Debra. The Dust Bowl and The Great Depression. New Jersey: Berkely Heighs,


Morain, Torn. "The Great Depression Hits Farms and Cities in the 1930s." Iowa Pathways. 8         

March 2009 http://iptv.org/iowapathways/mypath.cfm?h=no.

“The Price of Salvation.(Mortgage Foreclosure).” The Wilson Quarterly. Opposing Viewpoints.   

             8 March 2009. <http://find.galegroup.com/ovrc/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-               



Rothermund, Dietmar. The Global Impact of The Great Depression. London: Routledge, 1996.

Stewart, Gail B. The New Deal. New York : New Discovery Books, 1993.



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