3. Peasants and Farmers
The Wheat Farmers
(i) From the late nineteenth century, there was a dramatic expansion of wheat production in the USA. The urban population in the USA was growing and the export market was becoming ever bigger. As the demand increased, wheat prices rose, encouraging farmers to produce wheat. The spread of the railways made it easy to transport the grain from the wheat-growing regions to the eastern coast for export. By the early twentieth century the demand became even higher, and during the First World War the world market boomed.
(ii) In 1910, about 45 million acres of land in the USA was under wheat. Nine years later, the area had expanded to 74 million acres, an increase of about 65 per cent. Most of the increase was in the Great Plains where new areas were being ploughed to extend cultivation. In many cases, big farmers – the wheat barons – controlled as much as 2,000 to 3,000 acres of land individually.