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Accounts In Farming

Farmers, it is urged, sometimes fail; and this is unfortunately true of

them, as of all others. Some fail in integrity; others in sobriety; many

in capacity; most in diligence; but not a few in method or system. Quite

a number fail because they undertake too much at the outset; that is,

they run into debt for more land than they have capital to stock or

means to fertilize, and are forced into bankruptcy by the interest

ever-accruing upon land which they are unable to cultivate. If they

should get ahead a little by active exertion throughout the day, the

interest would overtake and pass them during the ensuing night.

Few of the unsuccessful realize the extent to which their ill fortune is

fairly attributable to their own waste of time. Men not naturally lazy

squander hours weekly in the village, or at the railroad station,

without a suspicion that they are thus destroying their chances of

success in life. To-day is given up to a monkey-show; half of to-morrow

is lost in attendance on an auction; part of next day is spent at a

caucus or a jury trial; and so on until one-third of the year is

virtually wasted.

Now, the men who have achieved eminent success, within my observation,

have all been rigid economists of time. They managed to transact their

business at the county-seat while serving there as grand or petit

jurors, or detained under subpoena as witnesses; they never attended

an auction unless they really needed something which was there to be

sold, and then they began their day's work earlier and ended it later in

order to redeem the time which they borrowed for the sale. I do not

believe that any American farmer who could count up three hundred full

days' work in every year between his twenty-first and his thirtieth ever

yet failed, except as a result of speculation, or endorsing, or

inordinate running into debt.

I would, therefore, urge every farmer to keep a rigid account current of

the disposal of his time, so as to be able to see at the year's end

exactly how many days thereof he had given to productive labor; how many

to such abiding improvements as fencing and draining; and how many to

objects which neither increased his crop nor improved his farm. I am

sure many would be amazed at the extent of this last category.

If every youth who expects to live by farming would buy a cheap

pocket-book or wallet which contains a diary wherein a page is allotted

to each day of the year, and would, at the close of that day, or at

least while its incidents were still fresh in his mind, set down under

its proper head whatever incidents were most noteworthy--as, for

instance, a soaking rain; a light or heavy shower; a slight or killing

frost; a fall of snow; a hurricane; a hail-storm; a gale; a decidedly

hot or notably cold temperature; the turning out of cattle to pasture or

sheltering them against the severity of Winter; also the planting or

sowing of each crop or field, and whether harm was done to it by frost

in its infancy or when it approached maturity--he would thus provide

himself with annual volumes of fact which would prove instructive and

valuable throughout his maturer years.

The good farmer will of course keep accounts with such of his neighbors

as he sees fit to deal with; and he ought to charge a lent or credit a

borrowed plow, harrow, reaper, log-chain, or other implement, precisely

as though it were meal or meat of an equal value. I judge that borrowed

implements, if regularly charged at cost, and credited at their actual

value when returned, would generally come home sooner and in better


But the farmer, like every one else, should be most careful to keep debt

and credit with himself and his farm. If a dollar is spent or lent, his

books should show it; and let items and sum total stare him in the face

when he strikes a balance at the close of the year. If there has been no

leakage either of dimes or of hours, he will seldom be poorer on the

31st of December than he was on the 1st of the preceding January.

Most farmers fail to keep accounts with their several fields and crops;

yet what could be more instructive than these? Here are ten acres of

Corn, with a yield of 20 to 40 bushels per acre--a like area and like

yield of Oats; a smaller or larger of Rye, Buckwheat, or Beans, as the

case may be. If the produce is sold, most farmers know how much it

brings; but how many know how much it cost? Say the Corn brings 75 cents

per bushel, and the Oats 50 cents: was either or both produced at a

profit? If so, at what profit? Here is a farmer who has grown from 100

to 800 bushels of Corn per annum for the last 20 years; ought he not to

know by this time what Corn costs him in the average, and whether it

could or could not with profit give place to something else? Most

farmers grow some crops at a profit, others at a loss; ought they not to

know, after an experience of five or ten years, what crops have put

money into their pockets, and what have made them poorer for the


Of course, there is complication and some degree of uncertainty in all

such account-keeping; for every one is aware that some crops take more

from the soil than others, and so leave it in a worse condition for

those that are to follow, and that some exact large reenforcements of

fertilizers, whereof a part only is fairly chargeable to the first

ensuing product, while a large share inures to the subsequent harvests.

Each must judge for himself how much is to be credited for such

improvement, and how much charged against other crops for

deterioration. He, for example, whose meadows will cut from two to three

tuns per acre of good English Hay may generally sell that Hay for twice

if not thrice the immediate cost of its production, and so seem to be

realizing a large profit; but, if he gives nothing to the soil in return

for the heavy draft thus made upon it, his crop will dwindle year by

year, until it will hardly pay for cutting; and the diminution in value

of his meadows will nearly or quite balance the seeming profit accruing

from his Hay. But account-keeping in every business involves essentially

identical calculations; and the merchant who this year makes no net

profit on his goods, but doubles the number of his customers and the

extent of his trade, has thriven precisely as has the farmer whose

profit on his crops has all been invested in drains permeating his bogs,

and in Lime, Plaster, and other fertilizers, applied to and permanently

enriching his dryer fields.

"To make each day a critic on the last," was the aspiration of a wise

man, if not a great poet. So the farmer who will keep careful and candid

accounts With himself, annually correcting his estimates by the light of

experience, will soon learn what crops he may reasonably expect to grow

at a profit, and to reject such as are likely to involve him in loss;

and he who, having done this, shall blend common sense with industry,

will have no reason to complain thereafter that there is no profit in

farming, and no chance of achieving wealth by pursuing it.