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Problems of the Age: 31-32: Back to the Land

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 19, 2011

For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.

For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.

PROBLEMS OF THE AGE

Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner

XXXI. – Back to the Land

Present Conditions. – In another chapter I have called attention to the excessive and dangerous growth of the so-called middle-class, or non-producers. Conditions have favored their occupations, and financial prosperity has perhaps attended them more generously than it has the farmer. The war, however, is bringing about a very realistic change: governments that provide for the armies have been liberal buyers. They have fed the soldiers better on the battlefields than the same men have been cared for in times of peace. Such excessive Government demands naturally make prices high. It should then be observed that a very large proportion of every army is taken from the producing classes, especially from the farms, where the vigor of manhood is perhaps more abundantly found. A large army of farm men will lose their lives in battle or become cripples, and thereby unfitted for farm life. It goes, therefore, without saying, that the number of men qualified to conduct operations upon the farm will be enormously decreased. In the civilized countries of the world there is no place for the “mujik” or the “fellahin.” Farm work has made rapid strides in the direction of scientific practice and theory.

As a nation grows in years, it settles down to an inherited classification; as with father, so with son. It will not be easy to tear men up from the roots of their social and business inheritance and experiences and transform them into a new and different life. It will require great suffering to bring about such an exchange on any extensive scale. Such conditions mean the continued burden of higher cost in living.

Want of Preparation. – Our agricultural schools will not alleviate very greatly such an unfortunate condition. They are based too extensively on the rest of our school practice. We seem to forget that the most serious thing about education is the habit which our modern school system fastens upon our child life, – the book habit. Out children learn to hear things, and they learn to tell things, but only in rare cases do they acquire the actual habit of doing things. If we acquire the wrong habit of life, what we learn has little practical value, because the habits we have acquired prevent us from putting our knowledge into practice. I have often heard mothers say that though their daughters do not cook and do much housework, they know how to do it. They can make the best of bread, and in fact do well any kind of housework. But there is after all a wide difference between acquiring the ability to do a thing and the habit of doing it. Ability may be acquired in a very short time, whereas it takes years to acquire a habit. It is not, therefore, so much a question of what this girl can do, but her willingness, her contentment, her happiness, – in other words, her habit of doing it.

Value of Farm Life. – The habits of our lives are more and more away from the farm. Farmers send their children to school, and likewise change the habits of their lives, so that the farm is now in a process of race suicide. We may as well face an unpleasant truth, and confess a belief that the occupation of the middle-man is really more respectable, and therefore more desirable than work on the farm. The influence of dress is beyond computation. The world of fashion lays its load even upon the farm boy, and persuades him to be a devotee of worldly fashion. Again, work on the farm is more strenuous: it has its out-of-door life, its storms, blizzards, cold, heat, and other things that make life often quite uncomfortable. In contrast with these unpleasant conditions, young people usually manifest preference for employment that takes them away from this important source of production.

Are we really destroying farm life? If so, we are adding by so much to the burdens which we now feel from the high cost of living. It is a fallacy to suppose that in the civilized world there will be enough people in the so-called lower strata of industrial life to do all the work needed on the farm. The truth is that education is becoming universal. The same ideals and aspirations are reaching the boys on the farm that affect the boys in the so-called more refined occupations of city life. What does it mean? The last ten years has taught us something of its meaning. The next ten years will teach us vastly more. “O, well,” it will be answered, “men will come to the farm when there is more money in it.” Such a statement is made in blind ignorance of facts. In the first place, men will have to be trained for the farms as they are for other occupations. If, through their habits of life, the farm is uncongenial to them, they will work only half-heartedly.

Farm Education. – What we need is a saner belief among people generally of what the farm stands for. Our vocational life today is guided in the vast majority of cases by financial considerations. It is not an uncommon thing to see men leave the bent of their minds, turn from the gifts with which God has liberally endowed them, to engage often in some uncongenial pursuit, because “there’s money in it.” Can a world made up almost wholly of Mammon endure?

By the sweat of his brow man was required to live; that was the injunction to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Those who evade it pay the penalty, generally in physical deterioration. “How can you stand it?” said an onlooker to a man drudging at his work in the dirt and mud. “I can stand it,” he replied, “because I am remunerated in the fullest degree by the enjoyment of my food and sleep.” Of course there is overwork: every virtue offers some opportunity for abuse. We are learning through this war something of the value of a vigorous manhood as an asset to national wealth and events. Men and women who maintain proper physical valuations in their lives, perform an important duty to themselves, but they perform one equally great to their children, and their children’s children after them. “We owe our children an education.” That is true, but there is a priority lien upon their right to enjoy health and vigorous bodies, which nothing promotes more than farm life.

Morals of the Farm. – Our farm life has also great mora value. It affords less time for idleness, with its attendant evils. There is more remove from social evils. It brings men into intimate contact with the inexorable laws of Nature, which he learns to respect more upon the farm than perhaps anywhere else in the world. There he enjoys more than elsewhere the double opportunity of self-examination and communion with his conscience and the punishments which nature inflicts, not only upon those who violate her laws, but upon those who neglect them. “Back to the land” has also its intellectual value, because physical and intellectual manhood and womanhood are kindred. Then we have come to study the whys and the wherefores, and the processes of Nature. The farm offers abundant opportunities for meditations, analogies, and those studious wonderments that help men and women on to investigate and know the deeper truths of life. In city life, in business life, men ponder too little, – meditation is thrown to the winds. Man’s place in the universe, and his relationship to God take but slight hold upon his life. There is a vast difference between making two blades of grass grow where one grew before and making $2.00 where only $1.00 was won before. The former process requires time, industry, patience, hope, and faith. You cannot cheat Mother nature. If you do, you will raise a sickly spear of grass or none at all. Nature has her inexorable laws. She demands an honorable compensation. Not so in business life; it is much easier to cheat men than it is to swindle nature. The Latter-day Saints, under a guiding Providence, have been driven into industrial and farm life in all their great movements from their homes in the East to the unredeemed lands of the West. Agriculture was their first problem on entering the valleys of the mountains. They encourage it; they know its virtues and its values. It would be strange indeed if the present movement away from the land did not touch them in vital parts; but fundamentally, they love to till the soil, from a sense of duty as well as from a wish for gain. Many will remember the ridicule that was piled upon them in days gone by because they talked water ditches and the best methods of farming, from the pulpit. They knew their God-appointed task, and went about it in their appointed way.

The cry has gone, as a voice out of the wilderness, “Back to the Land.” But will the cry be more a wail of distress than a heartfelt desire to relieve the burden of the world by lending a helping hand to that industry that offers grave dangers by the neglect of it to the social and industrial happiness of the world.

Revelation. – “And, as I, the Lord, in the beginning cursed the land, so in the last days have I blessed it, in its time, for the use of my Saints, that they m ay partake the fatness thereof” (Doc. and Cov. 61:17).

XXXII. – Back to the Land (Continued)

Increase in Production. – A great increase in production may be achieved by the tillage of waste lands in different parts of the less civilized countries, such as Russia and Turkey. But it is doubtful if these countries will prove very attractive to a farming element that has grown up in the enjoyment of higher civilization.

Great increase in production may also be brought about by the more intensive cultivation of the soil. Agricultural writers point out, therefore, the great future possibilities and the great inducements that may be counted on to take men from the distributive and speculative centers of our commercial life back to farming. There are, however, some very distinct obstacles in the way of a return to the land. There are two sources by which it may be obtained: first, through our system of Government gifts by means of homesteads and pre-emptions. Lands are rising in value. The war and even pre-war conditions have shown the great financial opportunities of farm life. Those who have struggled through many years of want, and scarcity will appreciate and enjoy the rising values of farm produce. They will cling more tenaciously to their lands, and lands will not in time be so easily acquired.

Equipment. – The equipment of a modern farm is not by any means what it was twenty years ago. Whether a man uses horses or engines of modern make, the equipment becomes extremely expensive. Farm machinery is soaring in value, and the cost of equipping a modern farm runs into the thousands. Then men must wait for returns – sometimes one, two, or even three years.

Live Stock. – Live stock is becoming scarcer and more expensive; it is estimated that since the war began there has been a decrease of the live stock in Europe of something over 115,000,000 head, and this loss consists, for the most part, in breeding stock. If these countries regain their past national prosperity in agriculture and livestock, the governments must come to the assistance of the farmers. That will, of course, mean increased taxation and the threatened break-up of social life that is sure to follow any breakdowns among the governments of Europe. In this country it will be more difficult for the government to finance individual farms.

After War Conditions. – some very important changes are taking place during the present war that must have far-reaching consequences when peace comes: those who have any familiarity with living conditions among the millions of toilers in Europe can readily understand how greatly their diet has been improved by the governments which drafted them into war. It is estimated by some that the soldier is eating at least five times as much meat as he ate in private life. Some figure that the increase has been ten-fold. As the war lasts into years, the meat-eating habit will grow upon the soldier; his improved diet he will not easily surrender when peace comes, and it must depend on his wage-earning capacity. He has learned during this war that the government may do many things to ameliorate the stringent conditions of peace life. With meat growing scarcer and the meat-eating habit increasing, it is not difficult to foresee grave dangers to financial and social order with the return of peace.

Live Stock. – As a restriction upon any rapid increase in agriculture, we are confronted by the fact that our horsepower has also decreased rapidly since the war began. Tractors, it is true, may take the place of this old friend of the farm, but that means also an enormous increase in gasoline, which is likely to be almost entirely consumed by trucks and pleasure autos. The department of Washington has given out statistics upon our decrease in horsepower throughout the United States. I quote as follows from the New York herald, Sunday, September 14, 1917:

Figures recently published by the Department of commerce at Washington show that exports of horses in the last fiscal year aggregated 278,674, as compared with 357,553 in 1916, and 289,340 in 1915. Exports of mules during the same period were 65,788 in 1915, 111,915 in 1916, and 136,689 in 1917. Here is a total of 928,567 horses and 3,4,312 mules sent abroad in the three years ending last June, or a total of 1,239,959 horses and mules.

The period covered by the official figures goes back to ‘the day’ of Germany’s amazing attempt to repeat Bismarck’s successful coup de main of 1870, with the world instead of France alone as the objective. These revised government statistics thus fairly represent all horses and mules sent to the war zone up to last July, since which time the shipments are understood to have been comparatively light.

The value of American war horses exported now exceeds a quarter of a billion dollars. The government estimate is $197,103,009 for horses and $63,497,309 for mules, making a total of $260,590,318. This is an average of about $212 for horses and $201 for mules.

There is now also a very pronounced movement in favor of eating horse-flesh. The use of horses for food in European countries has become quite general. It enters particularly strongly in the production of a great variety of sausages, and millions of pounds of horses are every year consumed in European countries. IN the United States there are probably five million men who, during their lives in various nations of Europe, have acquired the habit of eating horse-flesh. They declare that such meat has not only a pleasing taste, but that it is also wholesome and is indeed preferred by some even to beef or pork. These European immigrants would frequently return to the diet of horse meat to which they were accustomed in their native lands. Their wives and children will also eat it, and there is going on today in the United States an agitation for the repeal of those laws which exclude horse flesh as an article of food.

Land Values and Mortgages. – I give below some figures showing the enormous liabilities which farmers through the United States have incurred by means of loans. In many instances they represent purchases and improvements, but no doubt in a large number of cases loans represent the pressing needs of the farmers for running expenses, together with some extravagances, of which they are no doubt guilty. The margin on an average between expenses and profits has not been very great. The success, however, of the farmers in elevating past conditions show that the industry of agriculture is becoming more profitable. I quote from the Outlook of September 26, 1917:

Value of American farms, $40,000,000.
Value of annual farm output in food and other raw materials, $10,000,000,000.
Public investment in long-time loans (mortgages) on the $40,000,000,000 worth of farm property, $3,500,000,000.
Seasonal short-time credit granted by banks to farmers on the security of the $10,000,000,000 harvest, $2,000,000,000.
Total agricultural credit, $5,500,000,000.
* * * * *
Two hundred and twenty life insurance companies own $700,000,000 farm mortgages.
Eighteen thousand banks (State banks, trust companies and savings banks) own $750,000,000.
Private investors, estates, trustees, colleges, and other institutions, both American and foreign, have $2,000,000,000 invested in these loans on farm lands. Of this $2,000,000,000 about $500,000,000 has been sold through the medium of the banks, while the remaining $1,500,000,000 has been arranged either through the agency of farm mortgage banking houses or directly between lender and borrower.
* * * * *
Investment houses that have been in business for half a century, lending money to farmers on the security of land under cultivation, report that they have never lost a dollar of principal or interest for any customer.

The insurance company having the largest investment in farm mortgages ($100,000,000) states that it has never been able to discover a more desirable channel in which to invest its funds.

Universities and other institutions that for many years have been placing all or part of their endowment funds in farm mortgages report that they have suffered no losses, and know of no safer way to obtain their income.

The banks of one of the smaller Eastern states, that have invested nearly fifty millions of their depositors’ funds in Western mortgages, have made but one loss in thousands of transactions extending over many years.

A number of Canadian companies in business for forty years have never failed to pay interest and principal to their clients. No Canadian mortgage company has ever defaulted on a payment due to a farm mortgage investor.

the best test of the soundness of farm mortgages as investments is that hundreds of millions of dollars of them are held by our most conservative institutions – savings banks, trust companies, and life insurance companies.
* * * * *
The period of wildcat and careless farm mortgage flotation has the same relation to the farm mortgage business today that the earlier period of wildcat state banking has to present-day banking. Those days are long since gone. There is no more possibility of the farm mortgage business being undermined by unsound management than there is of our banking system falling to pieces. Since the collapse of those inflated companies a quarter of a century a go, no field of investment in America has had so clean a record. But even through the days of the farm mortgage company craze there were the houses that continued to do business on conservative lines and are doing business today with the enviable record of never having lost a dollar for an investor. In what other field of investment could such a record be found?



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