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American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF)

AMERICAN FARM BUREAU FEDERATION (AFBF)

Organized in 1919, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) initially sought educational and cooperative marketing solutions to the economic emergency gripping agriculture throughout the 1920s. However, as these failed and the crisis deepened, membership waned. From a 1921 high of 466,422 families, membership fell to 205,348 by 1932.

Desperate, the traditionally Republican AFBF offered its support to Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt repeatedly declared that insufficient farm income was at the root of the Depression and promised to direct the nation's attention to the farm crisis. Even before his election, Roosevelt met with farm leaders, including AFBF President Edward O'Neal, to discuss solutions to the emergency.

What ultimately arose was the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA). Allotting each producer a share of the domestic market required the involvement of tens of thousands of farmers. Counting piglets, measuring ground, and examining productivity records dictated that extension agents enlist volunteers, most of whom were farm bureau members. Indeed, some argue that the AFBF's support for the AAA was predicated on the use of extension agents, assuming that their close association would revive flagging membership and finances.

Membership climbed steadily during the 1930s, particularly in the cotton states. Some farmers may have been misled into joining the AFBF as a presumed prerequisite for participation in the AAA. Elsewhere, membership rose with the suggestion that dues be deducted from benefit checks. Others joined hoping membership would gain them favor from county agents. In 1937, the AFBF recorded 409,766 memberships.

The substitution of the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act for the AAA gained initial support from the AFBF. Both programs relied upon the oversight of county agents and their associated farm bureaus. The price supports and economic assistance provided by the Commodity Credit Corporation and the Farm Credit Administration also garnered AFBF favor. Members and leadership alike perceived of both agencies as relief mechanisms for commercially oriented, land-owning farmers. Support for the second AAA was similarly based.

Not all New Deal agricultural enterprises found favor with the AFBF. Particularly distasteful to the organization were the Resettlement Administration and its successor, the Farm Security Administration (FSA). According to the AFBF, FSA aid to tenant and small-scale farmers hindered agriculture's recovery and prevented its efficient growth. The FSA focused more on reform than relief and did not have a particular role for county agents or farm bureau members.

Whether a response to the increased visibility of the AFBF during the New Deal years, the perceived necessity of membership in the organization, or the improved farm economy of the 1930s, membership by 1940 reached 444,485 families. By 2003 the organization had grown to 5,000,000 members.

See Also: AGRICULTURAL ADJUSTMENT ACT (AAA); FARM POLICY.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

American Farm Bureau. Homepage at: www.fb.com

Campbell, Christina McFadyen. The Farm Bureau and the New Deal: A Study of the Making of National Farm Policy, 1933–40. 1962.

Kile, Orville M. The Farm Bureau through Three Decades. 1948.

Saloutos, Theodore. The American Farmer and the New Deal. 1982.

Schuyler, Michael W. The Dread of Plenty: Agricultural Relief Activities of the Federal Government in the Middle West, 1933–1939. 1989.

Kimberly K. Porter

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