Farm prices dropped precipitously in the recession of 1921 and stayed down. The agricultural depression was under way long before the general collapse which started in 1929. In 1922 there began a decade of study, discussion, publication, and legislative proposals to promote "farm relief." During most of this decade professors, farm-organization leaders, and Congressmen were "in advance" of both the executive branch of government and the people at large--including farmers. Finally, in 1933 the farm interest won expression in the form of national law. The present chapter provides background for the enactment of this legislation, summarizing and comparing the McNary-Haugen scheme, the domestic-allotment plan, and Tugwell's remedial device of 1928.
In The Democratic Roosevelt Tugwell listed five causes of the farmers' troubles in the 1920's: (1) the sudden uselessness of the new land called into production by the demands of war; (2) the changes in diet from starch to protein; (3) the development of synthetic fibers; (4) over- capitalization of farm lands in prosperous years; (5) inability of farm owners to discharge their debts with the income from cheapened crops.1 Crops, moreover, cheapened for historic reasons as well as those especially characteristic of the 1920's. Farmers received low prices for what they sold and paid high prices for what they bought--that is, they sold their products at prices determined in a world market and bought manufactured goods whose prices were set in a tariff-protected market. Because of their lack of co-ordination as producers and sellers, the necessity of allowing a margin for the whims of nature, and the interval between production commitment and marketing, farmers were unable to adjust supply to demand with anything like the speed and efficiency with which industrialists made this adjustment. These disadvantages meant that farm prices rose more slowly than industrial prices in good times and fell more rapidly in bad times. They combined with current handicaps to deprive farmers of a proportionate share in the prosperity of the New Era.
Looking ahead for a moment to the end of the Prosperity Decade, we find Tugwell noting in 1928 that our integrated economy was vulnerable to a weakness in any of its parts and citing low farm income as a danger point.2 By 1932 the position of the farmers had collapsed. The force with which the depression struck them down is indicated by a few figures: