What was the state of farming in Trempealeau County in the drought years of the thirties? I went to the Winona Republican-Herald to search out a few articles, especially for 1934. Here’s some of what I found.
Year 1929 and after
In 1929 prior to the drought years, Trempealeau County had the second highest butter production in the state of Wisconsin, coming just a bit behind Green County. Already by 1930, that production had fallen 400,000 pounds to 7,200,800 due to a lack of rainfall. By 1931, it was down to 6,500,000. The same year, funds were being raised by individuals and organizations to assist families with relief from the drought.
The year 1934
By April, 434 farmers had received livestock feed in the amount of $14,700.49, signing highway work agreements at 45 cents an hour to pay off their debt. By June, Trempealeau County was added to the drought list by the farmers administration, and farmers could borrow up to $250 from the Production Credit Corporation for seed and feed. According to county agent R. V. Larson, the drought was “becoming alarming” and many farmers had to re-seed failed fields with corn, Sudan grass or soybeans. From Whitehall, two carloads (train) of millet and soybeans had been distributed for drought relief and 12 carloads of soybeans had been ordered.
By July, the federal government was preparing to buy up cattle as part of drought relief. Veterinarians would do the appraising, with $12-20 offered for animals 2 years and up, $10-15 for 1-2 year olds, and $4-8 for under 1 year. The county cut corn acreage by 1,200 and the hog crop by 25%, while permission was given to raise forage crops on this land (to feed animals).
By October, reports indicated 1,065 of the 2,997 farms in Trempealeau County received (cattle) feed relief. In the northern part of the county, it was 184 of 460 farms. At the year’s end, the county reported $100,000 in drought relief, of which $74,200 had been worked off doing highway work like shaling roads and building bridges. Farmers in Trempealeau and Buffalo Counties had been paid $750,000 for cutting production of corn, hogs, wheat and tobacco, plus the buy-out of cattle.
One dramatic illustration of the drought effect was that 1934 hay production was but 52,163 tons compared to 121,720 tons in 1929. Perhaps these were the years my father Garven said they bought hay that had been cut from the roadsides in the Dakotas, hay that didn’t deserve the name because it was filled with weeds, wood pieces, and rocks.
The newspaper articles indicated prices rebounded a bit in 1935, but the drought slammed farmers hard again in 1936. Trempealeau County was one of 37 on Wisconsin’s drought list. The marshes even dried up, and canary grass was tried as a roughage. From April to August the price of hay shot up from $50 to $220 a ton! One news article indicated the 1936 drought brought the greatest crop loss in Wisconsin history, with the best countries (Trempealeau included) achieving just 50% of expectations for corn, barley, oats, hay, pasture, and milk production.
Amazingly, these were exciting years in other ways. In 1936, an REA survey was being conducted for the setting of poles that was beginning electrification of rural areas. Critical strides were taken in animal health, such as T.B. tests for all cattle in 1936, and progress made eliminating Bang’s disease.
For the Emil and Gina Borreson family, these were the same years that Odell and Sidney were still in school, and Bennie, Ednar, and Garven were beginning their own way in farming.