Dateline: 4 April 2016
(Click Here to read Part 5 of this series)
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This is a continuing series, highlighting some quotes from Oliver Edwin Baker, as found in the 1939 book, Agriculture in Modern Life.
"Five years ago I attended a conference of agricultural economists in Germany, and for a week before and a week after the conference the German hosts arranged for a few members of the conference to visit about 100 German farms, mostly "Bauern" or peasant farms. My idea of the European peasant and his farm was greatly changed by this visit.
I found the farmer, or "Bauer," a man proud of his ancestors, proud to be a farmer, and one who generally possessed a sense of superiority over city people.
Although in many instances the house was built by the farmer's father or grandfather or great-grandfather, it was built of brick, had a tile roof, the hall and kitchen floor were generally also of tile, and nearly every house had electric light.
The typical bauer farm is 40 to 100 acres in size, but it produces as much as a 100 to 200 acre farm in most of the United States. The barns are generally much better built than in our country..."
At each farm the visitors were provided with a page or two of mimeographed information about the farm. Most of the mimeographed sheet told of the acreage of the crops, yield per acre, fertilizer used, crop rotations, number of horses, total cattle, milk cows, swine, chickens, etc.; but always at the top of the page for those farms which could claim the honor, and many of them could,was a statement somewhat as follows: "This farm has been in the family 200 years." Some farms had been in the family for 400 years, some 500 years. One farm had been in the family sine the 11th century. As we considered what had happened during these centuries, wars, economic crisis, periods of inflation and deflation, political revolutions, the thought came to us— How long ago would this family have lost its wealth had it been invested in anything else than land?"
"This concept of the farm as the hereditary home of the family has profound consequences. We saw practically no soil erosion in Germany, except in the vineyards on the steep slopes of the Rhine Valley. This absence of erosion is owing partly to the cool summer climate, with few torrential rains, partly to the crops grown, but partly also, and perhaps primarily, to the conviction that the land is the foundation of the family, the heritage from the past to be handed on to the next generation undiminished in fertility, and, if possible, with its productivity increased. One could sense among the German farmers the feeling that a man who lets his land erode away was not only dishonoring his ancestors but also depriving his son of the proper heritage. He is conserving both the natural and the human resources."
"The German farmer, when old age draws nigh, does not retire to the county seat, as many farmers in our corn and dairy belts did before the depression, and build a house that represents the savings of a lifetime, renting the farm to a tenant. Instead the "Vater" and the "Mutter" retire to a portion of the farmhouse... and a partnership agreement is entered into with the son, who, with his family, occupies the remainder of the house. Sometimes a new house is built for the old folks or for the son. This son, who later inherits the farm, does not spend most of his life, nor dies his wife, digging and delving and saving to pay off the mortgage on the farm; but in much of Germany he starts without debt, in a house that is usually built of brick, with a tile roof, and his savings are in turn used to improve the farm and educate the children. The money that the German farmer makes in good times is mostly plowed back into the land, so to speak; a new house or barn is built, or a piece of land is drained, or better stock bought. Each generation climbs from the shoulders of the preceding generation, and wealth and culture accumulate, instead of being dissipated by migration to the cities."
"The young man who starts operating a farm in the United States today, unless he inherits it, generally has a harder task before him in acquiring wealth than many pioneer farmers of years ago on the frontier, for he starts with a load of debt. If the youth on the farms could start life free from debt, which is particularly heavy in agriculture because of the high ratio of investment to income, the farmers of the Corn Belt and the southern counties of the Great Lakes states, and in some of the best counties of the East and South and West, within two or three generations might reach a level of culture and comfort such as the world has never known. For no other nation in the world has so extensive an area of fertile soil, and so large a proportion of level or gently rolling land adapted to the use of machinery, with the possible exception of Soviet Russia, climatic condition so favorable to the most productive feed crops, corn and alfalfa, and a market of nearly 100,000,000 non-farm people with no tariff barriers between producer and consumer."
"Nature has provided in the Corn Belt and the southern portions of the Great Lakes states, in many of the valleys and plains of the eastern and far western states, also in certain portions of the south, the basis for as fine a rural yeomanry as the world has ever known, but instead it is becoming a land of tenant farmers or heavily mortgaged owners living in houses many of which are little better than hovels."