This chapter introduces twentieth-century agriculture and the “farm crises” of the 1920s and 1980s. In the mid-1980s, a disturbing phenomenon began occurring in rural America. In the preceding decade, farm advisers and agricultural business dealers counseled many families to enlarge their farms, increase their herds, and purchase bigger, more sophisticated machinery so that they could take advantage of an exploding world market for American farm products. After a few years, however, market slowdowns became contractions, and many families ultimately found themselves unable to sell all that they had produced on the farm, at any price. The chapter examines this “farm crisis,” which was devastating to many families who had long prided themselves on their conservative business dealings and good judgment. It reveals that the “farm crisis” of the 1980s seemed to echo an earlier collapse, the farm crisis of the 1920s.
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