This article was originally published in our Winter 2013 newsletter. It was written by Research & Archives Manager Sue Doocy.
The drought of 1930s was the worst experienced in US history. By March 1934, three-quarters of southern Minnesota was in an extreme drought and for the next two month’s high temperatures and lack of sufficient rain would take its toll on livestock, crops and land.
The Austin Daily Herald thermometer read 100 degrees on May 6, 1934 and not far off E. J. Greening recorded 98 degrees for the Federal Weather Bureau in Grand Meadow that beat the previous record set in 1895.
The Herald reported the ten day dust storm covered the area in a rust colored mile high cloud and ended on May 11th, with clear skies that allowed the sun to continue baking the land and inhabitants. The Black Blizzard, as it was called, began in the western plains of Canada and blew tons of soil, dropping it along the way to the eastern seaboard. The high winds blew away seeds and top soil or cut seedlings off, leaving nothing to recoup the losses as farmers took out loans to pay for the seed.
On May 7th, there was little choice according to University Farm extension agent, as he advised farmers to take a chance on planting their corn and take a chance that it would rain.
Grand Meadow seemed to be blessed with timely rains, as .85 inches of rain fell on May 13th, the most it would see throughout the summer, and Austin received ½ to ¾ of an inch, while light showers fell on other parts of the county doing very little to rejuvenate crops.
A hot wind blew over the parched prairie on May 31st and a blazing sun forced the mercury even higher to 107 degrees in Grand Meadow, another temperature that hadn’t been seen since 1901. Greening reviewed the records and found only 5.31 inches of precipitation had fallen the first 5 months of 1934.
An agronomist suggested farmers consider planting soybeans, along with other crops to replace drought-damaged pastures and grain crops. He claimed soybeans was one of the best emergency hay crops available, and if planted in rich soil, could produce 1½ to 2 tons of hay per acre.
Federal and State government agencies scrambled to provide aid for area farmers. Washington promised to meet the farmer’s needs in the form of aid for food and fund shortages and to plan to prevent future food shortages by balancing good years with the bad. They provided information for alternative crops that would produce fodder for livestock and the state corn-hog program committee lifted planting restrictions on land in Mower County allowing farmers to plant forage crops to feed their livestock. A railroad car loaded with soybeans for Mower County farmers to plant arrived in Dexter on June 23rd, and farmers either paid in cash, signed a note that could be paid upon receiving their corn-hog money or in a few cases, “work out” for the cost.
Another solution was to extend wheat production control contracts to give drought-affected farmers a chance to sign up for a benefit that paid a form of crop insurance.
The government was making plans to relieve the stress of starving livestock and aid financially strapped farmers by starting a wholesale slaughtering program that paid farmers for their cattle anywhere from $4 to $20 a head. Unfit animals were destroyed and burned on the farm. The processed meat was placed in tins and distributed to the poor.
Grain crops were down ¼ their normal average according to the county agent’s threshing reports in the beginning of August. Threshers usually worked one to two days on one farm, now they were completing 3 or 4 farms in a day, with only 3 to 4 bushels an acre.
By August 11th, feed conservation was stressed in the area, and experts strongly suggested that farmers harvest cornstalks, wheat straw, soybeans and any other roughage not normally used for fodder, and use it for livestock consumption.
1934 became a record-breaking year for drought, temperatures, and adding to misery, Mower County was plague with grasshoppers and a frost that caused another round of crop damage.
Through active researching and planning, the United States set in motion a series of conservation practices and agricultural programs to help farmers and stockmen in need while improving the economic and natural environments.
Editor’s Note: Information provided for this article was found in the Austin Daily Herald from June 20, 1933 to August 28, 1934.