AN EXODUS THAT MAY RAISE FOOD PRICES
There is nothing new about this, except that the trek of 1926 was the biggest in any year since the depression of 1920. As a result, Secretary of Agriculture Jardine predicts that the price of food to the consumer will go up, unless the trend reverses itself. While there is nothing alarming in last year's figures, taken by themselves, the real menace to the country, says Mr. Jardine, lies in the inability of the Government to halt the exodus before farms have been so thoroughly depopulated that the United States will not be able to produce enough food-stuffs to meet its needs.
The farmer, says the New York World, moves to the city because he can make a better living there than on the farm. It is estimated by the Department of Agriculture that 2,150,000 persons moved from farms to cities, towns, and villages last year, and that 1,135,000 moved to farms. This makes a net movement of more than a million persons away from the farm. "We can't keep that up very long, with the total population increasing all the time, without a food shortage," maintains the Manchester Union. But the movement of human beings between farms and cities is not a one-way affair; in 1926 the excess of births over deaths on the farms added 371,000 persons to the agricultural population, so the net loss was reduced to 649,000. In the view of the Washington Post, however, "these are not reassuring figures, for the country must have food, and the food must be produced on the farms." Thus, remarks The Christian Science Monitor, "the problem of the drift to the cities is one which concerns every man, woman, and child in the United States." In the opinion of the New York Telegram and other Scripps-Howard newspapers:
"It is a great drift and great tragedy that is thus recorded. Behind the drift is the beckoning finger of the city, with its life, movement, and excitement. Behind it is the ambition and restlessness of youth, leaving the farm to make its own way, and the disillusion of the retired farmer, turning his home over to renters, who now operate four out of ten of our farms.
"Behind it—more important than all—is the relentless economic trend which has made it impossible for millions, even of those "who have stuck to the farm, to win a decent living.
"It is the trend, in short, which led Professor Dodd, of the University of Chicago, to predict a year ago the development of an American peasantry unless something is done to check it."
"The farm population problem will not be solved," predicts the Providence Journal, "until we find some remedy for the present distressing economic conditions in agriculture in various sections of the country." Continues this paper, published in a large industrial city:
"Some form of substantial farm relief must be obtained shortly that will bring the farm price index into closer approximation to the general price index for all commodities. The nation is absolutely dependent on this great basic industry of farming. It must be restored to a healthy economic condition. And, generally speaking, the only way to do it is to find some relief plan that embodies such economically defensible principles as President Coolidge, for instance, suggested in his veto message on the McNary-Haugen bill."
"That people in general are not blind to the situation is clear," observes the Philadelphia Record, "since a number of organizations have been started which would stem, or at least counteract, the exodus of the farm population to the cities." One of these, we are told, is the National Farm School, near Philadelphia, which takes poor boys having only a grammar-school education, and gives them, without charge, a three-year course in scientific agriculture and marketing.
According to 0. M. Kile's syndicated editorial service, "How Things Look to the Farmer," the apparent inflow to the farms of 1,135,000 persons last year "is largely an illusion." If this farm authority's information is correct, there was even more of an exodus from the farm to the city than the Department of Agriculture has reported. To quote Mr. Kile further:
"The great bulk of those who are said to have abandoned the cities for the farms is made up of city workers who have merely moved out into the country a distance and still carry on their work in the cities. Frequently these persons buy a few acres along the road and build a new house. Sometimes they buy a farm, occupy the farmhouse, and rent the land to a neighboring farmer. In neither instance could the movement of this city family into the country be considered as in any way restoring 'farm' population."
There is another group, however, that does not share Secretary Jardine's fear of a future food shortage and an era of high prices because of the trek to town of a portion of the farm population. Under the circumstances, they affirm, this is the best thing that, could happen for the farmers remaining on the soil. The transfer not only reduces competition in producing farm crops, but increases the number of purchasers of farm products. This is the attitude of the Syracuse Post-Standard, and to the Council Bluffs Nonpareil "it is entirely probable that our immediate farm problem may be worked out eventually by this very decrease in farm population." Says this Iowa paper:
"If the number of persons on the farms continues to decrease, and the total population of the country continues to increase, there soon will be so many demanding products of the farm and so few furnishing them that the prices for farm products will rise. Good prices on the farm will bring the householders back there."
The fact is, points out the Pittsburgh Gazette Times, "while the farm population has been decreasing for years, the surplus products of the soil have been piling up." It is obvious to this paper that "we can spare a good many more farmers." A continuation of the present trend toward the cities, thinks the New York Herald Tribune, "indicates that food production is following the normal course of other American industries by increasing its efficiency and releasing labor for other activities." "The greater use of machinery is steadily increasing the production per acre or per man," adds the Boston Post, and we read in The Wall Street Journal:
"This is the age of machinery and it is increasing the productive power of agriculture. Look, for instance, at the combine that cuts and threshes the grain at the same time. Three or four men working one of those machines can cut fifty acres of wheat in a day and deliver the grain to the elevator a couple of miles away. The result is an enormous decrease in the amount of labor to the acre."
Source: The Literary Digest for May 7, 1927