Farms during the New Nation - History

Farms during the New Nation - History

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Farmers were influential members of society, and were members of a wide range of socio-economic groups. Politicians had to consider the interests of farmers when they sought election or considered a policy. In fact, many statesmen, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were themselves farmers. Farmers on small farms were often close to towns or other farms, and tended to contribute to the larger community while maintaining their independent status. Large plantations, however, were generally self-contained, providing most basic needs and reducing interdependence between farms. The specifics of farming family lifestyles depended on the region in which the farmers lived.

Maine History Online

In the years after statehood Maine grew rapidly as markets opened for its farm, forest, and mineral products. At a time when industrial production depended on hand-labor, Maine enjoyed rapid population growth, and in an age of seaborne commerce, it boasted some of the best deep-water harbors in the world. In a material culture built of wood, Maine's 17 million acres of forest stood within a few days sail of any port in the East, and in a time when water turbines drove American industry, Maine had the most powerful rivers east of the Mississippi. The times could hardly have been more propitious for Maine's economic ascent.

Improving the Land

Like the rest of America, Maine was an agrarian society. After 1820 farming spread into the fertile central lowlands and northward into the lime-rich soils of the lower Aroostook Valley, while the St. John River region, settled by Acadian farm families in the 1780s, grew weather-hardened crops of buckwheat and potatoes.

Maine farms were typically small, family-run operations, averaging around 100 acres, and they faced formidable natural obstacles, including geographical isolation, thin soils, dense forests, and unpredictable weather. Except for Aroostook County's potatoes, farmers found no great staple crop for export, and accordingly they devoted a significant amount of time to subsistence production.

They grew a variety of grains along with potatoes, corn, fruits, and vegetables, and raised poultry, cattle, and sheep. After the fall harvest men produced hand-crafted items like clocks, buggy whips, furniture, horse collars, barrels, and shingles, and women made brooms, baskets, and palm-leaf hats and wove cloth or took in cut fabric or leather to sew into clothes or shoes.

"Mixed husbandry," as this approach to farming was called, was a response to Maine's small, easily saturated markets and to the great risk in raising crops in Maine if one source of income failed, another took its place. Workers in other areas – fishing, lumbering, and more – use a similar tactic of taking on a variety of jobs to ensure economic viability.

With subsistence as a primary goal, the farm family focused on the long winter months when humans and livestock lived off the bounty of the previous season's work. Households were fortified with bushels of potatoes, oats, wheat, buckwheat, and corn barrels of salt pork, corned beef, and sausage bins of vegetable and root crops, crocks of butter, loafs of maple sugar, rounds of cheese, and jars of preserves.

Winter dominated the farmers' psychology, as Robert P. Tristram Coffin noted in his poem "This is my country":

Women's work was central to this subsistence-based system. Mothers and daughters ran the farm in winter when husbands and sons worked in the woods, and they exchanged various products and skills with neighbors to supplement the family's harvest. They extended the bounty of one season through the next by processing meat, grains, and produce, and they nurtured the farm's primary labor force, instilling the strong work habits so vital to the farm's success.

While husbands and sons worked in the fields, barns, and woodlots, wives and daughters made meals, milked cows, churned butter, fed livestock and poultry, carried wood, tended smaller children, mended grain sacks, washed and ironed clothes, cleaned milk pans, tilled the garden, gathered fruit, and, when time permitted, cleaned the house.

To augment their self-sufficiency and their limited market purchases, men and women bartered skills like blacksmithing, candlemaking, weaving, dressmaking, health care, and carpentry with neighbors they shared machinery, exchanged use of pastures, borrowed tools, and stood by others in birth, sickness, or death.

These patterns of work and trade shaped a unique rural culture for Maine. Strong inter-generational bonds gave Maine farming a conservative cast, as sons and daughters followed the practices set down by fathers and mothers, and the intense interaction among neighbors and extended kin gave this rural culture a close-knit and somewhat tribal character. Suspicion of outside influences left farmers slow to innovate. Mixed husbandry also inspired a distinctive form of architecture in which farm buildings were connected, house and ell to shed and barn.

Nature's State

While most Mainers were engaged in agriculture, several industries grabbed the attention of the state and nation after 1820. In fact, America's public buildings were made of Maine granite and its houses of Penobscot pine and Brewer brick, cemented over and plastered with lime from Rockland and Rockport and roofed with slate from Monson and Brownville or cedar shingles from the wetlands north of Bangor.

Maine's combination of natural resources and geography put it in position to make a large contribution to feeding and housing the nation and carrying its goods in the early 19th century.

Maine used its abundant natural resources in a number of ways. Tanneries, which utilized the state's abundant hemlock stands for bark extract, dotted the central part of the state, and mixed forests of oak, pine, spruce, and tamarack made Maine the nation's premier ship builder. Ice production, which peaked in the second half of the century, illustrates the windfall nature of these staples industries, wherein a relatively small investment brought vast rewards from seemingly inexhaustible resources.

Granite was another semiprocessed raw material exported in great quantities from Maine. Quarries, particularly those on the islands and the peninsulas of Penobscot Bay, were well positioned for cheap shipment by sea, and good-quality stone lay near the surface, thanks to glacial scouring.

Once the base of a gigantic mountain range, Maine granite was so superior in durability, polish, and color that it was marketed as far west as Denver and San Francisco.

Maine became the nation's leading lumber producer based on an abundance of white pine and a complex of environmental conditions that offered cheap transportation to mills and markets. Rivers flowing out of Maine's relatively flat western tablelands presented few obstacles to impede log drives, and Maine's granite bedrock channeled rainwater and snow-melt directly into these streams, providing a forceful spring "freshet" to push the logs through to the mills.

Nature provided cheap transportation for the loggers, but it also introduced an element of risk known to few other industries. Snowfall provided a friction-free hauling surface to move logs to the rivers, but some seasons brought too little snow and some too much, causing horses to founder on the roads.

Snowfall provided water to drive logs to the mills, but if the snow lingered in the spring, the drive was delayed, and if it melted too fast, logs were stranded in the upper branches. Absent perfect weather, log jams were inevitable, sometimes bringing financial disaster and considerable threat to life.

Strong markets in the expanding seaboard cities pushed the frontier of lumbering activity from the Piscataqua to the Kennebec Valley by 1800, and north to the Penobscot headwaters in the 1840s. This moving frontier left behind scores of inland towns founded on the promise of lumbering profits sawmills provided off-season jobs for farmers, and woods operations consumed the farmers' hay, oats, beans, and potatoes.

Lumber shipments provided capital for these isolated communities, allowing mill owners to diversify into grain-processing, wool-carding, tanning, and metal-forging, and edging these communities into the industrial age.

But, as the industry moved north of the Penobscot waters, tensions arose between Maine and New Brunswick over the contested boundary between the two. The dispute erupted into the "Aroostook War" and was finally settled in 1842 with negotiation of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. With the border established, the lumber industry moved further north and into the western highlands.

Where early operations involved hundreds of smaller companies, in the 1830s a few lumber barons like Abner Coburn, Samuel Veazie, Ira Wadleigh, and Rufus Dwinel bought up whole townships, constructed sawmills, and vied for control of the resource.

Companies often competed over construction of canals and dams, sometimes attempting to redirect water to serve their needs. Lumbering created booms towns, also, such as Bangor, for a time the world's greatest lumber shipping port.

In these flush decades, lumber production shaped Maine's politics in ways that sometimes hindered further economic growth. Low timberland taxes frustrated attempts to use state resources to encourage other industries. Jealous of their prerogatives, Bangor's merchants and lumbermen allied with rural Jacksonians to block state aid for railroad, canal, road, and waterpower projects aimed at benefitting inland farms and industry.

This conservative axis gave way only gradually in the second half of the century, and its continuing influence was responsible for Maine's contradictory and divided approach toward outside capital and industrial development.

While Portland financed new harbor facilities, the Cumberland and Oxford Canal, and the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad, Bangor invested narrowly in sawmills, timberland, and ships to carry their lumber. In 1856 the Board of Agriculture polled the state's farmers and found that four-fifths considered lumbering an impediment to agricultural modernization.

Timberland owners controlled land, shut out settlers, and discouraged market roads, fearing higher taxes. Their sawmills provided employment, but the work was seasonal and the companies' expectation that farm families would provide their own food depressed wages.

In the long run, seasonal work in the woods and mills anchored people to lands that should not have been cultivated, perpetuating a cycle of low wages, indifferent farming, and rural poverty. For many, the only alternative was out-migration.

Ice, granite, lime, slate, fish industries created huge fortunes for those who mastered the art of turning Maine's natural resources into liquid assets. But in the long run these assets became too liquid, passing easily out of the state when opportunities arose elsewhere.

Maine Goes Global

In the middle of the 1800s, Maine stood at the juncture of two great streams of commerce: the transatlantic trade with Europe, and the long-shore links between northern and southern states and the West Indies. Maine built the ships that carried this trade and provided the crews that made America the world's premier trading nation. At its peak, Maine shipyards produced more than one-third of the nation's shipping, including some of the finest square-rigged vessels ever built.

Maine's shipyards were well positioned to benefit from America's burgeoning seaborne trade. Numerous sheltered harbors offered sloping beaches suited to sliding finished ships off the ways, rivers carried ocean-going vessels deep into the interior, and forests supplied a diverse array of timber to meet all ship-building needs. No less important, Maine's maritime skills were honed by a seafaring tradition going back to colonial times. These advantages gave Maine's seacoast towns a cosmopolitan air villagers made friends around the world and knew intimately the goings-on in exotic places like Singapore and Sao Paulo.

Responding to the rise of cotton textile mills in England and New England, Maine shipyards produced deep-hulled square-rigged ships to transport cotton from the South. Expansion of the China trade in the 1840s created a market for clipper ships, capable of quick passage over vast expanses of open ocean.

Sacrificing cargo space and seaworthiness, these sharp-bowed, narrow-beam vessels emphasized speed to carry low-bulk, high-value items and outrun pirates in the South Pacific. They traded opium for Chinese jade, silks, porcelain, brocades, and tea and brought coffee, spices, and other exotics from the South Pacific.

During the gold rush, clippers transported prospectors and equipment to San Francisco and carried mail and passengers in the transatlantic packet service. These maritime activities shaped the culture of the coast. Sea shanties enlivened Maine lore with stories of lost vessels and rapid crossings, and seaborne superstitions made their way landward.

Small-boat building flourished along the coast, each locale producing its own distinctive design. With men away on voyages, women sustained these coastal communities, building networks of support to compensate for the difficulties families faced in this dangerous occupation. Marriage links forged shipbuilding and sailing dynasties that pooled capital and shared risks sons-in-law became mates and masters in family ships, and daughters inherited vessel shares and combined them with those of their husbands.

In Searsport, a major seafaring center, about half the wives went to sea with their captain-husbands, sometimes bearing, raising, and educating their children at sea. Maria Whall Waterhouse took command of the S.F. Hersey in Melbourne when her husband died, and according to legend faced down a mutiny with the aid of her late husband's two pistols and the ship's cook.

Maine's long, indented coast also gave rise to a vigorous fishing industry. The Gulf of Maine was among the world's most productive fisheries, benefitting from a rich mix of nutrients from the Labrador Current and Gulf Stream and from extensive breeding grounds in the bays and estuaries along the coast.

Baiting and hauling lines and cleaning and curing the catch was a round-the-clock business, but by law, crews were awarded equal shares in the profits, because the U.S. Treasury provided subsidies in order to foster seafaring skills for the Navy. Because crews were often members of an extended family, fishing was more democratic than seafaring industries like shipping and whaling.

Maine, close to the great cod fisheries on the Grand and Georges banks focused on cod exports. Salted cod was marketed among urban immigrants and slaves on sugar, rice, and cotton plantations. At its peak, Maine provided one-fifth of the fish product produced in America, a vital source of protein for the nation.

When competition from larger ports made cod fishing less profitable, Maine fishermen turned to mackerel and menhaden, which arrived in huge schools each spring and were rendered as oil or fertilizer in small factories along the coast. Those markets declined in the 1880s, replaced largely by herring, which was caught in brush weirs along the coast.

Herring were smoked, pickled, used as bait, and, in the 1870s, canned in large processing factories as sardines. Capital investments were low, requiring only a few dories to dip herring out of the weirs and a small schooner to carry them to the canneries.

An Industrial Alternative

Maine's cultural identity was shaped by rural pursuits like lumbering, quarrying, and fishing, but in the first half of the century another landscape was shaping up in cities like Saco, Portland, and Lewiston. Maine experienced the Industrial Revolution in a variety of ways, from home and backyard shops producing tinware, cloth, candlesticks, spoons, chairs, and other items to some of the largest textile factories in New England.

As in other industrializing parts of the Northeast, when textile mills began turning out spun thread, women wove it into cloth in their homes, and when the mills began producing finished cloth, homebound women sewed it into ready-made clothing. From these amazingly productive homes, sheds, and dooryards came barrel and box staves, wheels and wagons, shoes, straw hats, boots, and myriad other "industrial" products.

Maine's advantage was its huge waterpower potential and its nearby port facilities. Boston supplied the capital and Maine the industrial energy. In 1826, two years after it built the large textile mills at Lowell, Massachusetts, the Boston Manufacturing Company completed a mill twice the size of Lowell at Saco Falls.

The Saco Manufacturing Company, by far the largest single cotton mill in country, burned in 1830 and was rebuilt on a much smaller scale, but from these beginnings the industry spread into central Maine. The power of the Saco River was matched by that of the Androscoggin.

Situated at the Falls of the Androscoggin, Lewiston was destined to become Maine's largest textile center. In 1845 several local investors incorporated the Lewiston Falls Cotton Mill Company, dammed the river, dug canals, and two years later sold their investment to Benjamin E. Bates, a member of the Boston Associates.

Bates opened a new mill in 1850 and added another in 1854. During the Civil War he expanded again, sending agents out into the countryside to recruit women. The company's boarding houses along Canal Street were pleasant, inexpensive, and strictly monitored, and, as in Lowell and other textile centers, Yankee women lived and labored until Irish immigrants replaced them.

Families from Ireland had been settling in Maine since colonial times, but the potato famine of 1845-1851 triggered a dramatic increase in migration. Impoverished and debilitated, immigrants arrived in the state's expanding industrial cities from the Maritimes and Quebec. French-Canadians faced a similar, although less drastic agricultural crisis after mid-century, and began moving to Maine in large numbers in the 1870s, eager to trade the uncertainties of marginal farming for the security of a weekly paycheck.

In both cases entire families worked – the men as day laborers digging canals and foundations and railroad grades, and the women and children in the mills. Both groups lived in segregated neighborhoods, often on cheap land near the factories or warehouses, where crowding and sanitation problems brought outbreaks of cholera and typhoid. And, both groups were subject to nativist hostility.

In addition to these new textile cities, Portland expanded its industrial output in the first half of the century, based on its rapid population growth and profits from the West India trade. Ships carrying fish, produce, livestock, and box shooks to the Caribbean returned with sugar and molasses. Portland capitalized on this trade by building sugar refineries and rum distilleries.

The city's infrastructure was geared to the West India trade, but in the 1840s Portland lawyer John A. Poor helped the city diversify by promoting a rail link to Montreal, which became landlocked when the St. Lawrence froze over each winter.

Because Portland was 100 miles closer to Liverpool than was Boston, Portland enjoyed advantages in the transatlantic trade in Canadian timber, agricultural, and mining products. The Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railway was completed in 1854. The rising tide of Canadian staples stimulated development of wharves, piers, stockyards, grain elevators, coal facilities, warehouses, and shipyards, transforming Portland into a major western Atlantic shipping point.

Beginning with these profitable enterprises, business leaders diversified into other forms of manufacturing, including, at one point, railroad locomotives. While no single enterprise was as spectacular as Lewiston's huge textile mills, Portland's smaller and more diversified industries made it the largest manufacturing center in the state.

John A. Poor's audacious railroad schemes – the Atlantic and St. Lawrence and later the European & North American Railway from Bangor to St. John – convinced many that Maine's development hinged on a mix of local resources, outside capital, and good transportation. At mid-century Maine's rail system was consolidated as the Maine Central Railroad, and in the 1890s the Bangor and Aroostook stretched this system into the productive potato and lumber region of eastern Aroostook County and the St. John Valley.

Transportation, capital, waterpower, and natural resources held great promise for Maine's Industrial Revolution, but there were also constraints: a labor force scattered through the upland farm towns and coastal villages or looking for new opportunities beyond the state's borders, and an economic and political system locked in the embrace of the old staple industries.

Still, Maine's prestige as the nation's supplier of fish, textiles, and construction materials gave its political representatives prominent standing in Washington as America approached a critical test of nationhood in 1861.

Agricultural Depression, 1920–1934

Starving farm family that appealed for aid during an agricultural depression, Hollandale, Freeborn County, 1929.

Minnesota farmers enjoyed a period of prosperity in the 1910s that continued through World War I. Encouraged by the US government to increase production, farmers took out loans to buy more land and invest in new equipment. As war-torn countries recovered, the demand for US exports fell, and land values and prices for commodities dropped. Farmers found it hard to repay their loans—a situation worsened by the Great Depression and the drought years that followed.

The onset of World War I in 1914 sparked an economic boom for farmers in the United States. Demand for agricultural products soared as the war-ravaged countries of Europe could no longer produce needed supplies. This created a shortage that drove up prices for farm commodities. In Minnesota, the season-average price per bushel of corn rose from fifty-nine cents in 1914 to $1.30 in 1919. Wheat prices jumped from $1.05 per bushel to $2.34. The average price of hogs increased from $7.40 to $16.70 per hundred pounds, and the price of milk rose from $1.50 to $2.95 per hundred pounds.

To meet the demand, the US government encouraged farmers to produce more. In 1916, Congress passed the Federal Farm Loan Act, creating twelve federal land banks to provide long-term loans for farm expansion. Believing that the boom would continue, many farmers took advantage of this and other loan opportunities to invest in land, tractors, and other new labor-saving equipment at interest rates ranging from 5 to 7 percent. By 1920, 52.4 percent of the 132,744 Minnesota farms reporting to the Agricultural Census carried mortgage debt, totaling more than $254 million.

After the US entered the war in 1917 and continuing into the post-war years, 40 million acres of uncultivated land in the US went under the plow, including 30 million acres in the wheat- and corn-producing states of the Midwest. In Kittson County alone, wheat acreage increased from 93,000 acres prewar to 146,000 acres. Minnesota farmers had nearly 18.5 million acres under cultivation by 1929. The demand for land inflated the price of farm real estate, regardless of quality. The average price of Minnesota farm land more than doubled between 1910 and 1920, from $46 to $109 per acre.

After the end of the war, relief efforts kept the demand for US agricultural products high. Gross exports of all grains in 1918–1919 totaled 525,461,560 bushels. During that period, the US shipped more than 2.9 billion pounds of pork, 1.1 billion pounds of beef, and nearly 8.8 million pounds of dairy products to allied countries, various relief programs, and American Expeditionary Forces overseas.

Farmers continued to produce more, expecting demand and prices to remain stable. As Europe began to recover from the war, however, the US farm economy began a long downward trend that reached a crisis during the Great Depression. Minnesota farmers' gross cash income fell from $438 million in 1918 to $229 million in 1922. In 1932, it fell to $155 million.

With heavy debts to pay and improved farming practices and equipment making it easier to work more land, farmers found it hard to reduce production. The resulting large surpluses caused farm prices to plummet. From 1919 to 1920, corn tumbled from $1.30 per bushel to forty-seven cents, a drop of more than 63 percent. Wheat prices fell to $1.65 per bushel. The price of hogs dropped to $12.90 per hundred pounds.

As surpluses mounted, the federal government promoted lowering production. It also created programs designed to help stabilize prices. The goal was to achieve parity – to bring prices back to prewar levels and equalize the prices farmers received with the prices they paid for goods.

The passage of the Capper-Volstead Act on February 18, 1922 legalized the sale of farm commodities through farmer-owned cooperatives. Co-ops cut out the middlemen who often underpaid farmers for their products. Congress passed the Agricultural Appropriations Act later that year, creating the US Bureau of Agricultural Economics for economic research.

Foreign trade restrictions, such as the Fordney–McCumber Tariff (1922) and the Hawley-Smoot Tariff (1930), imposed high taxes on imports in an attempt to protect US farms and industry. International trading partners reacted by increasing import fees on American goods. US export of farm products declined, surpluses grew, and prices continued to drop. In 1932, Minnesota corn prices fell to twenty-eight cents per bushel, wheat dropped to forty-four cents per bushel, and the price of hogs fell 75 percent to $3.20 per hundred pounds.

With less demand for land, real estate values plunged to an average of $35 per acre by the late 1930s. Farmers struggled to repay loans for land that had lost its value. Rising property taxes, freight rates, and labor costs added to the financial hardships facing many farmers. In Minnesota, the average tax per acre increased from forty-six cents in 1913 to $1.45 in 1930.

The west-central counties of Minnesota suffered from the severe drought conditions of 1933–1934. A combination of poor farming methods and drought caused extensive soil erosion. A grasshopper infestation compounded crop losses in many western counties.

Farmers across the country began to default on their loans. An estimated sixty of every 1,000 farmers in the US either lost their farms or filed for bankruptcy. From 1926 to 1932, 1,442 farms totaling 258,587 acres were lost to foreclosure in Minnesota. Marshall County had the highest number of foreclosures during this period with 191. It was followed by Kittson County with 127 and Pennington County with 123. From 1922 to 1932, 2,866 Minnesota farmers declared bankruptcy.

In spite of the hardships, Minnesota's rural population increased during the 1930s. Many who lost farms to foreclosure remained on the property as tenants. Others moved from urban areas to the country.

On July 29, 1932, farmers met in St. Cloud to organize the Minnesota Farmers Holiday Association. Members staged a thirty-day strike to call a moratorium on foreclosures. The following April the state legislature passed a bill declaring a state of emergency for Minnesota farmers and approving a mortgage moratorium.

Congress passed several farm relief measures in 1933. The first Agricultural Adjustment Act established the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) and gave it the power to pay subsidies to farmers who voluntarily reduced production. The Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), the forerunner of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), provided relief for both urban and rural residents through work projects.

The Resettlement Administration (RA), begun in 1935, moved 300 families from poor quality land in northeastern Minnesota to better farms through programs like the Beltrami Island Project. The RA was replaced by the Farm Security Administration in 1937.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1936 that the AAA was unconstitutional and suspended farm subsidies. Congress, in turn, responded with the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act. In 1938, a second AAA bill passed that controlled crop production through acreage allotment and soil conservation.

By December 1934, 18 percent of Minnesota's total population was on some form of relief and had received a total of $67,619,854 in benefits. From 1933 to 1936, rural and urban residents in seventy-seven Minnesota counties received federal aid payments. By the late 1930s, the US farm economy finally began to improve.

Who were the Viking people?

The Vikings came from what is now known as Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway and Sweden. However, they were not one “race” as such, rather small groups from all over the region. Also, Vikings weren't just limited to Scandinavia. Historical records indicate Finnish, Estonian and Saami Vikings as well.

Aside from occasional trade they had very little to do with one another, and in fact often fought amongst themselves. That being said, the Viking were united as a group in one circumstance: the eyes of the conquered! They came from foreign lands, were seen as uncivilised, and were not Christians. That would come later, of course!

Viking history tends to focus on the warriors, typically men. Much has been written lately about the role of women in the Viking age. You can read our own summary of the findings here.

Relatively few Norsemen actually set sail on raids and trade missions in the early years. At least, until settlements were founded elsewhere. Instead, many worked out their lives as farmers or fishermen.

How Farm Subsidies Affect the Economy

The federal crop insurance program may be encouraging farmers to plant crops that aren't drought resistant.   The insurance program encourages them to plant the same crops year after year, regardless of crop yield. As a result, it keeps them from switching to drought-resistant crops. This worsens drought in the Midwest. Between 2006 and 2015, the Midwest was in an extended drought.

Global warming is expected to worsen drought. The number of 100-degree-plus days is projected to quadruple by 2050.

The drought is forcing farmers to drain the groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer eight times faster than rain is putting it back.   The Aquifer stretches from South Dakota to Texas. It supplies 30% of the nation's irrigation water. At the current rate of use, it will dry up within the century. Scientists say it would take 6,000 years for the rain to refill the aquifer.

Corn for cattle feed is the most significant culprit, fattening 40% of the nation's grain-fed beef. Other subsidies encourage farmers to grow corn for ethanol biofuel. The number of ethanol production facilities in the High Plains region has doubled. That drains an additional 120 billion gallons a year from the aquifer.

Subsidies for Texas cotton is $3 billion a year. It's shipped to China, where it's made into the cheap clothing sold in American stores.

Farm subsidies bills include food stamp funding. That ensures urban members of Congress will support the farm subsidy bills.

New Agricultural Tools

An important factor of the Agricultural Revolution was the invention of new tools and advancement of old ones, including the plough, seed drill, and threshing machine, to improve the efficiency of agricultural operations.

Learning Objectives

Identify some of the new tools developed as part of the Agricultural Revolution

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The mechanization and rationalization of agriculture was a key factor of the Agricultural Revolution. New tools were invented and old ones perfected to improve the efficiency of various agricultural operations.
  • The Dutch plough was brought to Britain by Dutch contractors. In 1730, Joseph Foljambe in Rotherham, England, used new shapes as the basis for the Rotherham plough, which also covered the moldboard with iron. By 1770, it was the cheapest and best plough available. It spread to Scotland, America, and France. It may have been the first plough to be widely built in factories and the first to be commercially successful.
  • In 1789 Robert Ransome started casting ploughshares in a disused malting at St. Margaret’s Ditches. As a result of a mishap in his foundry, a broken mold caused molten metal to come into contact with cold metal, making the metal surface extremely hard — chilled casting — which he advertised as “self sharpening” ploughs and received patents for his discovery.
  • James Small further advanced the design. Using mathematical methods, he experimented with various designs until he arrived at a shape cast from a single piece of iron, an improvement on the Scots plough of James Anderson of Hermiston.
  • The seed drill was invented in China in the 2nd century BCE and introduced to Italy in the mid-16th century. First attributed to Camillo Torello, it was patented by the Venetian Senate in 1566. In England, it was further refined by Jethro Tull in 1701. Tull’s drill was a mechanical seeder that sowed efficiently at the correct depth and spacing and then covered the seed so that it could grow. However, seed drills of this and successive types were expensive, unreliable, and fragile.
  • A threshing machine or thresher is a piece of farm equipment that threshes grain: removes the seeds from the stalks and husks. Mechanization of this process removed a substantial amount of drudgery from farm labor. The first threshing machine was invented circa 1786 by the Scottish engineer Andrew Meikle, and the subsequent adoption of such machines was one of the earlier examples of the mechanization of agriculture.

Key Terms

  • threshing machine: A piece of farm equipment that threshes grain, that is, removes the seeds from the stalks and husks. It does so by beating the plant to make the seeds fall out. The first model was invented circa 1786 by the Scottish engineer Andrew Meikle, and the subsequent adoption of such machines was one of the earlier examples of the mechanization of agriculture.
  • plough: A tool or farm implement for initial cultivation of soil in preparation for sowing seed or planting. It has been a basic instrument for most of recorded history, although written references do not appear in English until c. 1100, after which it is referenced frequently. Its construction was highly advanced during the Agricultural Revolution.
  • seed drill: A device that sows the seeds for crops by metering out individual seeds, positioning them in the soil, and covering them to a certain average depth. It sows the seeds at equal distances and proper depth, ensuring they get covered with soil and are saved from being eaten by birds. Invented in China in the 2nd century BCE, it was advanced by Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries, becoming an important development of the Agricultural Revolution.

Agricultural Revolution: Mechanization

The mechanization and rationalization of agriculture was a key factor of the Agricultural Revolution. New tools were invented and old ones perfected to improve the efficiency of various agricultural operations.

The basic plough with coulter, ploughshare, and moldboard remained in use for a millennium. Major changes in design did not become common until the Age of Enlightenment, when there was rapid progress. The Dutch acquired the iron tipped, curved moldboard, adjustable depth plough from the Chinese in the early 17th century. It had the ability to be pulled by one or two oxen compared to the six or eight needed by the heavy-wheeled northern European plough. The Dutch plough was brought to Britain by Dutch contractors hired to drain East Anglian fens and Somerset moors. The plough was extremely successful on wet, boggy soil, but soon was used on ordinary land. In 1730, Joseph Foljambe in Rotherham, England, used new shapes as the basis for the Rotherham plough, which also covered the moldboard with iron. Unlike the heavy plough, the Rotherham (or Rotherham swing) plough consisted entirely of the coulter, moldboard, and handles. By the 1760s Foljambe was making large numbers of these ploughs in a factory outside of Rotherham, using standard patterns with interchangeable parts. The plough was easy for a blacksmith to make and by the end of the 18th century it was being made in rural foundries. By 1770, it was the cheapest and best plough available. It spread to Scotland, America, and France. It may have been the first plough to be widely built in factories and the first to be commercially successful.

In 1789 Robert Ransome, an iron founder in Ipswich, started casting ploughshares in a disused malting at St. Margaret’s Ditches. As a result of a mishap in his foundry, a broken mold caused molten metal to come into contact with cold metal, making the metal surface extremely hard — chilled casting — which he advertised as “self sharpening” ploughs and received patents for his discovery. In 1789, Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies was producing 86 plough models for different soils.

James Small further advanced the design. Using mathematical methods, he experimented with various designs until he arrived at a shape cast from a single piece of iron, an improvement on the Scots plough of James Anderson of Hermiston. A single-piece cast iron plough was also developed and patented by Charles Newbold in the United States. This was again improved on by Jethro Wood, a blacksmith of Scipio, New York, who made a three-part Scots Plough that allowed a broken piece to be replaced.

The seed drill was introduced from China, where it was invented in the 2nd century BCE, to Italy in the mid-16th century. First attributed to Camillo Torello, it was patented by the Venetian Senate in 1566. A seed drill was described in detail by Tadeo Cavalina of Bologna in 1602. In England, it was further refined by Jethro Tull in 1701. Before the introduction of the seed drill, the common practice was to plant seeds by broadcasting (evenly throwing) them across the ground by hand on the prepared soil and then lightly harrowing the soil to cover the seed. Seeds left on top of the ground were eaten by birds, insects, and mice. There was no control over spacing and seeds were planted too close together and too far apart. Alternately seeds could be laboriously planted one by one using a hoe and/or a shovel. Cutting down on wasted seed was important because the yield of seeds harvested to seeds planted at that time was around four or five. Tull’s drill was a mechanical seeder that sowed efficiently at the correct depth and spacing and then covered the seed so that it could grow. However, seed drills of this and successive types were both expensive and unreliable, as well as fragile. They would not come into widespread use in Europe until the mid-19th century. Early drills were small enough to be pulled by a single horse, and many of these remained in use into the 1930s.

Jethro Tull’s seed drill (Horse-hoeing husbandry, 4th edition, 1762.

In his 1731 publication, Tull described how the motivation for developing the seed-drill arose from conflict with his servants. He struggled to enforce his new methods upon them, in part because they resisted the threat to their position as laborers and skill with the plough. He also invented machinery for the purpose of carrying out his system of drill husbandry, about 1733. His first invention was a drill-plough to sow wheat and turnip seed in drills, three rows at a time.

A threshing machine or thresher is a piece of farm equipment that threshes grain: removes the seeds from the stalks and husks by beating the plant to make the seeds fall out. Before such machines were developed, threshing was done by hand with flails and was very laborious and time-consuming, taking about one-quarter of agricultural labor by the 18th century. Mechanization of this process removed a substantial amount of drudgery from farm labor. The first threshing machine was invented circa 1786 by the Scottish engineer Andrew Meikle and the subsequent adoption of such machines was one of the earlier examples of the mechanization of agriculture.

Farm Population Lowest Since 1850's

An estimated 240,000 people left the land last year, dropping the nation's farm population to its lowest level since before the Civil War, the Government reported today.

Officials said an average of 4,986,000 people lived on farms in 1987, or 2 percent of the United States population of 243.4 million. That compared with 5,226,000 in 1986, or 2.2 percent of the national population of 241.1 million.

The figures were derived from an annual survey by the Census Bureau and released jointly with the Agriculture Department. A preliminary report was issued on Feb. 8.

Although the 1987 figure was down by 240,000 people, the report said that was not a ''statistically significant change'' from 1986. Loss of 2.5 Percent a Year

From 1981 through 1987, the farm population has lost an average of 2.5 percent annually. In the previous decade, the annual decline averaged 2.9 percent.

The report said the 1920 census is regarded as the beginning of the Government's official count of the farm population, although estimates go back much further. But earlier figures dealt with workers, not total population.

In one table, for example, figures on the number of Americans in '⟺rm occupations'' go back to 1820, when they were reported at less than 2.1 million, or about 72 percent of the American work force of 2.9 million.

By 1850, farm people made up 4.9 million, or about 64 percent, of the nation's 7.7 million workers.

The farm population in 1920, when the official Census data began, was nearly 32 million, or 30.2 percent of the population of 105.7 million, the report said.

According to Agriculture Department estimates going back to 1910, however, the farm population peaked in 1916 at 32.5 million, or 32 percent of the population of 101.6 million.

Despite a general downward trend since World War I, the farm population has had a few short surges, including one in 1933 when it grew to 31.2 million, or 24.9 percent of the United States population of 125.4 million. Back to the Land in ➃

Another slight bulge appeared in 1983 as thousands shifted from city living to the countryside, raising the farm population to more than 7 million from 6.88 million in 1982.

Some other observations included in the 1987 farm population report:

* Half of farm people live in the Middle West. The South has 29 percent the West, 15 percent, and the Northeast, 6 percent. At mid-century, about a third of all farm people lived in the Middle West, while slightly more than half were in the South.

* The farm population has a high proportion of whites. About 97 percent are white, 2.5 percent black and the rest other races. By contrast, the nation's nonfarm population last year was 84.4 percent white, 12.3 percent black and 3.3 percent other races, the Census Bureau said.

* Last year, there were 109 males per 100 females living on farms, compared with just 93 males per 100 females in the nonfarm population.

In 1920, the farm ratio was the same, while off the farm it was 102 males per 100 females.

The Sherman Silver Act

To help balance the economy, President Benjamin Harrison 1833–1901 served 1889–93) agreed to buy 4.5 million ounces of silver every month at market price. The U.S. Treasury, in turn, would issue notes that could be redeemed in either gold or silver.

This plan was known as the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890. The legislation was named after the Republican who initiated it, U.S. senator John Sherman (1823–1900) of Ohio . Although the idea may have been solid, in reality the act did not work very well. The increased supply of silver forced down the market price. Mine owners tried to make up for their loss by cutting the wages of their miners and laborers, a move that led to unrest and violence throughout the mining regions. As holders of the notes understandably redeemed them for gold rather than silver (thereby getting more money for each note), the federal gold reserve was steadily drained.

Three weeks after Grover Cleveland (1837–1908 served 1885–89 and 1893–97) was sworn in as president for the second time in 1893, the gold reserves dipped below $100 million. This event weakened an already unsteady trust in the federal government. The Sherman Act was repealed, but it was too late. Silver mines were shut down across the mining regions. The price of silver per ounce dropped from 83 cents to 62 cents in one four-day period. Banks failed by the hundreds, and property values decreased to nearly nothing. The American economy was in serious trouble.

History of Agriculture to the Second World War

Camrose, Alberta, 1900 (courtesy PAA).

Canadian agriculture has experienced a markedly distinct evolution in each region of the country. A varied climate and geography have been largely responsible, but, in addition, each region was settled at a different period in Canada's economic and political development. The principal unifying factor has been the role of government: from the colonial era to present, agriculture has been largely state-directed and subordinate to other interests.

Aboriginal Practices

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Aboriginal people of the lower Great Lakes and St Lawrence regions planted two types of maize, squash and beans, and practised seed selection. Long before the appearance of French traders, agricultural First Nations traded maize for skins and meat obtained by woodland hunters. After the advent of the fur trade, Algonquian middlemen traded maize with more distant bands for prime northern pelts, and traded furs, in turn, with the French. First Nations agriculture was important in provisioning the fur trade until the late 18th century.


18th century – mid-19th century

Maritime agriculture dates from the establishment of Port-Royal by the French in 1605. Acadian settlers diked the saltwater marshes in the Annapolis basin and used them for growing wheat, flax, vegetables and pasturage. After the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), France withdrew to Plaisance, Newfoundland Île Royale (Cape Breton Island) and Île St-Jean (PEI). They intended Île St-Jean to serve as a source of grain and livestock for their naval and fishing base on Cape Breton. Few Acadians moved from their homeland to Île St-Jean before the 1750s. By mid-century the predominantly fishing population in Île Royale was cultivating small clearings with wheat and vegetables and possessed a variety of livestock.

After acquiring Acadia in 1713, Britain promoted Maritime agriculture in pursuit of objectives of defence and mercantilism. Provisions were needed to support Nova Scotia's role as a strategic bulwark against the French. Britain also promoted agriculture to supply provisions for the West Indies trade, and hemp for its navy and merchant marine [EJ1] . Financial incentives were offered to Halifax settlers to clear and fence their land, but the lack of major markets kept the area in a state of self-sufficiency. The Acadians continued to supply produce to the French on Ile Royale, an act which contributed to their expulsion by the British in 1755. Some Acadians were later asked, however, to instruct the British in marshland farming. The influx of Loyalist settlers in the 1780s increased demand for marshland produce. Since the American states provided stiff competition in flour and grains, the Fundy marshlands were largely turned to pasture and hay for cattle production. On PEI the British government attempted to promote agricultural settlement by granting 66 lots of 8,094 ha to private individuals.

Between 1783 and 1850 agriculture was dominant in PEI, but subordinate to the cod fishery and the trade with the West Indies in Nova Scotia, and secondary to the timber trade and shipbuilding in New Brunswick. With British and Loyalist immigration, the area of agricultural settlement in the Maritimes expanded from the marshlands to include the shores of rivers, especially the Saint John. Although the new areas were suited to cereal production, settlers tended to engage in mixed farming for cultural, agricultural and marketing reasons. Most full-time farmers concentrated on livestock raising, which required less manpower than did cereal growing. Before 1850 both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick remained net importers of foodstuffs from the United States. PEI alone achieved an agricultural surplus, exporting wheat to England as early as 1831.

Agricultural development in the early 19th century was limited by the skills post-Loyalist immigrants possessed. Most of these settlers were Highland Scots who were ill-prepared for clearing virgin forest, and the standard of agricultural practice was low. In 1818, John Young, a Halifax merchant using the name "Agricola," began agitating for improved farming methods. As a result, agricultural societies were formed with a government-sponsored central organization in Halifax. Young's efforts had virtually no impact, however, since merchants were not involved in local farming. Hence there was little economic incentive for farmers to produce a surplus for sale. Nonetheless, agricultural lands and output grew gradually, and by mid-century the farming community was a political force, demanding transportation improvements and agricultural protection.

Mid-19th century Early 20th century

After 1850 Maritime agriculture was affected by two principal developments: the transition throughout the capitalist world from general to specialized agricultural production and, especially after 1896, the integration of the Maritime economy into the Canadian economy. The last two decades of the 19th century witnessed an increase in the production of factory cheese and creamery butter and a rapid increase in the export of apples, especially to Britain (see Fruit and Vegetable Industry).

After 1896 the boom associated with Prairie settlement opened the Canadian market to fruit (especially apples) and potatoes. By the 1920s, the British market for Nova Scotia apples was threatened by American, Australian and British Columbian competition, notwithstanding improvements introduced by Nova Scotia producers to increase efficiency. The Canadian market for potatoes was supplemented by markets in Cuba and the US. Although Cuba moved to self-sufficiency after 1928, PEI retained some of the market by providing seed stock.

Those sectors of Maritime agriculture dependent on local markets began to suffer in the 1920s. Difficulties in the forest industries contributed to the disappearance of markets, and the introduction of the internal combustion engine diminished the demand for horses and hay. Meat from other parts of Canada supplanted local production. In the 1930s the potato export market suffered as American and Cuban markets became less accessible. These factors, coupled with problems in the silver fox industry (see Fur Farming), were catastrophic for PEI its agricultural income dropped from $9.8 million in 1927 to $2.3 million in 1932. Only the apple export market remained stable, a result of British preferential tariffs on apples from the empire. In response to various difficulties during the 1930s, many farmers turned to more diversified self-sufficient agriculture, a change reflected in increased dairy, poultry and egg production.


In Newfoundland agriculture was never more than marginally viable. Nonetheless, fishermen practised subsistence agriculture along the creeks and harbours of the East Coast, and commercial farming developed on the Avalon Peninsula and on parts of Bonavista, and Notre Dame and Trinity bays. Newfoundland's agricultural history really began with the food shortages associated with the American Revolution, when 3,100 ha were prepared for agriculture in the St John's, Harbour Grace and Carbonear areas. In the early 19th century a number of factors combined to give an impetus to agriculture: the arrival of Irish immigrants with agricultural skills, the growth of St John's as a market for vegetables, a road-building program, and in 1813 an authorization allowing the governor to issue title to land for commercial use.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the government intensified its efforts to interest the people in agriculture. By 1900, 298 km 2 were under cultivation and there were some 120,000 horses, cattle and sheep in the colony. Through the Newfoundland Agricultural Board (formed 1907) the government established agricultural societies (91 in 1913) which provided assistance in such things as land clearing and the acquisition of seed and farm implements. In the 1920s, the government imported purebred animals to improve the native stock. In the 1930s, in order to mitigate the hardship of the economic depression, the government responded to the urgings of the Land Development association, a private group, by providing free seed potatoes in an effort to promote "garden" cultivation. Upon joining Confederation in 1949, Newfoundland took advantage of federal government funding to establish agricultural measures such as a loan program, a land-clearing program, and the stimulation of egg and hog production.


17th and 18th Centuries

In 1617, Louis Hébert began to raise cattle and to clear a small plot for cultivation. Small-scale clearing ensued as settlers planted cereal grains, peas and corn, but only six ha were under cultivation by 1625. Beginning in 1612 the French Crown granted fur monopolies to a succession of companies in exchange for commitments to establish settlers. The charter companies brought some settlers, who used oxen, asses and later horses to clear land, but agricultural self-sufficiency was realized only in the 1640s and marketing agricultural produce was always difficult during the French regime. In 1663, Louis XIV reasserted royal control and promoted settlement by families. Intendant Jean Talon reserved lots for agricultural experimentation and demonstration, introduced crops such as hops and hemp, raised several types of livestock and advised settlers on agricultural methods. By 1721 farmers in New France were producing 99,600 hectolitres (hL) of wheat and smaller amounts of other crops annually, and owned about 30,000 cattle, swine, sheep and horses (see Seigneurial System).

After 1763 and the arrival of British traders, new markets opened for Canadian farm produce within Britain's mercantile system. Francophone habitants predominated in the raising of crops, but they were joined by anglophone settlers. British subjects purchased some seigneuries, which they settled with Scottish, Irish and American immigrants. New Englanders also settled the Eastern Townships and other areas. Anglo-Canadians promoted some new techniques of wheat and potato culture via newspapers and in 1792 formed an agricultural society at Québec.

While the focus of the government's promotional activity was in Upper Canada (Ontario) and the Maritimes, Lower Canada (Québec) enjoyed a modest growth of wheat exports before 1800. Nevertheless, Lower Canadian wheat production lagged far behind that of Upper Canada in the first half of the 19th century. The failure of Lower Canadian agriculture has been blamed by some on the relative unsuitability of the region's climate and soils for growing wheat, the only crop with significant export potential soil exhaustion and the growth of the province's population at a faster rate than its agricultural production in this period. Because there was little surplus for reinvestment in capital stock, Lower Canada was slow to develop an inland road system, and transport costs remained relatively high.

Early 19th Century Mid-20th Century

By the 1830s Lower Canada had ceased to be self-sufficient in wheat and flour, and increasingly began importing from Upper Canada. The mid-century gross agricultural production of Canada East (Québec) totalled $21 million — only about 60 per cent of Canada West's (Ontario's) production. Both modernizing and traditional farms contained more children than they could adequately support, and widespread poverty induced thousands of habitants to migrate to Québec's cities and New England (see Franco-Americans). As well, spurred by religious colonizers, settlement pushed north of Trois-Rivières, south of Lac Saint-Jean and south along the Chaudière River. However, little commercial agriculture was practised.

Later 19th-century Québec agriculture was marked by increases in cultivated area and productivity, and by a shift from wheat production to dairying and stock raising. From the 1860s government agents worked to educate farmers to the commercial possibilities of dairying, and agronomists such as Édouard Barnard organized an agricultural press and instituted government inspection of dairy products. Commercial dairies, cheese factories and butteries developed around the towns and railways, most notably in the Montréal plain and the Eastern Townships. By 1900, dairying was the leading agricultural sector in Québec. It was becoming mechanized in field and factory and increasingly male-oriented as processing shifted from the farm to factories. By the end of the century 3.6 million kg of Québec cheese were being produced, an 8-fold increase since 1851.

By the 1920s, however, agriculture accounted for only one-third of Québec's total economic output. The First World War had artificially stimulated production, and new mining, forestry and hydroelectric ventures opened up new markets but they also contributed to and symbolized the shift from agricultural to industrial enterprises in the Québec economy. By the 1920s Québec soil was again becoming exhausted due to a lack of fertilizer which stemmed from a lack of credit. Farmers' political organizations, such as the Union catholique des cultivateurs (founded 1924), addressed the problem of lack of credit and other issues.

Like their counterparts elsewhere in Canada, Québec farmers suffered during the 1930s. In areas removed from urban markets there was a return to non-commercial agriculture, with a consequent increase in the number of farms. During the decade farm income decreased more drastically than did urban wages. The Second World War marked a return to widespread commercial agriculture, and postwar trends included a decrease in the number of farm units and in farm population, and an increase in the average size of farm holdings.


Late 18th Century Mid-19th Century

American independence in 1783 both created a potential security threat on British North America's southern border and cut off Britain's principal agricultural base in North America. The British channelled Loyalists into the lower Great Lakes region, where Governor Simcoe suggested settling soldiers along the waterfront for defence, with other settlers filling in the land behind. The authorities initially promoted hemp culture as an export staple to stimulate British manufacturing and contribute to defence. However, scarcity of labour in relation to land inhibited its production. Between 1783 and 1815 settlement filled in along the lake shores and the St Lawrence, where some cereal grains and vegetables were grown, chiefly for subsistence.

Agriculture in what is now Ontario was dominated from 1800-60 by wheat production. Wheat was the crop most easily grown and marketed and was an important source of cash for settlers. Apart from limited internal demand from such sources as British garrisons, canal construction crews and lumber camps, the principal markets were Britain and Lower Canada. Between 1817 and 1825 Upper Canadian farmers shipped an average of 57,800 (hectolitres) hL to Montréal.

Dependence on wheat culture was reflected in a boom-and-bust economy. The application of the Corn Law restrictions in 1820 effectively shut BNA wheat out of British markets, causing a disastrous drop in wheat prices and land values. With the fixing of preferential duties for BNA wheat in 1825, prices and export volumes rallied, but the market collapsed in 1834-35. Crop failures in the late 1830s resulted in near starvation in many newly settled areas.

Mid-19th Century Early 20th Century

Despite the American tariff, similar failures in the United States created a temporary market for surplus Upper Canadian wheat. Meanwhile, transportation improvements facilitated shipments out of the region. As a result of these improvements, favourable climate conditions and growth in markets, wheat exports increased from 1 million hL in 1840 to 2.25 million in 1850.

After 1850, Ontario’s agriculture became increasingly diversified. Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 removed the preferential status of BNA wheat and therefore promoted price instability, but higher American prices after the discovery of California gold helped producers overcome trade barriers to livestock, wool, butter and coarse grains. Favourable trading conditions continued with the Reciprocity Treaty, 1854-66. Moreover, a price depression in 1857 and crop destruction by the midge in 1858 hastened the switch to livestock. In 1864 factory cheese making was introduced, and by 1900 Canadian cheddar cheese, largely from Ontario, had captured 60 per cent of the English market. Two farmers’ organizations — the Grange (after 1872) and the Patrons of Industry (after 1889) — reflected a developing producer consciousness among Ontario farmers.

Technological developments assisted both the grain and livestock sectors in the 19th century. Field tillage was improved by the introduction of copies of American cast-iron plows after 1815. To control weeds biennial summer fallow (i.e. unsown land) was generally practised between about 1830 and 1850, when crop rotation became prevalent. Government authorities also promoted the British technology of covered drains to reclaim extensive tracts of swampy or bottom land, averting the use of furrow and ditch drainage that impeded mechanization. The reaper diffused rapidly in the 1860s, permitting increased grain production. Widespread use of the cream separator by 1900 promoted butter production, while refrigeration was a catalyst to the beef and pork industry.

Early Mid-20th Century

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, urbanization expanded the demand for market gardening around cities and more specialized crops in different regions. These included orchard farming in Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward and Elgin counties, and tobacco in Essex and Kent counties. Dairying developed on the fringes of cities and cash crop acreages declined in favour of feed grains and fodder, while beef producers were unable to meet the domestic demand. Throughout rural Ontario there were farm-initiated associations of stockbreeders, dairy farmers, grain growers, fruit growers, etc., as well as the government-initiated Farmers' Institutes and Women's Institutes. The associations reflected a faith in farm life in the face of rural depopulation and an industrializing society. Various farmer-initiated groups worked in the United Farmers of Ontario movement, which formed the provincial government in 1919 under E.C. Drury.

During the 1920s Ontario farmers experienced a taste of prosperity as prices increased on various agricultural commodities. One result of this prosperity was a decline in the drift to the cities. By 1931, however, Ontario farm receipts had decreased 50 per cent from 1926. Although Ontario escaped the drought conditions of the Prairies, farmers were unable to market much of their produce, and surplus meat, cheese, vegetables and apples were shipped west. The government responded to the crisis with regulation, with dairying being the most important example. The Ontario Marketing Board was formed in 1931 with a 5-year plan instituted in 1932. In return for government loans, producers improved their herds and modernized their barns. By the Second World War Ontario agriculture was diversified for an urban market, with both agricultural marketing boards and farmer-owned co-operatives playing important roles.

The Prairies

Early 19th Century Early 20th Century

In western British North America, Scottish settlers practised river-lot agriculture at Red River Colony after their arrival in 1812. While the survey system was French Canadian, agricultural practices followed the Scottish pattern. Land adjacent to the river was cultivated in strips in the manner of the Scottish "infield," with pasturage reserved for the "outfield" behind. The Métis alternated agriculture with seasonal activities such as the Buffalo Hunt. The Red River Colony came to assume a role in provisioning the fur trade alongside Aboriginal and company agriculture.

Confederation was the spur to the agricultural development of the Prairie West. In the mid-19th century central Canadian businessmen were seeking investment opportunities to complement central Canada's industrial development. The prospect of agricultural expansion in the western interior was very appealing. Canada proceeded to purchase the Hudson's Bay Company's Rupert’s Land (1870), repress Métis resistance (1869-70 and 1885), displace the Aboriginal population, and survey the land for disposal to agricultural settlers (see Dominion Lands Policy). Wheat quickly established its economic importance. However, continuing low world prices, culminating in a worldwide depression in the early 1890s, halted development until 1900. Western Canada's dry climate and short growing season were the most serious stumbling blocks. Genetic experimentation, leading to the development of Marquis wheat in 1907, in combination with the Dominion government's promotion of summer-fallowing to conserve soil moisture and control weeds, helped remove the technical barriers to continued agricultural expansion.

Large-scale ranching on leased land began in what is now southern Alberta and Saskatchewan in the 1870s and 1880s. The area's dry climate was practically overcome by small-scale irrigation from the 1870s on and by the introduction of an irrigation policy in 1894. Western agriculture received the necessary economic stimulus from an overall decline in transportation costs (see Crow’s Nest Pass Agreement) and a relative rise in the price of wheat in the late 1890s.

Under Clifford Sifton’s immigration schemes, the Canadian government effectively completed the agricultural settlement of the Prairies. Mechanization of the wheat economy with steam, gas tractors, gang plows and threshing machines contributed to huge production surpluses. An unprecedented boom in wheat prices during the First World War promoted cultivation of new lands. Price depressions in 1913 and after the war precipitated many bankruptcies by overcapitalized farmers. Nevertheless, between 1901 and 1931 the amount of land under field crop on the Prairies jumped from 1.5 to 16.4 million ha.

Early 20th Century Mid - 20th Century

The collapse of wheat prices after First World War had serious consequences for Prairie farmers. Many operators who had purchased implements and more land at high prices during the war defaulted and lost their farms. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s operators of farms on poorer soils consistently lost money, as did farmers in the dry belt of southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta. Drought, grasshoppers and crop disease further worsened conditions for farmers in the 1930s the government responded with the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration. Technological advances such as the development of the combine harvester resulted in both more efficient agriculture and the forcing off the land of farmers lacking sufficient capital to purchase the new technology. The mechanization process in Prairie agriculture as a whole was essentially halted during the 1930s, to be dramatically resumed after the Second World War.

From the early settlement era western farmers depended on central Canadian business to provide their production inputs and to finance, purchase and transport their grain. In order to gain some control over the economic forces which controlled them, organizations were formed to advance their interests. Early agrarian movements in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories espoused the virtues of co-operation and criticized the Canadian government’s tariff policy, freight rates and federal disallowance of railway charters to the Canadian Pacific Railway's rivals. After forcing the government in 1899 to ensure better service from the railways, farmers formed Grain Growers’ Associations in the Territories in 1901-02 and in Manitoba in 1903. These organizations carried on educational work among farmers, promoted provincial ownership of inland elevators and, ultimately, campaigned for the co-operative marketing of grain. This latter objective was achieved in 1906 with the formation of the Grain Growers' Grain Company.

The Grain Growers' Grain Company is representative of the first phase of Prairie co-operative grain marketing. In the context of heightened farmer and worker consciousness after the First World War, it came under criticism for having become too business-oriented. A radical wing developed in the Prairie farm movement, led by H.W. Wood of the United Farmers of Alberta. In 1923-24 farmers organized compulsory pools ¾ a new form of co-operative marketing ¾ in the three Prairie provinces (e.g., see Saskatchewan Wheat Pool). Pools were successful throughout the 1920s, but collapsed after the Great Depression struck in 1929. Although the federal government moved to save the pools and stabilize the wheat market, it did so by appointing a manager from the private grain trade, undermining the pools’ original co-operative design.

As a further attempt to stabilize the market the government introduced the Canadian Wheat Board in 1935, which farmers had been demanding since their wheat board experience of 1919 – 20. Again, however, this board was dominated by the private grain trade and reflected its interests as much as those of farmers. In 1943, the wheat board was made compulsory for the marketing of western wheat, and in 1949 the board's authority was extended to western barley and oats . The CWB’s monopoly was terminated by the Federal Government in 2012, allowing farmers to market their grain to whichever company they wished. The agrarian movement in western Canada was more than an economic phenomenon. People in the pools, the grain growers' associations and farm political parties intervened and were influential in Prairie culture, society and politics, as well as in economics. Farm-movement women, for example, were active in the temperance crusade, the women’s suffrage movement, child welfare and rural education, as well as in the economic and political struggles they shared with farm men. Political protest movements which developed in the 1920s around the pooling crusade, such as the Farmers' Union of Canada, eventually entered the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation as an important component of the Canadian socialist tradition.

British Columbia

19th Century

Agriculture in British Columbia was first developed to provision the fur trade. In 1811, Daniel Harmon of the North West Company started a garden at Stuart Lake, and later the Hudson Bay Company planted small gardens on Vancouver Island, at Fort St James, Fort Fraser and Fort George. The HBC also helped establish the Puget's Sound Agricultural Company. Commercial demand for agricultural products was spurred by gold rushes after 1858. However, while ranching was established in the interior along the Thompson and Nicola valleys and some farming settlement occurred, newcomers were more attracted to the lure of gold than to agricultural opportunities. Production lagged far behind demand.

Railway production camps in the early 1880s provided a domestic market for agricultural products, but the establishment of Canadian rail linkages destroyed the early wheat industry, which could not compete with Prairie wheat, either in quality or in price. In the 1890s the establishment of the Boundary and Kootenay mining industries created new markets. Lumbering and fish-packing industries also stimulated agriculture although producers dependent on local industry suffered when lumber camps moved on or mines or canneries closed. Large-scale farming continued in districts such as the Cariboo and Similkameen, while smaller-scale specialized agriculture developed in the Okanagan and Fraser valleys. By the 1880s the Okanagan Valley had developed a specialized fruit industry while market gardening and dairying flourished in the lower Fraser Valley as urban markets increased.

Early 20th Century

The British Columbia Fruit-Growers' Association, founded 1889, was the first formal organization of producers in the province. Its objectives were to investigate potential markets on the Prairies and methods of controlling fruit marketing. In 1913 economic difficulties obliged Okanagan fruit growers to set up a co-operative marketing and distribution agency, financed largely by the provincial government. The agency helped eliminate eastern Canadian and American competition on the Prairies. The depression of 1921 – 22, however, signalled the beginning of an 18-year search for more permanent stability. A 1923 plan called on fruit growers to agree to sell for a 5-year period through a central agency. Eighty per cent of producers supported the plan and competition among shippers kept prices low. Various government and private schemes were tried without success between 1927 and 1937.

In 1938 the provincial government established the Tree Fruit Board to be the sole agency for apple marketing. The following year producers set up Tree Fruits Ltd as a producer-owned central selling agency. In 1939 – 40 farmers' co-operatives in BC (of which Tree Fruits Ltd was the most important) did a combined business of nearly $11 million. Although there were some difficulties for BC agriculture in the Second World War , with the export market being cut, a combination of government assistance and improved purchasing power on the Prairies contributed to the creation of a seller's market by 1944.

The North

Agriculture north of 60° N lat began with European contact, since the region was beyond the range of Aboriginal cultivation techniques. Following Peter Pond’s 1778 experiment in gardening near Lake Athabasca, the Hudson Bay Company established crops and livestock along the Mackenzie River at Fort Simpson, Fort Norman (now Tulita), Fort Good Hope, and at Fort Selkirk at the junction of the Pelly and Yukon rivers. Missionaries developed livestock, gardens and crops at a number of missions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During the Klondike Gold Rush, some miners grew their own vegetables in the relatively fertile Dawson City soil, but most supplies were imported. The pattern that emerged from the gold rush period and came to characterize northern agriculture in the 20th century was one of small market gardens and part-time farming, subordinate to mining. In the Yukon, ranches developed on the Pelly River and along the Whitehorse-Dawson trail. The mining area around Mayo provided a demand for market gardening. In Mackenzie District, significant agricultural activity was undertaken by Oblate missionaries at Fort Smith, Fort Resolution and Fort Providence.

During the 20th century the federal government studied the agricultural potential of the North through co-operative experimental work with selected farmers (such as the Oblate missionaries) and, after the Second World War, in their own substations. The consensus that developed was that agriculture was not commercially viable. Transportation improvements have allowed southern produce to undercut potential northern production and climate has been a continuing impediment.

Farm and Factory Struggles in the 1920s

By the 1920s, North Carolina had become the nation’s largest producer of cotton textiles and the leading industrial state in the Southeast. At the same time, it boasted more farms than every state besides Texas. But despite the appearance of prosperity during this period, Tar Heel farmers and factory workers both struggled to make a living.

The demand for cotton during World War I (1914–1918) triggered an overproduction of the commodity, which led to an agricultural depression during the 1920s. About the same time that farmers’ cotton prices fell, cotton mill owners hired experts to think of ways to make their mills more efficient. The result was that some millworkers lost their jobs, while those who remained were required to work faster and harder for the same amount of pay.

Disgruntled by the new production standards, as well as their long hours, low wages, and unhealthy working conditions, some millworkers joined labor unions and went on strike to demand improvements.

For some farmers, the boll weevil infestation that ruined cotton crops during the 1920s was the final straw. They simply left their fields to go to work in the mills, where they at least could count on a regular income.

Thousands of African Americans had begun to leave North Carolina during World War I to search for better lives in northern industrial cities. Plagued by racial discrimination, low wages, and inferior schools and housing here, as well as in other southern states, they fled to northern urban centers, where wages were higher and the war had created a great demand for labor. This mass exodus, called the Great Migration, continued up to the 1960s, when the Civil Rights movement began to promise better opportunities and living conditions for African Americans in the South.

Despite the dramatic expansion of industry and the steady growth of towns and cities in North Carolina during the 1920s, most Tar Heels clung to their rural roots and continued to farm. In general, farmers of this period labored much as they had since the end of the Civil War. They still raised corn, sweet potatoes, and peanuts—the state’s major food crops—and produced cotton and tobacco—its major cash crops.

Farm family members still worked together to tend the land. Most women did all the regular household chores and also worked in the field or barn alongside their husbands. Children started working on the farm when they were about six or seven years old, and most were made a “hand”—meaning they could carry the load of an adult farmworker—by the age of eleven or twelve. Days could start as early as 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and end after dark. Every day but Sunday was a workday.

And while new time- and labor-saving machines, such as tractors, grain drills, reapers, and threshers, were becoming available in some parts of the state during the 1920s, most farmers didn’t have the money to buy them. They made do with a few hand tools, a plow, and either a horse or a mule to pull it.

Many Tar Heel farmers did not own the land they farmed. One-third of white farmers and two-thirds of black farmers were tenant farmers or sharecroppers. They rented farmland and a house from a landowner, paying either with cash or part of the harvest of a cash crop, such as cotton or tobacco. Sharecroppers also had to rent farm equipment and supplies. Few raised any livestock, and many did not grow their own food. Instead, they bought everything they needed on credit from the local “furnishing merchant” and hoped they could pay for it when their crops were sold. But many farmers, particularly tenant farmers and “croppers,” were falling into debt and staying there. For some, the manufacture and sale of illicit whiskey, often called “moonshine,” became their mainstay during this period of Prohibition.

Most tenants and sharecroppers—even farmers in general—lived in unpainted frame houses without benefit of running water, a telephone, or a car. Very few had a sanitary privy, or outhouse. Almost none had electricity. Because of disease, malnourishment, and poor health care, nearly one infant in four was stillborn or died before age six. Most farm children were finished with their formal education by the end of the fifth or sixth grade. Among tenants, nearly 10 percent could not read or write. And few sharecroppers belonged to a church, because they could neither read the hymns nor contribute to the offering plate.

While life in a mill village was perhaps more comfortable than life on a farm during the 1920s, the work inside the cotton mill certainly was no easier. Wages were so low that usually the entire family, including children, had to work so they could afford to eat. Rather than the sun, steam whistles and time clocks kept track of the always-long workday—usually ten to twelve hours, six or six and a half days a week.

Although many millworkers were former farmhands who were used to hard work, nothing prepared them for the clouds of cotton dust that hung in the mill’s spinning room or the intense, humid heat needed to keep the cotton fibers from breaking. Noise created by machinery in the spinning and weaving rooms was quite literally deafening, and the machines themselves were dangerous. Injuries were frequent.

For most millworkers, however, receiving steady wages and the chance to live in a mill village and run a charge account at the company store outweighed the disadvantages of working inside the mills. Because the earliest cotton mills in North Carolina needed water-powered machinery, they were located on fast-flowing rivers in the Piedmont region, often in remote rural areas. To lure and keep workers in these areas, mill owners began providing housing and other facilities, such as schools, churches, and a company store. Soon a village had appeared. And inside the village, residents became closely knit, like members of an extended family.

Rents stayed low, and lots were usually large enough to allow families to grow a garden. By the 1920s, most mill houses had electric lights, something rarely found on even the most prosperous farms at that time. Some mill owners even began to invest in health programs, recreational buildings, and company softball and baseball teams for their workers.

But these perks came with a price. By providing for most of the needs of mill workers and their families, mill owners maintained control over their private, as well as their work, lives. They expected total loyalty, and any efforts to the contrary could cost the worker not only his job but the jobs of his entire family, as well as their home.

By the 1920s, wage cuts and increased work demands had caused several strikes across North Carolina, nearly all of which failed to meet workers’ demands. Then in 1928, the National Textile Workers Union organized a union in the Loray textile mill in Gastonia. On March 30, 1929, after five mill employees were fired for being members of the Communist Party, two hundred workers walked off the job in protest. Soon employees at five other mills became involved in the dispute, and about a thousand workers were on strike. The National Guard was sent out to break up the strike, but the situation turned violent in June 1929, when the local police chief was shot and killed during a raid on the strikers’ tent city. More violence followed in September when Ella May Wiggins, a millworker and union organizer, was shot and killed on her way to a union rally.

Strikes continued in the state’s textile mills during the 1930s, but few were successful. Not until after World War II did conditions in the mills significantly improve. By that time, mill villages already had begun to pass into history. As for tenant farmers and sharecroppers, it would take a combination of agricultural research and outreach services, mechanization, and the New Deal programs of the Great Depression to improve their lives.

At the time of this article’s publication, RoAnn Bishop worked as an associate curator at the North Carolina Museum of History.