Food Fight: A Brief History of War and American Ag

by Mayzie Purviance

“As the war approached, it got worse for farmers before it got better.  Then it got very good.”

On January 8, 2020, in the wee hours of the morning, Iranian missiles struck military bases in Ain al-Assad in Irbil just northwest of Bagdad in the Kurdish region.  These bases are home to American, Iraqi, Finish and Lithuania soldiers.  Although damage was done to the military bases, thankfully, there were no reported causalities.

In a press release from The White House, President Donald J. Trump said, “Our great American forces are prepared for anything.  Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”

Trump was also quoted saying as long as he is President, Iran will never be allowed to have nuclear weapons.

“For far too long — all the way back to 1979, to be exact — nations have tolerated Iran’s destructive and destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and beyond,” President Trump said.  “Those days are over.  Iran has been the leading sponsor of terrorism, and their pursuit of nuclear weapons threatens the civilized world.  We will never let that happen.”

About a week prior to the attack, the U.S. Military eliminated the world’s top terrorist, Qasem Soleimani.  Trump said Soleimani trained terrorists, wounded and murdered thousands of U.S. troops, directed recent attacks on the U.S. and was planning new attacks on American targets.

As of press time, the U.S. is not engaged in war with Iran.  Some analysts and news outlets believe it could be on the horizon.  Another World War could mean drastic changes to the entire food system.

Historically, agriculture played a significant role in many U.S. wars and battles.

The American Revolutionary War was kicked off by the dumping of tea into the Boston Harbor.  According to the encyclopedia, this war was partially to blame on British mercantile regulations.  These regulations included requirements that colonies were to only ship certain commodities, such as tobacco, to England.  Such regulations also stated that England have a monopoly of the American market on certain foodstuffs such as tea.

Westward expansion following the American Revolution was great for American agriculture.  However, this migration spiked tensions between Native Americans and Mexicans, leading to several battles and the Mexican War.

The Civil War was focused on whether or not the agricultural workforce would be slave free.  According to the encyclopedia, many devoted slave owners were under the impression that southern cotton would force Great Britain and other countries to support the Confederacy.

The South continued to produce cotton and other crops with the help of slave labor while the North cut them off from northern wheat, which ultimately forced Southerners to grow corn and other foodstuffs.

When World War I rolled around, the war sent North American agriculture into an economic boom.  According to The Furrow, this boom was unprecedented even today as the Entente powers (France, Britain and Russia) looked to the U.S. and Canada to replace the agricultural production lost in the conflict.

Between farm exports to Europe more than tripling and four out of every five pieces of bread consumed in Britain being imported, U.S. agriculture flourished.  Without North America, the Allies would’ve starved.

This war time (spanning over four years) is known as the “golden age” for agriculture.  However, the aftermath of the war sent the U.S. into agricultural deflation, depression and drought.

World War II, on the other hand, started off negatively for American agriculture before it got better.

“Agricultural exports dropped as German submarines, known as U-boats, were sinking U.S. ships to England and Europe.  Farming exports fell 30 to 40 percent below the average of the ten depression years that preceded the war.  Grain exports, for example, fell 30 percent in one year between September 1939 and 1940,” Living History Farm said.

After Germany occupied Norway, the daily calorie intake of Norwegians fell from 2,500 calories a day to 1,500 then down further to 1,237.

Because the war was fought in Europe, American farm and ranch land was intact.  However, the hurdle of keeping shipping lanes open was upon the U.S.

The U.S. responded and sent destroyers to hunt down the U-boats which reopened shipping lanes.  This move, along with the passing of the Lend-Lease Act of 1940, allowed the government to buy surplus food commodities and ship them overseas.

“By the end of 1941, farm income was higher than at any time since 1929.  Between 1940 and 1945, net cash income for farmers increased from $4.4 billion to $12.3 billion,” Living History Farm reported.  “The average farmer went from a net income of just over $700 to over $2,063 – yet farmers still earned only 57 percent of what their urban cousins made.”

As the U.S. entered the war, the fuel to feed more soldiers caused a demand of agricultural incline.  This, shockingly, was aided by the invention of the canned meat product, Spam.

Hormel, the company which produces Spam, produced 15 million cans of Spam each week for troop consumption.

However, agriculturists’ dependency on the government increased as government programs gained more regulations.

Aside from major war time, other significant factors played a role in American agriculture such as the Food for Peace program.

Under the Kennedy Administration, America sought to counter communism in Third World countries while assisting American farmers in developing foreign markets, according to the encyclopedia.

The Cold War also created agricultural impacts as the U.S.’ main strategy was to liberalize world trade in manufactured goods through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).


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