1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Small Farms

(Part 104)


Small Farms

III. From these premises it would apparently result that small farmers will generally be more nearly provided with the capital required for their business than large ones; and such seems to be actually the fact wherever peculiar circumstances have not been at work as preventives. It is not indeed so in Ireland, where feudal oppression or anarchy, alternating with alien misrule, has in all generations made destination the heritage of the peasantry. Neither is it so in France, where the swarms of petty landholders had little of either percept or example to teach them that to employ their spare napoleons in thoroughly cultivating the few acres they already posses, would be a much better investment of their money than the purchase with it of an additional acre or two to be as imperfectly cultivated as the rest. In England the system of small cultivation, strictly so called, has probably ceased to exist, now that amateur farming has come so much into fashion, and that the instances have become comparatively so numerous of men of considerable substance turning to farming for a livelihood. It will not, however, help us much, when endeavoring to ascertain the relative merits of two rival agricultural system, to contrast good specimens of the one and bad specimens of the other. If we would accurately gauge their respective capabilities, we should take them both at their best, and the comparison here of large with small farming will accordingly be of the former as it presents itself in England, and of the latter as developed in Flanders. Now, in the territory first named the average capital of occupants of 100 acres and upwards would certainly not be understated, and would probably be materially overstated, at £6 per acre; yet M. de Laveleye, while giving £8 as the average Flanders (where the medium size of farms if but 7_ acres in the western, and no more than five acres in the eastern provinces), adds that good farmers, judging of others by themselves, would call that sum much too low even for an average; and further remarks that, although a small tenants may, on entering, have only £8 an acre, the additions he is continually making to his live stock, and his continually increasing purchases of manure, commonly raise the £8 to £16 before the expiration of his lease. He also informs us that in other Belgian districts --- in the Hesbayan portions of Brabant and Hainault, whereof one-sixth is occupied by farms of 100 acres and upwards, and in the Condrusian portion of the province of Namur, where farms of 250 acres and upwards are pretty numerous --- a farmer’s average capital is estimated at between £ 5, 12s. and £6, 8s., and between £3 and £4 per acre respectively. True, as already intimated, there are certain descriptions of stock on which the small farmer’s expenditure must necessarily somewhat exceed his rival’s --- ten Flemish farmers of 10 acres each being probably obliged to keep ten horses, while an English farmer of 100 acres might not perhaps have occasion for more than a pair, reducing also his number of carts, ploughs, and the like, in similar proportion. But after all reasonable deduction on this account, the balance of capital remaining for the purchase and maintenance of those animals and materials of which no farmers ever has too many or too much, is in general much greater in the Fleming’s case than in the Englishman’s. "It would startle the English farmer of 400 acres of arable land," said Mr. Rham forty years ago, "to be told that he should constantly feed 100 head of cattle, yet this would not be too large a proportion if the Flemish system were strictly followed, a beast for every 3 acres being a common Flemish proportion, and on very small occupations, where spade husbandry is used, the proportion being still greater." "That the occupiers," he proceeds, "of only 10 or 12 acres of light arable soil should be able to maintain four or five cows may appear astonishing, but the fact is notorious throughout the Wales country." These statements are of somewhat ancient date, but are still as applicable as ever. During a recent tour through Belgium, the present writer visited two farms near St. Nicolas, in the Pays de Waes --- the first two that came in his way. On one, of 10 acres, he found four cows, two calves, one horse, and two pigs, besides rabbits and poultry. On the other, of 38 acres, one bull, six cows, two heifers, one horse, and seventy-five sheep --- these last; however, being allowed, in addition to what they got on their owner’s ground, the run of all the stubbles in the commune; the whole commune, on the other hand, being allowed the use of the bull gratis. A few days later the writer went over a farm a few miles from Ypres. On this, of 32 acres in extent, he counted eight cows, six bullocks, a calf eight weeks old, and four pigs. To posses plenty of livestock is to posses in an equal abundance the first requisites of sustained fertility. "No cattle, no dung; no dung, no crops," is a Flemish adage; and the wealthiest of English agriculturists are less prodigal of manure than the Flemish peasantry. Mr. Caird, in his instructive and interesting treatise on English Agriculture, cites as something extraordinary that, for a farm six miles from Manchester, manure should have been bought at the rate of 12 or 13 tons an acre; but this, which in England passes for lavishness, might seem more like niggardliness in Flanders; for there from 10 to 15 tons of good rotten dung and 10 hogsheads of liquid from the urine tank, per acre, are quite common sacrifices and libations to the Sterculine Saturn, and some 30s. worth of purchased fertilizers --- bones, wood-ashes, linseed-cake, and guano --- are not unfrequently superadded. Nay, when potatoes are the crop for whose increase the deity is invoked, 60 tons of manure per acre are no unusual quantity to lay on. The holder of the farm of 32 acres near Ypres, just alluded to, assured the writer, in his landlord’s presence, that, over and above what his own cattle supply, he purchases manure to the value of no less than £200 annually.

One of the respects in which small culture has been admitted to stand at some disadvantage in comparison with large is that of division of labour; but against whatever loss of time or even inferiority of skill may result from the necessity there is for each of the labourers engaged in the former culture to occupy himself with a variety of operations instead of confining himself to one, are to be set the additions voluntarily made to the labour employed, and also its superior heartiness. The tillage of a small farm is executed often entirely, and always in great measure, by the farmer himself and the members of his family; and when these have adequate security that the entire increase of the soil, over and above a specified quantity, will belong to themselves, they generally do their utmost to make the increase as large as possible. Not, indeed, always. Industry, in common with other virtues, is greatly influenced by example; and small leaseholders, or even small freeholders, thinly interspersed among numerous tenants-at-will, are much more likely to accept as their standard of becoming exertion the habitual listlessness of the latter than to set up an independent standard of their own. Where, however, small farmers are in a decided majority, they are, unless some extraordinary circumstances are in operation to depress their energy, sure to appear as models of diligence. Their activity is not then restricted within set hours of work. Whenever a thing requires to be done is with them the proper time for doing it, and early and late, consequently --- long before the hired journeyman comes in the morning and long after he has gone home in the evening --- they may be seen afield, doing, too, whatever they do, not only with all their might, but with all the heed which people usually bestow on their own affairs, even though they bestow it on nothing else. In particular, they waste nothing --- least of all anything that can be used as manure. Now, there are no crops which would not be the better for such special attention, and there are some to which it is an almost indispensable condition of excellence. Flax, hemp, hops, wine, oil, and tobacco furnish instances of culture in which the individual plants require, or at any rate abundantly repay, separate care. But such minute attention no supervision can ensure --- no rate of hire can command. It is habitually rendered by those only who are directly interested in rendering it, or otherwise directly stimulated --- by the small farmer and the small farmer’s wife and children all working with their own hands for their own behoof, and by his servants, if he have any; for that must be a pitiful creature indeed who, with his employer working by his side, will let his employer work harder than himself. Herein, then --- (in the greater quantity and better quality of work which the same number of persons will do in small as compared with large farming) --- consisting the distinctive excellence of the former system, how far does this counterbalance the superiority of large farming in regard to the saving of labour and implements? There can be no more conclusive mode of answering this question than by contrasting the substantial results of the two systems, adopting as tests the respective amounts both of gross and of net produce. Now, in England the average yield of wheat per acre was in 1837 only 21 bushels, the highest average for any single county being no more than 26 bushels. The highest average since claimed for the whole of England is 32 bushels; but this is pronounced to be much too high by the best, perhaps, of all authorities, Mr. Caird, who gives 26_ bushels as "the average of figures furnished to him by competent judges in all parts of the kingdom," adding, as the result of his own observation, that 32 bushels, as an average produce, is to be met with "only on farms where both soil and management are superior to the present average of England." In Jersey, however, where the average size of farms is only 16 acres, the average produce of wheat for the five years ending with 1833 was, by official investigation, ascertained to be 40 bushels. In Guernsey, where farms are still smaller, 32 bushels per acre was, according to Inglis, considered, about the same time, "a good, but still a common, crop;" and the light soil of the Channel Islands is naturally by n means particularly suitable for the growth of wheat. That of Flanders, originally a coarse silicious sand, is particularly unsuitable, and accordingly little wheat is sown there, but of that little the average yield, at least in the Waes district, is, according to a very minute and careful observer, from 32 to 36 bushels. Of barley, a more congenial cereal, the average is in Flanders 41 bushels, and in good ground 60 bushels; while in England it is probably under 33, and would certainly be overstated at 36 bushels. Of course the English averages are considerably exceeded in particular localities --- on such farms, for instance, as those of Mr. Paget, near Nottingham, and of Mr. Stansfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, wheat crops of 46 bushels per acre being not extra ordinary, and of 56 bushels not unknown; but these exceptional cases may be more than matched in Guernsey, where the largest yield of wheat per acre, in each of the three years ending with 1847, was proved to the satisfaction of the local agricultural society to have been not less than 76, 80, and 72 bushels respectively. Of potatoes, 10 tons per acre would anywhere in England, even on the rich "warp lands" bordering the tidal affluent of the Humber, be considered a high average crop; but in Jersey the average is reckoned at 15 tons, and near Tamise, in eastern Flanders, Mr. Rham found a cultivator of 8 acres of poor land raising nearly 12 tons from one of them. Clover, again, "the glory of Flemish farming," " is nowhere else found in such perfect luxuriance" as in Flanders, where it exhibits " a vigour and weight of produce truly surpassing," especially when it is discovered "that such prodigious crops are raised from 6 lb of seed per acre." Most of the other green crops, and also most of the root crops, grown in Flanders deserve to be spoken of in similar terms; and to the extraordinary number of cattle fed upon these green and root crops reference has already been made. If any reliance may be placed on these statistics, it cannot, however startling at first hearing, be too much to affirm that in the Channel Islands and in Flanders the average gross produce is greater than in England by fully one fourth, or say by the equivalent of 9 bushels of wheat per acre.

Gross produce, however, is not the only thing to be considered, for there is no doubt that on equal areas small farming employs more hands than large; and it might be that the entire produce of a small farm was not more than sufficient to feed the extra mouths. This would not necessarily be an evil, unless on the assumption that the condition of agricultural labourers is necessarily so wretched that an increase in their number is tantamount to an increase of wretchedness. Possibly, however, the extra produce might be less than sufficient to feed the extra mouths, so that the quantity of net produce remaining available for sale to the non-agricultural portion of the community would be diminished; and, if this were really the fact, it might be conclusively condemnatory of small farming. Nor, to prove that it is not the fact, will it suffice to urge that land, when divided among numerous occupants, commonly fetches a much higher rent than when united into a few extensive holdings --- that whereas, for example, 30s. an acre would in England be considered a fair and even a high rate for middling land, it must be very middling land indeed which in Guernsey will not let for at least £4, while in Switzerland, another territory of petite culture, the average rent is £6. For these higher rents might be the results of an incident, not of culture, but of tenure --- of that excessive competition for land which is unhappily a too frequent accompaniment of small farming. Neither will it suffice to show that, although the agricultural population of a minutely-divided territory is always far denser than that of one of large farms, certain territories of the former description are nevertheless among those which maintain the largest manufacturing and commercial population --- Belgium, for instance, being second to England alone in that respect, and Switzerland and Rhenish Prussia being likewise cases in point. For it may be obviously be replied that the non-agricultural classes of a community need not be entirely dependent for food on home produce, but may derive part of their supplies from abroad, and it may generally be impossible to ascertain what is the proportion imported. This objection does not, indeed, apply to the Channel Islands; and Mr. W.T. Thornton has, in a new edition of his Plea for Peasant Proprietors, been at considerable pains to prove that in Guernsey two, and in jersey four, non-agricultural inhabitants are maintained on the produce of every acre and a half of cultivated land, whereas in England only one such person is so fed. Be this as it may, a preferable, or at any rate more generally applicable, test is the proportion between the extra production of small farming and the consumption of the extra labourers therein employed. Now, in Flanders and in the two principal Channel Islands the agricultural population is about four times as dense as in England, being at the rate of about one person for every 4 acres, instead of one for every 17; but cause has also been shown for believing that in Flanders and in the same islands the average produce of the soil is greater than in England by the equivalent of 9 bushels of wheat per acre, or of 153 bushels for every 17 acres. But 153 bushels, or say 19 quarters, of wheat is much more than three persons --- and these not all adult males, but, more likely, a man, a woman, and a child --- would consume, even if it were supplied to them, and there were nothing else for them to eat, and is fully three times as much as three such persons of the farm labourers’ class in any part of Europe have the means of procuring. After deduction, therefore, of their consumption, there would still remain available for sale to non-agriculturists, from the produce of 17 acres under small culture, the equivalent of nearly 100 bushels of wheat more than could be spared for the same purpose from an equal extent of land under a large farmer. These conclusions are not put forward as more than roughly approximate, nor, indeed, in the present disgracefully defective state of British agricultural statistics, are any but rough approximations on the subject possible. But, unless very wide indeed of the truth, they must be acknowledged to furnished adequate reason why rural magnates should not engross all our praises, and why the honest agricultural muse should reserve a share of commendation for small lease holding farmers also.

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