Agriculture - History of Business in the U.S.
Definition: Deliberate management of crops and livestock to produce foods and other agricultural products
Significance: Farming advances and efficiencies have made the United States one of the world’s largest exporters of agricultural products. However, U.S. agriculture has come under censure internationally because of its farm subsidies and tariffs and domestically because of environmental concerns, its inhumane treatment of animals, and its employment and treatment of immigrant workers.
Farming practices were first brought to America during the colonial years, when England granted large tracts of land to private companies or individuals for farming and development. After America won its independence in 1783, all unsettled lands came under the supervision of the federal government. Poor settlers, known as squatters, would often farm these tracts of land and claim ownership. Wheat, barley, rice, indigo, tobacco, maize, potatoes, and cotton were some of the first crops cultivated in the United States. In 1839, Congress set aside $1,000 to fund the distribution of seeds for crops and to collect agriculture statistics. The Homestead Act of 1862 offered vast amounts of land in the West for settlement, and by the mid-nineteenth century, American agriculture was a vital part of the economy, becoming a business operation that advanced the United States as a nation.
- Cochrane, Willard W. The Curse of American Agricultural Abundance. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. Ironic account of the negative consequences of the vast productive capacity of American farms and farmlands.
- Etter, Lauren, and Greg Hitt. “Bountiful Harvest: Farm Lobby Beats Back Assault on Subsidies.” The Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2008. Details the battle over farm subsidies on Capitol Hill.
- Fitzgerald, Deborah. Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003. Analysis of the costs and benefits of the industrialization of American agriculture.
- Gardner, Bruce L. American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century: How It Flourished and What It Cost. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002. Comprehensive economic history of twentieth century U.S. agriculture.
- Hurt, R. Douglas. American Agriculture: A Brief History. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2002. Historical overview of agriculture in the United States.