Agriculture, Policy and Problems

Farmers and ranchers of the 1950s faced problems and issues familiar to those involved in agriculture today. Like their modern counterparts, they worried about the weather, crop and livestock prices, expenses, government policies, and the effects of international events on markets. In other respects, farming underwent significant changes in the years after World War II. Though the average farm grew larger in acres, there were far fewer of them. Many young men, raised in farming communities, came home from World War II and Korea only to leave the farm forever, moving into towns and cities in search of jobs or to attend college on the GI Bill. 

The 1950s were both good and bad times for farmers. Innovations in farm machinery made work easier and faster, and farmers produced larger crops on more acres with fewer workers. Agricultural research produced higher-yielding varieties of crops, while better pesticides and herbicides dramatically cut losses due to plant diseases and insects. At the time, however, little was known about any possible environmental hazards of agricultural chemicals. Despite advances in technology and knowledge, some things remained beyond the control of farmers. A sever drought plagued much of the mid-section of the country for much of the decade. While not as severe as the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, the critical lack of moisture caused inestimable hardship for many farmers. Some even lost their farms to a combination of reduced income, rising costs and a weak economy during the recession of 1958. In 1950 there had been almost 23 million farmers in the United States; by 1960 that number had dropped to 15.6 million yet food production had increased greatly due to the technological and scientific advances in farming during the Eisenhower years.