FSA, Farm Security Administration

former tenant farmersOne of the unintended consequences of the AAA was that landowners used new government payments to buy tractors. Farmers who had been renting a small parcel of land and farming it with horses were displaced by the landowner who now only needed one farmer and a tractor instead of several with horses.

Walter Ballard was a tenant farmer in Texas working with horses and “making a decent living.” Then the landlord “seen he could buy tractors up,” and Walter quotes the landlord as saying, “‘You get off. I don’t need you no more.’”

Walter’s story was repeated across the south and the plains. This problem reached the attention of the nation, and FDR responded by setting up the agency that became the FSA.

HoffmanElroy Hoffman (right) of York was one of the farmers who took out a government loan to start farming. He remembers how it troubled him to go into debt. ” When I got that FSA loan, it was for a $1,020, and I looked at the check and thought, ‘Oh, my God, I’ll never on God’s earth pay that off, you know.’ And now, what’s $1,000 now?”

The FSA loaned money to tenant farmers (renters) at low interest rates. The FSA also built model cooperative farmsteads for farmers who had been forced to receive relief (now known as “welfare”). The agency built camps in California for Okies and other migrant workers.

The loan program was the main effort of the agency and thousands of tenant farmers were able to stay on the land because of them. Many were able to earn enough ahead to actually buy their farms outright. Elroy did not. He remained a renter all his life, but he was able to make a living.

woman cleaning a chickenOne of the other unique aspects of the FSA program was that the agency insisted that their borrowers learn the basics of modern bookkeeping. For some, it was their first training in business skills.

Madge May and her husband Lynn of Hickman, Nebraska, borrowed money from the FSA in the late 30s. The loan allowed them to stay on the farm and gradually develop other businesses. Madge began selling the chickens she was raising, killing and cleaning. She sold them in town for “a dollar and a half a chicken.” Lynn started a feed franchise and then a propane gas delivery business. All the way along, Madge used the bookkeeping skills she had learned from the FSA. Finally, she went to work in Lincoln and became the head bookkeeper for a high-end clothing store.

Written by Bill Ganzel of the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.

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