Government Intervention in U.S. Agriculture: Part 5

Farmhouse

Photo: Michal Zacharzewski

A great deal of farmers who spoke out against FDR’s Agricultural Adjustment Act argued from a basic economic standpoint. What they pointed to was the incidence of far more relevant factors in the country, two of which were a fundamental under-consumption of food and a large deficiency in the distribution of goods. These things, they maintained, were the only real reasons that food sales were ever down. “Most farmers,” Gilbert C. Fite writes in an issue of the Mississippi Valley Historical Review, “clung to the position that there could be no genuine surplus so long as people were hungry and naked.”

This very same theory regarding under-consumption – in stark contrast with the general public’s opinion that overproduction was an issue still needing to be resolved – was brought to the attention of Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace a number of times in citizens’ letters. President Roosevelt received an enormous amount of letters himself.

One Iowan, for example, wrote that the notion of supposed crop overproduction, while millions were starving, was simply nonsense. Another farmer from Texas described the outright destruction of crops, which was encouraged under the AAA, as “illogical, absurd and ridiculous.”

Even prior to the enactment of the AAA, many were shrewd in recognizing what would later be one of the greatest shortcomings of the law – its emphasis on assisting larger producers over smaller ones, as well as the hindrances the AAA would introduce for those who already practiced crop rotation.

Although a majority of farmers still felt that the federal government should do something to directly address agriculture, there remained a fervent handful who argued that Roosevelt’s administration ought to stay completely out of the matter. One Iowa farm wife wrote explicitly that she and others were opposed to “all farm legislation,” and demanded from the administration that she be left alone. Nebraskan farmer Louis Tomanek, drawing on his perception of the legislation’s arrangement as a cartel which would only benefit larger landowners, described how the AAA would encourage those types of farmers to leave land idle, and simply draw subsidy benefits by doing nothing of any real benefit.

In Part 6, we’ll look directly at statistics and figures from the time period in order to see what economic effects the AAA truly had. Hint: they weren’t anything to write mom and dad about.