Labour/ Le Travail, Volume 16 (Fall/Automne 1985)
FOR MANY FARMERS IN western Canada, the inter-war years were decades of discontent — decades born in depression and marked with suffering, insecurity, and social upheaval. Except for a brief period in the mid-1920s, when agriculture experienced a significant though short-lived recovery, the prices of grain and livestock were in steady decline after 1919. The impact of this prolonged price depression on the western farmers was devastating as it affected all sectors of their economy; incomes declined sharply while mortgage indebtedness, interest payments, taxes, and labour costs remained high.
There were many causes of this crisis, but part of the explanation lay in the changing nature of the industry itself. With the growing use of mechanical equipment, the farmers' capacity to produce increased at a rate faster than the power of the population to consume. Consequently, prices declined precipitously and unmarketable surpluses became chronic. Mechanization did, however, carry with it certain unassailable advantages: it freed the fanner from a reliance on expensive and transient labour, regularized operations, and in the long term allowed for the reduction of production costs per acre. At the same time, it tied the farmer to the modern economy, with its compulsion to find more income to obtain fuel, machinery, and equipment, and dragged farmers forever into the orbit of the dominant industrial culture.
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