The Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) administered federal farm subsidies, loans, and conservation programs via offices in each of Mississippi’s eighty-two counties from 1961 to 1994. The ASCS was part of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Officially created in June 1961, the ASCS traced its heritage to the Agriculture Adjustment Administration of the 1930s. Despite being a federal agency, local control over policy represented a central tenet of the ASCS. Local farmers elected three “county committeemen” to serve three-year terms; the members of these committees selected directors to manage the day-to-day affairs of each county ASCS office. The US secretary of agriculture appointed a state ASCS committee of five farmers, and this committee oversaw statewide operations and appointed the state director with an office in Jackson.
The ASCS sought to control cotton surpluses via allotments—a specific number of acres that each farmer could plant in cotton. Farmers who exceeded their allotments received marketing penalties. These allotments were a vital issue in Mississippi, which had a total of 1,546,280 acres of cotton allotments in 1963. Mississippi’s ASCS employees and committee members encouraged farmers who were not going to use their entire allotment to release surplus acreage, which could then be offered to farmers who sought additional acres. In 1962 the ASCS newsletter chastised Mississippi’s farmers for keeping 78,000 acres of unused cotton allotments while other growers had requested an additional 346,713 acres. County offices attempted to find ways to maximize the usage of cotton allotments. In 1969, for example, the Leflore County ASCS held a “Cotton Transfer Referendum” that asked farmers to vote on the sale or lease of allotments outside of the county for 1970. The USDA abandoned cotton allotments under the Food and Agricultural Act of 1977. Under the new program, the ASCS utilized the national crop averages to set target prices for cotton, while ASCS aid became tied to market price rather than acreage allotment.
The Mississippi ASCS also managed USDA experimental programs. In 1963, Mississippi and thirteen other states piloted the Cropland Conversion Program authorized by the Agriculture Act of 1962. Under this program, farmers would set aside regularly used cropland for pastures, forests, wildlife habitats, or recreational facilities in exchange for payments of approximately thirty-seven dollars an acre. In the first year, only the counties of Itawamba, Lee, Tippah, and Union were eligible for the program, and they set aside 7,348 acres. In 1964–65 the USDA authorized the Mississippi ASCS to conduct the program only in Montgomery and Union Counties, where 1,376 acres were set aside.
Among the other programs administered by the Mississippi ASCS were the Feed Grain Program, Appalachian Land Stabilization and Conservation Program, Acreage Allotment and Marketing Quota Programs, Farm Storage and Drying Equipment Loan Program, Upland Cotton Program, and Agriculture Conservation Program. The state committee not only issued annual reports that detailed county-by-county crop yields, acreage, and dollars in federal assistance but also published the Mississippi ASCS Newsletter, which provided the state’s farmers with information regarding agriculture politics in Washington, deadlines for farm subsidies, and personnel decisions within the ASCS. Mississippi county ASCS offices also published newsletters detailing local ASCS votes, committee information, and farm program deadlines.
As in broader elections, African American farmers initially had difficulty voting in local ASCS elections, but in the wake of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, black participation very slowly increased. In 1976 only three African Americans (including 1 Mississippian) numbered among the 984 elected ASCS county committee members nationwide. That year showed some improvement, with 7 African Americans elected as alternate members of Mississippi’s county committees; nevertheless, the limited black participation on county committees and in crucial ASCS county office jobs remained a central point of contention for the remainder of the agency’s existence.
US secretary of agriculture Mike Espy, a Mississippi native, reorganized the USDA in 1994, and the ASCS and other farm-related agencies merged into the newly created Farm Service Agency.
- ASCS Annual Reports for Mississippi, 1963–79; Clyde Farnsworth, New York Times (28 April 1962, 6 May 1962)
- Valerie Grim, Agricultural History (Spring 1996)
- Leflore County ASCS Newsletter (1969); Mississippi ASCS Newsletter (1962–63)
- Wayne D. Rasmussen and Gladys L. Baker, The Department of Agriculture (1972)