America World War II Home Front: Agricultural Production

American farmers World war II
Figure 1.-- The U.S. Government promoted the idea that “Food Is a Weapon of War-—As Important as Guns and Ammunition!” And American farmers responded. They planted an increased acreage, especially for high-nutrient crops like soybeans and peanuts. Farmers raised more livestock, particularly hogs. Farmers achieved enormous production increases despite labor shortages and the difficulty obtaining farm machiery.

American farmers had played a major role preveting mass starvation in Europe after World war I. Millions of children were saved from starvation. The American farm economy, however, after the War, however, experienced an economic decline and depression conditions. Declining markets were exacebated by the Dust Bowl. The Wall Street crash and industrial decline resulting in the Great Depression created even more problems. Many farmers lost their land. President Roosevelt and the New Deal made national agricultural policy a major priority (1933). The New Deal attempted to raise farm prices by limiting production. At the same time, The New Deal adopted a system of price supports that guaranteed farmers "parity" prices set at levels during more favorable market times. Another New Deal initiative was the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) which helped make electric power available to frmers. Rural highway construction and soil conservation programs also aided farmers. The New Deal did not solve the farm problem, but it did put a break on farm bankrupsties. The New Deal policies also improved the quality of farm life as well as increased the efficency and productive capacity of American farmers. And World War II was to create even greater demands on the American farmer. The Government promoted the idea that “Food Is a Weapon of War—As Important as Guns and Ammunition!” And American farmers responded. They planted an increased acreage, especially for high-nutrient crops like soybeans and peanuts. Farmers raised more livestock, particularly hogs. SPAM became a World war II phenomenon. As much as we maked fun of it today, it played a major role in feeding the Red army. Farmers achieved enormous production increases.

World War I (1914-18)

No country produced more food than America. America at the time of World War I was a major food producer. It not only was self sufficent in most agricultural commodities, but also exported large quanties of grains and other food products. The few products that America had to import were products that were best grown in tropical regions, particuularly sugar and coffee. The United States also imported vegetable oils. [Mullendore] The War severely disrupted agricultural production in Europe. Conscription drained away agricultural labor. Converying industria production for war meant that there was less support for agricultural production. Some countries did a better job than others in maintaining producrion. Thecfirst crisis was un Belgium becuse oif the German occuoption. Some countries (Austria-Hungary, Germnany, and Russia) failed to maintain adequate production levels leading to very severe food problemds even before the end of the War. American farmers benefitted from this. They dramatically expanded production and exported the surplus to Europe.

American Food Relief

American farmers had played a major role preveting mass starvation in Europe after World war I. Millions of children were saved from starvation. It is said of Herbert Hoover that no one in history saved the lives of more European children. Some Americans might have added during the 1930s that few people did less to save the lives of American children during the Depression. One week before Hoover celebrated his 40th birthday in London, Germany declared war on France (1914). The American Consul General in London asked Hoover to help get stranded tourists home. Hoover's committee in 6 weeks helped 120,000 Americans return to the United States. Then Hoover turned to a far more daunting task, how to feed Belgium, which had attacked France through neutral Belgium and overrun most of the country. When the United States entered the war, President Wilson appointed Hoover head of the Food Administration (1917). Hoover succeeded in cutting consumption of foods needed overseas and avoided rationing at home, yet kept the Allies fed. Europe had been devestated by the War. The desestation and the battlefield losses significantly affected agricultural production. After the Armistice, Hoover, a member of the Supreme Economic Council and head of the American Relief Administration, organized shipments of food for starving millions in central Europe. He extended aid to famine-stricken Soviet Russia (1921). When a critic inquired if he was not thus helping Bolshevism, Hoover retorted, "Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!" This was the greatest exercise in international relief in world history. Had it not been for American food aid after the War, millions mostly children would have starved throughout Europe.

Decline of the Farm Economy

The American farm economy, however, after the War, declined. As European farmers recovered,American farmers found their European markets decline. Farmers continued to produce at World War I levels and and prices began to decline. Farmers began to experience an economic decline which began to reach depression conditions. As farm prices plunged, the rest of the county experienced the Roaring 20s. Farmers pleaded for Government assistance, but were ignored by the Coolidge Administration which did not believe that the Government should intervene in the market. The decline farm prices meant that many farmers by the end of the decade were having difficulty paying the mortgages. American farmers were in serious financial difficulty and this was even before the Wall Street crash.

Dust Bowl

The term "Dust Bowl" was a term coined by the people who lived in the drought-stricken Great Plains during the Great Depression. The Great Plains were opened to farming by new devices such as the steel plow. The advent of tractors enabled even more intense farming. World War I in particulsr incouraged farmers to increase production. Afer the War there was a depression in rural areas ecen duyring the Roaring 20s. Farmers did not, however employ needed soil conservation measures. Vast areas of land had been converted to farm land on the Great Plains. This had removed the natural vegetsation which held the top soil in place. A range of farming practives thus made farms on the plains vulneravle. This and adverse weather conditions, extended drought, resulted in the catasrophy of the Dust Bowl. The already declining markets were exacebated by the Dust Bowl. Farmers literaly watched their farms, the precious top soil blow away. Robert Geiger, an AP correspondent in Guymon, Oaklahoma first used the term in a dispatch. It was quickly picked up by other journalists and became part of the American vernacular. The Dust Bowl was felt all over the Great Plains, but was most severe in the souther area. The most severely affected area was southeastern Colorado, southwest Kansas and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. It was the culmination of decades of abuse of the land and a drought. Tons of topsoil were swept off barren fields and and into storm clouds for hundreds of miles. The affects of the dust storms eventually affected the entire country. There were small storms earlier in the early 1930s: 1932 (14 dust storms) and 1933 (38 storms). One source estimated that by 1934 that 100 million acres of farmland had been stripped of their top soil. There were weeks of dust storms when Spring reached the souther plains. It was Black Sunday (April 14, 1935) that caught the nation's attention.

Great Depression (1929)

The Wall Street crash and industrial decline resulting in the Great Depression created even more problems for American farmers. Workers who lost their jobs had difficulty buying food. This decreased consumption driving farm prices even lower. Farmers could not pay their mortgages and banks began foreclosing. More and more farmers lost their land.lost their land.

Hoover Administration (1929-33)

The rapidly deteriorating farm situation forced the Federal Government to take action. President Hoover wanted to allow market forces to resove the farm problem. but the problem was so great that he began Federal efforts to aid farmers. He set up the federal Farm Board. It was a limited commitment, but it was the first Federal commitment to Government intervention in farm markets and prices. The Farm Board attempted to aid farmers by providing access to credit under favorable terms. It also bought agricultural commodities to stabilize the prices. The result was ythat farmers increased production. This and fallijg demand because of the Depression drove prices even lower.

The New Deal (1933-39)

President Roosevelt and the New Deal made national agricultural policy a major priority (1933). The New Deal attempted to raise farm prices by limiting production. The cornerstone of the New Deal's agricultural effort was the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA). Te AAA was a program to pay farmers to limit their production of of wheat, cotton, rice, tobacco, corn, hogs, and dairy products. The Federal Government adopted a system of price supports that guaranteed farmers "parity" prices set at levels during more favorable market times. And if priices fell below paity, the Federal Government intervened to buy surplus crops. New Deal programs like the National Recovery Act (NRA) and the AAA were major departures for the Federal Government. Never before had the Government intervened to protect its citizens from the impact of market forces. The Supreme Court declared the AAA unconstitutional (1936). The Court's sriking down of the NRA and the AAA led to Roosevelt's Court packing proposal, a rare political mistake. Perhaps in part because of the Administration's Court packing effort, however, some conservative justices retired and were replaced by liberal appointments--decisively changeing the orientation of the Court. Congress passed a second Agricultural Adjustment Act (1938). There were other New Deal farm programs. Another New Deal initiative was the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) which helped make electric power available to farmers. Rural highway construction and soil conservation programs also aided farmers. The New Deal also addressed the problems which created the Dust Bowl. The Soil Conservation Service (SCS) was established (1935). The SCS provided payments to shift the acreage planted with soil-depleting crops (corn, wheat, cotton, tobacco, and rice) to soil-enricjing plants such as grasses and legumes. These crops and improved farming methods were designed soil-building practices. The Farm Security Administration (FSA) lent money to farmers so they could chose when to bring their crops to market. They could store thei crops and wait for prices to improve when harvests were poor. The Administration also initiated an all-risk crop insurance program to protect farmers from natural disasters (1939). The New Deal did not solve the farm problem, but it did put a break on farm bankrupsties. The New Deal policies also improved the quality of farm life as well as increased the efficency and productive capacity of American farmers.

World War II (1939-45)

World War II was to create huge demands on the American farmer. The AAA changed course during the War and instead of limiting production set about increasing food production to meet War demands. The need was enormous. Britain was not self-sufficent in food production even in peace time. The NAZIs invaded the Soviet Union and occupied large areas of agricultural land (June 1941). This included the Ukraine--the Soviet breadbasket. This meant that Soviet harvests were substantially reduced. Thus in addition to feeding its own military, America had to feed allied armies and populations. The United States shipped huge amounts of food overseas to its Allies under the Lend-Lease Program. Shipments to Britain totaled $2.1 billion (March 11, 1941 to June 30, 1944). Soviet shipments totaled over $0.9 billion. (The equivalebrt in modern dollars would of course be much higher.) The Government promoted the idea that “Food Is a Weapon of War—-As Important as Guns and Ammunition!” And American farmers responded. They planted an increased acreage, especially for high-nutrient crops like soybeans and peanuts. Farmers raised more livestock, particularly hogs. SPAM became a World war II phenomenon. As much as we maked fun of it today, it played a major role in feeding the Red army. American farmers produced more dairy products—-cheese, butter, and eggs. They accomplished this despite labor shortages and conversions of manufacturing plants from civilian vehiches (including farm machiery) to military vehickes and tanks. Luckilt there was favorable weather during the War years. Farmers increased agricultural production in 1942 (24 per cent) and even more in 1943 (29 per cent) over the 1935–39 average. Given the size of the American farm economy, these were enormous quantities of food. .

Sources

Mullendore, William C. History of the United States Food Administration, 1917-19 (1921).






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Created: 3:00 AM 12/24/2006
Last updated: 5:57 AM 5/3/2010