Following World War I, North Dakota farmers faced financial hardship. The war had created a high demand for farm products – prices rose as exports surged. Farmers enjoyed a prosperity they had never known. But when the war ended, demand rapidly decreased. Overproduction resulted in sagging prices. Farmers who had taken out mortgages and loans to buy new equipment and expand their operations found themselves unable to meet their financial obligations.
Congress took steps to relieve the farmers. Four attempts were made during the 1920s to pass the McNary-Haugen Farm Relief Act. It was supported by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Vice President, but it was vetoed by President Calvin Coolidge. It never became law.
In 1929, another attempt to help farmers was the establishment of the Federal Farm Board, with half a billion dollars of funding. The Farm Board helped farm organizations buy, sell, and store agricultural surpluses. President Hoover hoped this would halt the falling crop prices, but the funding was soon exhausted with no effect.
Next came the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930. It was supposed to help farmers, but the high tariff rate actually made the situation worse.
By the 1930s, North Dakota farmers were in dire straits, and things only got worse with the advent of the Great Depression. North Dakota farmers, like farmers in the rest of the country, found themselves in the midst of a financial disaster.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt inherited one of the worst agricultural situations the Great Plains had ever seen. Roosevelt believed that prosperity would not be achieved until farmers were again on even financial footing. He recognized that the farmers faced problems that went beyond the disastrous drought and dust storms.
Many of his New Deal programs were aimed at helping farmers. On this date in 1934, Roosevelt signed the Jones-Connally Farm Relief Act. Benefit payments, crop adjustments, funds for controlling livestock diseases, and moderation of planting restrictions were designed to tide the farmers over until the financial situation improved. The bill also provided for the purchase of starving cattle.
North Dakota farmers still faced hardships, but the measures taken in Washington had put them on the long road to recovery.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Saloutos, Theodore. “The New Deal and Farm Policy in the Great Plains.” Agricultural History Society, July 1969, 345-356.
Schapsmeier, Edward L. and Frederick H. Schapsmeier. “Farm Policy from FDR to Eisenhower: Southern Democrats and the Politics of Agriculture.”
Edward L. Schapsmeier and Frederick H. Schapsmeier. Agricultural History, January, 1979, pp. 352-371.