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The American farmer has faced sweeping economic and technological changes in the twentieth century. Many farms have not survived. In Illinois, farms became increasingly complex and mechanized. Government programs have also had an impact on agriculture. During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal created farm subsidies and conservation projects, supported farm community resettlement, and encouraged a more scientific approach to farming. Irrigation, mechanized farm equipment, seed hybridization, and livestock disease control became more prevalent.

The changes have continued. Sustainable and "no-till" farming are prevalent now, responses to the impact of people on the environment. The hardest blow to family farming since the Great Depression occurred in the 1980s. A prolonged recession and ever-increasing interest rates made farm foreclosures common. Since the 1950s, the number of Illinois farmers has decreased by 100,000. Growing numbers of farms are managed by partnerships and corporations. Many farmers in Illinois and nationally also hold "side jobs." Thirty-nine percent of Illinois farmers now hold an outside job and identify themselves primarily with their non-farm jobs.


1. List at least three twentieth-century farming innovations.

2. Identify how one agricultural innovation improved farming in Illinois.

3. Locate agricultural statistics on the website:

Illinois Learning Standards

16.B. Analyze how United States political history has been influenced by economic, social, and environmental history.

16.E. Analyze how technological and scientific developments have affected human productivity, human comfort, and the environment.

13.C. Describe and explain relationships among science, technology, and society in practical situations.


I. Begin by asking students about their knowledge of Illinois farms of today. How do they differ from the farms of the nineteenth century? How have the influences of government, technological innovation, and beliefs about farming and its historical characterization as an independent enterprise affected agriculture in Illinois?

II. Illinois Farms Today

Illinois farms were once characterized as family enterprises, where the whole family lived and worked to sustain themselves and earn income. The farm is now much different, with fewer, larger farms, frequently managed by businesses rather than families.


A. The average farm size in Illinois is 370 acres.

B. There are 76,000 farms in Illinois.

C. Thirty-nine percent of farmers work a second job.

II. Statistics on Farms in the Twentieth


A. Pass out handouts of statistics on the American farm over the twentieth century (Handout 1).

B. Ask students to analyze the data.

C. Ask students if they have any questions.

D. Have students look at the website for agricultural statistics

III. History of Illinois Agriculture, 1900-1990s: A Summary of Key Points

A. Mechanization of the farm, including the use of tractors, combines, harvesters, and trucks made it possible to farm more efficiently.

B. Hybrid seeds and selective breeding made crop and livestock production more effective and productive.

C. Government policies to alleviate the effects of the Great Depression created a safety net for farmers who survived the economic and ecological crises of the Great Depression.

D. Increases in farmland irrigation make farming even more productive.

E. The size of farms grows over the twentieth century, while the number of farmers decreases.

F. The economic crisis of the 1980s seriously injures family farms and decreases their number substantially. Farm Aid created to raise money to save family farms.


1. The Illinois farm was once a small family enterprise. The farm supported the family and provided income. Nationally, in 1900, there were more than 29 million farmers and they constituted 38% of the labor force. The farms averaged 147 acres each.

2. In Illinois there are currently 76,000 farms on approximately 27 million acres, or 76% of Illinois' total land. Farms average 351 acres.

3. In 1990 there were 4.5 million farms in the United States with an average farm size of 461 acres. Farmers now represent less than 3% of the labor force.

The United States is still the largest producer of farm products and food in the world. Imagine how much more productive our farms are now. Illinois is the third highest agriculture-producing state in the nation, generating $3.44 million annually.

4. The farms are more efficient. Tractors, combines, harvesters, and trucks made it possible to farm more area more quickly and efficiently. Ease in transportation throughout the state due to the rivers, railways, and the highway system increase speed and ease in moving crops and supplies. Scientifically developed hybrid seeds were stronger and more disease resistant, thereby increasing crop yields. Livestock production improved with selective breeding and disease controls.

5. Illinois was relatively fortunate compared to others states during the Great Depression. The southern portion of the state experienced disastrous floods, and the state experienced drought in the two worst years of the Dust Bowl—1934, and 1936—but what farms most suffered from was low crop prices and a bankrupt economy. Federal farm subsidies were of some assistance, but they were predominately aimed at the Great Plains. Other government actions affected the state more, as in price controls and increases in soil science.

6. At this time the concept of soil conservation becomes more prevalent. Farming, by its nature, erodes soil. Technological advances in mechanization aggravated the problem. Wind and water erosion carry away the rich topsoil, degrading the quality of farmland. The Dust Bowl made the situation obvious, and conservation tillage and practices grew in popularity. Today, "no till" farming, which leaves stalks and roots in the ground at the end of a harvest, is a common practice in Illinois. It is estimated that this and other methods have decreased erosion by as much as 90%, saving millions of tons of topsoil a year.

7. In the 1980s the country went through a long recession, and farmers were beset by economic trouble. Land and crop value declined at the same time, and interest rates on farm notes increased due to inflation. Many farmers were unable to make their loan payments and had to sell all or parts of their farms. This caused social turmoil in farming communities, and many activists groups sprang



up to fight the problem. Farm Aid was a coalition of musicians who were distressed by the plight of family farmers and raised money to help farmers financially. The benefit concert began in Illinois, and the first of many shows was held in Champaign, Illinois, in 1985.

8. Even though Illinois' economy is strong today, the damage is still visible. People who have held on to their farms often work second jobs or rent their land to another farmer and work in an other occupation. Many farmers have second businesses and grow trees, vegetables, and other secondary crops to increase their income.

V. Literature and History

A. Provide chapter three of Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres (New York: Fawcett, 1991).

B. Have students read and discuss the passage on pages 14-16.

C. Have the students answer the following questions

1. Title, author, date of publication

2. Subject

3. Main characters

4. Plot

5. Period of story

6. How does this relate to the period studied?

7. How does the excerpt help you to understand what it was like to be a person experiencing historical events?

8. What questions would you ask the character if you could?

VI. Primary Source Document

A. Have students read "Statement by the President on the Farm

Bill Signing" (Handout 2).

B. Ask the students questions about the document, using the primary source document guide.

VII. Summary: Photograph of corn harvest in Illinois from Heilman Grant, Farm (1988). Distribute the photograph on this page and discuss the image of corn harvest, bearing in mind the development of Illinois agriculture over the past fifty years.

A. Students should be able to identify how the Illinois farmer and farm have changed, and the forces of change.

1. What is the image?

2. Are there people in the photograph? Who are they? What are they doing?

3. Where do you think the photograph was taken? List elements that help us recognize the location.

4. When was the photograph taken? List elements that lead to that conclusion.

5. Think about the photograph.

a. Why do you think this photograph was taken? Is the photo candid or posed?

b. What can we learn from this photograph?

c. How does this photograph relate to the history we already know?

B. Students should be able to extrapolate the knowledge to larger issues in United States and world history.

1. Between the farmer and the earth.

2. Between the farmer and the national economy.

3. Between the farmer and people in foreign markets.

4. Between the farmer and people in difficult political, social, and economic situations in other places at home or around the globe.



Total Farm Acreage in the U.S.

Series 1 represents the total acres of land in farm production in 1900

Series 2 represents the total acres of land in farm production in 1930

Series 3 represents the total acres of land in farm production in 1960

Series 4 represents the total acres of land in farm production in 1990

Total U.S. Farms

Series 1 represents the total number of farms in 1900

Series 2 represents the total number of farms in 1930

Series 3 represents the total number of farms in 1960

Series 4 represents the total number of farms in 1990

U.S. Farmers as a percentage of the total population

The gray bar represents the total U.S. population, the black the total U.S. population of farmers

Series 1 reflects the population in 1900

Series 2 reflects the population in 1930

Series 3 reflects the population in 1960

Series 4 reflects the population in 1990

Source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. USDA Economic Research Center— Poster No. 11. Washington: USDA Printing Service, Jan. 1993.



THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 4, 1996


I am today signing into law H.R. 2854, the "Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996." H.R. 2854 would authorize most agriculture programs for fiscal years 1996-2002, including commodities, credit, conservation, rural development, trade, and nutrition.

I am signing H.R. 2854 with reservation because I believe the bill fails to provide an adequate safety net for family farmers. The fixed payments in the bill do not adjust to changes in market conditions, which would leave farmers, and the rural communities in which they live, vulnerable to reductions in crop prices or yields. I am firmly committed to submitting legislation and working with the Congress next year to strengthen the farm safety net.

I am, however, keenly aware that farm legislation is long overdue and American farmers need to know now the conditions under which they are operating. In addition, the bill includes a considerable number of my Administration's proposals. I believe these authorities will enhance our environmental and economic development goals. They will form a lasting legacy of the 1996 farm bill.

The hallmark of the bill's commodity title is the planting flexibility provisions. At long last, farmers will be free to plant for the market not for government programs. The expansion of planting flexibility will improve U.S. competitiveness in world markets. In addition, this legislation will reduce the adverse environmental effects of production agriculture and greatly simplify farm programs.

I am very pleased with the rural development title of the bill. The Congress has incorporated the Administration's principle that we must continue our investment in traditional infrastructure while expanding the investment in information infrastructure and in human capital. These investments will ensure that all Americans, regardless of how remote an area they live in, will have the opportunity to better their lives and share in the economic growth spurred by the revolution in information technology.

My Administration is keenly aware that there is no "one size fits all" Washington solution to local economic development needs. That is why we proposed the Rural Performance Partnership Initiative, which provides flexibility to States to tailor Federal program funds to their unique situation. I salute the Congress for enacting this proposal, as well as providing $300 million in additional resources for rural development and agricultural research through the "Fund for Rural America."

I also wholeheartedly endorse the bill's conservation provisions. The bill will enhance contributions to environmental quality and farm income from the Conservation Reserve Program, a program whose importance I have repeatedly stressed. This bill provides more than $1 billion over 7 years for on-farm conservation measures, including assistance for livestock producers, which will help prevent soil erosion and clear our streams and air. I am also glad to see that farmers will still have the choice to enroll permanent easements in the Wetlands Reserve Program.

In addition, the bill would provide $200 million, with the possibility of an additional $150 million, for restoration of the Everglades. This project is one of the Administration's top environmental priorities, and the funds in this bill are a good downpayment toward our goal. Moreover, I call on the Congress to enact the Administration's comprehensive Everglades restoration plan, including the one-cent per pound marketing assessment on Florida sugar. This assessment would ensure that the benefiting industry pays its fair share.

I am also generally pleased with the trade title, which includes almost all of the Administration's proposed export program enhancements. While the Administration opposed the reduced funding for certain export programs in the bill, it will use these, and newly authorized tools, to expand upon the record levels of agricultural exports we have achieved. This will ensure that America's farmers continue to take advantage of the growing opportunities in the world market.

I am disappointed that the Congress has rolled back an important reform of the crop insurance program, which was enacted just 18 months ago, to ensure that every farmer has crop insurance where it is available. Still, the farm bill embodies a clear commitment to maintain crop insurance as an alternative to costly and unreliable ad hoc crop disaster programs of the past. In this respect, the Administration strongly supports the development of new approaches over the coming years so that the crop insurance safety net can play an increasingly large role in the farm economy. This is a key component of our strategy to continue to help farmers manage the risks they face.

While commodity and conservation programs remain the core of any farm bill, much of the future of agriculture and rural America will be determined by many other factors outside the traditional scope of those programs. This bill recognizes the growing importance of those forces and incorporates many of the reforms the Administration sought. While seeking improvements in the farm safety net I will also charge my Administration with using the bill's new tools to ensure that agriculture sustains the growth it has achieved, that the pace of environmental improvements is accelerated, and that we create new economic opportunities for farmers and rural citizens.



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