Popular Science Monthly/Volume 64/January 1904/Southern Agriculture: Its Condition and Needs
|SOUTHERN AGRICULTURE: ITS CONDITION AND NEEDS.|
By Professor D. D. WALLACE, Ph.D.,
WOFFORD COLLEGE, SPARTANBURG, S. C.
THE south is one of the two great agricultural sections of the United States; the other is the great prairie region of the northwest, a little smaller than the south in area and a little larger in population. By the south is meant what is really the southeastern quarter of the country, skirted on the north by Pennsylvania, the Ohio River, Missouri and Kansas, and sweeping in a broad belt, with a length of about twice its breadth, from Delaware to Texas. The northern borderlands of this region differ so in population and products from the other states of the group that we shall count them only in making general statements, but never in citing illustrative examples.
The Relative Importance of the South.
The relative importance of the south in American agriculture is greater than seems to be recognized by the rest of the country, while it is doubtless less than her own people commonly assume. By comparing the two great agricultural sections of the United States, we discover that the farm property of the south comprises 43 per cent, of the total farm acreage of the country, but only 21 per cent, of all farm values; while she furnishes only 2810 per cent, of the total products. The value of farm products in the south, therefore, is low as compared with the acreage, and the value of farms is still lower. In the northwest, on the other hand, exactly the reverse is the case; that section comprises only 38 per cent, of the total farm acreage of the country, but 56 per cent, of all farm values and 50 per cent, of all farm products. This disadvantageous comparison of the value and products of southern farms is very largely accounted for by the fact that a much greater proportion of lands in that section is still uncultivated than is the case in the northwest. Yet when this has received its due allowance, the southern farmer and the southern statesmen have many lessons to learn from the northwest as to progressive agriculture, both from the standpoint of the individual and from that of the commonwealth.
Georgia and Iowa may serve as typical examples of the greater productivity of the northwest. The two states are about equal in area and population; yet Iowa feeds her live stock annually all but as much as the total value of farm products in the state of Georgia; while the total value of all Iowa's farm products lacks only one third of one per cent, of equaling the combined totals of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Only Texas can compare in the volume of her agricultural output with this banner state of the northwest, and even she falls short more than $135,580,000.
We must concede, therefore, that the south occupies the second place among the great geographical divisions of the country as a producer of agricultural wealth.
The Southern Farmer in 1893 and in 1903.
The condition of the southern farmer has immensely improved in the last ten years. To-day he stands, for the first time since the war of secession, in a position promising permanent betterment of his farming and of his social position. Until recent years three causes, any one of which was a fearful incubus, combined to pull him down, viz., low prices, the lien system and bad farming, including under this head poor management and antiquated methods.
Scarcely any impediment is heavier to bear up against than producing for a long term of years for a continuously falling market. Sir Guildford Molesworth estimates that between the years 1872 and 1894 the prices of general commodities fell 50 per cent.; the price of wheat 60 per cent.; that of cotton 70 per cent. In manufactures this depression of prices was in large measure offset by new inventions and economies in production; but the agriculturist, from the nature of his occupation, is almost entirely cut off from such retreats.
To add to the hardship of his salable commodity's constantly falling in price at a rate so rapid that we may say that the value of his cotton appreciably diminished even while the boll expanded, the southern farmer was drawn by circumstances into doing business under a system which subjected him to a ruinous usury and left him almost completely robbed of his freedom as to planting profitable or unprofitable crops. Along with the rest of the structure of southern industry, the war of secession shattered the system of agricultural credit. There was no longer a class of large planters possessed of valuable estates to whom banks of immense capital or wealthy factors stood ready to lend at fair interest. Ready money existed only in the traditions of the past; the southern farmer found himself without the means to buy even the seed to put into the ground. Then the crop lien law came to his assistance and remained to his destruction.
This system of industrial peonage known as the lien law works as follows: The farmer prepares in February for planting. He goes to the proprietor of an establishment, which in its typical form is a crude department store dealing in every article from medicines to wagons that he is likely to need in his simple existence. He requests the merchant to 'run' him during the year, that is to say, to sell him supplies on credit until the crop is harvested. He promises the merchant to plant a certain acreage of cotton and signs a mortgage upon this yet unplanted crop. He is now at liberty to buy on credit from this particular merchant anything he requires; but he can not buy anywhere else, for he has no cash, and his credit and security are all pledged to his patron merchant. The merchant has two scales of prices, cash and credit, the latter much higher than the former, the excess constituting interest which the lien farmer must pay. With a few merchants the credit prices are scaled down each month, so that the rate of interest remains approximately the same on all goods purchased on lien; but ordinarily the prices remain unchanged up to the last day before settlement, so that the rate of interest rapidly increases as the time before settlement diminishes. On goods which the farmer gets late in the summer, he frequently pays interest above the cash price at the rate of 200 per cent, per annum. For the whole term of credit, extending from February to October, he pays on the average, in different localities, from 40 to 80 per cent, per annum. The usury law forbids the bank to lend him money at a higher rate than 8 per cent., but 'protects' him by allowing the merchant to charge him 200 per cent., on the principle, apparently, that a man may consent to pay any price he chooses for capital in the form of merchandise, but that he is not at liberty to offer more than a moderate price for capital in the form of money, no matter how badly he may need it or how great the benefit to be derived from its possession.
Some large merchants employ a sort of traveling inspector of securities, on whose report of the condition of each customer's crop the question of further advances is determined. Possibly by July the farmer has so much charged against him that the merchant considers it unsafe, in view of the uncertainty of seasons, to allow the crop to cover any further credits, and accordingly declares himself under the painful necessity of declining further sales except on additional security. The farmer then gives a mortgage on his slight furniture, bedding, cows, everything. The law does not allow him to give a mortgage on his wife and children.
Late in the summer the crop is sold. Not to lay the price upon the counter of the lien merchant is, in law, a misdemeanor; but in farming it is starvation for the next year—or at least, the farmer thinks so. Very commonly in good years, and as a general rule in bad ones, the price of the crop does not equal the amount on the merchant's books against the farmer. Sometimes the sheriff is called in to supply the deficit from the real and chattel additional security; but not generally. The lien, at least in some states, contains a clause requiring the farmer to enter into a similar agreement the next year with the deficit charged against him if he does not succeed in paying out the first year's account.
The iniquity of such a system is exceeded only by the suffering of the farmer under it. To observe its operation makes plain the ground for the Biblical injunction given three thousand years ago to an agricultural people against usury. And the pathos of the lien farmer is that he is always only twelve months from freedom. Better that he should eat but one coarse meal a day and wear his cheap clothes to the last frazzle of decency, and by one unremitted struggle break his chains.
This lien system goes far to account for the amazing fact a few years ago of the southern farmer's persistently planting a full acreage of cotton in the face of an already glutted market. Those who then berated him for his folly little understood his predicament. For the southern cotton farmer, cotton is the only money crop; but for it there is absolutely certain sale, for there exists from the field to the factory a market unexcelled for its thorough and sensitive organization in the commerce of the world. Government bonds can sooner fail of a purchaser than can a bale of cotton. When a lien merchant sells goods with cotton as security, he sells practically for gold paid in hand and by the same act invests his gold at an enormously profitable dividend. If cotton has fallen in price, the merchant requires the farmer to increase his acreage, as more bales are necessary to equal a given sum; and as the farmer's necessities do not diminish with the price of his product, he submits; and so we behold the paradox of men's planting more and more of a certain crop for the sole reason that to plant it is becoming less and less desirable.
The effect produced upon the character of a people by rack rent is well known; v/here the tenant promises a rent equaling or exceeding the surplus product of the land above what is necessary to keep him alive, he has no inducement to good farming, as the total surplus produced will be taken from him whether it be great or small. His fields present the most miserable appearance. The same is true of the farmer whose lien just suffices to secure on credit the bare necessities of food, clothing and farming material. Not infrequently he even neglects to harvest his crop, and the merchant has to send his own men to pick it from the field.
The hard times from 1891 to 1896 were of incalculable benefit to many southern farmers. The terrible experience of usury, depressed prices and industrial peonage led many to resolve to be free from the lien system; and the enforced economy of those years taught how alone that resolution might be realized, viz., by the accumulation of a certain reserve capital beyond the necessities of each day's living. To save one dollar is better than to earn ten. An indispensable prerequisite to the progress of any people is their learning, by self-denial, to save from this year's consumption something of this year's product. Those farmers who learned this lesson have emerged to a greater or less degree from the shackles of the usurious lien system, and in many instances what formerly went in 80 per cent, interest to the advancing merchant is now drawing 4-per cent, in the savings bank.
Some explanation is necessary of the southern people's continuing a system so bad. It is favored by a large class who could, by proper exertions, live without it, but whose indolence deters them from the supreme effort which would assure their ultimate prosperity; and by a still larger class, generally tenants, whose unfitness to manage farms would require them to become hired laborers if they could not get supplies in advance under the lien law. Thus the system is an evil in three ways: it puts land under the management of earth butchers who destroy the natural resources of the country and reduce its production of wealth; it leads men capable of better into a system of indolence, destroys their credit and self-respect, and robs them of interest in their lifework; and lastly, it proves a terrible master to the man who has once fallen into its subtle, tightening embrace, and who desires independence and progress.
Systems of Farm Tenure.
The development of farm tenures in the south has been from simple to complex. Before the war the system of ownership was dominant; but within that there were two classes—owners who attended to their estates and owners who committed them to salaried managers. Managers, once so common, now operate less than one in a hundred farms in the south—a smaller proportion than in any other section of the union. A southern farmer who is sufficiently trustworthy to have extensive lands committed to his care will give his employer no rest until he consents to sell; or failing in that direction, he buys some old plantation whose proprietor family has either become extinct or moved away in their itching for town life.
The impoverishment of the large planters and the disorganization of the labor force by the war of secession necessitated large plantations being broken up into units sufficiently small to be operated on a limited capital and with a minimum of laborers. Between 1868 and 1873 in Georgia, 32,824 small farms were thus created, and the same process was in operation throughout the south. Thus the immediate tendency of the war was to the distribution of the land in small tracts into more hands; and in this was cause for gratulation; for not only did it open immense new possibilities of social progress and industrial in dependence to thousands of white men whose lives had been one of woeful sacrifice to the slave-worked plantation economy, the tragedy of whose wretched existence has never yet been written, but it was calculated vastly to increase the wealth of the country; for, to a point not yet reached in the United States, the productiveness of farms rises exactly as their acreage decreases.
But no sooner had the more enterprising of the southern population begun to succeed than the tendency to a wider distribution of land met a counter tendency towards the increase in the size of estates, doubly augmented by the prosperity of some and the misfortunes of others. It may be safely asserted that to-day the best type of southern farmer either owns a large estate, or is paying for tracts recently added to his plantation, or is expecting to make such additions. He has set a thousand acres as the goal of his ambition. In many localities this feeling has grown into such an insatiable land hunger on the part of wealthy planters as seriously to handicap young farmers who have not inherited property.
One bulwark protects, but not completely, the country from serious injury from this tendency: there are so many men with this same ambition and with the same chances for gratifying it.
The vast majority of southern farmers, 931⁄2 per cent., are included in the three classes of owners, cash tenants and share tenants. Owners operate 47 per cent. of the whole number of farms; cash tenants 171⁄2 per cent., and share tenants 291⁄2 per cent. The desirability of these three classes is in the order of their enumeration, as is also their wealth-producing capacity, even to a degree beyond what appears from glancing at the figures. It is the universal rule that small farms of any given tenure are more productive than large farms; so that when we consider that notwithstanding the fact that cash tenant farms are one third larger than share farms and owner-operated farms are two and one third times larger than share farms, yet the productivity of owners and of cash tenants exceeds that of share tenants, while that of owners almost equals that of the much smaller cash-tenanted farms, the relative superiority of the different forms of tenure is more thoroughly revealed.
Tenure, Area and Productivity of Southern Farms.
|Owners.||Cash Tenants.||Share Tenants.|
|Number of white farmers.||1,060,559||187,088||491,655|
|Total number of farmers.||1,218,637||458,790||772,354|
|Percentage of all farms.||46.9||17.5||29.5|
|Percentage of total farm area.||49.5||10.6||13.7|
|Product per improved acre.||$10.44||$11.48||$10.29|
Average size of farms operated by white farmers of all tenures, 173 A.
Share tenants, if they furnish implements, stock and feed, generally give the landlord from one fourth to one third of what they produce; if these are furnished by the landlord, he gets one half the gross product. These proportions sometimes vary in different sections and with different crops. It is simply what in Europe is known as metayer farming.
The status of the renting farmer and his landlord throughout the United States has occasioned some anxiety for the future of the American yeomanry. In the country at large the percentage of owners is appreciably larger than in the south, and both classes of tenants respectively are appreciably smaller; for of the total 5,737,372 American farmers, 54.9 per cent, own the farms they operate, as against 46.9 per cent, in the south. It must be acceded in addition that the tenant system in the south is much more indicative of evil consequences than in other sections. In the northwest, for example, the number of 'tenants' is swelled largely by the sons of aged retired farmers in whom the titles still rest, and by enterprising men who have made the second step in the gradation of hired laborer, tenant, owner. This is true to a much less extent in the south. The tenant class there is composed mainly of shiftless whites who have definitely settled into what has come to be known as the 'tenant class' and of earth-butchering negroes. All the alertness of a landlord close at hand, who is himself strong-willed and a good farmer, is required to save land from deterioration after several years under such tenancy. The safest method has been found to be for the landlord to retain the right to supervise authoritatively every detail of the farming, not only by specific stipulations in the contract, but continually during its execution. Absentee landlordism in the south means, almost inevitably, land butchery.
The Tenant's Outlook.
What is the tenant's chance to attain the ideal of farm life—ownership of the land upon which he works?
The southern farm tenant has the best opportunity of any renter in the world to become an independent proprietor. If, under the improved agricultural conditions which promise to continue, he does not enroll himself among the owners, it will rest as a heavy indictment against his worth of character.
Last year I was driving through one of the richest agricultural sections of the south. A place better fenced and kept than the ordinary impressed me. 'That man was a tenant five years ago,' said my companion. 'He made a small cash payment on that $5,000 cotton and tobacco plantation; he lived hard for four or five years, and now he has paid the last cent of the price.'
A few miles farther on stood a rusty hut of doll house dimensions. jammed up jealously against the railroad track. In the yard a woman of comely but unclean person washed clothes. The slouchy individual in blue shirt and no suspenders was her husband. Most likely neither of them could distinguish the English language in its printed form from the inscription on an Aztec monument. These tenants might have bought a good farm for less than the clerk in the city would pay for his cottage home; for the average value of farms in the south is only $11.79 an acre, as against $36.25 for lands in the northwest frequently not so productive.
The dwellings and wages of southern farm laborers have both improved, the former in the greater degree. No progressive southern planter would to-day build such quarters as were erected twenty years ago. Experience indicates that good quarters attract a better type of laborer and hold him more steadily, and so prove a good investment. In some parts of Louisiana dwellings furnished to a family free of charge (as is throughout the south the universal rule) cost $400. Comfort is subserved in better floors, glass windows and secure ceiling; and decency, in a larger number of rooms.
The condition of the agricultural laborer seems to have improved most in the distinctly staple states, such as Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina, rather than in those whose agricultural interests are scattering, such as Maryland and Kentucky.
Wages to the laborer are less in the south than in any other section; but there is ground for believing that the cost of labor is greater to the southern farmer than to the northern, western or northwestern; that is to say, a hundred dollars expended for labor in the south brings less return than in any other region of the country. The low efficiency of farm labor is one of the heaviest impediments to the progress of southern agriculture.
One of the results of this inferior help is that the southern farmer enjoys but a small part of the benefits of agricultural inventions; first, because to hire the low priced labor is as cheap in the short run as to buy the machinery, and thus the pace is set at antiquated methods and non-participation in agricultural progress in the long run; and secondly, because such ignorant labor can neither utilize nor take care of expensive machinery.
To understand the inferior quality of southern farm labor necessitates a brief examination of the personnel of the labor force. First, there are the white laborers, comprising something more or less than half the entire number of the actual tillers of the soil. It has been estimated by respectable authorities that the major portion of the cotton is raised by white labor; but concerning a statement of such importance, I will only say, in the absence of positive proof, that it is not improbable. Certainly, far more of the hands that actually hold the plow are white than is popularly supposed. These laborers generally work for themselves or their parents; and as they do not ostensibly enter the labor market, their numerical importance goes unnoticed.
Secondly, there is the negro farm hand, who contributes the great bulk of the hired labor and is a sort of pace-maker to the white laborer.
Negro Labor in Southern Agriculture.
I shall speak later of the better qualities of the negro; but at this point I must call attention to the widespread prevalence of certain evils which constitute a serious problem in southern agriculture. The generation of the race not yet sobered by middle age, who have never known, on the one hand, the fine discipline of the ante-bellum masters, nor have yet, on the other hand, learned self-discipline in the more trying conditions of freedom, have degenerated to a level lower than any occupied by their race since its African barbarity, and lower, let us hope, than it will ever occupy again. Not only the morals, but—what bears more directly on the present inquiry—the efficiency and reliability of the mass of the negro laborers below the age of forty are injured to a considerable degree by the group of vices represented by the pocket pistol, liquor, a deck of cards and a mistress. A certain dash of wildness marks youth under all colors; but such general statements are by no means adequate to cover the case of the postbellum southern negro.
Not only are the higher qualities of the laborer depending on character thus destroyed, but this moral degradation has necessarily incurred physical degeneration by initiating the negro into a catalogue of diseases to which his race was forty years ago a stranger. Some investigators assert that something like 70 per cent, of the race are infected with a dangerous type of disease incident to vice. And yet he works; for his constitution offers a strange resistance to a form of poison that completely invalids the white man, but frequently injures the negro no further than seriously to impair with lassitude and weakness that splendid body his inheritance by nature.Not only is the negro, like all ignorant labor, inefficient, expensive and unprogressive, but he is suited to only a few staple crops, to the culture of which he has been reared. The negro is an inveterate 'cottontot' and conspires with the lien system to keep southern agriculture to that staple. His preference for cotton is shown by the fact that 71.9 per cent, of the negro farmers of the south are cotton farmers, as against 28.5 per cent, of the white farmers.
Preference of the Negro for Cotton.
|All Farmers in
|Cotton Farmers.||Percentage of Cotton|
Farmers to Total.
|White farmers in south.||1,869,721||531,333||28.4|
As a rule, not without some exceptions, those counties in the south which have a large negro population are inferior in productiveness to those of similar natural quality in which the negro population is small. The productiveness of the farms of white farmers, north and south, is, with rare exceptions, greater per cultivated acre than the productiveness of lands cultivated by negro farmers. The fairest basis of comparison is the productiveness of share farmers of the two races; for in this class practically all the management and all the labor are done by the farmer and his own family. Not only do the financial limitations and the small fields of share farmers preclude them from hiring labor, but whites will not work for negro farmers, nor will the negro, if he can avoid it, work for the small white farmer,
Productivity of Farms per Improved Acre by Tenure and by Race of Farmer.
Tables III. and IV. exhibit the relative productiveness of the labor of the two races, and also very strikingly the superiority of the agriculture of owners to that of tenants.
I have selected from the four representative southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina, the eighty counties (except the two extremes of sea islands and mountains) having the largest and the smallest proportion of negro population. I then found the production per improved acre of the farms in each of these counties. Table IV. contains all those counties whose negro population is 75 per cent, of the whole and all whose production reached $11 per acre. A table of this kind is unduly favorable to the negro, for two reasons: First, those counties throughout the south containing the richest lands were flooded with black population during the slavery regime, and their agricultural population is to-day of the same composition; and secondly, the good farming counties having to-day from 20 to 40 per cent, of negro population generally contained almost no negroes before the war, whereas their towns grown up since have drawn a large number of negroes from a distance, while the country districts are still inhabited in about the same proportion as formerly by whites. Thus a county having 30 per cent, negro population and a large per capita production might appear to one unacquainted with actual conditions to be blessed with just about sufficient negro
Percentage of Negro Population and Production per Improved Acre in Certain Southern Counties.
|Russell.||78.1||8.05||East Baton Rouge.||66||12.54|
population to do the heavy farm work; but closer examination will generally reveal the fact that an unduly large proportion of these negroes reside in the towns, while the white man still works the one-hundred-acre farm of his fathers. For instance, 32.3 per cent, of the population of the county of Spartanburg, S. C., is put down as negro; but the county seat alone, with a population of 11,395, contains 20 per cent, of the negroes of the entire county, and only 16 per cent, of the whites, and one may ride for hours through many of the townships and see scarcely a black face. And all this is true despite the fact, let it be noted, that during the last twenty years tens of thousands of whites and not one black have been drawn into the towns to man the twenty-eight cotton mills of the county, having an aggregate capital of ten millions of dollars. What negroes there are have largely come from the two counties on the south, which as early as 1850 had a majority of negro population.
It will be observed that only four counties of large negro population are also largely productive, of which one lies in the Flint river bottom in Georgia, being one of about two dozen spots of exceptional richness strewn midway across the state from the Savannah to the Chattahoochee; and three are in the Tensas bottom bordering the Mississippi in Louisiana; and the productiveness of these, it will be noticed, is exceeded by that of counties of large white population similarly situated, as, e. g., Lafourche and Tangipahoa, La.
In conclusion, we may say that a careful study of the tables reveals the facts, first, that the white tenant working for himself usually makes more than the negro tenant working for himself; and second, that in localities in which the large majority of the labor hired by white farmers is black, the production by white owners is generally less than that of white tenants doing their own work and tends to approximate the production by black farmers. That is to say, white ownership farming barely suffices to raise black labor to the level of the efficiency of white tenants.I am concerned with the negro only in his bearing upon the present condition of southern agriculture, and do not intend the dark pictures I have drawn of his shortcomings as 'views' upon the race question. The best element of our colored people merit sincere praise for their progress; but it can not be denied that the great mass of the negro population, in its present condition, is a fearful incubus upon the industry of the south. To contend that the negro fills such a large part of our economy is not to prove his efficiency or his necessity; for ours is the only great country of the world that is not without his aid. The immediate need of the industry of the south regarding him, whatever his final destiny, is to strengthen his character and raise his intelligence to a point adequate to the proper performance of his economic functions.
Seven Leading Crops of the South, with the Population of each to the Value of All Crops in the United States and to the Total Value of That Crop in the United States, and to the Total Crop Values of the South.
What the South Raises.
Such is the machinery of southern agriculture; what does that machinery do? In the first place, it produces crops to the annual value of more than a billion and a third dollars, constituting 28.7 per cent. of the agricultural output of the country. Two staples, cotton and corn, embrace 6511⁄2 per cent, of all the crop values of the south, and only seven of her crops can be called in any sense leading, viz., in the order of their value, cotton, corn, fruits and vegetables, hay and forage, wheat, sugar-yielding canes and rice. These comprise 911⁄2 per cent. of all her crop values. Corn has come to occupy a greater acreage than any other crop, having 25,612,949 acres as against 23,518,433 for cotton, which leads us to hope that King Cotton's disastrous tyranny has been tempered to the milder sway of a limited monarch.
The three cardinal needs of the southern farmer to-day are education, diversification and credit.
The fundamental failing of the education offered the southern farmer is that it is not adapted to the end in view. The curricula, past and present, of our schools hardly bear the evidence of being framed for a people whose prosperity depends so largely upon mastering the art and science of the tilling of the soil. The country schools should teach branches bearing upon agriculture, beginning with 'nature study' with the little tots, and extending to physics, chemistry and botany for the mature pupils. Not only should the boy learn of the lovely lea, over which the lowing herd so slowly winds, but he should have an even more intimate acquaintance with the composition of the soil and of the physiology of those cattle. The present system of educating country children fits them for the spheres they are to fill little further than by such unfolding of the intellect as necessarily results from any schooling, but rather presents the anomaly of rearing a great people to unfitness for its life work. The curriculum of rural schools should be such that farmers would feel that they could not afford to allow their children to miss its benefits.
Many southern agricultural colleges meet the need little better and fail signally to send men back to the farm. In this respect a number of schools in the northwest excel ours. The agricultural college of Michigan has sent a larger per cent, of its graduates into farming than professional schools and universities send of their graduates into the professions for which they were prepared. The only plan of agricultural education which has succeeded in any state in its object is to have the institution devoted exclusively to preparing the farmer for his peculiar life work, and at very low expense. 'Agricultural' colleges which give extensive courses in non-agricultural branches are used simply by young men desiring the shortest cut, and hence an inferior preparation, to a professional career, and the real agricultural interests of the state in question remain almost completely untouched. The 'agricultural' college in which the student can pursue a course largely non-agricultural is a monstrosity, but, unhapppily, not a curiosity.
Louisiana among southern states seems to have succeeded best in agricultural education, though she lacks much of a complete system. She has a number of schools distributed among sections of the state differing in soil, climate, topography and latitude, in which nothing but agricultural sciences and practical farm work are taught, and in which the sons of millionaire sugar planters, along with all others, are compelled to work, not to help pay their expenses, but in order to learn farming.
To urge the uneducated farmer to diversify crops is to make demands beyond his preparation. Tell him that it will render life more interesting, and you are talking into his deaf ear; inform him that it will preserve the fertility of the land, and he will not believe you; point out that though the fruit and vegetable crop is only 2 per cent, of the acreage, it is 8.3 per cent, of the value of all crops of the country; and he will forget it; remind him of the fact that his well-to-do neighbor plants cereals extensively, raises hogs and has a fine flock of sheep, and he will explain that his neighbor can do these things because he is rich, and will stubbornly decline the theory that his neighbor is rich, in part at least, because he does these things. Agricultural education brings agricultural diversification as inevitably as general education produces diversity of professions, and nothing else ever can secure it.
And lastly the southern farmer needs better facilities for obtaining credit.
Figures for the whole south are not at hand, but those for the state of South Carolina indicate that banking capital is less abundant now than before the war of secession, notwithstanding the rapid multiplication of banks all over the south during the last ten years. The capital, surplus and circulation of banks in South Carolina to-day is $11,802,584, of $8.81 per capita; whereas in 1861 these items for the twenty banks then in existence aggregated $21,031,522, equaling $29.88 per capita; while in 1850 the per capita rate for the same items was $32.73. The disreputable character of much ante-bellum banking necessitates my stating that there was not a single bank failure in South Carolina from the Revolution to 1861; her bankers won the commendation of the most exacting critics, and their notes passed everywhere for gold. Louisiana is another state with a very similar record.
These rich banks of the slavery régime lent principally to the large planters, on personal endorsement, stock and bond security, and real estate mortgage. Substantial 'factors' also did an extensive lending business, in a way which made them a sort of predecessors of the modern lien merchant. The factor advanced cash to the planter, secured sometimes by a real estate mortgage, and sometimes only by note, with the promise (not legally enforceable, however) that the crop should stand good for the debt if necessary, and that in any event the factor should enjoy the advantage of handling it. The bank then rediscounted, perhaps at a lower rate, the planter's note as endorsed by the factor. The step to the vampire lien system was made after the war, when the factor was replaced by men who similarly borrowed from the banks upon their mercantile expectations, but who made the handling of the farmer's cotton a subsidiary business, even if they engaged in it at all, and sold him goods at enormous credit prices on such lien security that many a lien merchant has never in any true sense lost a dollar by bad debts, but has simply failed to collect to the extent of more than reasonable profits, instead of the higher ones he set as a standard.
The financial need of the south to-day is more banking capital in close touch with the farmer. Large city banks do not seek agricultural business; they dislike the farmer's business ways, the duration of loans to him, and the character of his security. It is true, however, that the farmer receives fairer treatment at any one of the several $100,000 banks in a large town than at the single very small bank in the very small town.
And rural banking facilities are wonderfully increasing. In several southern states ten years ago there were hardly a dozen banks. One thousand, three hundred and seventy-four of the 2,172 banks existing in the nine States of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia in November, 1902, were established between that date and January 1, 1893—a period of ten years lacking two months.
Some blundering and some unsafe banking have resulted from this sudden multiplication of untrained hands at the business; for the vast majority of these banks are chartered under state law. Yet the agricultural interests have been greatly benefited: and the evils can be remedied by the employment of expert inspectors. The fact that bank failures are rare even in states which maintain absolutely no inspection is conclusive evidence of the long strides forward which the public conscience and the public demands have made in banking.
Personal letters to me from bankers in representative counties in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina corroborate testimony from other sources that the escape of the farmers from the lien system is being hastened and their independence assured just in proportion as they themselves manifest principles of integrity and promptness in their financial affairs; and secondly, as the local bankers or other lenders of cash at legal rates stand ready to make advances to farmers.
The three following typical letters illustrate the progress of the southern farmer towards independence. The first is from northwestern Mississippi and presents an agricultural population whose own shortcomings debar them from assistance:
Our farmers are in much better condition as regards the lien system. The majority either borrow money by trust deed or personal security, usually the former. Our banks extend accommodation to farmers where they can give anything like reasonable or satisfactory security. However, this class of our business has not proven very profitable or satisfactory, for the reason that, in majority of cases, farmers do not realize the necessity of being prompt in meeting their obligations; consequently entail considerable trouble and worry in collecting same, thus in large degree offsetting the profit in interest, as well as the pleasure of business. . . . They need assistance and organization, and all the encouragement possible from such institutions as ours.
The second, from a central Georgia county, not nearly so favored by nature as many others, shows the results of energy, integrity and business methods:
The farmers are borrowing more money from banks than in former years, probably to the extent of 40 or 50 per cent. . . . to avoid paying the large credit prices amounting to more than the bank interest. We make these loans principally upon rent notes, (or) stock and crop mortgages with warehouse and personal endorsement. Our farmers we think in better condition than at any time in twenty years.
The third is from a rich county in southwest Georgia whose farmers have learned business methods approximately as well as its merchants, and are approaching the situation in which they will borrow only to retrieve disaster or to enlarge their operations:
The farmers in the territory supplied by this bank appear to be in better condition each year for the last two or three, and mortgages and liens are getting to be the exception, whereas they were formerly the rule. Almost all the loans to farmers are made on personal security only, and the volume of these loans is decreasing. We can not speak for other sections, but our observation of south Georgia is that the escape from the lien system is general.
Such is the condition of the southern farmer, with whose well-being is wrapped up so much of our best interests. He needs better trained and more moral labor, access to credit at reasonable rates when he requires it, and a system of education suited to his life work.
- Undeniably the condition is appalling; I would, however, accept such large per cents, with caution.
- The figures of the twelfth census are arranged in such a way as to conceal the shortcomings of the negro farmer, though there was doubtless no intention of producing such a result.
- The census tables giving production of farms of various tenures divide population into 'white' and 'colored.' In some states the number of Chinese farmers is so great as to make anything more than a mere approximation of production by negro farmers of various tenures possible; therefore I did not attempt it, but took the productivity of negro farmers of all tenures as given in a separate table.
- A large portion of the rich river bottoms are share-farmed to negroes.
- Only sorghum.
- Banks to-day furnish a large amount of money to the business and agricultural interests by means such as rediscounts, large deposit accounts, etc., item far less important in ante-bellum banking. The relative amount of actual accommodation supplied now and formerly would be an interesting question for bankers acquainted with both past and present conditions in the south.