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Fallout and Agriculture

United States Department of Agriculture

In spite of the the limiting nature of its title, the United States Department of Agriculture often reached beyond the farm sector to keep rural Americans up to date on the latest cultural, political, and technological trends.  Working primarily through county-level extension offices,, the U.S.D.A. published pamphlets, offered expert lecturers, and even produced films on subjects as diverse as fashionable sewing, automobile mechanics, and plowboard repair.  When a need arose in the mid-1950's then, to begin providing civil defense advice specifically tailored to farmers and ranchers, the agency was well-suited to the task.  Although their distance from large urban centers and other probable targets of an enemy air attack protected most countryfolk from the danger of atomic blast and fire, radioactive fallout still presented a serious problem.  By 1960, fallout radiation was viewed as a deadly and long-lasting threat which could render cities uninhabitable and wreak havoc upon croplands across the nation.  That same year, the U.S.D.A. released Fallout and Agriculture which provides an incredibly detailed look at how radioactive particles can harm humans, livestock, and crops, while ultimately contaminating soil if proper precautions are not followed.


Fallout and Agriculture opens with a closeup of a picturesque farm being pelted by radioactive particles as the camera pulls back to reveal the film's narrator standing in front of a colorful mural.  With a stern voice he explains that while fallout is the most dangerous element of an atomic bomb, it is also the easiest to protect against.  By seeking shelter in a well-stocked basement, families can survive the deadliest period of fallout accumulation.  Root cellars and sturdy out-buildings, both common to rural properties, may also work for this purpose.  Similarly, livestock must be sheltered as well and a barn with solid walls and no windows is the ideal option, if available.  The film suggests that breeding stock should be given prime shelter space.  Ample animal feed supplies should be kept on hand, under tarps or indoors.  Crops, on the other hand, require a different set of precautions.  For fruits, vegetables, and grains still growing, little can be done as Cesium and Strontium 90 are absorbed into plant stalks and roots, contaminating them thoroughly.  Mature crops, however, can be harvested, washed with clean water, and consumed.


Fallout and Agriculture saves its grimmest content for the final moments.  The film addresses a scenario where a food shortage following an atomic attack forces farmers to plow their fields despite fertile topsoil being infused with deadly radioactivity.  To ensure the crops are acceptable for human consumption in such a case, the contaminated soil must be removed.  Two options are offered, though both are heavily stressed by the narrator to be used only as last resorts.  The first is to bulldoze the top several inches of soil of off fields, load it into dump trucks, and transport it for burial in remote locations.  It is noted this process would require extensive resources unavailable to most areas.  A second, more drastic measure involves “deep plowing”, using special machinery to turn the contaminated soil underneath uncontaminated soil, allowing crops to grow free of radioactivity.  Deep Plowing, while allowing crops to grow in the short term, makes it impossible to remove the radiation from the ground afterwards.