Sell That Last Team!

Posted by Missouri Rev on Oct 23rd, 2005

My fellow bloggers, being new at this thing called blogging, I haven’t learned how often to post. I can’t help wonder if posting too much or too quickly causes some of the posts to be skipped over or not commented on. What is your experience on this?

The piece that follows my musings appeared in the 1946 Suffolk Bulletin, which I got from the book, The Draft Horse Primer (the bolding is mine for emphasis). The writer was an experienced draft-horse farmer from New Jersey that was a leader in Suffolk horse breeding. His piece was written in response to an article in Farm Journal by True Morse of Doane’s Agricultural Services that called for farmers to “sell that last team” and move into the more efficient and profitable technology of internal combustion tractors and related machinery. The author had a keen sense of wisdom and was able to fairly accurately predict, in noted frustration and sorrow, the downfall of the American “family-sized” farm. Though not put in these words, he recognized in the booming days following WWII that the scale of farming in America had been dramatically altered — through technology born of debt-based economics — from family-sized to something far bigger that could only be profitable if one “invested in” and utilized the “larger power units” produced through corporate industrialism, which, on top of equipment payments, required the farmer to constantly pay cash out of his own pocket for gas, oil, repairs, and replacement. History has clearly shown that this caused the overwhelming majority of family-sized farmers to throw in the towel or regress from being self-sustained producers to consumers and sustaining cogs of industrialized agribusiness, for which the vast majority ultimately ended in bankruptcy. He succumbed to the handwriting on the wall, as he felt that under “current conditions” he could not afford to work horses and be competitive. If only he could have laid hold of a copy of You Can Farm. Read it and weep.

My reason to publish this was not to beat the drum of a “back to Eden” technophobe who hates all technology, as I am certainly not — else I would be writing this on the back of elm bark with a turkey feather dipped in the ink made from blackberries and sending it to you via carrier pigeon or the Pony Express. But rather to recognize the scale and technology of God’s wonderful creation and to help promote for consideration and discussion two interrelated elements of biblical sustainable agriculture: first, the use of God’s creation technology in farming, as Joel Salatin has done so well in working his land with the labor and (God-ordained) biological processes of beef, poultry, turkeys, rabbits, pigs, etc.; and second, the creation and use of human technology that complements the Lord’s creation both in scale and purpose, according to His Word. A third area naturally arises from this discussion and that is the synergy that is developed between God’s creation and man’s creation (under Him), as in the example of a man that works a team of draft horses hitched to a harrow or other manmade machinery.

Being just an enthusiastic student and quasi-journalist of biblical agrarianism and not a “frontlines” farmer, as some of you are, I readily admit that I speak from learning and not from experience, at least thus far, though a shepherd “worth his salt” can hardly lead the charge in taking dominion through biblical agrarianism without getting his fingers dirty, brow sweaty, and boots caked in the black gold of cow manure . . . Lord willing. I look forward to the comments of one and all, and especially of seasoned veterans of sustainable agriculture. The Missouri Rev

—- As I gave up the use of the horse with greatest reluctance, I have examined my reasons for doing so very carefully and feel I can give all the answers as to why they cannot be used with some authority. But there are still serious questions in my mind.

Consider, first, the investment in power machinery as compared to horse-drawn machinery. Last winter, when offering to sell some of my useless equipment, I went back through the records to determine what I had paid for some of it. It now costs about as much for a single tire for a tractor as it cost for a sulky corn cultivator about eight years ago. One could then equip an entire farm for what a tractor and cultivator now cost. Can farming support such an investment?

Consider the size of farm needed to utilize the larger power units such as the field harvester, the pick-up baler, and the combine. I find one of each adequate for the operation of my large unit. Custom work has proven unsatisfactory in most cases. Can the American farmer work out a plan for joint neighbor ownership of this equipment or does this spell the end of the family-sized farm?

Consider the cost of upkeep. Mr. Morse gives figures for the cost of keeping a team, the income from the extra cows, and cost of operating a tractor. Will the income from the cow stay where it is now? Can we overlook the fact that the cost of keeping a team is largely money paid back to oneself for hay, oats, and labor, while the cost of operating a tractor is cash out of pocket for gas, oil, repairs, and replacement?

Consider also the broad economic aspects of the problem. Should the day come when the farmer is again faced with ruinous surpluses, will these not be much greater than they were when the acres that went to feeding horses will grow crops to sell? And what of our dwindling natural resources of petroleum? Will we eventually raise crops that are sold to be processed into fuel, to be repurchased by us to burn in our own tractors, where we now have available a hay-burner of our own?

Under present conditions, I cannot afford to work horses. But the change from horse to tractor farming is a profound change. As a result the farmer will lose a measure of his independence; his fate will be more closely linked to the strength and effectiveness of organized labor; the family-sized farm may be the next aspect of rural life to be found obsolete and uneconomical.—-

10 Responses

  1. Herrick Kimball Says:

    Regarding how often you can or should post to your blog…….

    Please post here as often and as long as you would like. I greatly appreciate your writings and look forward to more.

    And speaking of your writings, I finished “The Heart of Biblical Afrarianism” that you wrote and mentioned awhile back. It is very good. I copied it and will read it again.

  2. Walter Jeffries Says:

    It is important to be sure to adjust for inflation which does not progress at the same rate for all items.

  3. Northern Farmer Says:

    About you not being a “front line farmer”, a blog like this is what a front line farmer needs to read.For both encouragement and insite.Many farmers, myself included, were almost sucked up by the modern industrial ag establishment.But not quite!We’re heading back to an agrarian based farming operation.And it is coming upon our family rather quickly.Meanwhile,enthusiastic folk with less experience with general farming are dreaming and working for the same goal.We meet in the middle and it benifits us all tremendously.So I guess that answers about how often to post, post as much as you’d like.

    Also, thank you for e-mailing me the other day. Your writing is saved and printed.

  4. Scott Holtzman Says:

    Being a distant “line loader” myself, off the distant fields of farming for a time I’d reply with a well worn quote (understood in context of course) ‘Praise the Lord and pass the ammo!’ Keep ’em comming rev.

  5. Missouri Rev Says:

    Thanks for commenting. Lord willing, I will be posting once or twice weekly, but with so much going on, there likely will be periods of inactivity. I enjoy your blog, keep it up.

    Thanks for writing. I agree that inflation progresses at different rates, which is why debt-based economies act so schizophrenic. Being the nature of the beast, they often can get so unruly that deflation and inflation can appear simultaneously throughout various industries and regions. Since our national economy is based on an engine that runs on debt, which acts like sludge as it builds, its needs more debt (fuel – inflation through increasing the monetary supply) to keep the rpms going, which causes the pistons to work harder (heat up) to maintain the same power. This leads ultimately to failure, as every single debt-based economy in the history of the world has failed.

    Northern Farmer,
    I appreciate your support and comments. I started preaching and writing extensively on biblical economics about ten years ago. In the process of studying this field, I came into the much larger one of biblical agrarianism, for which economics is a critical factor, but not the only one, as it is one of the spokes of the wheel of a godly culture. Lord willing and thanks to the generous help of a fellow blogger, my first book on the subject will be coming out within the year. It largely deals with understanding honest and just measures, in the form of biblically lawful money, within the context of our lawless, debt-based system . . . its implications and the absolute necessity of the Lord’s people to move back towards a lawful money system. I am also working on my first allegory on economics about life aboard a massive slave ship called the USS Usurious. I am discovering that writing of this nature is quite a challenge, which gives me a far greater appreciation for good allegory.

    I am glad you commented and appreciate your encouragement. I stopped in and visited your blog, An Agrarian Plowshare, and was about to comment, when I got the infamous “fatal error” wherein I had to reopen it. It then did it again, so I am not sure what is happening. I enjoyed what you wrote an encourage you to keep it up. I will be commenting as soon as I can figure out the problem.

  6. Scott Terry Says:

    A very interesting find. I collect old farm literature and have studied the great debates about farming that went on in the 40’s. Debt-based economic theroy has had awfull effects on agriculture. I have found that pre-1940 agricutural writings were a lot closer to the sustainable type writings that we find pioneers like Salatin doing now. I imagine that the country folks were the last to buy into the fiat scam. It is interesting that it was not until the 40’s that farming began its slide into obscurity. Its been sliding ever faster, ever since. I am happy to report that more and more farm families are seeing all the lies and deceit for what they are. People are starting to see that the Land Grant Profs got us into this mess, and they are the last poeple we should be looking to for answers on how to get out. Now if they would only look to the God of bible, mabey we will see a rebirth of agriculure.

  7. bob Says:

    Pastor McConnell,

    It’s good to hear from you again! I am hoping some day to see a picture on your blog of you behind a team of draft horses turning over some sod!

    My grandfather died a year or two before I was born and my grandmother sold the family farm to pay his medical expenses. My father decided to pursue carpentry (his dad both farmed and did carpentry, but he never quite got the farm from out of his blood. He always rented some acreage with which we raised beef and hogs and thus while I cannot be said to be a “farm kid”, I did grow in a rural farming community and have ample opportunity to work on the farm, albeit more as a carpenter than a farmer.

    My dad has nice collection of what is now called antique farm equipment that he uses on the land that he owns and uses. He also buys and colelcts antique equipment, mostly horse drawn, and in the spring travels out to Pennsylvania and Ohio and sells it to the Amish and Mennonite communities.

    Of course, industrialized farming has for the most part consumed rural northwest IL, but what I find interesting is that even today’s modern day farmer still enjoys remembering the past. The communities in this area abound with antique farming and tractor days throughout the summer and it is interesting to observe that many of these farmers seem to long for the days now largely gone by.

    I think with corn running at about 1.60 a bushel, it could be said that without government subsidy, the vast majority of industrialized farmers would never make it. If the constant distribution of subsidies were ever to disappear, I should think that industrial farming would come to an arubt halt. It would be interesting to see what would replace it.


  8. Randall Gerard Says:

    Pastor McConnell,

    That excerpt from 1946 does sound prophetic. My grandfather says his farm was never the same after he sold his mules and bought his first tractor in the early ’50’s. He often says that while blinking away tears, and he’s not a sentimental man. One aspect of animal power hardly every touched upon is the loss of fertility represented by the loss of animal manure. Traditionally, the draft animals ate a portion of the crops they helped produce and then gave back to the land in the form of manure thus helping to insure the quality of the next crop. Machinery, of course, can’t do that. As a consequence, long-term fertility is not possible on a fully mechanized crop farm without importing some form of fertilizer – which is yet another cost.

    In theory I’m a big fan of animal power; but I’m sure it has it’s draw-backs as well. For one thing, training and working with animals is no longer common knowledge and I’ll bet the learning curve is brutal. I’ve been around horses enough to know that they can have a mind of their own and are big enough to impose their will if you don’t know what you’re doing. Still, in this age of increasing energy costs, there’s a lot to be said for power sources that can reproduce themselves!

  9. KSmilkmaid Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I have thought much about draft animals and we have started training oxen here on our place. I can’t wait to hear the sound of the wheels plodding away on the dirt road as we haul our black gold to a neighboring farm field to replenish is land.

    I praise God for the high fuel prices because this stubborn ole ox won’t lay down and take it like we have no choice. Of course, we know absolutely nothing about what we are getting into. Ignorance is bliss.

    I am amazed at how astute the author of the excerpts is. I am also saddened that much of what he said came true. Praise God for this revival.

    I enjoy your perspective. Thanks!!!

  10. Scott Holtzman Says:

    Just thought I’d stop in and let you know the ‘Fatal Errors’ fixed. Scripting problem with 1st post.

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