Aerial photography at the Agricultural Adjustment Administration: Acreage controls, conservation benefits, and overhead surveillance in the 1930s

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Aerial photography played an important but largely unsung role in New Deal efforts to improve farm income. Established in 1933, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) promoted agriculture secretary Henry Wallace's "ever-normal granary" with production controls (1934-1935) and conservation programs (1936-1937) before Congress adopted a combined strategy in 1938. To administer these programs and ensure performance, the AAA set up an innovative hierarchy of state, county, and local committees. Experiments in 1935 and 1936 demonstrated that aerial photography provided cost-effective, adequately precise measurements and led to a concerted effort to extend photographic coverage. In 1937, 36 photographic crews flew 375,000 square miles (970,000 square km), and by late 1941 AAA officials had acquired coverage of more than 90 percent of the country's agricultural land. From its initial goal of promoting compliance, the Agriculture Department's aerial photography program became a tool for conservation and land planning as well as an instrument of fair and accurate measurement. Local administration and a widely perceived need to increase farm income fostered public acceptance of a potentially intrusive program of overhead surveillance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1257-1261
Number of pages5
JournalPhotogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computers in Earth Sciences

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