Dust Bowl and the Effects It Had on the Economy

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The Dust Bowl or the Dirty Thirties was experienced in the 1930s and was an episode of dust storms that were very severe. The dust storms seriously destroyed the environment and the animals that lived there as well as the agriculture of the United States and the prairies of Canada. The Dirty Thirties was caused by the harsh drought that was experienced at the time. Farmers also failed to change their farming methods to dry-land farming to prevent erosion of the soil caused by the wind contributing to the dust bowl. There were three waves of the phenomenon with the first occurring in 1934, the second in 1936, and the final one between 1939 and 1940. A few areas in the high plains continued to experience the dust storms for up to eight years. Deep-rooted grass that was found in the area trapped the moisture and soil in previous seasons of volatile winds and drought but was uprooted by the farmers as they plowed the virgin topsoil deeply in the area as they lacked understanding of the ecology of the area in which they farmed. This was done a decade before the dust bowl started. The deep plowing happened due to the industrial revolution where the farm equipment became mechanized, especially small tractors that ran on gasoline and the introduction and adaptation of the combine harvester, as the farmers started to create cropland that could be cultivated from the grassland. The wheat and cotton that was produced in the region was exported to more than half of the states in the United States. Farmers were able to live off their produce and made revenue upwards of $1000 per acre after harvesting and selling to the middlemen who would distribute it.

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As the drought hit the Great Plains in the 1930s, the soil that was no longer anchored to the ground turned into dust. The strong winds that were present at the time blew the dust away in great clouds that were so vast that they would at times turn the sky black. The black rollers or black blizzards, as they came to be known, were choking and traveled great distances across the United States and even reached the East Coast of the country affecting cities located on the coast such as Washington DC and New York City. The visibility in the Great Plains was reduced to a meter or less due to the storms. The highlight of the dust bowl was felt in April of 1935 and on a day that was dubbed Black Sunday where black blizzards were exhibited in Oklahoma. The term Dust Bowl was coined by a news editor of the Associated Press called Edward Stanley as he was writing the story for the newspaper. The effects of the Dust Bowl were felt in about one hundred million acres of farmland with the centre as the states located in the Great Plains.

At the height of the dust storms in 1935, families were forced out of their farms and traveled to other areas of the country that were not as affected by the dust storms as the Great Plains was. By the time, the farmers were leaving their farms the dust bowl had lasted four straight years and the devastations were still mostly felt. The mass exodus was the farmers from Oklahoma and Texas and also from the Great Plains that surrounded as well as other regions that were adjacent. More than half a million American farmers were left without homes and more than three hundred and fifty homes were torn down after a single dust storm. Other than the large number of farmers who were left without homes, others faced foreclosure on their homes by banks as they had lost their livelihood and could no longer service the bank loans. More farmers decided to leave their farms in search of work because they could no longer farm. The large number of homeless and jobless farmers of was headed west as this region was not badly affected by the storms and they needed work. Deaths of the residents of the Plains were reported with Oklahoma and Kansas having the highest number of deaths. The deaths were caused by pneumonia caused by dust or malnutrition due to the scarcity of food in the Plains.

The mass exodus resulting from the Dust Bowl was the largest migration in the history of America within the short period that it occurred. In the decade of the 1930s about three and a half million people moved out of the states located in the Plains and were affected by the storms. It is, however, unknown exactly how many of those farmers moved to California. The farms that were abandoned were mostly in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Missouri, Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado. The term Okies was coined around this time to refer to the people who lost most of their possessions and struggled the most during the Great Depression. Not all the homeless farmers traveled to distant western states. Some opted to move to the county or town that was adjacent to where they had lived. The migration of the farmers was to such a large degree that in the Great Plains the migrants and the residents of the areas were equal in number. The migrants also flooded the areas that were rich in oil and natural gas since the petroleum industry was expanding and provided job opportunities to those who had fled their homes. Those who managed to get employment in the petroleum industry were able to get a steady income and provide for themselves and their families.

A 1939 survey showed that of the over one hundred thousand families had arrived in California from the areas devastated by the dust storms only forty-three percent of them were active farmers before the migration. Almost a third of the migrants were doing white collar jobs or were professionals in their states before moving to the west. The dwindling economy pushed out lawyers, teachers, and the owners of small businesses together with their families during the migration time. The move happened during the Great Depression meaning that those who moved in search of work were forced to earn less than they previously had to survive and take care of their families. Some of the migrants opted to remain in the area with an eighth of the people who live in California today being descendants of those who moved from their original homes.

As many farmers fled the areas that were badly affected by the dust storms, others stayed and clung to their homes. The people who stayed continued with their way of life and endured all the effects of the storms such as disease, drought, dust, and death for almost ten years of their lives. Reports show that only one-quarter of the farmers in the plain fled to California as most remained adamant and believed that eventually the rains would come and the storms would end .The people who stayed in the areas attempted to cope with the environment they were in by hanging wet bed sheets at the entrance of the homes and on the windows to filter the dust that would blow into their homes. Gummed tape and rags were also used on window panes to block out the dirt. This, however, was unsuccessful as they dust permeated the cracks and crevices in the homes. Despite this, the farmers continued to farm in their fields and sowed wheat in hopes that the rains would eventually come. The rains still failed leading to the devastating effects on the economy with many people unable to feed their families. The wheat that was sown generated about $100 per acre for the farmers as the systems for the distribution of the produce were no longer in place.

Although the prices of wheat and cotton declined due to overproduction and the crops were further ruined by the dust storms that were in the region, the farmers who moved from the areas that were affected were not wheat farmers but cotton farmers. The cotton farmers were from the region that was to the east of the area that had been worst affected by the dust bowl. These migrants had been share-croppers or tenant farmers who hired land from the owners of the land but who had been evicted by them so as to maximize on the checks that were provided to them by the Agricultural Adjustment Administration for the reduction of the production of cotton. The federal government required the farmers to share the aid that was given to them with any individuals that had hired their land but they ignored the provision given to them and forced the tenants out.

The number of farmers increased in southwestern Kansas between the years of 1930 and 1935. This was largely due to the fact that the children of the farmers in the area and the people from the town returned to their homes on the farms from cities in Kansas or from cities in other states to seek refuge from the Great Depression that had devastated the economy to a large extent. The years between 1935 and 1940 saw the population of the southwestern Kansas region drop dramatically with reports claiming a 53% loss. The decline in the population exhibited in the area led to a decrease in the number of farms and an increase in their size by 24%. The increase in the farm sizes was due to the consolidation of the farmlands. The population that left the southwestern region of Kansas was mostly comprised of men and women who were single and young married couples who expected better opportunities in other regions of Kansas and other faraway states that were not affected by the dust bowl or were not dependent on farming for their livelihood. Those who chose to stay in the area that was facing devastating circumstances chose to do so because they were not willing to lose the investments they had made in their land. The programs that were provided by the federal government to help the farmers to cope with the effects of the dust bowl also encouraged the landowners to remain in the area. Thus, in as much as many people moved during the dust bowl, many more had clear incentives to remain on their farms.

During the mid-1930s when the dust storms and drought worsened the United States government was forced to intervene. The US federal government reacted to the economic and technical needs of the farmers who were drought-stricken and could no longer take care of their needs on their own through programs that were designed for this. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration was in charge of the endeavors and provided the farmers with funds. The farmers, in turn, agreed to limit the production of cotton and wheat. Another government agency, the Commodity Credit Corporation assisted the workers by offering loans that were supported by price to the crops that were produced by them. Terracing, grass seeding techniques, and strip cropping were demonstrated by the Soil Conservation Service. The Farm Security Administration and the Resettlement Administration provided loans to the farmers who were suffering the most economically and were unable to receive credit from other financial institutions to continue their farming practices and take cake care of their families. Further, the lands that were eroded by winds were bought by the Farm Security Administration from the farmers and started their efforts to return the farmlands into grassland to prevent wind erosion in the future.

A documentary The plow That Broke The Plains was produced by the Resettlement Administration in 1935 with the aim of gaining congressional and public support for the program that was aimed at the resettlement of people from the lands that were most affected by the dust storms. Several paintings by the artist Alexandre Hogue were published in Life magazine. The paintings depicted the conditions in the areas around the dust bowl and exhibited the devastation that the storms caused. The paintings and the documentary were criticized by the residents of the Great Plains because they directly placed blame on the farmers and the techniques they used which eventually destroyed the topsoil of the lands rather than blaming the drought that was in the area at the time. The film was withdrawn from circulation after an order from...

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