SHSND Home > North Dakota History > Unit 6: Hard Times and War, 1929-1945 > The Great Depression and the Drought

Unit 6: Set 1. The Great Depression and the Drought - Introduction

Introduction | Documents & Images | Activity 1

In 1914, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act which formed the structural and financial foundation for the federal government’s efforts to improve agriculture and rural life throughout the nation. In 1918, each agricultural county was required to have an extension agent to help raise production and promote conservation of resources during the war. After World War I, each county voted on whether or not to continue to support extension work.

Adams County voted for an extension office in 1922. The agent held meetings with farmers to help them learn about new crops and to improve their farming methods. The extension office also supervised the activities of 4-H clubs and Homemakers Clubs.

Adams County extension agent annual reports reveal some of the turmoil that seized North Dakota and the nation after the stock market crashed in 1929. By 1932, drought had begun to damage crops on the northern plains. By 1935, drought meant that farmers could not feed or water their cattle, sheep, hogs, and horses adequately.

In 1932, with the economy weakened by bank closures, farm foreclosures, and high unemployment, Adams County voters decided to discontinue extension operations. However, in 1933, with the passage of the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), every agricultural county in the US was required to have a county agent to administer the federal programs. Adams County again hired an agent.

Included in this document set are excerpts from the Adams County agent’s reports of 1931, 1932, and 1934. These reports tell a grim story of increasing hardship in south west North Dakota as the drought (“drouth”) led to lower yields per acre of wheat, and higher numbers of grasshoppers which ate what little wheat sprouted. Arsenic-laced bran was used to kill grasshoppers causing farmers some concern for the safety of their livestock that might get into the poisoned grain. Adams County had been re-directing its agricultural efforts away from wheat and toward livestock operations, but the extreme drought caused cattle and sheep to starve. Federal programs to buy cattle, sheep, and hogs at rock-bottom prices were not popular, and the killing of cattle too weak to be shipped to distant markets made farmers angry.

The drought ended in the late 1930s, and World War II (1941 – 1945) raised prices and demand for wheat and other agricultural products. However, few North Dakotans who lived through the hard times of the 1930s would ever forget the desperation and sacrifices of those dark years.

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