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THE AGRICULTURAL PURSUITS
What is Agriculture
Do you, young men, all know what agriculture is? There are a lot of misconceptions about it in the minds of those who have not made a study of the subject. It may be defined as the art, the science, and the business of producing plants and animals which are useful to man. It is an art, since successful farm work requires skill and practice. A person who has never done this kind of work is decidedly awkward when he makes the first attempt. The boy who is reared on a farm acquires so naturally the knack of milking cows, handling horses, plowing and irrigating that he considers those things require no particular skill. It is only necessary, however, to see the difficulty with which farm work is done by a boy from the city to realize that good farming is an art.
Modern agriculture is a science, because the best methods cannot be followed without understanding the scientific principles underlying the operations on the farm. In the old days when but little was known about the laws governing the growth of plants and animals, and when the real function of the soil was not understood, farming was largely a matter of tradition. Books on agriculture did not attempt to explain principles, but merely laid down rules. Under such conditions there was but little in agriculture that could be called “science.” With the new discoveries, however, the reason assumed as much importance as the operation, till the present-day progressive farmer wants to know “the why” of everything he does. Under these conditions it is difficult for the farmer who works by rule alone to compete successfully.
Farming is primarily a business, since its chief purpose is the making of a living. A few men may be interested in farming just as a pastime, but the great majority of those who till the soil do it as a means of gaining livelihood. Considerable effort is being made the last few years to place farming on a scientific business basis. Cost accounting is being applied to the various farm enterprises in order to eliminate the ones giving smallest return, and greater care is being given to buying supplies and selling products.
Divisions of Agriculture
Agriculture has many branches but for convenience it is usually divided into three main classes: animal husbandry, which deals with the various phases of the live-stock industry; agronomy, which deals with the production of field crops and with the tillage of the soil; and horticulture, which treats of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
This classification is not used in practical farming, but is made to simplify the study of agriculture. Almost every farm to an extent combines the three classes. Even if a farmer is specializing in livestock he raises crops to feed them, and he usually has a few trees and shrubs and a garden.
High specialization, such as growing wheat alone, chickens alone, strawberries alone, rarely pays, except under special conditions, since it is much easier to use farm labor, horses and machinery economically with diversified than with specialized farming.
Personal Qualities Desirable
The statement has been made that anyone who can do nothi9ng else may become a farmer. This may have been true at one time but it certainly will not hold today. The problems that arise in connection with the management of a farm are so numerous and varied that the highest type of intelligence is required to solve them properly. There are so many changing conditions of soil, weather, crops, animals, and markets, that good judgment must be exercised constantly or the losses will be heavy. This calls for a high type of native intelligence as well as experience and training. A person with less than average ability can find much better employment in a city working on the streets or in the factory, where the tasks are simple and supervision close, than on a farm where each man has to do various kinds of work without being watched. There is no permanent work on the farm where ability of a low order can be used profitably, even at a small wage.
A back-to-the land movement which has for its aim the placing of inferior people from the city slums on the land and making farmers of them is not well founded and can never be successful. These people are better off in the city where they can find employment commensurate with their ability.
In order to be a farmer a person should be a naturalist by instinct; he should enjoy being in the open; and he should find pleasure in tilling the soil, i9n handling animals and in watching crops grow. If he can find no interest in these things, if the flowers, the birds, the green grass, and the babbling brook do not appeal to him, and he wants to get away from them all, he would better choose some vocation other than farming.
In this day of machinery the farmer should be by nature mechanical. He should not mind handling machinery and should know how to locate trouble in a machine and an ability to adjust it.
A farmer should have a strong body and be able to do hard physical work; but few farms require the service of an overseer who does no physical work. This, taken with the fact that farm hands do much more efficient work if the manager works with them, makes it almost imperative for every farmer to have a robust physical constitution.
Since the income of the farm is made by selling its products, and since there are many business transactions necessary in purchasing supplies, hiring help, and doing other things, the farmer must have ability to conduct business affairs.
Preparation Desirable for Agriculture
Farming can be practiced with as little technical training as any occupation, but there are few vocations where proper training will pay higher dividends. It used to be said that the only place to learn farming was on the farm. This was doubtless true when the entire knowledge concerning agriculture was couched in a few dogmatic rules. The aft of farming must be learned by practice on the farm; but the science of agriculture, which treats of the principles underlying farm practice, may be learned in the laboratory and from books.
As far as possible every prospective farmer should take some school work in agriculture; in fact, it would be very desirable for him to have a complete college agricultural course.
A study was made by Warren in New York State to see the effect of education on the profits made by farmers. Those who had attended only the public school made, on the average, a labor income of $318 a year; those who attended high school had a labor income of $622; whereas those who had attended more than high school secured a labor income of $847, or nearly three times as much as those who had received no education above the grades. This same fact that education pays well has been demonstrated in many different sections of the United States including studies made in Utah.
While it may appear to the casual observer that no particular preparation is necessary to become a farmer, experience has demonstrated the great advantage not only of a general education but also of specific training in the principles underlying agriculture.
The Effect on the Individual
Agriculture, like every other vocation, has its definite effects on those who follow it. Since the farmer does not have the opportunity to associate with his fellows as much as do those engaged in some other occupations, his life is of necessity somewhat solitary. As a result he may appear at a disadvantage in a social way; he is primarily a doer rather than a talker. His contact with the stern realities of nature makes him conservative and careful and develops in him good judgment in practical matters. He does not always keep up on the latest thought of the world; but he usually develops a philosophy of life that is wholesome and optimistic. Farm life tends to develop the sterner virtues, such as honesty, frugality, temperance, and morality, even if it does not always stimulate brilliancy. The real is held in high esteem, whereas the superficial is looked on with disdain.
The open-air life of the farmer gives him a vigorous constitution. His ailments are usually due to exposure, overwork, or poor sanitary conditions rather than the lack of vigor.
One of the desirable features about farming is that in may respects the farm offers a good place in which to rear a family. Aside from isolation and the difficulty of getting good schools, conditions are almost ideal. There is an opportunity for a good healthy growth of the child’s body, a freedom from temptations encountered in city streets, and a chance for him to work by his parent’s side.
How to Begin Farming
The method of getting started in the farming business depends entirely on conditions. In a few regions where there is plenty of land, all the young man has to do is to go out and take up a farm from the public domain, or purchase it at a low price, usually on long-time payments. Localities where land can be obtained so easily are rapidly decreasing, and it is each year becoming more difficult for a man without means to begin farming.
Many farmers with families have looked ahead and have secured sufficient land to give each son a farm. Sometimes there is but one son in the family who wishes to be a farmer, the others preferring to follow some other vocation. In either of these cases it is easy to follow agriculture, since the land is inherited.
Farming is a business that is becoming more difficult to conduct without capital; hence it is not easy for a young man who does not inherit a farm to begin without some kind of help. One way to get started is to rent land, and gradually to work into ownership. Another way is for the young man to teach school or do some other work until he has saved sufficient money to begin farming.
If a man has had no experience on a farm it is usually unwise for him to attempt to manage a farm of his own at once, even thought he may have studied agriculture in school. Many things about farming must be acquired by experience, and the experience can be gained much more cheaply as a hired farm hand than as a manager. The most important task of a prospective farmer is for him to get an education; then after having some practical farm experience, he is ready to begin operations on his own farm.
1. In what way is agriculture an art? A science? A business?
2. Tell what you know of the history of agriculture in the world.
3. How many kinds of farms do you know?
4. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of specializing in farming?
5. What do you think of the back-to-the-land movement?
6. What would you consider an ideal training for a farmer?
7. What is the best way for a young man without capital to get started as a farmer?
8. Why are relatively fewer farmers required now than formerly?