The Secretary of Agriculture’s Response to the Great Depression
The 1930s were a tumultuous time, not just for farmers, but for the entire world. The world’s economy collapsed into an economic depression that shaped an entire generation. The harshness of scarcity became very real. Naturally, people grew desperate and needed to make substantial changes. Many farmers were forced to look for other work. The number of tractor manufactures skyrocketed in the 1910s and 1920s, but only a handful of companies survived the collapse in the 1930s.
In such desperate times, one can only wonder what was going through the mind of the highest official of the USDA, Secretary of Agriculture, Arthur M. Hyde. In fact, we don’t have to wonder because the 1932 Yearbook of Agriculture (in the Plymouth Historical Society’s collection) gives us a glimpse. Hyde was surprisingly optimistic. In a trying time like the 1930s, farmers had to be ready to embrace the newest agricultural research being carried out.
In the book’s foreword, Hyde makes a strong case for increasing agricultural research during a depression to help farmers cut production costs, reduce loss, and become more efficient. In other words, the time of depression was a time to battle rather than give up. He states, “The fact is that agricultural science is never more valuable than when the battle is going against agriculture.” He compares the economic depression to a full on war and how it would be foolish to “say that an army should drop its weapons at the first reverse.”
With the world in an economic depression, Hyde essentially stated that knowledge was its only defense. It was important to continue pushing forward with research that would improve farming and look forward to renewed prosperity. Hyde was rare in keeping a strong positive outlook during a trying time.