Career In Agriculture
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The importance of the state of a country's agriculture can hardly be overestimated. Agriculture is perhaps the most essential of all industries, because we depend upon it for the thing of the most elemental necessity—food. Without sufficient food, man comes to a complete standstill. To realize the truth of this, we have but to think of the European nations which are at present in so weakened a state, not only because of the losses suffered in the late war, but also as a result of the starved condition of the surviving populace. It can easily be imagined what would happen here, if the great corn fields of the West stopped yielding their annual harvest, if the cattle ranches were neglected, if the millions of men all over the country, engaged in doing their small share toward cultivating the soil, were to suspend their work.
Although agriculture is, strictly speaking, the cultivation of the soil, there are numerous other activities included under that name. Chief among these are stock raising, poultry raising and dairying, which, since they depend so largely upon the condition of the soil, are considered as much a part of agriculture as general farming or market gardening.
The farmer's duties are many and varied. In the old days he tilled the soil, planted and, in time, harvested his crop. But now thin no longer suffices. In many cases the soil is exhausted because of the unscientific methods of previous farmers, and so the modern agriculturist studies the various soils of his land and treats them and fertilizes them according to scientific principles, so that their productiveness may be conserved; plants the crops for which the particular soil is most suited; and cultivates, pro-teeth and harvests his crops by the newest methods. The general farmer usually keeps some stock and poultry, and these, too, he cares for scientifically, seeing that the animals and fowls are properly housed and fed.
There is a mechanical side to the present-day farmer's work also. Intricate farm machinery is coming into more general use, and naturally the farmer must know how to care for and repair this machinery, for often it is impossible for him to wait till it can be attended to by a mechanic. The farmer's duties lead him into the field of business also. The question of marketing his products is a very important one, and he must keep himself in-formed of current transportation rates, of the demand for the products his farm yields and of the market conditions in general.
The farmer who specializes in some one product has much the same duties as the general farmer, except that his work is probably less varied and more intensive. If, for instance, he limits himself to the cultivation of a fruit farm, he may not bother with any stock, but he will have an extensive knowledge of fruit growing, and will devote himself to applying this knowledge. The cattle raiser, on the other hand, will concentrate his energies on producing fine stock, and will undertake the cultivation of crops only in so far as these will affect the food supply of his animals.
Agricultural work is hard work, and it is often very discouraging, too, for no other industry is so dependent upon uncontrollable natural factors. Chief among the disadvantages of the business of farming is its dependence upon weather conditions. Too much rain or too much sunshine, a sudden frost or a long drought, may ruin the farmer's entire crops, and bring a year's work to nothing. But though certain weather conditions cannot be remedied, there are others which the progressive farmer has learned to combat. In the orange groves of the South, for instance, "smudge pots," giving forth heat and protective smoke, shield the sensitive fruit from the frosts.
There are also other natural factors to contend with, such as animal and plant diseases and all sorts of insect pests. The farmer is, however, learning to fight these, too, by means of information distributed by the government, upon the advice of experts. Then there are the difficulties which attend the marketing of products. Sometimes a farmer is so far from a marketing center that the cost of transportation exceeds the returns he gets from his goods. At other times there is an oversupply of the particular product the farmer has, and so he is forced to let his product rot, knowing that he will not be able to dispose of it. One more disadvantage on the business side is the amount of capital required to start a farm. Thrift and ambition can, how-ever, do much to help here, and there are various ways, which will later be described, of acquiring the necessary money to buy and operate one's own farm.
In former years, one of the decided disadvantages of the farmer's life was the isolation in which he lived and the lack of social intercourse from which he suffered. But nowadays this loneliness is to a great degree overcome by the fine new roads, the telephone, the radio, and the automobile; in fact, more auto-mobiles are owned by farmers than by any other single class.
The advantages of agricultural work are many. First of all, the farmer leads an active, outdoor life, which makes for good health. Then his work is varied not only do his tasks change during the day, but a season of heavy labor alternates with a season of lighter work. During the winter season, while he has much time to spare, the farmer has the advantage of being able to attend "Farmers' Institutes," or to take some short practical course in a state agricultural school. The Farmers' Institutes offer lectures by experts on problems of interest to the man engaged in actual farming.
The farmer's is one of the most independent of all vocations. He is his own master, he can do as he pleases, undertake special work of whatever kind he prefers, install whatever innovations he thinks are needed—in a word, exercise his individuality and initiative. Most men are eager for a chance to do this, and farming will most certainly give them this chance, if they under-take the work in the right spirit.
Besides this, there is, or can be, a certain fascination about the farmer's work. His piece of land is like a laboratory, in which he can try experiments of various kinds. Everyone knows of Luther Burbank's interesting work in producing new varieties of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Many farmers do on a lesser scale what Burbank did; for, after all, the work of grafting one sort of growth upon another, of crossing various varieties of some plant and of breeding animals are all experimental work which frequently produces interesting results.
The boy who wishes to go into farming will want to know what financial returns he may expect from his labors. Practically all farmers make a comfortable living; most of them own their land and homes, and some, especially capable men, accumulate a comfortable fortune.
Before he can make anything at farming, the young man needs adequate training. Many of the older farmers laugh at the idea of agriculture being taught in a school. They think that experience alone can teach a farmer his vocation. But the more progressive among the farmers realize that, if agriculture is to be regarded as a profession, its study must be founded not upon one's personal experience alone, but also upon the experience of those who have gone, before. Agriculture is, therefore, being taught scientifically. The more education the boy has before he goes into practical farming the better—it has been found—he succeeds. When he has finished high school, it is best for the student to enroll for a course at a state agricultural college or in the agricultural school of some well-known university. These courses are from two to four years long, and their cost is in most cases not very high; many of the state colleges make no tuition charges at all.
Actual practice is in most cases combined with the scientific instruction received at these schools. It is an excellent plan for the prospective farmer to try his fitness for agricultural work by hiring out as a farm hand during the summer vacations. Thus he can gain some experience, test his liking for farming and, in addition, earn some money towards his tuition fees.
For the youth who cannot take a regular course in an agricultural school, there are yet several ways of attaining scientific knowledge and training. Many excellent agricultural papers and journals can be obtained; the United States Department of Agri-culture publishes numerous valuable pamphlets, the Farmers' Institutes offer interesting courses of lectures, and short courses lasting but a few weeks are given during the winter season at all state agricultural schools. The farmer does not lack opportunity for acquiring accurate and helpful knowledge, and those who avail themselves of the opportunities offered, and carry out the principles they have mastered, raise the practice of agriculture to the level of a profession.
Probably the best thing to do, for the young man without sufficient capital to start his own farm, is to enter the service of some other farmer as a "farm laborer." He will receive from about $450 to $600 a year, besides his living expenses. If he is thrifty and willing to make some sacrifices, to deprive himself of a number of pleasures for a few years, he can in the course of time save several thousand dollars, and rent or buy a farm. The initial expense of starting work will be rather heavy, but most farmers manage to own their land within a comparatively, short time. Some young men start on a, small scale along some special line, as, for instance, in poultry raising; in addition, they occasionally render various services to neighboring farmers, and thus get a start, which after a few years may enable them to own a large and thriving business.
Trained men are in demand also, to fill positions as managers of creameries, farms, ranches and country estates. These men may earn anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 a year, according to the type of service they render. "Tree doctors," nurserymen, horticulturists, fruit experts, foresters and other such professionals receive annual salaries of about $1,000 to $5,000. The veterinary or animal doctor is also closely connected with the general agricultural field, specializing in the treatment of sick animals. After he has followed a course of study lasting from two to three years, and has received a license, the veterinary can earn between $1,500 and $3,500 a year.
The training it would be best for the prospective farmer to undergo has been discussed. This will give him scientific knowledge, but behind his knowledge he must have certain innate qualities which will fit him for the profession of agriculture. Anyone who dislikes outdoor life, who does not enjoy working with nature and who has no love for animals is not the proper type for agricultural work. The boy who does care for nature, for being out in the open, who is a lover of animals and who is strong, active, practical and energetic has a good chance of succeeding as a farmer. He must, of course, be able to do much hard work; he must be able to manage men, for he will probably employ helpers; he should have something of the scientist's powers of observation and sufficient initiative to cope with the unforeseen situations which so frequently arise. He should be the kind of person who likes to do things with his hands—this will help him in his work on the land, with the animals and in his care of the farm machinery. And besides all of these qualities, he should have a certain business sense, without which his hard work will avail him but little—for on the marketing of his product depends his financial success.
More people in the United States are engaged in agriculture than in any other occupation. These people can have the satisfaction of knowing that the rest of the country depends very largely upon them, and that the service they render is of basic importance. There are many professions and trades without which the world could very well get along, but there is no substitute for food, and the farmer, who supplies the world's food, is a worker whom it could not possibly spare.
ANDERSON, FREDERICK IRVING: "The Farmer of Tomorrow," The Macmillan Co., New York, 1913.
BAILEY, L. H.: "The Country-Life Movement in the United States," The Macmillan Co., New York, 1911.
GEHRS, JOHN H.: "Productive Agriculture," The Macmillan Co., New York, 1917.
HUEBNER, GROVER G.: "Agricultural Commerce," D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1915.
SMITH, WILLIAM C.: "The Business of Farming," Stewart & Kidd Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, 1914.
WATERS, H. J.: "Essentials of Agriculture," Ginn & Co., Boston, 1915. Publications of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D. C.
American Agriculturist, Orange Judd Co., New York.
American Farming, Duane W. Gaylord, Chicago.
Farm and Home (Eastern and Western Editions), Phelps Publishing Co., Springfield, Mass.
Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Co., Philadelphia.
Hoard's Dairyman, W. D. Hoard & Sons Co., Ft. Atkinson, Wis. Southern Ruralist, Southern Ruralist Co., Atlanta, Ga.