New Deal Agencies: Farm Security Administration


Figure 1.--This FSA photograph was taken by Ben Shahn. The caption read, "Arkansas cotton pickers. Sentenced to hard labor for the rest of their natural lives, not by any judge, but by social conditions which they can neither understand or change." Shahn has left us a powerful image. The caption, howver, is a sermon. As a historical document we need to have facts rather than a polemic. It would have been valuable to know the boys' names and ages and why they were not in school. FSA Negative number RA 6021 M1.

The FDA was designed to assist rural Amwericans adversely impacted by the Depression and Dust Bowl and although not often statesd, the AAA policies of taking land out of poroduction. The FSA's programs, included rural rehabilitation, farm loan, and subsistence homestead programs. Many of these were projects begun by the Resettlement Administration (RA). Others were inherited from other agencies. The FA had begun to make loans to farmers for purchases of land, equipment, seed,and livestock. The FSA initiated a health care plan for participating farm families and promoted a range of educational and training programs. The FSA encouraged more attention to sanitation and worked with other New Deal agencies such as the National Youth Administration and the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to help fsrmers build privies and dig wells. They also worked to improve sanitary facilities and mosquito control for migratory labor camps and for the FSA recreational areas and land utilization projects. Certainly the loan program was the cpre of the FSA. Because if the farmers could get bavk on their feet, other assisance became less important. A small FSA effort was to document Americans living in poverty in rural areas by creating a photographic record. The result is a remarkable set of photigraphs of great historical significance. These images appeared in magazines and newspapers as Americans debated the Depression and how to address it. The program drew the ire of Congrsssional Republicans who attempted to restrict the finding and eventually kill the program. This became a real problem after the Congressional by-election in 1938 returned many Republicans and conservative Democrats to Congress.

Rural America: Boom and Bust (1910s-20s)

The Depression began early in rural America. World War I created an enormous demand for agricultural products. Farmers and farm workers were conscriopted for military service. Fertilizer factories were converted for munitions production. This and the the destruction of War substantially reduced agricultural production. The Central Powers could not import from Russia, the European breadbasket or from overseas because of the Allied naval embargo. The Allies, especially Britain did import and in large quantity. American farmers thus played an important role even bedore America declared waron Germany (1917). After the War, the United States fed a prostrate Europe, averting widespread starvartion. Herbert Hoover and U.S. Food Administration played a major role in that effort. American food not only saved defeated Germans but also millions in the new soviet Union. As European agricultural production revovered, the market for American farm priducts declined. Thus as urban Americans reveled in the Roaring Twenties, American farmers experienced an economic decline which reached depression levels. The reluctance of power companies to run lines into rural areas impeded needed efforts to midernize farm life and operations. And the situtation was made even worse by the terrible dust storms which began at theend of the decade--turning the Midwest into the Dust Bowl.

Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA)

President Roosevely within days of his inauguration (March 1933) called the new Congress into special session and introduced a stunning 15 major pieces of legislation. Just ine of these would have been considered a major program by precious administrations. This was called the First Hundred Days. The measures in mny cases were major departures in government policy. They were passed with little amendment or debate by Congress. Agriculture had been in Depression a decade before the Great Depression. The Depression only exacerbated the farm problem which was further impaited by the Dust Bowl storms. The new Administration was thus anxious to address the farm problem. Farming was still a substantial sector in the United States. One of the first New Deal measure to be introduced and enacted by Congress was the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA). It was one of the greatest departures from American free market policies. Congress declared that is was now 'the policy of Congress' to balance supply and demand for farm commodities so that prices would support a decent purchasing power for farmers. This established the policy of 'parity'. The AAA attempted to control the supply of seven 'basic crops' (corn, cotton, milk, peanuts, rice, and wheat. The AAA offered payments to farmers (meaning land owners) if they would take some of their land out of production. Some farmers refused to particioate in the AAA program, but most appeared to have particvipated. Even many who participated did not like the Government controling their operatrions, but given the condituions they had little choice. There were unintended consequences of the AAA farm support payments. Many farmers, especially in the South, turned some oor most of their land over to tennant farmers and share croppers. Thus these farmers when they cut back production forced tennants and share croppers off their land. The AAA at a time of high unemployment added to the unemployment roles. Farmers also modernized their operations (mechnization, insceticides, herbicides, fertilizer, ect.). Here the farmers were assisted by the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) which brought electricity from the cities into rural areas. The AAA program did not succeed in increasing farm prices significantly because the improving yield because of increasing effivcency meant larger crops, albeit land was taken out of pfoduction. Tthe Supreme Court ruled that the AAA was unconstitutional (1937). This was one of the rulings which set the President on his court packing effot. The idea of farm supports and parity were subsequently reenacyed by CVongress and remained the foundation of Federal farm policy for decades. The AAA did suceed in ending farm tenency and sharecropping in America. This may not be considered a bad thing, but it created a good deal of pain for the individual displaced because there were no jobs available for them in other sectors. As a result, another New Deal agency was created, the Farm Security Administration (FSA), in part to deal with the thousands of individuals duispossed by the AAA.

Rexford G. Tugwell (1891-1979)

Rex Tugwell was born in upstate New York (1891). He earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania (1922). He began teaching at Columbia University (1923). He was impressed with Franlin Roosevelt and played an inportant role in his 1932 presidential campaign. He served as his economic policy advisor and became a member of the President's Brain Trust which helped formulate the New Deal. President Roosevelt appointed him assistant secretary of agriculture (1933) and promoted him to undersecretary (1934). He then appointed him to direct the the Resettlement Administration (RA) (1935). Tugwell had a major hand in drafting both the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act. He took an interest the RA's greenbelt communities. This was a rather utopian urban development project. It was an effort to build new self-sufficient towns. As the RA Administrator, Tugwell had authority over the greentown community of Arthurdale. Mrs. Roosevelt took a special interest Arthurdale and she and Tugwell did not always agree on policies and funding. Residents often attempted to get Mrs. Roosevelt to nterceed on their behaklf. and her frequent attempts to intercede with Tugwell on their behalf. After FDR's first term, Tugwell left Federal service. Thismeans that he did not work with bthe Farm Security Administration (FSA), although because te RA was its administrative core, he clearly left his imprint on the FSA. He subsequently chaired the New York City Planning Commission (1938-40). President Roosevelt appointed him governor of Puerto Rico (1941). After World War II, Tugwell resigned as governor and retired to resume his academic career. He published several books about the New Deal and lectured. He died (1979).

Creation

The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was one of several New Deal agencies designed to assist rural America. The FSA was created in the Department of Agriculture (DOA) during 1937. The FSA and its predecessor, the Resettlement Administration (RA), were New Deal programs designed to assist poor farmers during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Their situation was actually worsened during the New Deal by the AAA. The core policy of the AAA was to reduce production by btsking land out of production. Reducing supply was expected to bring up prices. Much of the land taken out of producrion was the land that farmers (land owners) had turned over to tennants and share croppers. Thus thousands of these people were rendered unemployed and without means of supporting their families. One of the FSA's principal tasks was thus to assist those that had been thrown off the land by AAA policies. We have not yet found an estimate of the number of people involved, but it was substantial. The FSA was inpart a reorganization of the DOA. It took the Resettlement Administration and combined other DOA progrms.

Programs

The FDA was designed to assist rural Amwericans adversely impacted by the Depression and Dust Bowl and although not often statesd, the AAA policies of taking land out of poroduction. The FSA's programs, included rural rehabilitation, farm loan, and subsistence homestead programs. Many of these were projects were initiated by the by the Resettlement Administration (RA). Others were inherited from other agencies. The RA had begun to make loans to farmers for purchases of land, equipment, seed,and livestock. The FSA initiated a health care plan for participating farm families and promoted a range of educational and training programs. The FSA encouraged more attention to sanitation and worked with other New Deal agencies such as the National Youth Administration and the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to help fsrmers build privies and dig wells. They also worked to improve sanitary facilities and mosquito control for migratory labor camps and for the FSA recreational areas and land utilization projects. Certainly the loan program was the cpre of the FSA. Because if the farmers could get bavk on their feet, other assisance became less important. The loans were primarily used for actual farming activities, but were also used housing improvements and for the sanitary or health programs. The basic objective was to give farmers the means to become self-sustaining. The family farmer who owned his land was the primarily focus of the FSA. Unlike the earlier Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), the FSA attempted to assisst tenant farmers (share cropers). AAA efforts had actually driven some tenant farmers' off the land. The FSA's primary appraoach to helping tennant farmers wascto assist them to buy land. They used funds from the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937 and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The FSA set up a tenant-purchase loan program. By early 1941, 16,000 tenant families were participating in the program. They were proivided 40-year loans at 3 percent interest. The average loans were small, less than $5,000, although that was substantially mote in terms of modern dollars. FSA loans (1937 to mid-1941) totaled more than $473, most of which was repaid with interest. The FSA als dispursed $122 million in grants. The programs had a major impact on farm net worth. In assessing the cost of the FDA effort, one has to consider the impact of putting farmers back on their feet or helping tennant farmers become land oners. This meant that with increased income they not only led more productive lives, but began paying taxes.

Clients

The FSA was not a New Deal relief agency. It was set up in every state. SThe state dirctors oversaw countu offices where servives were actually made available to clients. FSA county offices screened clients for both need and viability for future success. The FSA programs was not for destitute, described as the "the helpless and hopeless". Rather it was for farmers who were basically competent, but had adversely affected by thecDepression. The FSA provided low-interest loans to those who could no longer obtain credit through commercial banks.

Photo Documentation: Special Photographic Section (1935-42)

A small effort conducted by the FSA was to document Americans living in poverty in rural areas by creating a photographic record. Rexford Tugwell as RA Director set up an Information Division. He chose Roy Emerson Stryker to head a Special Photographic Section (SPS). Stryler continued to lead the effort when the RA was merged into the FSA (1937). Its purpose was to document rural conditions and to promote the programs of the RA. The FSA-SPS photograohers noy only recorded the plight of Americans during the Great Depression and in the process captured some of the most poignant photos of the era.

Farmers Home Administration

The Farmers Home Administration replaced the FSA (August 1946).

Sources

Gaer, Joseph. Toward Farm Security: The Problem of Rural Poverty and the Work of the Farm Security Administration (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1941).

Mertz, Paul E. New Deal Policy and Southern Rural Poverty (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978).

Seago, Alfred Carl. "A Comparison of Results From Planned and Actual Operation on Farm Security Administration Farms, Pawnee and Payne Counties, Oklahoma" (M.A. thesis, Oklahoma A&M College, 1946).







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Created: 1:43 AM 2/14/2010
Last updated: 9:52 AM 10/6/2011