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Every Farm a Factory

Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture

Deborah Fitzgerald
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Every Farm a Factory
    Book Description:

    During the early decades of the twentieth century, agricultural practice in America was transformed from a pre-industrial to an industrial activity. In this book Deborah Fitzgerald argues that farms became modernized in the 1920s because they adopted not only new machinery but also the financial, cultural, and ideological apparatus of industrialism.Fitzgerald examines how bankers and emerging professionals in engineering and economics pushed for systematic, businesslike farming. She discusses how factory practices served as a template for the creation across the country of industrial or corporate farms. She looks at how farming was affected by this revolution and concludes by following several agricultural enthusiasts to the Soviet Union, where the lessons of industrial farming were studied.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13341-7
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    In the mid-1980s, a disturbing phenomenon began occurring in rural America. In the preceding decade or so, many families had been counseled by farm advisers and agricultural business dealers 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. Many families were happy to oblige, taking out sizable loans to expand their operations. 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....

  5. Chapter 1 The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture
    (pp. 10-32)

    When people travel from one part of the United States to another, one of the first things they usually notice is the change in landscape. Flying over the great middle of the country, one sees the checkerboard pattern of farm fields, most with glints of metal in one corner marking the house and outbuildings. In the western part of the country, the irrigation circles paint an oddly modernist picture. The Great Lakes, so much bigger on first sight than one expects from geography class; the northern woods and southwestern desert; and everywhere houses sitting by themselves in the countryside, surrounded...

  6. Chapter 2 By the Numbers: Economics and Management in Agriculture
    (pp. 33-74)

    Observers of the American agricultural landscape have long struggled to develop a pithy and panoramic characterization of the scene, only to be stymied by the vast diversity of farming experiences throughout the fifty states. The size of the country itself is noteworthy, and this alone would prevent easy pigeonholing. Different landscapes blend with different crops, livestock, climates, and cultural traditions, rendering a single, generalized identity almost impossible. The notion that cotton farmers in Texas share a fundamental identity with strawberry growers in New Jersey or poultry farmers in Maryland seems problematic; surely they have more in common with other blue-collar...

  7. Chapter 3 Agricultural Engineers and Industrialization
    (pp. 75-105)

    It is difficult to imagine industrialization occurring without engineers. They are the ones who devise concrete and material solutions to difficult technical problems. Although many such problems, in fact, have a political, social, or economic dimension, it is an engineering hallmark to transform such delicate problems into strictly technical issues. Engineers are not so unlike economists in this regard. And like the agricultural economists, the agricultural engineers were a breakaway group from the larger discipline and carried that group’s dominant message of rationality and business to the countryside.

    The way in which agriculture was mechanized in the 1920s was just...

  8. Chapter 4 Farms as Factories: The Emergence of Large-Scale Farming
    (pp. 106-128)

    Visitors to the M. Johnson Poultry Ranch in Bowie, Texas, had probably never seen so many chickens in one place before. A writer for theReliable Poultry Journalfound it impressive even by poultry standards: “Imagine, if you can, a 350-acre farm, fairly ‘painted white’ with S.C. White Leghorns; also a roadway A MILE LONG leading all the way between poultry houses adjoining this roadway on either side, then consider just what it meant last spring to ‘put out on the ground’ of the home plant more than 75,000 baby chicks, then you will have a pretty fair idea of...

  9. Chapter 5 The Campbell Farming Corporation
    (pp. 129-156)

    Many industrial farming enthusiasts did not themselves come from farms. Their interest was borne of a modest understanding of farming, a passing familiarity with the daily rigors of farm life. For some the attractiveness of the industrial ideal lay in its abstraction, in its potential to serve as a template for other productive activities. It was certainly easier to imagine creating new industrial farms than to imagine turning existing, messy, and chaotic farms into industrial units. It was this hypothetical ideal that operated most forcefully, and for some, the power of the industrial ideal was primarily rhetorical. Many discussed the...

  10. Chapter 6 Collectivization and Industrialization: Learning From the Soviets
    (pp. 157-183)

    By the late 1920s, the pace of change in American farming was escalating rapidly, not only in wheat farming but in all sectors of agricultural production, in part because the difficulties of the postwar years were still fresh in people’s minds. The new farm machinery was more reliable and available than it was ten years before, farmers were more likely to practice businesslike methods of farming and record keeping, and the virtues of large-scale farming were, if not established, at least promising. Foreign visitors in record numbers came to the USDA and to Montana after reading about the new methods...

  11. Conclusion: Changing the Landscape
    (pp. 184-190)

    The end of the 1920s signaled the end of the first stage of agricultural industrialization in the United States. By the time the Great Depression was recognized as a major and sustained crisis, the material and ideological components of industrialization had taken root in several parts of the country and in various commodity sectors. Where the industrial ideal had been introduced, it survived the Depression and flourished when that crisis subsided. Although the ideal itself and the practices it represented probably did not save farmers who were already failing, the new agriculture did not hurt those who jumped aboard in...

  12. Appendix
    (pp. 191-194)
  13. Abbreviations
    (pp. 195-196)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 197-234)
  15. Index
    (pp. 235-242)