Farmers and the New Deal

Farmers in America did well out of the New Deal. The farmers of America did not prosper in the so-called Roaring Twenties. They were simply too successful in that they produced far too much for the American market. With western Europe as a market effectively closed to them as a result of a tariff war, the farmers could only sell in America. Too much product for too few people caused prices to plummet. Farmers had to sell to whoever would offer a price for their goods. Bankruptcy followed bankruptcy among farmers in the mid-West.

In January 1933, Ed O’Neal, the farmers union leader had said:

“Unless something is done for the American farmer we will have a revolution in the countryside within less than 12 months.”

The Hoover administration had done little to help the farmers. Hoover’s “prosperity is just around thecorner” must have sounded very hollow to mid-West farmers. The attack and attempted lynching of a judge by Iowan farmers in April 1933 (he was signing eviction orders to be served on farmers) lead to the Governor of Iowa putting the state under martial law. Roosevelt had to be seen to be doing something as for nearly 13 years the federal government had done little to assist the farmers.

In May 1933 the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was passed. This act encouraged those who were still left in farming to grow fewer crops. Therefore, there would be less produce on the market and crop prices would rise thus benefiting the farmers – though not the consumers.

The AAA paid farmers to destroy some of their crops and farm animals. In 1933 alone, $100 million was paid out to cotton farmers to plough their crop back into the ground! Six million piglets were slaughtered by the government after it had bought them from the farmers. The meat was canned and given away for free to the unemployed. Though this all made perfect sense in terms of economically stabilising the farming market, many Americans could not accept this policy of destruction. Opponents of the New Deal created a simple chant for people to express their views on the AAA – “Poor Little Piggies”.

Regardless of this, the Act did make a marked improvement in the life of farmers as prices rose, evictions markedly dropped and the farmers’ income increased.

In 1936, the Supreme Court declared that the AAA was unconstitutional in that it had allowed the federal government to interfere in the running of state issues. This effectively killed off the AAA.

The AAA did not help the sharecroppers though. These people, and there were three million sharecroppers, did not own their land. Many sharecroppers were African American and they lived lives of poverty. In the immediate aftermath of the AAA, they got employment from farmers to destroy the farmers’ crops. Once this had been done, they had nothing to do and many left the land and moved to the ghettos in the cities where they faced similar poverty.

In 1934, the farmers who had benefited from the AAA, hit another major problem – dust storms. These storms destroyed farms especially in Oklahoma and Arkansas and throughout the 1930’s over 350,000 farmers left for the west especially California where the weather created a more friendly farming environment. The AAA could not cope with this.

Further assistance for the farmers’ was planned by the Roosevelt administration. The Tennessee Valley had frequently flooded ruining farming land and destroying the hopes of the farmers who tried to work the land there. The result of the government’s initiative was the Tennessee Valley Authority.