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THE TECHNICAL WORLD MAGAZINE
VOL. XV JULY. 1911 NO. 5
HARRY F. KOHR
A N Iowa farm of something more i\ than eighty acres passed into / % the hands of a city man on a / \ mortgage. He rented it and, A. JL for the first two or three years, the returns were satisfactory. Then he found the dwellings and outbuildings needed repairs which took back some of the profit. He held the land nine years and in that time had six tenants, the last of which harvested a crop of corn that barely was enough to feed his team and pay his own family expenses for the year.
The land was in a community where values ranged around $125 an acre but it cost the owner only about $6,000 under the mortgage. As near as he could estimate his income from the land for the nine years was about $4,000, from which was deducted repairs, taxes, new fencing and other incidentals aggregating about $1,200. This left him a net income of about $2,800. Then he tried to sell the land. Many buyers looked but none bought. They wanted no "corned out" land, they said. Finally along came a young farmer who took it off his hands for $4,000. That left the first man a net income of $800 on his $6,000 investment for nine years.
A northeast Kansas farm was homesteaded forty-six years ago and worked
by the original owner for thirty-four years, until he died. His son rented the land to two brothers. They planted wheat for seven years until the yield became too small to be profitable. In the next year another tenant planted corn and he "corned" the land for five years. No record was kept of the wheat yields, but the corn - yields averaged only twentyeight bushels an acre, the first crop being thirty-five bushels and the last crop twenty-three, an average value on the farm of eleven dollars an acre. His ninety acres of corn netted him $445. The owner got the same and his profit was approximately seven per cent. The first year of his tenancy the tenant's return was about $525, while the landlord made about eight per cent. The latter rate has been about the average profit, not deducting for deterioration of farm plant and soil. Increasing land values, however, have compensated for that.
In an eastern Missouri county, the Canadian fever and the Texas fever struck the farmers in one section about the same time. As a result pretty nearly three whole townships were depopulated. The land largely passed into the hands of city investors and then into the hands of tenants. Among the farms in that section was one of 220 acres operated
by a father and two sons. The sons took the Canadian fever, and with them went so many of his neighbors that the father became discouraged and decided to rent his farm and move to St. Louis. It was the average type of good Missouri farm with comfortable dwellings, good barns, modern machinery always kept in good repair, the crops being rotated and the soil kept up. Plant and land, estimating by other neighborhood sales, easily were worth $30,000. Of the first tenants, one remained three years, two others remained two years and one is still there. Last fall the two sons tired of Canada, sold their holdings and went back to the old farm. Most of the machinery required extensive repairs, the buildings were in bad repair and the land had been skinned, with the exception of that still held by the tenant. This tenant was a young man, a graduate of the Missouri Agricultural College, and he faithfully carried out his contract. He had taken the 63-acre tract previously held by the tenant who farmed it three years. He planted only corn last year but, by proper seed selection, raised, in
spite of the three years of skinning that the land had been subjected to, a larger crop than had ever been raised upon it. By hauling manure from other nearby farms he got enough to cover the field thoroughly with manure last fall. This year he will begin on a crop rotation program, having pleased the owner so well with his results last year that he was given a five-year lease with option of renewal.
In previous years this farm had paid a net profit of about 6 per cent, on $30,000. Balancing the receipts for four years against interest on the investment and the estimated cost of restoring the land and plant to its original condition the net profit was about 1.4 per cent, on a valuation of $30,000. But that is not all. Peopled largely now by a shifting population of tenant farmers the old community spirit has died out, the roads have deteriorated, the bank deposits in the county seat town have decreased and land values in the whole section are estimated to have decreased ten per cent, in the last four years.
The greatest agricultural evil of the present day is the tenant farmer. This statement is made by President Henry J. Waters of the Kansas State Agricultural College. The tenant farmer, he declares, is the highwayman of the soil; collectively, a vandal horde that has marched from Maine to the Missouri, laying waste an agricultural empire with the fire of its greed and the sword of its ignorance. His advance guard already is thrown beyond the Big Muddy. Give him time and he will overwhelm the West as he has the East. able for many years to supply you and me with all we need and leave enough over to sell to the fellow across the water who produces things that we do not. The extent of land area now under cultivation in the United-States is easily capable of producing twice the quantity of foodstuffs that is now gathered. In Germany, where conditions are more nearly similar to that of the United States than any other European country, the yield per acre of wheat is more than twice that of the United States, the yield of rye nearly twice as large, and barley and oats one-third larger. Germany's lands have been farmed for a thousand years, most of ours less than a hundred and millions of acres less than fifty years. There is no reason why our yield per acre should not exceed Germany's, but it is not likely to until we rid the farms of shiftless, land-skinning tenants.
The tenant farmer, President Waters says, is the ruination of the country and the menace of the city. He has left in his wake impoverished land, abandoned farms and a train of economic evils that must soon be remedied or grave consequences will follow. The tenant farmer is the man who is chiefly responsible for the increased cost of living, he is the man who has caused American exports to fall off 200 million dollars in three years. He is the man who has reduced our farming area, forced the price of productive land to an abnormal height, and sent droves of sturdy young farmers beyond our borders to the north.
President Waters has been investigating the tenant farmer for a long time and he knows his subject but nothing good of him. He speaks now of the tenant who doesn't farm but merely skins the soil, not the real tenant farmer—the small ten per cent or so of hustling, ambitious young men, long on industry
The welfare of the nation requires the scientific and effective usage of the soil, the rotation of crops and fertilization. It is only by such methods that its enduring productivity can be maintained. But the tenant farmer neither fertilizes nor rotates. He is an exploiter. He sows the same crops year after year, taking always but giving nothing in return. He squeezes the fertility from the soil and robs it of its power to produce. For every $25
worth of grain that he grows he takes from the soil a measure of fertility that would cost $12 to replace in the form of commercial fertilizer. Average land will stand such treatment about ten years. Ten years and the tenant farmer has made a portion of the nation's agriculture area a barren waste!
One doesn't need to go into the field of higher mathematics or perform any extraordinary feats of mental gymnastics to trace the increased cost of living to such conditions. The farm no longer contributes its share to the nation's supply of beef, pork, mutton, butter, milk, cream and breadstuffs. Every acre of land laid waste adds an artificial value to land that is still productive, lessens the productive area and consequently compels—both by the law of supply and demand and the necessity for an adequate return from the land that still produces — a higher price for food products. The law of supply is as immutable as the law of gravitation. When supply does not meet demand prices rise.
Farming as an occupation is steadily growing more profitable, because the number of consumers of foodstuffs and the rate of consumption per capita are increasing more rapidly than production. Right here let it be understood that this does not mean that there is a call to the city man to go back to the farm. There are enough farmers already. The call is for better farmers and better farming. For several years past the yield per acre of agricultural products in this country has remained practically stationary, whereas with the revolutionary improvements in farming machinery and farming methods and the wider dissemination of agricultural knowledge, our yield per acre should have increased at least fifteen per cent. That the average yield per acre has not shown an actual decline, is due to the fact that much worn out land has been abandoned while vast areas of virgin land have been opened in the West and Northwest, and great areas and swamp and timber lands in the East have been drained or cleared off and planted.
But we are approaching closely now the limit of our cultivable land. When we reach that limit—and the day is not many years away—either farming methods must undergo a radical change or our yield per acre gradually will decline. If we are to preserve the fertility of the
land, the land skinner must be put out of business.
As a nation we are still the greatest meat eaters in the world, but year by year our per capita consumption of meat lessens while the per capita consumption of grain and vegetables grows. The per capita of wheat consumption in the United States in 1885 was four and twothirds bushels, while in 1909 it had risen to five and one-half bushels. The exports of breadstuffs, meats, live stock and dairy products fell from 413 million dollars in 1907 to 213 million dollars in 1910. The average farm price of wheat from 1896 to 1900 was 66.4 cents a bushel and from 1906 to 1909 it was 86.5 cents. Corn showed a similar advance. When exports fall off and prices rise at home in the face of a total production of farm crops never exceeded in our history, there can be only one conclusion— that the demand is growing at home faster than the supply. The natural result is that the cost of living goes up.
"It was," as Prof. W. J. Spillman of the Department of Agriculture stated in