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TENANT FARMING AND CROP SHARING.
Farm labor, in a large and true sense, is the work of the farmer, the tenant, the crop sharer, and the laborer hired for wages. These forms of effort are inextricably involved, the farm laborer of one year being the farm owner of another, and the sons of farm owners laborers temporarily, tenants later, and ultimately proprietors. In this country land titles are not tied up by primogeniture, nor agricultural classes held by caste to the semiserfdom of social and industrial conditions. It is impossible to chain an American to a life service in any industrial class.
Much ado has been made of the dangers of land monopoly. Bonanza farming has been deplored, and while the lamentation over it has had little time to dry its tears these great farms have been disintegrating. As a system it is a temporary speculation, a depletion and sale of fertility, a pocketing of the plunder. It is followed by division of the lands to small proprietors, who will eventually restore productivity by recuperative processes and intensive farming. The great ranches have been a great bugbear of the same kind. Already has restoration commenced division into small ranches. In the northern and central ranch districts methods are fast changing; the natural hay is supplemented by alfalfa, and the forage feeding in winter follows; lamb fattening causes a movement of corn from prairie to mountain, and a transformation scene appears which will eventually include and beautify the whole arid region. The genius of our institutions does not favor land monopoly, and while railroads had been granted nearly two hundred millions of acres, and the whole world has been invited to a free division of the other hundreds of millions, railroad lands are forfeited and unsold, great holdings are subdivided, and every decade the average holding becomes smaller and the percentage of area unimproved is decreasing, as is shown by census enumeration:
In a half century the average size has been reduced nearly one-half, and it will not be long till the average size of a farm is less than a hundred acres.
Similar short-sighted opinions have been gravely presented as to the tendency of tenant farming. Some tenant occupancy is inevitable and is found to exist in all countries. While tenant farming does not benefit the land and is generally a hindrance to progressive agriculture, it is temporary as to the individual tenant, as there is no tenant class. The tenant should be encouraged to become a proprietor, as is usually the case.
Superficial writers quote the arbitrary classifications of the census, without analyzing conditions to find the meaning of the figures, which are as follows:
411, 673 1,350, 225 565, 556 72,005
49,011 74,946 88, 743 105, 092
62, 281 157, 810 259,000 216, 000
69, 073 192, 445 302, 188 265, 899 10, 349
3, 269, 728
Of 4,564,641 farms in 1890, 1,294,913 were cultivated by tenants, or 28.4 per cent, being an increase in ten years of 2.6 per cent. This seems a large proportion, but the figures are deceptive. Tenant farming in the South is so only in name; a large proportion of the 706,403 so-called tenants are farm laborers in the guise of tenants, simply from aversion to personal supervision and control, so suggestive of former involuntary servitude. It is simply absurd to attribute, as some do without thinking, this peculiar phase of the free-labor movement to an unfortunate tendency to reversion to a kind of pseudo-feudalism or vassalage to land monopoly. Eliminating this we have, for all other parts of the country, 2,728,209 farms, 518,510 occupied by tenants, or about one-fifth.
It is inevitable that there should be some increase of tenant occupancy, especially on lands which were practically given away to settlers. Where land is had for a mere record fee there is little place for tenants. In the course of years, as lands become valuable and settlers prosperous, many seek the towns, to educate their children or to enjoy well-earned ease, and their farms are rented, often to a son who expects ultimately to own the property. Such changes increase tenant farming, but they do not indicate a tendency to land monopoly or soil deterioration. A prosperous merchant or other business man in a thriving agricultural community may invest his profits in land, more from an expectation of rise in value than of profit in renting, and he is usually willing to sell at a fair price. A far-sighted business man will be sure to sell before land values become stationary or decline and before the tenant has depleted the fertility and reduced the rate of yield.
There are instances reported of wealthy investors buying up large tracts to hold. While this practice is to be deprecated, it is usually speculative and temporary rather than permanently monopolistic, and has not always been a business success. Imitating the example of owners of great estates in Europe, some of our nouveaux riches are securing game preserves, mostly mountainous and comparatively useless to agriculture; but if the practice should increase it might encroach seriously on lands needed for cultivation. As lands in this country can not be entailed and are subject to all the influences that impel frequent changes in ownership, it is hoped that the habit of land monopoly may not be fostered in this way. A remedy exists in taxation, and these great tracts can not be concealed, like personal property.
The record of the census makes an increase in tenants between 1880 and 1890 from 25.6 per cent of the total number of farms to 28.4 per cent. Every geographical division shows an increase except the Western, or mountain, and Pacific coast States, which records a decrease from 14 to 12.1 per cent.
The increase in the North Atlantic States is from 16 to 18.4 per cent; the North Central (or Ohio and Missouri valleys), from 20.5 to 23.4 per cent. In the South, under its so-called tenant system, the increase in the South Atlantic States is from 36.1 to 38.5 per cent; in the South Central from 36.2 to 38.4 per cent, where forty years ago tenant farming was scarcely known. What the future will reveal can not be foretold, but in this investigation several experts of large knowledge of agricultural con ditions report a tendency of the last few years to return from town to country.
The proportion of rents payable in cash increased materially between 1880 and 1890 and it is believed to be still increasing. In 1890 the proportion in the United States was about 35 per cent, an increase of nearly 4 per cent. Cash rentals are in largest proportion in the North Atlantic States, or 43 per cent of all farms rented. In the Central West the proportion is 33 per cent, a large increase. The proportion is increasing in the South, slowly in the Atlantic States, and more rapidly in the Southwest. In 1890 the cash rentals were one-third of all tenant farms. This tendency is welcomed, as it indicates more prosperous conditions, more enterprise and courage in assuming the risks of bad seasons, and greater inducement to skill and energy in securing larger profits.
The cash rentals vary greatly, according to productivity and farm equipment. They usually amount to more than fair interest on the value of the property, if possible, to cover tendency to soil exhaustion. National or State enumerations of the rates of such rentals are not taken. One exception may be noted, that of Missouri, which returns as the average $2.90 per acre for corn, $2.60 for wheat, $2.35 for oats, $3.60 for cotton, $3.95 for tobacco, $2.10 for flax, $2.80 for meadows, and $1.85 for pasture. Cotton lands in Texas are often rented at $4 per acre. In the period of depression such rents were frequently reduced to $3 per acre. In Georgia there is great difference in fertility of soils, and cash rents vary from $2 or less to $5 per
There is one cause for increase of tenant farming that has no connection with nonresident ownership of land. In the settlement of our public lands every man wanted not only a farm, but a large one. Nearly every settler was more or less a speculator; he knew his farm would some day be valuable, and acquired as large acreage as
possible. He realizes that he can not manage it advantageously; he needs more labor, and thinks farm wages too high, so he seeks to rent land instead of hiring labor, and prefers usually to rent for a share of the produce. He finds relief from care in this method, and the laborer has more freedom, does more work, and gets from his labor better compensation. Fertility may not be so well sustained, but the owner, for the time being, appears to be satisfied. It is not good farm economy, and the children of the renter will not be benefited by it. Most farmers have more land than they can cultivate well with the labor they have to expend upon it; and not everyone has the executive ability to prevent leaks and loss in large employment of labor. The desire to get a profit from surplus land running to weeds and waste, and at the same time avoid the care and risks of hired labor, is a painful cause of increase of farm tenancy. This feature does not indicate a tendency to land monopoly; on the contrary, such a system will in the long run be unprofitable to the owner, and he will be glad to be rid of land that he can not cultivate advantageously.
The predominant mode of renting is still for a share of the product, except in the New England States, where cash rents are preferred, and in all of them, Vermont excepted, more numerous than share renting. The proportion of the product accorded to the owner varies from one-third to one-half, according to the terms of the contract, the use of stock and implements belonging to the owner increasing the proportion of rent. From a careful consideration of data examined, which may not be sufficient to warrant close statements of averages, the allowance for the bare land would evidently be near two-fifths of the produce. Missouri has just made a statistical investigation and obtained some hundreds of estimates from the correspondents of the board of agriculture, and finds that the tenant pays 40 per cent of his product of corn against 38 per cent in 1895. For wheat lands the rent was 37 per cent, the same as in 1895. For oats the rent is the same. The rent of cotton land is 32 per cent instead of 35 in 1895. For tobacco land 39 per cent is paid, and for potato land 38 per cent. Meadows require less labor and the renter is required to pay 47 per cent. From various parts of the West casual statements of rental shares are received, varying from one-third to one-half of the produce, according to productivity of the soil and local value of products, but apparently averaging nearer to three-eighths or four-tenths.
Share cropping is still a common mode of land occupancy in the cotton States. Unwilling to work for wages and be under control of owner or overseer, the negro laborer, without mule or subsistence supplies, makes the best share terms he can, depending ou the landlord for all advances, to be taken from his share of the crop. There appears to be some increase of contracts for wages and a still larger increase in renting land, sometimes for cash or a stipulated rent in cotton or a certain share of the crop. In North Carolina the share of the laborer varies (with his ability to furnish more than his muscle) from one-fourth to one-half of the crop. Governor Northen, of Georgia, reports the ordinary rent of 40 acres as 2 bales of cotton, the laborer paying the hire of the mule. Professor Duggar, of the experiment station of Alabama, thinks the percentage of farm laborers working for cash 20, and that those working for a share of the crop in that State are not half as many as 10 or 15 years ago, say 10 per cent; that most of the remainder are renting. The usual share contract allows the laborer to receive one-third of the cotton and one-fourth of the corn for labor alone, or, if he feeds himself, he gets half the crop,
for half the fertilizer when any is used. In Tennessee, as elsewhere, the share of the laborer depends somewhat on the fertility of the land. On bottom lands, new or highly improved grounds, the owner gets half the product or a stipulated cash rent, furnishing nothing but the soil, but on lands of average productivity and condition the owner furnishes stock to work them and the seed for half the produce. For Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana the share contracts are similar, varying with extent of supplies in addition to land, the cropper usually getting one-half when he feeds himself and team, which the landlord furnishes with the land. In renting a stipulated sum is paid per acre, or a certain amount of cotton, or a certain share of the crop. The white renter usually pays rent in cash; the colored renter generally contracts to pay a stipulated portion of the crop.
The tendency everywhere is toward renting land in preference to crop sharing upon small areas under dependence on the owner for advances of team, provisions, feed-everything but labor. It is a less dependent position, requires some accumulation of previous savings, and is indicative of greater prosperity, though so great is the desire for this position, having some appearance of independence, that it is often sought and entered on without adequate means, rendering necessary advances of corn or forage by the landlord, the hire of mules, or other credits. The details of these variations in dealings of landlord and tenant are practically endless; and it is to escape the most troublesome and annoying of these petty transactions that land owners and laborers are glad to see the impecunious cropper exchanging his condition for that of an apparently less impecunious tenant.
Neither owners nor laborers are very prosperous, especially when there is surfeit of 4-cent cotton. With cotton at present prices, as it will continue to be if not reduced by excessive production, there is profit and prosperity in it for the landlord, and for the laborer if industrious and prudent. The curse of the present condition is the croplien system. The profits go to the bankers and merchants, who charge ruinous interest and practice oppressive exactions under the excuse of extraordinary risks. More banks will not remedy this evil, or greater facility for borrowing money on real estate, unless cheaper interest (6 per cent instead of 30 or 60) is used as a ladder to climb out of debt at once. A laborer who has only a year's supplies on hand in January is on the high road to prosperity; if he eats his bread before he earns it, he is at the inerey of sharpers. There is evidently sufficient remission of industry and prudence to perpetuate this condition of impoverishment, otherwise it would disappear in a year or two and a course of prosperity would naturally follow. Should the negro work on his Saturdays, now so generally taken for leisure, and avoid the loss of efficiency resulting for the other five days, with expenses attending the holiday, the gain would doubtless be ample in a year to provide the means of avoiding these advances for the next year. The remedy seems easy, and yet it is not easy, the chains of habit in self-indulgence are so strong. Nevertheless, industry and prudence furnish the only remedy for debt and improvidence in any country.
FARM WAGES SINCE 1892 IN COMPARISON WITH PREVIOUS YEARS.
The average wages of farm labor for the years 1893, 1894, 1895, 1898, and 1899 have been published by the Department of Agriculture in Miscellaneous Series Bulletin No. 22 of the Division of Statistics (1901), together with the figures formerly published for previous years. These figures are reproduced on the following pages. The bulletin also contains tables distinguishing between the wages of white and colored laborers and between wages by the season and wages by the entire year, and also giving the average wages of overseers or foremen and the average hours of farm labor at different seasons by States. A table showing the difference between wages with board and wages without board, by geographical divisions, reproduced in this Appendix at page 144, is of special interest as showing the influence of the Southern practice of issuing uncooked rations upon the farmer's allowance for the cost of the laborer's subsistence.
The figures given in the tables for 1866, 1869, and 1875 represent wages in currency, and to be reduced to a gold basis should be divided by 1.409 for 1866, 1.33 for 1869, and 1.149 for 1875.
The diagrams opposite page 144 show the course of farm wages in comparison with the course of farm prices. In these diagrams the farm wages for 1866, 1869, and 1875 have been reduced to a gold basis. The index numbers of the prices of farm products are computed according to the prices and weights published in the Quarterly Bulletin of the Bureau of Economic Research for July, 1900 (Comparative Prices, Freight Rates, Stock Quotations for the years 1878 to 1900, shown by Percentages or Index Numbers. Compiled under the direction of Professor John R. Commons). The prices of live stock and of animal products, as well as of cereals, hay, potatoes, cotton, and other crops are included in the averages represented in the diagram, each product being given a weight proportional to its annual production.
The diagrams show no close correspondence between farm wages and the prices of farm products, but the depression of 1893 to 1895 is seen to have been followed by a marked increase of farm wages, which in 1899 reached a higher point than in any previous year since 1869 or 1875; and, making allowance for the depreciation of currency in the former period of high wages, a point never before exceeded, so far as monthly wages are concerned, though daily wages were a little higher just after the war than at any subsequent time. It should of course be remembered that general farm-wage statistics are not available for the antebellum period, nor for all of the years since 1865.