The history of Agriculture in the USA pt. 3.

The Golden Era for agriculture in the US is considered between the years of 1900-1914, just before the First World War. It was prosperous for all American farmers, and actually became the benchmark statistically, and the farmers used this to ensure the government gave the profits and level of prices that the farmers felt that they had deserved.

Since World War I broke out in a fashion that was unprecedented, the U.S. actually became the critical supplier to Allied nations due to their superior agricultural techniques and large scale of goods they were able to provide. Along with the rapid expansion of farms, the diffusion of trucks and Model T cars and tractors allowed the agricultural market to grow to an unprecedented side during this time, and the prices shot up for goods. This led farmers to buy out their neighbours to expand, however many farmers had to heavily borrow for this to become possible. The issue here is that the bubble had to burst at some point, ensuring that most became very vulnerable to debts once the prices went down. This of course happened during the 1920’s and many farmers had been left with small profits and high debts.

Another issue during the 1920’s is that many younger farm hands left the farms and ended up migrating to smaller cities and nearby towns and villages. On average, they only moved 10 miles away from the farms however, with very little going to cities that had a population of over 100,000. During this time however, farming hard started to become mechanized, with the use of tractors becoming the norm for most farms, as well as other heavy equipment. This was coupled with superior techniques employed by state agricultural colleges and also funded by the federal government at the time. These innovations allowed a rapid expansion of the agricultural economy, and the majority of competition from Europe and Russia had essentially become non-existent. This meant that America had become the world’s main supplier in agricultural goods at this time.

With these new innovations, a more ruthless business style had come into play. The economy of agriculture had grown so large that business firms had begun replacing the ordinary family owned farms who could afford to invest and turn those farms into much more efficient money makers. They were able to raise the productivity from farms using these innovations and the seeds of business firms of buying out families farms had begun.

At this point, as you can imagine, the agricultural economy in the United States had begun to take a hit. While the farmers enjoyed an unprecedented level of prosperity during the expansions, WWI ended and Europe’s agricultural markets had begun to rebound. This meant that the overproduction from American farmers had actually lowered the prices for agricultural goods, essentially stagnating the market conditions and led to many farmers suffering and living standards lowering in general. Since farmers had taken on so much debt from borrowing to pay for neighbours lands via mortgages and loans, they had soon found themselves unable to pay them. They had actually lowered the prices of the lands they had purchased massively due to the overexpansion, and while farmers believed that the decline of foreign markets were the main reason for these unsuccessful years, it is clear that they lived in a bubble they were unaware would burst.

This led to many farmers demanding relief during the agricultural depression that begun, but the government decided to follow a different root. They instead pushed to modernize farming by using more efficient equipment and electricity on farms, and also focusing on better seeds and breeds. This also meant that these farmers would need to be educated better business practices, which the government also backed. Herbert Hoover advocated the creation of a Federal Farm Board which dedicated itself to restricting crop production specifically for domestic demand behind a tariff wall, maintaining that the farmers issues was down to bad distribution, and effectively created the Hoover Plan.

The history of Agriculture in the USA pt. 2.

In the last post we spoke about the history of agriculture in the United States of America. Specifically, we spoke about the history of agriculture in the United States during the colonial periods. In this post we shall be talking about the New Nation (1776-1860) and Railroad Age (1860-1910). As discussed in the previous post, the economy and trade for agriculture and its good became increasingly in demand. During the New Nation period, the United States economy primarily became agricultural. The expansion of land and the building of canals, along with the addition and introduction of steamboats had opened up new areas and possibilities for agriculture for farmers. Although the primary focus on farming and agriculture within this time period was designed to produce food for families, it was also focused on for service and small local markets. However, this allows rapid economic growth, and a farmer could easily expand due to being able to improve the land for far more than it was paid for, and then moving further and further west and repeating the process. This allowed them to not only grow in terms of geographical size, but also allowed them to sell more and more products due to a higher output.

The railroad age brought a dramatic expansion in farming however, with the number of farms tripling in the space of 50 years from 2 million to 6 million. By about 1905, there were 6 million farms with roughly 31 million people living on those lands. Even the values of the farms tripled, from $8 billion to $30 billion in 1906. Because the government had issued 60 tracts so cheaply to 400,000 families in 1862, more than just those families were buying lands from the railroad companies. It was a genius way to create markets around the United States, and many from around Europe flocked to fill that land. The majority came from Germany, attracted by the soil, low priced lands that were available and homes that were offered.

Life however wasn’t as easy as some as it was for others. Rural life was very different for the settlers in the Great Plains. While it wasn’t the desert it was made out to be, it did contain a very rough climate with the amount or tornados, blizzards and floods. Even the amount of grasshoppers were a negative since they damaged crop, ruining entire harvests completely. This meant that these early settlers became financially ruined, and many went back home to Europe. This meant that the same government responsible for the influx then had to create steps for insurance to the new migrant workers in the form of crop insurance, conservation techniques and federal aid when necessary.

Another interesting point about the rural life in these times is that there were very few single men that actually operated one of these farms or ranches. They instead married hard working wives, and their wives and children would be the ones to handle the chores of the house and even some of the other tasks like feeding hired hands and handling all paperwork and finances. Some of these wives even worked out on the farm with their husbands. However, with the rise in sewing machines, washing machines and other appliances, it seems women turned into domestic roles and as a whole the government at the time was happier to promote women as being domestic helpers rather than equal workers. Overall however, this allowed the farming prairies to become a lot more socially responding than those in Europe. Entire communities were built and social events created for the farmers and their families, and all types of activities and functions were created for the families to enjoy.

Ranching also became huge in the Great Plains. Much of the Great Plains was freely used to cattle ranch and there was much trade for these cattle around the plain cities. Some of the cattle was even taken to Europe. However, the ranches never stocked up in case of a possible disaster, which occurred in 1886, and many cattle died from starvation or froze to death.

The history of Agriculture in the USA pt. 1.

The United States of America has many rural areas, but only 46.2 million Americans (roughly 15% of the population in the country) actually live within these rural counties. And while many people are aware of the rural counties and agriculture, the one thing many people forget is the history of agriculture within the United States of America. That is why the first three posts of this blog will be on the agricultural history of the United States of America.

Colonial Farming is a very interesting subject for agricultural historians. For example, many people do not realise that the first time of real agricultural farming began as plantation agriculture. Mainly using slaves, this was developed in Virginia and Maryland to grow tobacco, and South Carolina, to grow rive. After roughly 180+ years, cotton became a major crop for plantations around the “Black Belt” (which was originally named after the colour of the soil within the areas, but then became referred to as the black belt based on the amount of African Americans working within the area). There were farms located in other areas of the United States that people are less aware of however. For example, people are unaware that in the Plymouth Colony, barley and peas were grown from England to feed the families or trade with other colonies. But they also had a focus on growing Maize, which they were taught how to do by Native Americans (specifically the Squanto). More interestingly, they fertilized this crop using small fish.

Although the main ethnicity which comes to mind when considering colonial agriculture is African Americans, people are unaware of the different ethnic farming styles that became practice during those times. Although the English and Scots had already begun practicing their types of agricultural farming techniques to the new world, the German Americans had also brought their own practices that was very different to the English and Scots methods. They had adapted their techniques to a much more abundant supply of land in the new world, and ensured to have a long-term tendency to keep farm within the land as opposed to moving around to other locations and farms. Different ethnic groups focused on different types of farming altogether. While the Germans focused on oxen to pull their plows, the Scots Irish built an entire economy focused on mostly herding with a small focus on farming, and in other cases mixed farming in order to feed both humans and the hogs and other livestock’s that they had. After a while, farmers began using the other techniques and methods as a way to improve their own productivity, in the 1750’s, agricultural innovators replaced their older tools such as hand sickles and scythes with cradle scythes. These little innovations alone had ended up tripling the amount of work completed by farmers in one day. It changed the agricultural game, and those who were even wealthier such as George Washington began using dung and lime to fertilize their fields and even rotate the crops to ensure the soil stayed fertile.

At first, specifically before 1720, most in the mid-Atlantic region worked with small-scale farming, using imported manufactures that they paid for by supplying the West Indies with things such as corn and flour. Even in New York, trade became an extremely wealthy option. The fur-pelt exports to Europe began to flourish and added additional wealth. However, after 1720 there was a huge demand for wheat in Europe due to the population explosion. Not only did the demand for wheat rise, the price of wheat also exploded. It ended up costing twice as much for a grain of wheat in 1770 as it did in 1720. This meant that specifically in the mid-Atlantic area, the production of wheat expanded, as well as the production of Flaxseed and corn since it also rose in demand from the West Indies and the Irish. Farming became extremely lucrative in America within the colonial stages of America.