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Celebrating 200 Years of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture (1820-2020)

U.S. House Committee on Agriculture

March 1, 1820

In 2020, the United States celebrates the 200th anniversary of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture. The creation of this committee in 1820 brought agricultural issues to the forefront of congressional attention, just as the committee on Commerce and Manufactures had for industrial and commercial issues.

The committee establishes federal agricultural policy and provides funding to support agricultural research and development, from the Pure Food & Drug Act for food safety standards to the creation and maintenance of Agricultural Experiment Stations.

 

 

Background image: House of Representatives Committee, Agriculture, ca. 1914 - 1916. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Harris & Ewing Collection, LC-DIG-hec-07242 [P&P]). Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

The Agriculture Committee Is Born

April 29, 1820

As the primary occupation of nineteenth-century America, agriculture was vital to the country’s stability and growth. To ensure continued development and give producers a political voice in Congress, Representative Lewis Williams of North Carolina recommended creating a separate and distinct agriculture committee.

Before the committee’s creation, agricultural issues were governed by the Committee on Manufactures and temporary, select committees. The House approved the creation of the new permanent standing Committee on Agriculture on May 3rd, 1820. 

 

 

Portrait of Lewis Williams. Courtesy of Barbara Norman and the Richmond Hill Law School Home Site, North Carolina.

Agricultural Division of the Patent Office

January 1, 1839

Before the Civil War, the U.S. Patent Office managed agricultural research and information collection. In 1837, Henry Leavitt Ellsworth, Commissioner of Patents, began advocating for the creation of an Agriculture Division within the Patent Office to meet the growing agricultural needs of the country.

By 1839, his efforts proved successful and the Patent Office received an appropriation of $1,000 for the “collection of agricultural statistics, and for other agricultural purposes.” Ellsworth used a portion of the funds to collect and distribute seeds and new cultivars to farmers throughout the country. He also collected and analyzed distribution data and ultimately helped improve crop production in several regions. His work proved popular with Congress and more money was appropriated to allow Ellsworth to expand his collection efforts.

Foreground & background image: United States Patent Office, Washington, D.C., showing F Street facade ca. 1846. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZC4-3596), image by John Plumbe. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

Seed Distribution & Propagation

January 1, 1849

Prior to the widespread availability of commercial seeds, the Patent Office created the Agriculture Division to encourage crop diversification by using their grounds to propagate a living plant collection of cultivars that had been developed on American farms. The grounds also held species that were collected globally by scientists, explorers, and military members and sent back to the Patent Office. In 1849, Congress appropriated $5,000 to relocate greenhouses and the garden to the National Mall just west of the Capitol. Congressional seed distribution continued with the USDA's creation in 1862 and through the 1930s. International plant exploration continued well into the 1980s. 

Seed distribution, Dept. of Agrl., ca. 1916 - 1917. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-npcc-32638).

 

First Commissioner of Agriculture

July 1, 1862

After Congress created the Department of Agriculture with the Organic Act of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln selected the first Commissioner of Agriculture, Isaac Newton. Newton was a successful farmer who supplied the White House with dairy products for several years. While many in Congress felt the Commissioner position required political experience, Lincoln preferred a skilled agriculturalist to lead the Department.

Hon. Isaac Newton, PA, ca. 1860 - 1865. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD., image by Mathew Brady (1822-1896). Background image: The first Administration Building of the United States Department of Agriculture,1867. Courtesy of Special Collections, USDA, National Agricultural Library. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

The Purpose of Land Grant Colleges

July 2, 1862

As the nation continued westward expansion, President Abraham Lincoln and the new Republican party supported agriculture and land ownership through the Homestead Act and Morrill Act. The Morrill Act sought to expand education and provide access to practical education to a broader segment of the population. Land grant status granted federally controlled land to the states for sale, to raise funds, and to establish and endow colleges to teach agriculture and mechanical arts.

Morrill Act of 1862

July 3, 1862

The Agricultural College of the State of Michigan (now known as Michigan State University) was the first institution of higher learning in the United States to teach scientific agriculture. In his sponsorship of the Morrill Act, Representative Justin Smith Morrill (VT) used the school as a template for the broader nationwide land grant system. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Act into law on July 2, 1862. Kansas State University, founded on February 16, 1863, was the first institution fully created under the Act. Several existing agricultural colleges also received funds.

 

Morrill Hall at Michigan State University campus in East Lansing, MI, 2006. Demolished in 2013 due to structural problems, MSU renamed the Agriculture Hall in Morrill's honor. Many land grant institutions have a building named after or dedicated in honor of Justin Smith Morrill. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, image by Jeff Shannon.  Background image: First page of the Morrill Act of 1862. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

First USDA Research Publication

October 1, 1862

Shortly after the creation of USDA and the first commissioner’s  appointment, the agency published the first USDA research publication: Report on the Chemical Analysis of Grapes, that looked at the suitability of various grape varieties for wine making. Charles M. Wetherill, first head of the Chemical Division of the newly established Department of Agriculture, wrote the report to help improve the wine industry. Early USDA publications, along with seed distribution, were used to promote diversification on American farms. 

Title page of Chemical Analysis of Grapes 

Rep. Richard Harvey Cain

November 24, 1873

Representative Reverend Richard Harvey Cain (1825-1887) of South Carolina served 1873-1875 and 1877-1879. Cain was the first African American to serve on the House Agriculture Committee. During Reconstruction, Cain was active in several civil and land rights organizations. He was a key advocate for the South Carolina Land Commission which purchased land and resold it to both Black freedmen and the formerly enslaved.

Richard H. Cain, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration. 

Introduction of Experiment Stations

December 1, 1875

In the 1870s, European agriculture steadily improved due in part to a robust experiment station program established in Germany. Wilbur Olin Atwater and Samuel William Johnson proposed adopting a similar model and advised Congress to install experiment stations at land grant colleges. These stations became essential to agricultural research and development. Atwater later directed the Office of Experiment Stations and established the USDA Farmers' Bulletins series.

 

 

Background image: Exterior view, front - Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station, New Haven, CT. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (HABS CONN, 5-NEWHA, 40--1). Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

Hatch Act of 1887

March 2, 1887

Alongside Atwater and Johnson, William Henry Hatch (MO), Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, was an ardent supporter of agricultural experimentation and research. The Hatch Act funded the creation of experiment stations at land grant colleges. The Act, as amended, continues to fund land grant and USDA experiment stations.   

 

Anderson Hall, central administration building for Kansas State University. Designed by Erasmus T. Carr, it was originally called the Practical Agriculture Building, of which the first wing was completed in 1879 and was renamed Anderson Hall in 1902. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, image by User:Kzollman. 

Second Morrill Act

August 30, 1890

During the Reconstruction era, African Americans opened many schools and colleges to educate the formerly enslaved. To help increase the number of institutions, Justin Smith Morrill (VT) introduced the Second Morrill Act with a stipulation that African Americans be included in the U.S. land grant university higher education system. The Act required states with separate colleges for Black and white students to designate or establish an equivalent institution for agriculture and mechanical arts training for Black students. These schools are referred to as 1890 institutions.

Class of 1894, the earliest known image of students at Princess Ann Academy that would later become University of Maryland Eastern Shore - Maryland's 1890 Land Grant Institution. Courtesy of the Archive of University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

A Pioneer of Human Nutrition

January 1, 1892

Wilbur Olin Atwater advised Congress on the creation of research stations at land grant colleges and served as director of the first research stations. He later directed the Office of Experiment Stations and created the USDA Farmers' Bulletins series, first published in 1889. Atwater received the first congressional appropriation for human nutrition research. His first publication on human nutrition, Methods and Results of Investigations on the Chemistry and Economy of Food, was published in 1895. 

 

Wilbur Olin Atwater, ca. 1880s. Courtesy of Special Collections, USDA, National Agricultural Library.

George Washington Carver & Agricultural Research

August 1, 1896

In 1896, civil rights pioneer and Tuskegee Institute (now University) Principal and President Booker T. Washington appointed George Washington Carver to run the Agricultural Department, which included administration of agricultural experiment station farms. While most agricultural bulletins were written for agricultural researchers, Carver wrote his bulletins for a wider audience, making them accessible to people with limited specialized knowledge or equipment. Many of the bulletins focused on ways to replenish soil fertility that had been depleted by years of single-crop cultivation, while some related to diet.

George Washington Carver, ca. 1936. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration (NAID 26174895). Background image: Letter from George Washington Carver to A.C. True, Dated July 5, 1902. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration (NAID 6928108). Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

Pure Food & Drug Act

June 30, 1906

Since the 1840s, reporters and witnesses had revealed evidence of food adulteration and unsanitary practices in drug and meat production. Adulterants were added to prolong shelf life but these additives (such as formaldehyde, salicylic acid, and borax) went unchecked by government regulation. Public outrage after several high-profile incidents prompted Congress to enact the Pure Food & Drug Act. Administration of the Act was assigned to the USDA's Bureau of Chemistry where Chief Chemist Harvey Washington Wiley was an early and ardent supporter of the Act. Wiley's research and investigations focused mainly on human consumption safety, and food and drink fraud. 

 

Pure Food Brand Garden Grown Sifted Pease food label, ca. 1906. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the Patent and Trademark Office

Improvements to Food Safety Standards

March 10, 1910

The Food Research Laboratory was created to administer and set standards for the Pure Food & Drug Act. Dr. Wiley sought Dr. Mary Engle Pennington, a chemist with experience in setting sanitation standards, to lead the lab. Pennington worked as a witness for the USDA on food quality cases and spoke before the House Agriculture Committee on her research concerning food safety standards.  

 

Mary Engle Pennington (1872-1952), Cert of Prof. 1892 and Ph.D. 1895, on top of a box car, ca. 1910. Dr. Pennington set the standards for railroad refrigerator cars and devised methods of preserving and handling perishable food. Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania, University Archives. (UASC20021126009).

Packers & Stockyards Act

August 15, 1921

After World War I, U.S. agriculture faced lower commodity prices and growing debt. Meat packers manipulated prices by controlling all phases of the packing process, from raising livestock to retail sales. This led to consumer fraud and anticompetition. Gilbert N. Haugen (IA), Chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, introduced a bill to “regulate interstate and foreign commerce in live stock, live-stock produce, dairy products, poultry, poultry products, and eggs, and for other purposes." The Packers and Stockyards Act, with amendments, continues to provide stability in the domestic meat industry.

Entrance to Chicago Stockyards Postcard, ca. 1910, by Acmegraph Company, Chicago. 

Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933

May 12, 1933

A key part of President Roosevelt's New Deal, the Agricultural Adjustment Act sought to boost farm prices by reducing surpluses. Through this Act, the government collected a tax on companies that processed farm products and used the funds to pay farmers to leave land uncultivated. The government purchased livestock from farmers and used the surplus agricultural goods to feed struggling families. The Act in turn created the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, a USDA agency to oversee the distribution of subsidies.  

Tenant farmer on his front porch, June 1939. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-fsa-8a26490), image by Russell Lee.

 

United States Farm Bills

May 13, 1933

The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was the first U.S. farm bill. In 1938, Congress began passing omnibus farm bills that are renewed every four to five years. The recurring renewal process ensures regular review of current food and agricultural issues, as well as ongoing programs. 

Cultivating tobacco on one of the Irwinville Farms, Georgia, May 1938. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs Division LC-USF33- 001155-M4 [P&P] LOT 1540), image by John Vachon.

Setting Nutrition Standards

November 1, 1933

In 1930, as parts of the nation suffered from malnutrition brought on by the Great Depression, Dr. Hazel K. Stiebeling led the USDA Bureau of Home Economics new Food Economics section create to address public demand for meal and dietary guidance. Dr. Stiebeling was the first to research dietary allowances, and published two studies in 1933, Diets at Four Levels of Nutritive Content and Cost and Food Budgets for Nutrition and Production Programs. In 1935, the House Committee on Agriculture supported a budget increase for her ongoing research. In 1941 Stiebeling explained the importance of nutrition for a country about to enter WWII: "No nation achieves total strength unless all of its citizens are well fed." (Stiebeling, Are We Well Fed?) Her work set the benchmark for USDA nutrition research that continues today.

Hazel Katherine Stiebeling (1896-1989), USDA nutritionist, ca. 1930s. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives (Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s).

Dust Bowl Despair

April 27, 1935

In the 1930s, profound drought, dust storms, wind erosion, and poorly adapted farming practices led to extensive crop failures in the Great Plains region that became known as the Dust Bowl. The dust storms caused farmers to lose their livelihoods and their homes, killed livestock, and sickened children with dust pneumonia and malnutrition. Concerned for the agricultural industry's survival on the plains, the House Committee on Agriculture reported, "Unless soil erosion can be controlled on farm, grazing, and forest lands, the prosperity of the United States cannot be permanently maintained." In 1935, the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act created the Soil Conservation Service (now the Natural Resources Conservation Service) to provide assistance to farmers suffering from erosion while also protecting the nation’s shared soil, water, and other natural resources. 

A great "roller" moves across the land during the Dust Bowl, ca. 1930s. Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Image Gallery. Background image: Heavy black clouds of dust rising over the Texas Panhandle, March 1936. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs Division. LC-DIG-fsa-8b27276), image by Arthur Rothstein. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938

February 16, 1938

In January 1936, the Supreme Court ruled specific financing provisions of the original AA Act benefiting farmers unconstitutional. With farm country still suffering, Congress passed the new Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 reauthorizing most provisions of the original Act, and changed the funding source from a farm product processor's tax to the Federal Government. The new Act also established price supports, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) to provide insurance against crop losses, and four regional research laboratories for the development of new uses for surplus farm products. Today, the FCIC program continues to protect agricultural producers from risk.

Chamisal, New Mexico. United States Agricultural Adjustment Administration Representative explaining a farm plan to Spanish-American ranchers, January 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs Division.  LC-USW3- 017944-C [P&P] LOT 868), image by John Collier, Jr.

 

USDA in World War II

December 7, 1941

As the U.S. entered World War II, Congress and USDA quickly changed gears from fighting the Great Depression to increasing production to support the war effort. Due to military deployment, programs such as the women's land army, school gardens, and home victory gardens were created to address concerns with labor and domestic food supply. The USDA created projects such as the Emergency Rubber Project to find a source of domestic rubber, and the Aircraft Warning System manned by the Forest Service. Laboratory work also turned to the war effort, including Dr. Andrew Moyer's methods to mass produce penicillin.

 

 

Background image: The ladders of fire engines form a "V" in front of the Capitol the day the U.S. entered World War II. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

The Mass Production of Penicillin

May 1, 1944

The USDA's lab in Peoria, IL, created by the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, quickly rose to prominence when Dr. Andrew J. Moyer and his lab discovered the technique for increasing penicillin production to an industrial level. The work allowed penicillin to be used widely during World War II, preventing countless amputations and deaths from infected wounds.

USDA scientist Andrew Moyer in his Peoria, IL laboratory. Courtesy of ARS Image Gallery (K9422-1). Background image: Pharmaceutical company advertisement, 1944. Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability. 

Advancements with Dextran Production

January 1, 1950

Dr. Allene Rosalind Jeanes, a chemist at USDA's Peoria, IL lab, discovered dextran-producing microbes in a sample of root beer sent to the lab, allowing her to produce dextran for research. In 1950, at the beginning of the Korean War, Dr. Jeanes and colleagues made a dextran-based blood volume expander that functioned as a plasma substitute to keep patients alive prior to surgery and transfusions. Dr. Jeanes was the first woman to receive a Distinguished Service Award from the USDA, and she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2017 for her research.

Dr. Allene Rosalind Jeanes. Courtesy of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Agricultural Research Service

November 2, 1953

In 1953, Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson detailed a plan for the reorganization of the USDA to the House Agriculture Committee. To address farm commodity surpluses and decreased farm income, Benson’s reorganization emphasized lowering price supports to encourage reduced production of surplus commodities, as well as bringing control of farm programs to the state and local level. Benson's plan was supported by Committee Chairman Clifford R. Hope (KS) and included reconstitution of the Agricultural Research Administration as the Agricultural Research Service. 

Established on November 2, 1953, the Agricultural Research Service is the principle in-house research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Jamie L. Whitten Federal Building, Washington, D.C., on May 26, 2017. Courtesy of the General Services Administration and USDA (20170526-OC-LSC-0046), image by Lance Cheung. 

 

Rep. Mary P. Farrington

August 4, 1954

Mary Elizabeth Pruett Farrington served as Delegate to Congress for the Territory of Hawai'i, winning the special election to succeed her husband, Joseph Rider Farrington, after his sudden death in 1954. She was the first woman to serve on the House Agriculture Committee. Having acted as an advisor and political partner to her late husband, she completed his tenure and was then elected to a full term in 1954. During her tenure, Farrington advocated for Hawaiian statehood and increased access to the state's agricultural products. 

Official Congressional photo of (Mary) Elizabeth P. Farrington of Hawai'i. Courtesy of the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Background image: Satellite image of Hawaii on May 27, 2003. Courtesy of NASA, Visible Earth, image by Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA/GSFC. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

National Agricultural Library

March 23, 1962

The USDA and the House Agriculture Committee moved to consolidate the various USDA research centers into one centralized library. In 1962, Secretary of Agriculture Orville L. Freeman signed Memoranda 1496 designating the library as the third national library, joining the Library of Congress and National Library of Medicine. Foster Mohrhardt, Director of the Library from 1954-1969, testified before the Committee to present plans and request funding for a new library building. Later in 1965, the House Agriculture Committee appropriated funds for the National Agricultural Library building in Beltsville, MD.

National Agricultural Library, 1969. Courtesy of Special Collections, USDA, National Agricultural Library. Background image: Memoranda 1496. Courtesy of Special Collections, USDA, National Agricultural Library. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

Rep. Eligio de la Garza

January 3, 1965

In 1965, Eligio "Kika" de la Garza became the Representative of the 15th District in South Texas and served on the House Agriculture Committee for his entire 32-year tenure. As the Committee Chairman from 1981-1995, de la Garza worked to pass legislation to support rural economic development, improved nutrition, and environmental protection. During his tenure he supported the overhaul of the agricultural lending system, reformed federal crop insurance, and tightened federal pesticide laws.

His influence extended beyond the Committee on Agriculture and in 1976 he was a founding member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. After his death in 2017, he was remembered by Representative Henry Cuellar (TX), “Congressman de la Garza was an inspiration for the Hispanic community, and has empowered others to become active in our legislative process.”

Eligio (Kika) de la Garza II, 1996. Courtesy of the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives (2007.105.000), watercolor by Jena Rawley-Whitaker. 

Rep. Spark M. Matsunaga

October 14, 1971

House Agriculture Committee Member Spark M. Matsunaga of Hawaii used his position to support the Hawaiian sugar industry and push for improved wages and conditions for sugar workers across the country. He helped speed agriculture bills through Congress, including the Sugar Act Amendments of 1971. The Act provided vital support to sugar producing states, including favorable prices and quotas for Hawaiian sugar. After serving 12 years in the House, he was elected to the Senate.

Spark Masayuki Matsunaga Postcard, 1963-1968. Courtesy of the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives (2015.067.000), image by Houston Advertising, Washington, D.C. Background image: A trainload of sugar cane. Hawaiian Islands, ca. 1910 - 1920. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (National Photo Company Collection, LC-F82-10169 [P&P]).  Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

Support for Eradication Research

January 31, 1978

The Committee plays a vital role in supporting and funding eradication research and programs for animal diseases and pests. USDA scientists’ work made the eradication of screwworm (1966) and hog cholera (1978) in the United States possible. In 1961, Committee Member George M. Grant (AL) introduced the bill that became the National Hog Cholera Eradication ProgramIn 1966, Committee Chair William R. Poage (TX) introduced legislation to incorporate screwworm eradication into an existing agreement with Mexico. Two years later, Congress passed an Act to cooperate with Central America in eradicating foot-and-mouth disease. The House Agriculture Committee consistently addresses insect and disease threats, including in the 2018 Farm Bill that provides funding for a pilot program to control and eradicate feral swine.

Caz (Cazador), a German Wire-haired Pointer trained to detect screwworms on animals, 2000. Courtesy of Special Collections, USDA, National Agricultural Library. Background image: From Tennessee Department of Agriculture publication, Hog CholeraSemi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

Crisis in the Heartland

January 1, 1980

In the 1970s, agriculture prospered with low-interest loans, rising land values, and high production. Abundant and favorable loan programs allowed many farmers to purchase additional land and equipment to increase production. Beginning in 1979, several changes quickly impacted U.S. agriculture, including Federal Reserve policy adjustments that increased interest rates and a grain embargo due to conflict with the Soviet Union.  

Many farmers were forced to restructure debt at steeply increased interest rates, leading to loan defaults, foreclosures, and auctions. Some lost land that had been in their family for generations. Rural towns fell into disrepair and many rural banks closed. Agricultural manufacturing companies lost business and laid off employees.   

 

American Agriculture Movement "Tractorcade" on National Mall, February 1979. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA Acc. 11-009, 79-1676-26A), image by Richard Hofmeister. Background image: An Abandoned Gas Station near Route 900, October 1973. Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration (412-DA-12332), image by Erik Calonius. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

Congress Addresses the Crisis

January 1, 1983

The economic crises of the 1980s also affected the U.S. manufacturing industry and urban communities, and caused concerns about food insecurity and hunger across America. The Rust Belt struggled with changing industry, economic challenges, and a population shift.

By the middle of the decade, Congress passed key legislation to help alleviate the suffering of the economic and farm crises. The House Committee on Agriculture sponsored the 1985 Farm Bill that expanded food stamps and nutrition programs. Congress overhauled farm assistance programs, passed the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 to assist rural banks and lenders, and established Chapter 12 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to address the unique issues involved in family farm debt reorganization.

Huber Breaker: The largest anthracite coal breaker in North America, located in Ashley, Pennsylvania, 2011. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, image by John Morgan. 

Fighting Food Insecurity

December 24, 1985

Since the 1930s, farm bills have provided significant support for food assistance and nutrition by addressing both food insecurity, or the lack of access to food due to financial constraints, and hunger, the physical effect from the involuntary reduction of food intake. These efforts include the creation of the Food Stamp Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Food Security Act of 1985, sponsored by Representative Eligio de la Garza (TX), took important steps to fight the domestic hunger crisis. The Act reauthorized the food stamp program, extended the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance program, and expanded nutrition programs.

Recent farm bills have helped ensure funding for healthy school meals through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, supported access to fresh foods for underserved communities via the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, and amended the National School Lunch Act to encourage the purchase of locally grown and raised agricultural products.

Roy and Santana Townsend of San Felipe Pueblo, NM, check in with the Five Sandoval Indian Pueblos, Inc (Five Sandoval) food distribution center with their selected food staples in Bernalillo, NM, 2019. Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Disaster Assistance Act of 1988

August 11, 1988

The Disaster Assistance Act of 1988sponsored by Rep. Eligio (Kika) de la Garza (TX), responded to the most catastrophic drought to strike the American heartland since the Dust Bowl. The legislation established programs to assist farmers, ranchers, and others in rural areas adversely affected by the drought and other natural disasters. Key provisions addressed livestock feed shortages, crop loss, and drought assistance.

When President Ronald Reagan signed the Act he stated, "Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle worked together on this legislation in the understanding that the need to help our farmers rose far above any partisan politics." (Reagan, R. (1988, August 11). Remarks on Signing the Disaster Assistance Act of 1988 [Transcript]).

President Reagan visits the Krone Family Farm in Du Quoin, Illinois, July 14, 1988. Courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum (C48344-20). Background image: Drought stricken field from the late 1980s. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

 

Rep. Eva M. Clayton

November 3, 1992

Eva Clayton was elected to the House in 1992, making her the first African American woman to represent North Carolina in Congress. Clayton requested an assignment on the House Agriculture Committee to advance the rural and agricultural interests of her district and served on the committee throughout her five terms in Congress. She fought on behalf of African American farmers, sponsoring legislation to address economic inequities and discriminatory practices. In the 2002 Farm Bill, Clayton worked on sections focused on nutrition and combating hunger by extending food stamps to legal immigrants and supporting other nutrition programs.

Official Congressional photo of Eva M. Clayton. Courtesy of the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Tribal Colleges & Universities Gain Land Grant Status

October 20, 1994

The 1994 Land Grant Act designated tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) as land grant institutions. This designation provides research funds and extension service to underserved tribal communities, as well as much needed financial support for the institutions. Pat Williams, Representative of Montana and House Agriculture Committee Member, introduced an early version of the bill in July of 1994. Dr. Joe McDonald, former president of Salish Kootenai College, testified before Congress in support of its passage. There are currently 35 federally recognized 1994 institutions.

Dr. Joe McDonald addresses the 2014 Salish Kootenai College graduating class in Pablo, MT, June 7, 2014. Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education.

Census of Agriculture

January 1, 2017

Agricultural statistics were an early priority for the House Committee on Agriculture. While agricultural statistics were collected since the 1820s, the first full Census of Agriculture was conducted in 1840 and since WWII has been completed every five years. In 2015, National Agricultural Statistics Service administrator Joseph Reilly gave a statement to the Committee on Agriculture on the continued importance of statistics for use in determining the economic health of the farm sector, developing and improving agricultural methods of production and profitability, and allocating funds for local and national farm programs. The 2017 Census of Agriculture is now available, with highlights published by USDA.

 

Poster for the Census of Agriculture in 1945 emphasized the need for farm data, especially as the United States fought World War II. Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration.

Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018

August 20, 2018

The 2018 Farm Bill was introduced by Representative Mike Conaway (TX) and shaped by the House Committee on Agriculture. The bill continued support for commodity, nutrition, and conservation programs. It increased support for organic research and rural broadband. Collin Peterson (MN), Chair of the House Agriculture Committee, expressed strong support before its passage stating, “It also addresses broadband, farm stress and mental health issues, and the opioid epidemic in rural areas. It's the product of strong bipartisan work in both the House and the Senate, and it's something I'm proud to encourage folks to vote for." 

Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio asks questions during a hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture, May 2017. Background image: Groundman Chris Via secures lines for Virginia's BARC Electric Cooperative's efforts to expand high-speed broadband. Courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture, images by Preston Keres. Semi-opaque layer added over image for readability.

Agriculture and Technology 

October 22, 2019

The U.S. farming industry has evolved with the adoption of new technologies, including precision agriculture. Using precision technology, Global Positioning System (GPS) reads soil, moisture and yield monitors to create field mapping recommendations and to apply variable-rate technology (VRT) to customize fertilizer application. GPS also controls auto-steer tractors that result in increased accuracy when planting, spraying herbicide, or applying fertilizer, improving both economic and environmental efficiencies. 

These advanced technologies require high-capacity broadband in rural areas that previously lacked access. The 2018 Farm Bill prioritized this need, and in 2019, the House Committee on Agriculture convened a subcommittee hearing of witness testimony on precision agriculture's conservation benefits. Addressing the agricultural need and the technological barriers, the USDA is moving quickly to expand the broadband connectivity critical to using technology to improve yields, conserve natural resources, and feed a growing global population. 

Brandon Schirmer of Schirmer Farms in Batesville, TX uses a smart device app to keep detailed records of defoliant spray usage. The app allows him to track what, where, and how much was used.  He's able to use the historical data to improve future harvests and carefully monitor his usage. Courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, image by Lance Cheung.

Acknowledgements

December 31, 2020

The Agricultural Law Information Partnership at the National Agricultural Library wish to acknowledge the assistance from the following people and organizations:

Shelby Callaway, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA

Emily Marsh, National Agricultural Library

Gary Mayo, Agricultural Research Service, USDA

Barbara Norman and the Richmond Hill Law School home site, North Carolina

Lee Ann Potter and the Center for Learning, Literacy, and Engagement, Library of Congress

Stephanie Ritchie, National Agricultural Library

Elizabeth Rumley, National Agricultural Law Center

Debra Spielmaker, Utah State University

Suzanne Cady Stapleton, University of Florida

University Archives, University of Missouri

University Archives and Records Center, University of Pennsylvania