However colossal the mineral resources and gigantic the development of the industries are and although the rural population, which in 1900 still comprised 60% of the total, fell in 1930 to 43.8%, nevertheless the national economic life still rests largely on the agriculture and the United States hold the quantitative primacy of agricultural production among all the countries of the world.
Beginning with the first crops, introduced in Virginia by the English colonists, progress was continuous and formidable, especially since the colonists began to till and cultivate the very rich lands of Ohio and Mississippi. The fertility of the virgin soil, conquered over the forest and the prairie, the enormous extension of arable land, the conditions of the relief and the climate, the extensive use of agricultural machinery, together with the labor provided by immigration, have led the United States ranks first in the cultivation of cereals (wheat and corn) and industrial plants (tobacco and cotton). The demand for agricultural products from Europe, which became spasmodic during the years of the world war, gave a truly exceptional boost to agriculture,
The climatic differences and the variety of relief and nature of the land have determined the agricultural exploitation of the different parts of the territory. First of all we remember the fundamental division into an eastern and a western section, the limit of which can be considered marked by the 100th meridian. In the West, scarce rainfall and altitude hinder agriculture by limiting it to restricted areas where irrigation is possible. This is the region reserved for pastoralism with modest oases of irrigated or arid crops (region of grazing, dry – farming and irrigation), in which indeed the Colorado and Arizona plateaus are largely desert: only the Great Valley along the Pacific has fertile soil and, in the S. part, a Mediterranean climate that allows multiple cultivation, especially of fruit trees, of vines and citrus.
In section E. the agricultural crops that vary from N. to S. give a particular character to the individual regions. To the north, between the Atlantic coast of New England and the state of New York and the Canadian Great Lakes, even where cereal crops were introduced in the early days of European colonization, natural pastures and artificial grasslands now prevail. of animals, especially dairy, with the consequent development of the dairy industry (Hay and Pasture Region).
West of Lake Superior, in the states of Minnesota, Sept. Dakota and Wed., the cultivation of spring wheat prevails, which is also widespread beyond the Canadian border (Spring Wheat Belt). Further to the South., between the Appalachians and the 100th meridian, that is, in the E. part of Nebraska and in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and in part of Kansas and Missouri, we have the Corn Belt, the most important agricultural area of the central plain, where maize cultivation is predominant and almost exclusive. At noon follows the Corn and Winter Wheat Belt, the region where maize and winter wheat crops prevail, encompassing Kansas, part of Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, part of Tennessee and the Atlantic coastal area between North Carolina and Maryland. Even more in S., from East Texas to the two Carolines, the Cotton Belt is lengthened, in which the cultivation of cotton absolutely predominates, but where many other high-yielding crops have been introduced. Finally, the maritime rim along the Gulf of Mexico and Florida form the Sub-Tropical Coast Belt, with tropical rice and sugar cane crops and early fruit and vegetable production.
With regard to agricultural value, it is calculated that, of the entire immense territory, only one third can be considered in excellent conditions of cultivability, one third in fair conditions, while a third would be sterile. But despite its great progress, agriculture is still far from having conquered arable land and in 1930 the total area of land belonging to agricultural farms, although more than tripled compared to 1850, slightly exceeded half of the territory. national territory (399,346,160 hectares equal to 51.8%), and of this half, only 41.8% was actually cultivated land, while the rest was occupied by pastures, woods, etc. So it can be said that just 21.7% of the total territory is actually cultivated.
The percentage of land belonging to farms varies greatly from region to region and is highest in the central NW. (81.2%) and lowest in the western mountainous area (28.6%). If we then consider these values for the individual states, we cross a whole range, from 5.9% of Nevada to 95.6% of Iowa.
Cultivations are very limited in section O. due to the altitude and aridity of the climate: to combat the latter, lakes, reservoirs, irrigation canals, derivations, etc., were built, both by the federal government and of state governments both by individuals and by companies. The work has already progressed so far that they benefit from irrigation, on an irrigable area of ha. 12,383,605, about 8 million hectares and 90% of the agricultural products of the western area are obtained on irrigated land. In some better equipped areas, dry farming has been introduced, that is the cultivation of cereals and fodder with maximum exploitation of the short and scarce rainy season; but this procedure, which had developed widely a few years ago,
The huge agricultural area of ha. 399,346,000 is divided into a very large number of small properties, the average size of which in 1930 was ha. 63.5. It can be said that on the whole the area of the individual farms is growing as one proceeds towards the West, but the average size prevails everywhere, so that out of 6,288,648 farms only 159,700 (2.5%) measure from 200 to 399 ha. and just 80,620 (1.3%) exceed 400 ha, while 4,158,380, that is 66.1%, have an area ranging from 8 to 70 ha.
Most of the farms are run directly by the owners, plus a small number of factors: rent and sharecropping are widespread almost exclusively in the states of the Cotton Belt, especially among the Negro population. The methods of exploitation are very different from those of the old agricultural countries. In many areas monoculture predominates: in very few the use of chemical fertilizers has developed, generally the conductors are limited to using the manure available and occasionally leaving the land to rest, to work on the farm other land not yet exploited. The scarcity of manpower, removed from the fields by high industrial wages, is made up for by the widespread use of agricultural machinery, of which the Americans have invented all the most useful types.
With these systems and thanks to the great availability of fertile lands, agriculture progressed rapidly and experienced a period of enormous wealth during the years of the world war. Intoxicated by the success and attracted by the ease with which they obtained credit from the banks, American farmers in those years improved their plants, bought agricultural machinery and mechanical means of transport, to provide themselves with all the comforts of modern life, but the crisis subsequent and the frightening fall in the prices of food deprived them of the possibility of meeting the commitments so that the agrarian property was burdened by an accumulation of debts, this very main cause of the profound discomfort of the agricultural class.