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The American Experience


Timeline of farming in the US (1850 - 1996)
1934 May 1934May -- Great dust storms spread from the Dust Bowl area. The drought is the worst ever in U.S. history, covering more than 75 percent of the country and affecting 27 states severely.
June -- The Frazier-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act is approved. This act restricted the ability of banks to dispossess farmers in times of distress. Originally effective until 1938, the act was renewed four times until 1947, when it expired.
1935 1935January -- The federal government forms the Drought Relief Service to coordinate relief activities. The DRS bought cattle in counties that were designated emergency areas for $14 to $20 a head. Those unfit for human consumption -- more than 50 percent at the beginning of the program -- were destroyed. The remaining cattle were given to the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation to be used in food distribution to families nationwide.
March -- FDR's Shelterbelt Project begins. The project called for large-scale planting of trees across the Great Plains, stretching in a 100-mile wide zone from Canada to northern Texas, to protect the land from erosion. Native trees, such as red cedar and green ash, were planted along fence rows separating properties, and farmers were paid to plant and cultivate them. The project was estimated to cost 75 million dollars over a period of 12 years. When disputes arose over funding sources (the project was considered to be a long-term strategy, and therefore ineligible for emergency relief funds), FDR transferred the program to the WPA, where it had limited success.
April 8 -- FDR approves the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, which provides $525 million for drought relief, and authorizes creation of the Works Progress Administration, which would employ 8.5 million people.

April 14 -- Black Sunday. The worst "black blizzard" of the Dust Bowl occurs, causing extensive damage.
April 27 -- Congress declares soil erosion "a national menace" in an act establishing the Soil Conservation Service in the Department of Agriculture (formerly the Soil Erosion Service in the U.S. Department of Interior). Under the direction of Hugh H. Bennett, the SCS developed extensive conservation programs to retain topsoil and prevent irreparable damage to the land. Farming techniques such as strip cropping, terracing, crop rotation, contour plowing and cover crops were advocated. Farmers were paid to practice soil-conserving farming techniques.
December -- At a meeting in Pueblo, Colorado, experts estimate that 850,000,000 tons of topsoil has blown off the Southern Plains during the course of the year, and that if the drought continued, the total area affected would increase from 4,350,000 acres to 5,350,000 acres in the spring of 1936. C.H. Wilson of the Resettlement Administration proposed buying up 2,250,000 acres and retiring it from cultivation.
1940 The downward spiral in the number of farms in the U.S. begins. Farmers would decrease from 30 percent of the population to less than 3 percent by 1981. The transformation from an agricultural society to an industrial and urban one was due in part to the technological developments within farming and to the growth of off-farm job opportunities. Many people left for better opportunities, since the average income for people on farms was 67 percent that of non-farm workers in 1948. Hundreds of thousands of farmers weren't able to keep up with the increasing capital required by modern farming methods. Some tenants and sharecroppers were forced out, as owners with modern machinery were able to cultivate large areas without them. Other small farmers went broke or sold out to larger neighbors.


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