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Challenging Industrialization: The Rekindling of Agrarian Protest in a Modern Agriculture, 1977–1987

Year: 2008

Authors: William P. Browne

This analysis explores why a farmers-led social movement mobilized against federal government policy in the late twentieth century. It also explores where that revolt may lead and whether it was different from previous farm protests. Was it, as populist rhetoric of the 1980s charged, a reflection of structural changes in farmers' own agricultural production systems? Or was it simply a case of farmers wanting more federal income support? The distinction is important because the answer determines producer commitment to the central agricultural development premises of U.S. public policy. Farmers always have promoted the agrarian value of hardworking independence. Yet they also have been caught, especially since midcentury, in a cycle of farm industrialization. Technical innovation and federal agricultural policy have combined to make industrialization unavoidable for individual farm operators who want to remain as full-time, commercial growers. Has there been a link between the dissenting politics of farm protest and industrialized agricultural change? This linkage is the subject of concern in the following pages. Why industrialization might well have caused policy dissent is examined first.

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