Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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By 1933 the Great Depression had produced desperation among Oklahoma farmers, as well as those nationwide. Five-cent cotton and twenty-five-cent-a-bushel wheat, along with very low cattle and hog prices, left the state's 203,000 farm families in dire distress. To help meet the need for some kind of effective farm relief, Congress passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) in May 1933.

As a means of bringing direct and effective help to farmers, the law sought to reduce production of the huge agricultural surpluses that depressed market prices. The AAA provided for cash benefit payments for cutting the production of seven major farm commodities. The most important of these for Oklahoma farmers were payments to cut wheat and cotton acreage and to reduce hog numbers. In addition to the higher prices that might follow reduced production, farmers who cooperated with the program and signed the required contracts received cash in the form of so-called "benefit payments." At first, money for these payments to farmers came from special taxes on food processors, and later, after that portion of the law was declared unconstitutional in 1936, from the federal treasury.

Because Oklahoma cotton farmers had already planted their crop before the AAA became law, they had to plow up a portion of the growing cotton to qualify for benefit payments. Some farmers and farm leaders strongly objected to destroying such an important and useful crop as cotton. John A. Simpson, a prominent Oklahoma farm leader and president of the National Farmers Union, was among the severest critics of acreage and production controls. However, 87,794 Oklahoma cotton farmers signed contracts with the U.S.Department of Agriculture and plowed under the required acres to qualify for payments that amounted to $15,792,287 in 1933.

It was not necessary to plow up growing wheat because the severe drought in the main wheat-growing area of the state drastically reduced production. Nevertheless, Oklahoma wheat farmers received benefit payments in the fall of 1933 if they signed contracts to reduce their acreage in 1934 and 1935. Benefit payments to Oklahoma wheat farmers were estimated at about $7 million in 1933 and a similar amount in 1934.

Under the corn-hog program, Oklahoma farmers received $4,058,000 in 1934 in return for reducing hog numbers. This program, which involved killing brood sows and little pigs, brought cries of protest from many critics. However, the useable meat was distributed through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. A similar cattle-purchasing program was also important to Oklahoma farmers.

Tens of millions of dollars were distributed to Oklahoma farmers who participated in AAA programs between 1933 and 1936, when a major part of the law was declared unconstitutional. Prices rose and production and market needs were in better balance. Yet, thousands of Oklahoma farmers still struggled to survive. The benefit payments did not bring much help to farmers on small acreages, and many of these families with only a few acres eventually left the farm and sought opportunities elsewhere. The AAA was important, however, because it set a pattern for making direct payments to farmers under a wide variety of programs during the remainder of the twentieth century.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Murray R. Benedict and Oscar C. Stine, The Agricultural Commodity Programs: Two Decades of Experience (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1956). Gilbert C. Fite, American Farmers: The New Minority (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981). C. Roger Lambert, "Dust, Farmers, and the Federal Government," in Hard Times in Oklahoma: The Depression Years, ed. Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr. (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1983).

Gilbert C. Fite

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