Abstract: “To Preserve Our Farm Program”: The Struggle for Regulatory Authority in the Federal Farm Program, 1953-1962

Elizabeth Brake


New Deal order federal farm regulation derived much of its support and legitimacy from farmer participation in its administration. The most important participatory mechanism was the farmer elected committee system of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (and successor agencies), comprised of farmers in every farm county, which interpreted and administered marketing and conservation regulations. In early 1953, the Secretary of Agriculture restructured the committees' composition and purpose by changing the method of their election, instituting term limits, and creating the position of "office manager" to conduct the daily bureaucratic program work in every county. These reforms sparked a backlash from farmers and their congressmen, many of whom portrayed new regulations as an effort by Republicans and the USDA to undermine grassroots farm regulation and to centralize control over farm programs in Washington, removed from farmer feedback and administrative participation. This paper will examine the debate over grassroots administration of farm programs at a time when the local committees faced the threat of marginalization and the centralization of farm regulation. It explores the pervasive rhetoric on both sides of the debate that asserted that the farmer is his own best regulator, and that grassroots farm regulation was intimately tied to the health of American democracy in general.