Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Paul S. Sutter

Second Advisor

Thomas Andrews

Third Advisor

Phoebe Young

Fourth Advisor

Ralph Mann

Fifth Advisor

Daryl Maeda


The dissertation argues that the New Deal conservation policy that took root during the 1930s played an important role in changing how farmers approached their land and their government during the 1930s and beyond. The severity of the depression and devastation wrought by the Dust Bowl forced agriculturalists to reconsider how they used the land because the crises exposed the fragility of the rural economy and the problems caused by farming submarginal lands. Many farmers utilized New Deal programs, agencies, and funding to practice conservation, mitigate the Great Depression, and rehabilitate their lands. The system of county agents proved vital to this process, as agents in rural counties helped locals navigate the complexities of an ever-expanding state, serving as interlocutors between federal experts and farmers. It shows that farmers acted pragmatically - participating in programs they found worthwhile, designing alternatives, and capitalizing on federal largesse. Indeed, local farmers helped build the New Deal conservation state through just such engagement. In the aftermath of the drought, altered circumstances did little to disrupt the new coziness between growers and their tax-payer funded benefactor. World War II actually cemented that relationship, when the government responded to Coloradans' requests for outside labor by importing Braceros and Jamaican workers, by using German prisoners of war, and by establishing work contracts for prisoners from the Amache Japanese American incarceration camp. This contract labor, which local farmers deemed necessary to augment a labor pool depleted by migration and relocation, boosted wartime production dramatically. In addition, the influx of cheap and readily available labor combined with improved weather to allow farmers to maximize production and capitalize on wartime prices, setting the stage for the development of agribusiness in postwar America.

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