1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Agricultural Cooperation

(Part 107)


Agricultural Cooperation

VI. The plan of industrial partnerships, wherever it has had a fair trial, has invariably been attended by the happiest results; but it has hardly yet been fairly tried in farming, where, however, its application would in one respect be comparatively easy. In most other kinds of business, to determine to the satisfaction of both parties concerned how much, if any, of extra profits had been due to extra zeal on the part of the employed, might be an operation of some difficulty; but there need never be any doubt whether the crops of a given acreage were or were not above the average, or what, therefore, if any, was the surplus in which, according to the agreement, the employed were entitled to participate. That farmers would risk but little and only occasional loss, and in the long run would be sure to gain considerably, by permitting their labourers to share with them in a surplus which the labourers would have by voluntary exertion to create before they could share in it, may perhaps to an indifferent bystander seem a self-evident proposition. Farmers in general, however, may long be prevented from recognizing its truth by an intervening haze of traditional prejudice, which must first be cleared away, and the removal may occupy so much time that not improbably another and more advanced form of agricultural cooperation, not needing the framers’ concurrence, may in the meantime come into vogue.
Intermingled with the multitudinous peasant propriety of France are not only a much larger number of well-to-do country gentlemen than is commonly supposed, but also a not inconsiderable sprinkling of rural magnates, who, even beside English dukes, might well pass for extensive land owners. Among these latter are representatives of some of the oldest and noblest French families --- men rejoicing in the grand historic names of Rochefoucauld, Noailles, Luynes, Montemart, D’Usez, and the like --- who having at the restoration been partially reinstated in the domains of which the first revolution had despoiled them, disappeared, on the second expulsion of the Bourbons, from court and office, and, returning to their country seats, betook themselves, under the Orleanist dynasty and second empire, to the improvement of their estates. A difficulty which here confronted them was that of finding tenants possessed of capital enough for any but very small farms, and this they have latterly endeavored to obviate by devising, under the name of metayage par groupes, an expanded modification of a discredited tenure. This consists in letting a considerable farm, not to one metayer, but to an association of several, who work together for the general good, under the supervision either of the landlord himself, or of a manager or bailiff of his appointment. This plan is by no means the novelty it may perhaps appear, its near counterpart having within the present century existed in some singular patriarchal communities --- Jaults, Guittards, and Garriotts (see Thornton On Labour, 2d edition, pp. 488-90), in Nivernais and Avergne, and still existing among the Massari of the subalpine districts of northern Italy. Its merit consists in its tendency to excite among the associates the generous emulation and other healthy stimulating and controlling influences of cooperative fellowship; but as yet it has scarcely been long enough in operation to show very decisively how it is likely to work. In the event of its proving a marked success, it may become the starting point of much further progress. One easy and important step in advance would be for a body of metayers to persuade their landlord to let them have their farms on lease, and at a fixed rent, thus raising themselves to that higher stage of agricultural cooperation of which an imperfect but encouraging example has been afforded among ourselves by Mr. Gurdon’s well-known experiment at Assington in Suffolk. Of the two or three scores of labourers who are there parties to the leases by which two farms --- one of 130, the other of 212 acres --- are held, not more than ten or a dozen have regular work in their own fields, the rest being therefore little more than passive capitalists, sleeping partners in the concern, while the active members receive, in addition to wages at the rates current in the neighborhood, no longer shares in the profits than the members who do not exert themselves to increase those profits. Nevertheless, to sum up in a single phrase of especial significance for our present purpose the praises of the results achieved, Mr. Gurdon declares that "he has no other land so well farmed" as that on which the cooperative principle is even thus partially applied. It would seem, therefore, that the adoption of the same principle in its integrity would result in better farming still, and it may be hoped that the questions will, at Assington or elsehwhere, be ere long put to the proof. (W. T. T.)

The above article was written by William Thomas Thornton, C.B.; Secretary for Public Works to the India Office; author of Over-Population and the Remedy, A Plea for Peasant Proprietors, On Labour, Old-fashioned Ethics, or Common Sense Metaphysics, and some volumes of verse.

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