Raising What You Can
During the 1930s a series of disasters (some man made, some natural) hit farmers especially hard. Summer temperatures soared to record highs, and crop prices fell to record lows. On the Great Plains, the rain stopped falling and only dust clouds filled the sky. Without rain, farmers couldn't grow crops to feed their cows and pigs. Herman Goertzen says it was so hot and dry that the only thing he could raise on his farm was weeds and grasshoppers. Without crops or livestock to sell, some farmers could not pay for their land. Many families moved away from Nebraska. Others stayed to fight the grasshoppers that were eating their crops.
Meanwhile, plant scientists were developing special kinds of seeds that grew in dry weather. The government started many new programs to help farmers. One program paid farmers to plant less of certain crops or not to plant at all. Another program taught farmers how to conserve the soil or paid them to plant trees. Many of these programs changed what farmers planted and how they plowed the land. These government programs changed American agriculture forever.
By the end of the 1930s, crop and livestock prices started going up, and conservation programs began building up the soil. Farmers began to plant hybrid seeds and use tractors and combines instead of horses. Nebraska farms got bigger, but fewer families lived on the land. Walter Schmitt says the number of people living on farms in York County went down during the 1930s a trend that continued for many years after the Great Depression. Today, the tools available to farmers to manage their crops are amazing.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.