This time we will be talking about the Golden Era. 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.