The Soil Conservation Act of 1935 was enacted on April 27, 1935, and established the Soil Conservation Service, which sought to “control floods, prevent impairment of reservoirs and maintain the navigability of rivers and harbors, protect public health, public lands and relieve unemployment.”
The act gave farmers monetary subsidies to plant vegetation other than commercial crops in an attempt to correct the depletion of nutrients in the soil that had occurred as a result of overfarming. The law was written in response to the dust storms of the early 1930s, which caused significant ecological and agricultural damage to prairie land in what is commonly thought to be the worst man-made ecological disaster in U.S. history.
In the 1930s, significant damage was done to agricultural productivity in the Midwest in an event known as the Dust Bowl, during which time soil was swept off the fields into dust clouds that destroyed crops and reduced land productivity. Before this act was adopted, farmers had no reason to conserve land, and the economic incentive to produce as much food as possible to sell at market drove the agricultural industry to use all available land for growing, rather than letting fields rest or rotating crops. The farming methods of the time showed little consideration for the quality of the soil, which eventually became thin and nutrient-poor.
In March 1936, the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act was enacted, which provided for farmers to reduce production in an effort to conserve nutrients in the soil. It strengthened protections for sharecroppers and tenant farmers (landlords had previously not been required to share the subsidy with those who worked the land) and reduced the crop surplus. Additional measures were taken to educate farmers on how to use their land without causing further soil degradation.
Four years after the initial act was adopted recorded wind-inflicted soil erosion was reduced by 65%. The act was widely praised and touted by the White House as urging farmers to be socially minded and to do something for all instead of themselves.
See also Factory farming and industrial agriculture .
Glass, A. “FDR Signs Soil Conservation Act, April 27, 1935.” http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0410/36362.html (accessed October 17, 2012).
National Resources Conservation Service. “Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (RCA).” U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/technical/nra/rca (accessed October 17, 2012).
Roosevelt, F. D. “Statement on the Signing the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act. Washington, DC: March 1, 1936.” http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=15254 (accessed October 17, 2012).
Alyson C. Heimer, MA