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Agricultural Economy


Despite the growth of cities and industry, until the 1940s most Alabamians lived on farms. In an economy where cotton was still king, merchants would extend credit only for that crop, leading to overproduction and low prices. Trapped in cycles of debt, many farm families, white and black, could not afford their own land. They worked the land of others, either paying rent or paying in shares of crops.


Although farm life could be hard, rural Alabamians found strength in communities built around kinship and churches. Neighbors helped each other in times of need, and they arrived to celebrate during times of joy.


In small towns throughout the state, farm families found access to news, supplies, and entertainment. Town folk included merchants, doctors, bankers, and craftsmen who provided services to area farmers and created their own tight-knit communities.


After the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, eighty-six thousand Alabamians, mostly farm boys, left to fight in a distant war.


The persistence of farm life did not mean that change was absent from the lives of rural Alabamians. The early twentieth century brought challenges in the form of crop destroying pests and new resources such as scientific agriculture and agribusiness.


The boll weevil arrived in Alabama in 1910 and soon brought ruin to thousands of farmers by eating the buds of cotton plants. Crop losses in the 1910s reached 60 to 75 percent. Farmers adapted by diversifying their crops, and the peanut became king of southeast Alabama.


Agricultural extension programs at Tuskegee Institute and Auburn served the state’s farm families through training programs. George Washington Carver pioneered traveling extension work at Tuskegee with his Movable School. The Alabama initiatives influenced the creation of federally funded national programs for agricultural support in 1914.


In October 1915, banker H. M. Sessions and farmer C. W. Baston inspected Coffee County’s first peanut crop, which heralded a profound change in the economy of the Wiregrass.

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