Background to the Farm Crisis

Background to the Farm Crisis

Introduction: Background to the Farm Crisis

We tend to think of the current crisis faced by American farmers – in which each year farmers are forced to leave a profession and a calling that their families have often practiced for generations, sometimes on the same land – as being a recent one. But in fact American farmers have held a tenuous position in our economy even as they have fed us for over a century. This paper examines the historical and economic background of the current crisis in American farming as well as assessing how effective current steps may be to help 21st century farmers.

American farmers in the years after the Civil War found themselves facing increasingly difficult times. The farmers might well have been psychologically broken by their troubles, but they chose instead to organize – following the most important principle of populist political movements, as McCabe in his 1969 history of the Grange Movement tells us. The effective and long-lived of these political organizations developed by farmers was the Grange Movement. To the extent that farmers and rural workers were able to band together in the Depression, they borrowed on the experiences and ideals of the Grange Movement, which had sought to improve not only the economic conditions of farmers but their social status and political power as well. It began with a general sense of discontent amongst farmers who found that no amount of hard work could produce enough wealth to feed themselves – even as they were feeding the nation.

Continuous decreases in the price of farm goods (both crops and butcher products) produced a dramatic rise in the level of indebtedness of the farmers, who began to owe more and more to banks during both the teens and twenties and even more so during the Great Depression Many farmers realized that there was no possible way that they could ever earn enough money in the marketplace as it was currently constructed to bring themsel…

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