Culling the Herds
During the early years of the Depression, livestock prices dropped disastrously. Officials with the New Deal believed prices were down because farmers were still producing too many commodities like hogs and cotton. The solution proposed in the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was to reduce the supply.
So, in the late spring of 1933, the federal government carried out "emergency livestock reductions." In Nebraska, the government bought about 470,000 cattle and 438,000 pigs. Nationwide, six million hogs were purchased from desperate farmers. In the South, one million farmers were paid to plow under 10.4 million acres of cotton.
The hogs and cattle were simply killed. In Nebraska, thousands were shot and buried in deep pits. Farmers hated to sell their herds, but they had no choice. The federal buy-out saved many farmers from bankruptcy, and AAA payments became the chief source of income for many that year.
It was a bitter pill for farmers to swallow. They had worked hard to raise those crops and livestock, and they absolutely hated to see them killed and the meat go to waste. Critics charged that the AAA was pushing a "policy of scarcity," killing little pigs simply to increase prices when many people were going hungry.
Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Wallace said that since there was too little demand for pork products, farmers couldn't run an "old folks home for hogs and keep them around indefinitely as pets." But even Wallace relented, recognizing the desperate need in the country. He pledged that the government would purchase agricultural products "from those who have too much in order to give to those who have too little." The AAA was amended to set up the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation (FSRC), which distributed agricultural products such as canned beef, apples, beans and pork products to relief organizations.
Yet the basic governmental approach of supporting farm prices by reducing supplies continues to this day.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.