AAA, Agricultural Adjustment Act
Within days of his inauguration in 1933, President Roosevelt called Congress into special session and introduced a record 15 major pieces of legislation. One of the first to be introduced and enacted was the AAA, the Agricultural Adjustment Act.
For the first time, Congress declared that is was “the policy of Congress” to balance supply and demand for farm commodities so that prices would support a decent purchasing power for farmers. This concept, outlined in the AAA, was known as “parity.”
AAA controlled the supply of seven “basic crops” – corn, wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, tobacco and milk – by offering payments to farmers in return for taking some of their land out of farming, not planting a crop.
LeRoy Hankel says there only a few farmers who refused to take the government payments. “There’s a few that said, ‘The government isn’t going to tell me what to do.’ There was a few of them. Now, I don’t think there was too many.” Most farmers couldn’t afford not to take the government payments.
In 1937, the Supreme Court ruled that the AAA was unconstitutional, but the basic program was rewritten and again passed into law. Even critics admitted that the AAA and related laws helped revive hope in farm communities. Farmers were put on local committees and spoke their minds. Government checks began to flow. The AAA did not end the Depression and drought, but the legislation remained the basis for all farm programs in the following 70 years of the 20th Century.
This idea of supporting farmers by limiting supply has also produced controversy. Some critics point out that only seven of the hundreds or thousands of different crops grown by farmers are eligible for payments. No livestock producers are included. Farmers also continue to produce more and more despite the limitations the government imposes. New technologies make it possible to grow much more on the same amount of land.
Written by Bill Ganzel of the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.