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The American Experience


Timeline of farming in the US (1850 - 1996)
1850 Farmers sow by hand, cultivate with hoes, and reap with sickles, but John Deere Company is manufacturing 10,000 iron plows a year. Iron plows cut plowing time in half. Mechanical reapers are beginning to replace sickles, turning two weeks' harvesting into a day's work.
1862 May -- President Lincoln signs legislation establishing the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He called it "the people's department" since 90 percent of Americans at the time were farmers. (Today only 2 percent are farmers.)
May 27 -- Lincoln approves the Homestead Act of 1862, which granted full title of up to 160 acres of land to settlers after five years of residence. Although good in principle, the act was badly administered, and as a result large amounts of land passed into the hands of large corporations through "dummy" homesteaders.
1867 James and Agnes Jordan, filmmaker Jeanne Jordan's great-grandparents, migrate to southwest Iowa in a covered wagon and build the family farm on the banks of Troublesome Creek.
1870 The 1870 census shows that farmers, for the first time, are in the minority. Of all employed persons, only 47.7 percent are farmers. As farming becomes more mechanized, farmers rely more on bank loans for land and equipment.
1880 1880U.S. population reaches 50,155,783, with farm population estimated at 22,981,000. Forty-nine percent of all employed persons are farmers, and of those, one in four is a tenant, despite the Homestead Acts. With the development of barbed-wire fencing and windmills, plow farming reaches the Great Plains.
1893 U.S. experiences an economic crisis: 642 banks fail and 16,000 businesses close. As produce prices plummet, tens of thousands of small farms go under.
1900 There are 5.7 million farms in the U.S., with an average size of 138 acres.
1920 The number of farms has grown to 6.5 million and is home to roughly 32 million Americans, or 30 percent of the population. This would soon change. Migration, mostly by young people who left for the cities, escalated over the next ten years.
1929 October -- Stock market crashes. The Great Depression begins.
1930 Warren Jordan, filmmaker Jeanne Jordan's grandfather, is farming at Troublesome Creek when severe drought hits the Midwestern and Southern states. This area is semi-arid, not fit for cultivating the wheat crops that were in high demand during World War I. When the drought hit, bringing with it severe dust storms created by the over-plowed land, the area became known as the Dust Bowl.
1933 May 1933May --With the Agricultural Act of May 1933, President Roosevelt sets up the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act. This provided $200 million for refinancing farm mortgages through federal land banks, reduced interest rates, gave farmers more time to meet their obligations, and offered direct "rescue" loans to farmers in trouble. The Emergency Farm Mortgage Act was followed by the Farm Credit Act of 1933, which established a central bank to assist farming cooperatives and set up local credit associations for farmers.
October -- The Federal Surplus Relief Corporation is created to divert agricultural commodities for relief purposes. The Farm Credit Administration asks state governors to establish committees to conciliate excessive and distressed farm debts. The Commodity Credit Corporation is founded to support farmers and maintain supplies of agricultural commodities by providing loans, price support, export, and storage programs.


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