Profit and Loss by Col. Stoopnagle

            Many people think of a farmer as an unwashed man in overalls and rubber boots, skinny as a bean-pole, who spits tobacco juice, chews a straw and always says “By cracky!”  Myself, I’ve never seen a fat farmer, except in a mirror.  If many of them look unkempt, it’s largely because four-fifths of the approximately six million farms in this country have no mirrors.

            But we’re dealing with a different species of farmer -- the city slicker who decides to take up farming.  He will never be satisfied to freeze in a drafty ‘Chic Sale,’ nor to go around with a 3-day beard;  he must have inside plumbing, with its water supply for flushing, washing and drinking.  His kitchen must be modern, too, with electric dishwasher, automatic garbage disposal unit, electric stove, toaster, refrigerator and all the other inconveniences so often in need of adjustment.  By the time he has spent his money to make himself what he thinks will be cozy and comfortable, he is all the more in need of the sage advice which this book offers him.

            The farmer who nets $10,000 a year is not necessarily any better off than the one who nets $2,000 a year, as the former may be a spendthrift and the latter a miser.  What I am interested in is keeping the fresh-from-the-city farmer out of the red.  In other words, if he just breaks even by following my advice, I’ll be very much surprised.

            Of course, on a farm a man is his own boss -- that is, if he’s boss, he is, unless his wife is boss, and she probably is.  This is quite different from having to appear at an office in the city at a certain time each day.  A farmer’s hours are his own, and he wishes he didn’t have so many of them.  He must be even more meticulous with his farm work than he was as an office hireling because it is so easy to ‘let things slide’ on a farm;  take rubber boots in a cow-shed, for an example.  If a farmer gets into the habit of spending too much time at auctions or at fishing or day-dreaming, he will wind up not only with no farm, but perhaps in a cell in a debtor’s pokey with nothing but his memories.

            “Brainwork is more important than physical work,”  according to Haydn S. Pearson, who wrote Success On The Small Farm, “and the day is gone forever when a strong back and a weak mind can guarantee success in agriculture.”  I agree that the best combination of all is a weak back and a strong mind, thus allowing their owner to run his establishment from a sitting or prone position.  All he needs is a tenant farmer with a strong back and a weak mind whom he can bend to his will.  He also requires a thorough knowledge of farming and a big outside income.

            If you are afraid of blood, sweat and tears, a constant pain in your sacro-iliac, athlete’s foot, poison ivy and 3 A. M. rising, better stick to the city anyway.  However, if you have your mind set, I shan’t try to discourage you.  Come on to the great outdoors and give farming a try, brother.  But buy yourself a return ticket -- you will need something with cash value after a few months with the soil!

            I have been asked, rather infrequently, to give my opinion on just how much profit a new farmer must have to equal his previous income in the city.  (This is a moot question, and I must remember to drop Mr. Moot a note to thank him for sending it in.)  If your farm stands you $10,000, let’s say, the interest you’ve lost by not having the dough in the bank, where it belongs, amounts, roughly, to $150 ($10,000 at 1 1/2%.)  (We used to be able to figure this at 4%, but luckily, most savings banks only pay 1 1/2% now, so our loss is not so great as it used to be.)  Taxes will be about $9,000, building maintenance $0,000, in round numbers, as help is not available, and insurance $850.  Thus your expenses add up to $10,000, or no more than the value of your farm, which is doing pretty well.  Now divide the $10,000 by 12 and you can say your rent is about $833 monthly.  Not bad, when you consider you’ll soon be flat broke anyway.  You’re holding your own, at least.

            These figures, while accurate, are no good at all, because we haven’t considered profit and loss on livestock and vegetables.  But after all, money is not the most important thing in life, to quote myself, especially if you have plenty of it, so let us just take our monetary losses ‘in stride’ and put our spiritual and physical blessings on the other side of our ledger to balance our books.  When that man with the arched eyebrows and the whip comes to take your farm away from you, just laugh in the so-and-so’s face and point to your bronzed features, your sure step, your bright eyes, your clean mind and dirty hands.  He will smile a wry smile, pat you reassuringly on the back and say:  “Yes, Bub, you sure are in good health and spirit.  The year’s farming has given you something the poor city-dweller could never have.  Now scram, Bub;  this here farm is mine!”


[From My Back to the Soil, or, Farewell to Farms.  ?: Howell, Soskin, Publishers, 1947]


Page created November 15, 2006.  Copyright 1998-2006 by Richard D. Squires.