Looking for a good way to keep up with daily agriculture-related headlines? Give Kansas Ag Connection a try!
Subscribers to On the Range, our weekly country living update (read more), may already be familiar with this site as a source for some of our headlines. There’s a reason for that. Kansas Ag Connection is a clutter-free aggregator of news stories and press releases of interest to farmers small and large across the state.
Kansas Ag Connection offers a way to keep up with the latest stories on:
- USDA news.
- Updates from the governor and state legislature.
- Health issues currently affecting Kansans.
- KU and K-State research on health, nature, and agricultural topics.
- Press releases from Kansas-based companies.
- State and regional crop and weather reports.
- Conferences and workshops coming to Kansas.
- Ron Wilson’s Kansas Profile column, featuring Kansas entrepreneurs with rural roots.
Links are also provided to more headlines from neighboring states, across the nation, and around the world.
Adjusting Livestock Production
In an effort to reduce hog numbers, payments were also distributed to farmers who would destroy their piglets and pregnant sows. About 6 million piglets were slaughtered under the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA).
A cattle-purchasing program was similarly implemented under the Drought Relief Service in areas where the Dust Bowl had hit the hardest. The federal government purchased approximately 7 million cattle, most which had been in imminent danger of starvation.
At first, surplus livestock was typically shot and buried. However, a tremendous public outcry arose over the waste at a time when many people were starving. In October 1933, the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation was established to placate Americans and put the livestock to better use. From then on, most salvageable meat was purchased by the government and distributed through various relief programs. Because many slaughterhouses were not equipped to process the massive numbers of small pigs sent through their doors, however, they often took the easier route of processing young pigs for grease and fertilizer. Meanwhile, enough cattle hides entered the market that newspapers reported a price crisis among tanners.
The Economic Results
Many Great Plains farmers welcomed the subsidies. In some areas, as many as 90% of the local farmers came to rely on the AAA. By the end of 1935, the AAA had shelled out about $1.1 billion, about half of which went to farmers in the Great Plains. According to the USDA, farm income increased by 50% between 1932 and 1935, 25% of the increase coming from federal payments.
Commodity prices did indeed rise between 1932 and 1935. In fact, the prices for corn, wheat, and cotton doubled. However, prices remained well below 1929 levels and the parity goal set by the New Deal. Of course, higher prices only benefited farmers who had crops to harvest in spite of the drought.
The AAA payments were rarely enough to help small-scale farmers subsist. Families with small acreages generally failed, abandoned their farms, and left agricultural to the major players. An estimated 2.5 million people had evacuated the Great Plains by 1940. A large number of these former farmers moved to California to seek jobs picking seasonal produce for low wages.
The situation was particularly bad for tenant farmers. While tenant farmers were not as conspicuous in the Great Plains as in the South, they did exist, and they, too, suffered. Under the initial provisions of the AAA, the landowner was to share the money with any tenant farmers he had working for him. Unfortunately, this part of the contract was poorly enforced, and some landlords resorted to fraud to keep the money for themselves. More honest landlords often used their rightful share of the subsidy to purchase modern machinery to reduce their labor needs, setting their tenant farmers adrift. In Oklahoma alone, the number of tenant farmers was nearly cut in half between 1935 and 1945.
The end result was a decided trend toward the consolidation of agriculture. Farm numbers declined in droughty areas, while farm sizes increased. In southwestern Kansas, for instance, the average farm had more than doubled in acreage by 1950.
A New Act
In the 1936 case United States v. Butler, the Supreme Court declared the Agricultural Adjustment Act to be unconstitutional:
The act invades the reserved rights of the states. It is a statutory plan to regulate and control agricultural production, a matter beyond the powers delegated to the federal government.…
From the accepted doctrine that the United States is a government of delegated powers, it follows that those not expressly granted, or reasonably to be implied from such as are conferred, are reserved to the states, or to the people. To forestall any suggestion to the contrary, the Tenth Amendment was adopted. The same proposition, otherwise stated, is that powers not granted are prohibited. None to regulate agricultural production is given, and therefore legislation by Congress for that purpose is forbidden.…
The Congress cannot invade state jurisdiction to compel individual action; no more can it purchase such action.
However, the AAA was replaced by a new farm relief act. This act did not overtly pay farmers to reduce agricultural production, but instead set up a soil conservation program. Landowners were now paid to implement cover-cropping and similar practices. The money came out of the federal treasury, instead of the tax on food processing. The new program was popular while the drought continued, but most farmers resumed their former cropping practices as soon as the rainfall returned.
But the original AAA had left a lasting legacy. By 1940, 6 million farmers were receiving subsidies. Farm commodities have been subsidized ever since.
Between 1929 and 1932, the net income of the average farm operator fell 69%.
Prices for agricultural products were at their lowest since the 1890s. Wheat sold for only 25 cents per bushel.
Much of this drop in prices was due to an agricultural surplus. Harvests had been bountiful before the drought hit, and a considerable amount of grassland had been converted to cropland to meet the demands of World War I. No sooner had the war ended than the prices for crops had dropped sharply. To cope with their reduced incomes, farmers scrambled to plant more acres and sell more bushels, driving the prices down still further. By the time the Great Depression and the beginnings of drought hit the Great Plains, the farm economy was already in a state of crisis.
But Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, promising Americans from all walks of life a New Deal. Regulation and government support could bring stability to the economy, FDR claimed.
Agriculture promised an excellent way to test this fundamental principle of the New Deal.
FDR’s stated purpose was to return prosperity to the farm by bringing the farmer better prices for his products. The theory was simple. When the supply of a commodity falls short of the demand, the prices rise as purchasers compete to obtain the scarce commodity. Thus, if consumers had to compete a little harder to obtain commodities, farmers would receive more income for those commodities.
How much of an improvement was sought? Nothing short of parity. In this case, parity meant that any given commodity would have the same purchasing power that it did prior to World War I.
Accordingly, the Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed in May 1933 during FDR’s first 100 days. This act created the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) with the responsibility of planning the farm economy. The ultimate plan, as stated by FDR’s secretary of agriculture, Henry Wallace, was the “ever-normal granary.”
The AAA established a system of “domestic allotments,” which in practice meant that the AAA set the amounts of commodities that the country would produce annually. Initially, seven commodities were targeted:
- Dairy products.
Additional commodities were added to the list in 1934 and 1935:
- Grain sorghum.
- Sugar beets.
- Sugar cane.
Beginning in the fall of 1934, the AAA also started buying up poor cropland. This acreage, ruined by the Dust Bowl, was to be converted into demonstration farms to illustrate how to conserve soil by planting drought-resistant grasses. After the damage to the land had been fully repaired, these areas would be leased as pasture.
Adjusting Crop Production
To reduce agricultural production to the AAA-desired levels, a new tax was placed on food processing. The money obtained from this tax was used to pay subsidies to landowners who would leave farmland idle. Lawrence Svobida noted in his memoir Farming the Dust Bowl (read our full review) that he had to agree to remove 15% of his total average acreage from production. The total average acreage was determined by averaging the number of acres that he had planted the last three growing seasons. (Thus, farmers who had previously let land lie fallow received considerably less money than their continuous-cropping peers.) Payments were calculated based on the county average yield per acre.
Of course, there were abuses of this system. Some farmers attempted to cheat the AAA and overestimate their total average acreage to receive more subsidies. To prevent this scenario, the averages reported by farmers were published in local newspapers to give others an opportunity to report fraud. In the words of Svobida:
This provided a unique opportunity to the spiteful, the revengeful, the envious, and the righteous, and most of the culprits were exposed in their trickery, and were compelled to correct their figures.
Unfortunately, by the time the AAA came into being in May 1933, the growing season was well under way. Farmers receiving AAA money could not harvest their grain, so perfectly good crops were destroyed or left to rot. This included 10 million acres of cotton, some of it grown in Plains states such as Oklahoma. Over 87,000 farmers in that state alone plowed under their cotton in exchange for over $15 million.
Even in subsequent years there were difficulties. Svobida cited the story of a neighbor who was able to raise a good wheat crop in 1934, only to discover that he had made an error in his arithmetic and had planted 80 acres more than was allowed under the provisions of the AAA:
This farmer had been honest in his intentions, so he was embarrassed as well as amazed; but, now that the mistake had been made, he wanted to go ahead and harvest the excess eighty and turn the wheat crop over to the county commissioners, to be distributed to the needy.
You will be able to guess what happened, if you have had any experience of small men elevated to petty office. The local allotment committee was made up of men who found great satisfaction in administering their office, and they were the ruling power in such matters, from whose decision there was no appeal. They would not consider the farmer’s sane and philanthropic suggestion for the disposal of his surplus wheat. He was ordered to destroy it.
The effect of fallow land on the Dust Bowl is still debated by historians and climate experts. It is certain that a state of drought existed prior to the AAA. The first dust storms hit in 1932. However, the years 1935 to 1938 were among the worst in the history of the Dust Bowl. By this time, millions of acres were lying fallow due to the influence of the AAA.
Ironically, some Dust Bowl farmers did not use their AAA money as anticipated. According to agricultural and Western historian R. Douglas Hurt, some subsidy recipients left their poorer, dust-destroyed lands fallow and used the federal aid to buy or rent new cropland to plant. This way, if the drought ended, they would still be in a position to bring in a crop despite their participation in the AAA program.
Meanwhile, the cropland-purchasing program met with mixed results. AAA employees did manage to restore some poor land, either to native range or to drought-resistant plants such as sudan grass. The program could be rather exasperating to landowners trying to sell out, however, as they received low prices for their land and the checks were inevitably slow in coming. Nevertheless, some grasslands established under the AAA remain to this day, such as Cimarron National Grassland in southwestern Kansas.
Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933
Full text of the original act.
Birdwatchers have long had a few hints and tricks on the best days to go birding (preferably on a cloudy day with low barometric pressure sometime near the peak of migration season). Now scientists have offered us a new tool.
BirdCast, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, periodically releases migration forecasts to help birdwatchers pick the perfect time to spot that rare bird. Find out what bird is heading where nationally and regionally throughout the spring and fall migration seasons based on current weather patterns. For each species on the move, the forecasts predict:
- Date of arrival.
- Date of rapid influx.
- Peak date.
- Date of rapid departure.
- Date of final departure.
The computer models used to create these forecasts are based on three important sources of information:
- Online records from citizen scientists.
- Recorded flight calls.
- Weather surveillance radar.
Of course, the result is a model, not an absolute. But it is fascinating to see the ways birds interact with national weather systems.
All is quiet on the bird migration front at present, but be sure to bookmark this site for later. Fall migration will be upon us again before you know it!
Do you want to get better acquainted with the weather? Perhaps you just need to know the average precipitation for your area or when to expect the last frost of the season. Or maybe you’re a little more ambitious—you would like to be able to predict the weather over the next 24 hours or so.
Whatever your level of interest, you may find these 10 weather resources helpful for digging in deeper:
- Zone and Frost Maps
Perfect for you gardeners out there, this post includes links to freeze maps and USDA plant hardiness zone maps.
- 30-Year Normals
Want to know what to expect in the way of temperature and precipitation in your area? Find the answers here.
- What Type of Climate Does Kansas Have?
If you have lived in Kansas for any length of time, you know the answer to the climate question is not simple. Here is our in-depth discussion, complete with maps.
- United States Drought Monitor
While some years flooding is more of a problem than drought, if you need information on drought and its impacts in your area, the U.S. Drought Monitor is the definitive source. Drought forecasts are included.
- Kansas State University Weather Data Library
For the serious weather enthusiast, this site offers a wealth of information on climate, records, recent weather events, agronomy, and more.
- The Weather Wizard’s Cloud Book
This is a helpful, well-illustrated way to get to know the clouds with an eye to forecasting the weather. Read our full review.
- The Book of Clouds
Want to improve your ability to identify clouds? The lavish photography in this book can really help. Also makes a great book for the coffee table. Read our full review.
- Weather Folklore
Our own series on weather folklore. Find out which sayings are fact and which are fiction.
- The Weather Wizard’s 5-Year Weather Diary
If you really want to familiarize yourself with the weather in your area, you should consider keeping your own weather records. This diary makes it easy. Read our full review.
- A Field Guide to the Atmosphere
Do you ever wonder how clouds form? What causes different types of precipitation? Why unusual optical effects sometimes appear in the sky? Find out in this clear but thorough book. Read our full review.
Christmas will be here before you know it! Prepare tasty treats and heartfelt gifts from your own homegrown offerings, and snuggle up on the couch for a little storytelling.
- Retell the story of Sod Corn Jones.
- Read Scripture passages about the meaning of Christmas.
- Make a sweet potato beetle.
- Encourage your child to start an EcoJournal.
- Give a weather diary this Christmas.
- Create homemade gifts from the heart.
- Cook up some stovetop apples.
- Put a sweet potato casserole on the table.
- Visit the Christmas City of the High Plains.
- Check out our favorite posts from 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Agriculture is very much a weather-dependent pursuit. The success or failure of both garden and field crops in any given year depends primarily on the rainfall and temperatures. Even pastures should be managed with an eye to the sky.
With this in mind, it is a good idea to know roughly what type of weather you can expect in an average year. Oregon State University has a series of 30-Year Normals maps of the United States that will be very useful to you as you pursue your country living adventure. This information can be critical in determining which practices make the most sense for your local climate.
Information displayed by the map includes:
- Mean temperature.
- Minimum temperature.
- Maximum temperature.
- Mean dewpoint temperature.
- Minimum vapor pressure deficit (a measure of the moisture saturation of the air).
- Maximum vapor pressure deficit.
Data can be viewed by month or as an annual average.
Great way to get a handle on your local climate!
Are you ready for fall? Spend a little time watching the birds, caring for the animals, and stocking the pantry.
- Invest in a dog owner’s home veterinary handbook.
- Feed your backyard birds.
- Discover why people built round barns.
- Stock up for the winter.
- Learn about pH.
- Weigh the pros and cons of draft animals.
- Explore the K-State weather data library.
- Open up the breeding toolbox.
- Find out how to raise chickens.
- Do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.
Even when the afternoons are too hot for outdoor work, you can still make the most of the time with research and planning. Spend some time studying business, marketing, nutrition, animal health, and more.
- Consider new ways to direct market your beef.
- Find out how reproduction and animal health are related.
- Discover 96 horse breeds of North America.
- Build a sustainable business.
- Learn what kobe beef is.
- Ponder the relationship between the railroads and the homesteaders.
- Enjoy the wonderful art of drawing horses.
- Practice body condition scoring.
- Read about the Kansas climate.
- Study the roles and natural sources of vitamins.