Early History: Glimmers of the Future of Arizona’s Agriculture
Economic recovery from the worst of the Depression was slow, but a combination of new federal programs and production restrictions began to have an impact by the mid-Thirties. Things were helped in some areas by a drought that cut into surpluses and helped to boost prices. Even more important was the gradual recovery of the national economy. By the winter of 1935, wholesale farm prices had risen 75 percent over two years. County farm-debt settlement committees had already settled 125 cases, addressing, and adjusting debt of $800,000, “on a basis which will enable farmers, with careful management, to work out of their difficulties.” (Arizona Producer 5-15-35)
In 1936, the Agricultural Adjustment Act was declared unconstitutional in part, though marketing and licensing agreements were upheld. This led to the passage of a new Agricultural Adjustment Act, and the program continued. Other momentous new federal laws were the Taylor Grazing Act, which regulated grazing on public lands, as well as the creation of the Soil Conservation Service, in which the U.S. took on the responsibility of preventing land erosion, the Social Security Act, and the end of the gold standard as a monetary system. Arizona farmers had long supported international free trade in currencies, believing this would improve their competitiveness in foreign markets.
While conditions improved, the recovery was tenuous. In the late 1930s, a new tide of workers from Midwestern states appeared in Arizona, some apparently expecting higher wages than they could get in their home areas. Despite efforts by the Farm Security Administration and other agencies to provide housing, many of these refugees ended up living in squalid shantytowns on the fringes of the farm areas.
To help meet this crisis residents, especially farm women, took action. At the Liberty School in Buckeye, 125 immigrant children were fed breakfast and lunch daily by the school and the local community. The cafeteria manager stretched his budget, and the school principal bought shoes for some children, while Mrs. T.W. Bales provided five gallons of milk daily and Mrs. Jane Brewster contributed eggs. (Arizona Producer 6-1-38)
These labor issues fed fears that the union agitation that was disrupting agricultural production in California would spread. A group of landowners formed the Associated Farmers of Arizona to protect “their homes and property against terrorism of racketeers already in Salt River Valley with the avowed intention of ruling every class of agricultural labor.” Taking the position that they were supporting law enforcement, members vowed to remove or detain agitators on their property and to patrol public roads. (Arizona Producer 3-1-38)
The Arizona Farm Bureau was undergoing a transformation. In August 1935 Arizona Farm Bureau President Sam Wallace attended a regional meeting of eleven western states whose goal was to strengthen Farm Bureau in the region. Specific issues included improving marketing systems, increasing competition in transport to help lower rates, and better farm roads. Another goal was to improve the standard of living on farms and to offer better service and support to farm women. (Arizona Producer 8-5-35) Two months later, a state meeting voted to allow commodity groups such as Cattle Growers to join as a group, to improve cooperation with these groups and give them the benefit of Farm Bureau membership. (Arizona Producer 10-15-35)
On October 25, 1937, the Arizona Farm Bureau filed articles of incorporation with the state of Arizona, and a month later at the annual meeting, made the first changes in those articles (Arizona Farm Bureau Minutes, Nov. 1938) At the annual convention in November 1938, Hollis Gray succeeded Nat Dysart as state president. The organization by commodity meant that each group came to the convention with their own proposals for the upcoming year. (Arizona Producer 12-1-38)
In 1939 Earl Maharg became the first full-time Executive Secretary of the Arizona Farm Bureau, at the organization’s office at 1201 W. Madison St. in Phoenix. A few months later Farm Bureau, which had been attempting to start a new statewide farm publication, instead took a renewed interest in the Arizona Producer, under its new publisher and editor, Ernest Douglas. Farm Bureau and the Producer both began contributing ag-related content to radio station KOY, then the strongest broadcast signal in the state. (Arizona Producer 2-17-40)
Editor’s Note: Excerpted from our recently released history book, “A Century of Progress, 1921-2021.”