Cover image for American agriculture in the twentieth century : how it flourished and what it cost
American agriculture in the twentieth century : how it flourished and what it cost
Gardner, Bruce L.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
x, 388 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
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HD1761 .G2447 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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American agriculture in the twentieth century has given the world one of its great success stories, a paradigm of productivity and plenty. Yet the story has its dark side, from the plight of the Okies in the 1930s to the farm crisis of the 1980s to today's concerns about low crop prices and the impact of biotechnology. Looking at U.S. farming over the past century, Bruce Gardner searches out explanations for both the remarkable progress and the persistent social problems that have marked the history of American agriculture. Gardner documents both the economic difficulties that have confronted farmers and the technological and economic transformations that have lifted them from relative poverty to economic parity with the nonfarm population. He provides a detailed analysis of the causes of these trends, with emphasis on the role of government action. He reviews how commodity support programs, driven by interest-group politics, have spent hundreds of billions of dollars to little purpose. Nonetheless, Gardner concludes that by reconciling competing economic interests while fostering productivity growth and economic integration of the farm and nonfarm economies, the overall twentieth-century role of government in American agriculture is fairly viewed as a triumph of democracy.

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In an ambitious attempt to synthesize research and findings on US agriculture over the last century, Gardner (Univ. of Maryland) examines technology (both mechanical and biotechnical inventions and innovations), government policies, measurement of costs and benefits, and incomes of farms and households, elements considered basic to increases in productivity. He discusses the predominant role of government in farm subsidies, commodity programs, trade facilitation, and regulation, in contradiction to the US's proclaimed ideal of free trade. The impact of these programs is evident in the large increase in productivity and output, and in the predominance of large-scale commercial farming at the expense of small family farms. Estimates of costs and revenues are complicated by the difficulty of identifying and quantitatively measuring the numerous inputs and outputs and their qualitative variability. Nevertheless, Gardner's study shows that agricultural output has grown immensely, productivity has increased manifold, and that farm population and labor have declined radically in proportion to the population and the labor force. Topics deserving more coverage include farm labor, the cooperative extension program, and how expenditures on agricultural research and government fit into the cost estimation of production. Raising more questions than it answers, this volume may stimulate further research. Recommended for public and academic library collections, upper-division undergraduate and up. E. H. Tuma emeritus, University of California, Davis

Table of Contents

1 Introduction
2 Technology
3 Farms
4 Farm Communities
5 Markets
6 Government I: Public Investment and Regulation
7 Government II: Commodity and Trade Policy
8 Explanations
9 Regions and States
10 Counties
11 Findings and Policy Implications