U.S. Farm Policy: The First 200 Years

The first 200 hundred years of federal farm policy can be roughly divided into four periods that overlap through decades of debate and transition. The first period, generally 1785-1890, was marked by expansion and development and policies that led to widespread access to land for farming. As this expansion continued into the second phase of land policy, farmers and county agricultural societies asked for education and research to advance productivity. Farmers in the East and South suffered from competition with the new, fertile lands in the West and considered the Federal government partially responsible. During this era the government established the U.S. Department of Agriculture and authorized a national system of agricultural colleges. The continuing industrialization of the nation, combined with natural disasters, caused farmers in the early part of the century to turn to the Federal government for new kinds of support in the form of regulations, as in the West and South, and improved market access. After the Depression, farmers received the price supports they had wanted during these years of overproduction. The combination of price supports and supply management functioned as the essential outline of Federal farm policy from 1933 to 1996. All of these policies have been rooted in attempts to ensure opportunities for individuals and families to make a living at farming.

Downloadable Documents: 
Anne Effland
Washington, DC: Economic Research Service
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Publication Date: 
March 1, 2000
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