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In George Marshall's speech announcing the Marshall Plan, he claims:

There is a phase of this matter which is both interesting and serious. The farmer has always produced the foodstuffs to exchange with the city dweller for the other necessities of life. This division of labor is the basis of modern civilization. At the present time, it is threatened with breakdown. The town and city industries are not producing adequate goods to exchange with the food-producing farmer. Raw materials and fuel are in short supply. Machinery is lacking or worn out. The farmer or the peasant cannot find the goods for sale which he desires to purchase. So the sale of his farm produce for money which he cannot use seems to him unprofitable transaction. He, therefore, has withdrawn many fields from crop cultivation and is using them for grazing. He feeds more grain to stock and finds for himself and his family an ample supply of food, however short he may be on clothing and the other ordinary gadgets of civilization. Meanwhile, people in the cities are short of food and fuel. So the governments are forced to use their foreign money and credits to procure these necessities abroad. This process exhausts funds which are urgently needed for reconstruction.

Why would a farmer in this situation switch from crop cultivation to grazing? Is it easier to sell dairy / beef than grain in such an environment? Unsure of the causality here.

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  • You have to specify where. Dutch farmers work very different from French or German farmers.
    – Jos
    Feb 18, 2023 at 0:30
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    True or not, I think the idea is described in the text. Crop cultivation gives better yields but there was no use for the extra money they could get from it, so they would have switched to grazing to get meat for themselves (and I guess it is a lot less resource and work intensive).
    – SJuan76
    Feb 18, 2023 at 8:38
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    Are you asking about the causality in Marshal’s speech or in the reality? In reality, agricultural production at the beginning of Marshal’s plan (1948) was not as bad as the speech depict it
    – Dan M
    Feb 18, 2023 at 8:55
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    Pasture seeds itself; crops require that seed either be purchased, or have been reserved from previous harvest. In Netherlands at least, the Germans stole not just the entire harvest they could lay hands on, but all the seed reserve as well. That takes time and money to rebuild. Feb 20, 2023 at 0:37
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    Also, running a grazing-based farm is probably easier for a farmer short on labour (because family members died in or were mutilated by the war; or that happened to the farmer himself).
    – Dohn Joe
    Feb 20, 2023 at 9:31

1 Answer 1

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There are many reasons why a farmer could opt for grazing instead of growing crops post-war.

  • Soil quality. There are areas that just are not suited for crops. Others pretty much require heavy use of fertilizer, which usually was not be available.
  • Labor / tools / fuel requirements. You need to plow and harrow, sow and reap. Grazing is much less labor-intensive (as per the comments of SJuan76 and Dohn Joe).
  • Availability of seeds (as per Pieter Geerkens comment).
  • Infrastructure / marketability of the produce. Selling large amounts of grain needs buyers of large amounts of grain.

Right after the war, a lot of trade was done on the individual level, as much of the infrastructure (both technical and commercial) was destroyed. People from the cities travelled large distances to "acquire" foodstuffs directly. A piece of ham, or better even, sausages, was easier to transport than a sack of potatoes. Easier to smuggle through a checkpoint, too...

I'd love to give sources on this, but this is as anecdotal as it gets, coming from my grandparents. ;-)

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    This reads like speculation, rather than historical event. The farmers may have done it for these reasons. Did they?
    – SPavel
    Feb 22, 2023 at 16:27
  • @SPavel: No, "the" farmers did not. Because "the" farmer does not exist. The above four points all held true for my family. For others, only one or two might have applied. For others, none applied. The idea that there was one reason for which everybody in Europe did something is ridiculous.
    – DevSolar
    Feb 23, 2023 at 7:55
  • A big priority for areas that had seen actual combat was removing debris and mines from the land, and filling in impact craters and trenches. Can't plow through big holes, and live ordinance can kill both the worker and the livestock.
    – bgwiehle
    Feb 23, 2023 at 13:48

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