The Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929 proved to be detrimental to the American agricultural industry. While the bill began with good intentions to help farmers, abuse soon became rampant and the U.S. Federal Government, specifically the Federal Farm Board, couldn’t keep up with increasing crop production. The 1929 law soon proved to be too much for the Government to handle when it came to subsidizing farmers across the United States.
This cartoon, titled “And Echo Answers: ‘Where!’”, by cartoonist John Knott, first appeared in the Dallas Morning Newson June 26, 1930. The cartoon, which was published during the early months of the infamous Great Depression, was in response to the Federal Farm Board. The Board, which was within the Herbert Hoover administration, was unable to rectify the declining markets for cotton and wheat. The two crops had fallen to a 7-year low just one year after enacting the Farm Bill. When Black Tuesday hit in 1929, the falling stock in cotton and wheat excelled at a rapid pace.
In the cartoon, we see a drowning farmer with “wheat” and “cotton” being “flooded” by low prices. It is raining heavily, signaling that the prices will seemingly decrease and the product demand will suffer even more. The farmer is asking where the relief for farms is because President Hoover, Congress and the Farm Board were largely unable to help them.
That is not to say, however, that President Hoover and Washington DC didn’t try. Several months before the market crashed, Hoover signed the “Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929.” The law was meant to address falling prices by allowing the Federal Government to purchase, sell and store excess crops from farmers and lend money to farmers in need. The revolving money allocated, approximately $150,000,000 , was intended to be loaned to farmers for buying seed, food and livestock to help maintain their livelihood should they fall on hard times (Joy).
Hoover didn’t necessarily intend to lend the money to farmers directly as he feared this would create dependence on the government. Instead, the Federal Farm Board lent money to co-operatives. Co-Operatives were established to be groups of farmers who pooled their resources together (Sibley 453).
The law, however, had a large loophole. When stocks were being dumped at alarming rates at the end of 1929 and beginning of 1930, the Federal Farm Board was unable to keep up with production (Sibley 454). Farmers were aware that the law never put in place a stipulation on how much the government would be forced to buy from them. Therefore, with no production limit, farmers overproduced to ensure that they would be paid. Farmers across the country, who still needed to provide for themselves, knew if they couldn’t see their crops privately, the government would still cut them a check. The law was designed specifically for a prosperous economy, not a failing one (Sibley 456).
Foreign trade was also declining across the globe due to the effects of the 1929 Stock Market crash. The government had to deal with the excess production issue domestically. While the government did have the right to sell the crops that they had bought, consumer spending in the United States was also in a steep decline. As well, wheat likely suffered due to Prohibition, the ban on manufacturing and sale of recreational alcohol. Eventually, the Farm Board ran out of money and the program had to be abolished.
One of the other contributing factors to economic decline was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, enacted in 1930. The legislation put forward was an attempt to keep American farmers afloat and decrease foreign trade competitors during the agricultural issues during the end of the 1920’s (Riggs 1219). This tariff raised import taxes by approximately 20 percent and spiraled into an international trade war. This trade war was considered to be one of the leading factors that spiraled America into the Great Depression, all while decreasing trade by 66 percent within a five year period of its enactment (Riggs 1219).
Along with a declining import market, this also lead to declining export from the US agricultural industry. When Smoot-Hawley was actually signed into law, Great Britain, Canada and France – among others – immediately reduced exports. This subsequently negated anticipated gains, sales, revenues and in the end, profits (Beaudreau 300).
The Dust Bowl, which occurred during the mid-late 1930s, was also a problem that came later. It is believed to have been caused by years of low rainfall and unusually high temperatures (Schubert 1856). The combination of the poor farm conditions prior to the Agricultural Marketing Act, the onset of the great depression and the lack of trade caused by the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act led to an unimaginable crisis. Farmers likely didn’t expect agricultural economy to get worse than it was in 1929, but it did within less than a decade (Schubert 1856).
The humor element in Knott’s cartoon is evoked using “Where’s farm relief?” which is asked by the farmer who is drowning. As well, the title draws attention for its use of an “echo answer.” An echo answer is when the verb in a question is restated, or echoed, in the response. The Depression era farmers were consistently asking “Where is farm relief?”. For most, there were no answer and the farmers echoed their anger as if to say “Yeah! WHERE is farm relief?”
While farmers were aware of the passage of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929, they were seemingly unaware at the massive failure occurring. As recently as 2008, agriculture continues to be a flaw in Government regulation due to overproduction and falling trade. The 16 farm bills that have been passed between 1929 and 2008 are a continued cyclical of an ongoing agricultural problem.
By: David Rubin
Beaudreau, B.C. Int Adv Econ Res (2017) 23: 295. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11294-017-9642-z
Joy, Mark S. “Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929.” The 1920s in America, edited by Carl Rollyson, Salem, 2012. Salem Online.
Knott, John. “And Echo Answers: ‘Where!”.” Dallas Morning News, 29 June 1930.
McElvaine, Robert S. Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Gale, Cengage Learning, 2004. Gale Virtual Reference Library. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=100381&site=ehost-live.
Schubert, Siegfried D., et al. “On the Cause of the 1930s Dust Bowl.” Science, vol. 303, no. 5665, 2004, pp. 1855–1859. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3836515.
Sibley, Katherine A. S. “The Worsening of the Great Depression.” John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Hoboken, NJ, 2014.
“Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (1930).” Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History, edited by Thomas Riggs, 2nd ed., vol. 3, Gale, 2015, p. 1219. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3611000828/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=117ab699. Accessed 16 Apr. 2018.