Subsidizing the National Breadbasket
By Abby Youngblood and Ed Yowell
A Little Farm Subsidy History
During the Great Depression, rural poverty and non-rural hunger were profound. The nation’s first Farm Bill, the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act, was a part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. In it, commodity crop-specific price and income support programs were established to assist farmers economically and to help feed the hungry. Since that time, these supports have been a core part of agricultural policy in the United States, comprising the most significant portion of the “farm safety net.” Successive Farm Bills, from the second, the 1936 Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, to the most recent, the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, perpetuated the farm safety net. However, both the structure of the farm safety net and scale and character of farming in the United States have changed dramatically since the first farm bill was introduced in 1933.
The original farm safety net helped support the small, labor intensive, diversified farms that then characterized farming in the United States. The 1936 Farm Bill linked commodity programs and soil conservation and encouraged farmers to idle some of their land to avoid overproduction. The following Farm Bills, of 1949, 1954, and 1956, continued to rely on price supports and supply control (farmers being paid to leave land unused or to put crops into storage). However, since World War II, farming changed in a number of ways: