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In spite of their remarkable progress 19th-century American farmers experienced recurring periods of hardship Several basic factors were involved -- soil exhaustion the vagaries of nature a decline in self-sufficiency and the lack of adequate legislative protection and aid Perhaps most important however was over-production Along with the mechanical improvements which greatly increased yield per hectare the amount of land under cultivation grew rapidly throughout the second half of the century as the railroads and the gradual displacement of the Plains Indians opened up new areas for western settlement A similar expansion of agricultural lands in countries such as Canada Argentina and Australia compounded these problems in the international market where much of US agricultural production was now sold The farther west the settlers went the more dependent they became on the railroads to move their goods to market At the same time farmers paid high costs for manufactured goods as a result of the protective tariffs that Congress backed by Eastern industrial interests had long supported Over time the Midwestern and Western farmer fell ever more deeply in debt to the banks that held their mortgages In the South the fall of the Confederacy brought major changes in agricultural practices The most significant of these was sharecropping where tenant farmers shared up to half of their crop with the landowners in exchange for seed and essential supplies An estimated 80 percent of the Souths black farmers and 40 percent of its white ones lived under this debilitating system following the Civil War Most sharecroppers were locked in a cycle of debt from which the only hope of escape was increased planting This led to the over-production of cotton and tobacco and thus to declining prices and the further exhaustion of the soil The first organized effort to address general agricultural problems was the Granger movement Launched in 1867 by employees of the US Department of Agriculture the Granges focused initially on social activities to
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