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United States of America and Agriculture

The settlers in America were confined to a small narrow strip of coastal land in the east. The native Americans were nomadic in nature––hunters, and gatherers. The White Americans moved westward and established their control.
After the American War of Independence, the formation of the United States of America, the whites defeated the natives of America. The whites moved towards Mississippi valley, they slashed and burnt forests, pulled out the stumps, cleared the land for cultivation, and built log cabins in the forest clearings. They erected fences and ploughed the field to grow corn and wheat.
The settlers produced good crops. When the soil became impoverished and exhausted in one place, the migrants would move further west to explore new lands and raise a new crop. In 1860s, the settlers moved into the Great Plains across the River Mississippi. In course of time, this region became a major wheat producing area of America.

Wheat Production

The population increased rapidly in the US along with the market. The urban population in the US was growing and the export market was becoming ever bigger. As demand increased, wheat prices rose, encouraging farmers to produce wheat. The introduction of railways proved advantageous to the farmers to transport grain from the wheat producing areas to the eastern coast for export. During the First World War, the world market boomed. Russian supplies of wheat were cut off and the US had to feed Europe. US President Woodrow Wilson encouraged the production of wheat by saying ‘plant more wheat, wheat will win the war’.

Introduction of Technology

The increase in wheat production was possible due to the technology introduced. The settlers modified their implements to meet their requirements. The settlers in the mid-western Prairie used better ploughs to break the sod and turn the soil over. The new device was 12 feet long, their front rested on small wheels and they were hitched on to six yokes of oxen or horses. By the early twentieth century, farmers in the Great Plains were breaking the ground with tractors and disk ploughs, clearing vast stretches for wheat cultivation.

Earlier during the harvest, the grain was harvested with a cradle or sickle. Hundreds of men and women could be seen in the fields cutting the crop. In 1831, Cyrus McCormick invented the first mechanical reaper which could cut in one day as much as five men could cut with cradles and 16 men with sickles. In the twentieth century, farmers used combined harvesters to cut grain. The combined harvester can harvest wheat in two weeks about 500 acres.

Condition of Poor Peasants

Machines brought misery to the poor farmers. Many farmers bought the machines with the hope that the wheat prices would remain high. They took loans to buy machines, most of them found it difficult to pay the debts. Many left farming and looked for new jobs.

After the boom period, the farmers faced trouble. The rapid production during the war period led to surplus in the post war years. Unsold stocks piled up, storehouses overflowed with grain, and vast amounts of corn and wheat were turned into animal feed. Wheat prices fell and export markets collapsed.

In the 1930s, terrifying dust storms began to blow over the southern plains. Black blizzards rolled in, rising like monstrous waves of muddy water throughout 1930s. The skies darkened, the dust swept in, people were blinded and choked. Cattle were suffocated to death, their lungs caked with dust and mud. Sand buried fences, covered fields and coated the surfaces of rivers till the fish died. Dead bodies of birds and animals were strewn all over the landscape.

The dust storms occurred due to drought. The wind blew with high speed. But ordinary dust storms became black blizzards because the entire landscape had been ploughed over, stripped of all grass that held it together. The farmers had uprooted all vegetation and tractors had turned the soil over, and broken the sod into dust. The whole region had become a dust bowl.

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