America’s farmers today are hurting, what with tariffs, trade wars, low milk and grain prices and now the extensive flooding in the Midwest grain belt. But, it’s not new.
After the boom times and high commodity prices during World War I, a severe depression hit the agricultural sector and by 1921, farmers were hurting. Naturally, as farmers were forced to tighten their belts farm implement manufacturers and dealers faced hard times as well.
During those days the mighty International Harvester Co. published a monthly magazine called Harvester World, which was sent to employees and dealers. IH apparently felt that readers of the magazine required a pep talk so the January 1922 issue contained some encouraging words.
The first page said, “Great men are not made in soft ages, so be thankful for this period which demands hard thinking and hard work. Be thankful for this time of commercial and political stress. You may be sure that great leaders will be developed in every sphere of human action – great dealers and salesmen and managers, also, will now make themselves known. Accept the stern requirements of the period. The harder it is the better, and happier. This is the era in which men in every walk of life will be made and used for all their worth. It is a good time to be alive!”
Then on the editorial page appeared the following “good lesson.”
“In 1867, with the Civil War two years in the background, two farmers were sitting on a rail fence talking hard times. Money was scarce, hogs were a drug on the market, corn was worth fourteen cents and oats not worth hauling to town. Eggs were selling at eight cents a dozen, but farmers faced the hard times, paid for their farms and sent their children to school.
“In 1893 the sons of those two farmers stood near the same spot discussing the hard times. These were black days for men trying to raise crops and pay for their farms, and the two men even threatened to move to the city and start over. But they stayed and won through.
“Today , the grandsons of the 1867 farmers are sitting in their automobiles lamenting the hard times, poor markets and low prices. All their lives they have had more luxuries than their ancestors had comforts, but they are talking the language of their fathers just the same.”
The descendants of these long-ago farmers often went through hard times during the 20th century, and now here it is, 150 years on and it’s happening again. Those men’s great-great-grandsons are sitting in their $50,000 dually pickups, checking grain prices on their iPhones, and wondering how to meet the next payment on a $400,000 combine. And, even though some will “move to the city and start over,” others will hang on and survive.
It just proves that farmers are a stubborn and tenacious lot that keeps on keeping on through hard times, depressions, droughts, fires, floods and everything else that comes their way. It’s a good thing, too, ’cause I like to eat.
– Sam Moore
Two farmers talking over a fence. (Image from the December 1938 issue of Country Gentleman magazine in the author’s collection.)