Long before there was David Letterman, the University of Tennessee’s ag college came up with its own Top 10 list that’s worth reviewing.
In fact, other than one or two items that are a little dated, the list is still a must-read.
The June 17, 1927, Farm and Dairy carried this list, which carried the eye-catching headline: “Ten ways to go broke.” Here’s the list:
1. Grow only one crop.
They didn’t call it monoculture back in the day, but smart farmers knew there was a reason to have diversity in the crop mix: soil fertility, disease and pest resistance, economics.
2. Keep no livestock.
Now, a lot of farmers today raise truck crops or cash grain or grapes and the like, and have no need for livestock, and that’s OK. But for some operations, livestock are the ultimate value-added enterprise: You raise the feed and the animals turn that agricultural product into a more marketable good. And manure is plus, even though we often don’t think about it that way.
Besides, the average American eats nearly 200 pounds of meat and poultry. If you can stock your freezer from your barnyard, more power to you.
3. Regard chickens and a garden as nuisances.
In the early years of Farm and Dairy, the pages are filled with poultry production and management tips. It could be that this item made the list because the chickens and the garden were typically the farm wife’s domain, and she used the money from the flock for household items. But when the women started banking more than chicken feed, the men took notice.
4. Take everything from the soil and return nothing.
There’s no quicker way to go broke. Well, there is, but depleting your soil’s nutrients is a death spiral for any farm.
5. Don’t stop gullies or grow cover crops – let the topsoil wash away, then you will have “bottom” land.
I think it’s time for some landowners to reread this one, because I’ve seen more washouts and gullies in the past two or three years than I did the previous 10 or 15 years. If you don’t know where your county’s conservation district office is, find out. Now. These are the good guys. Because you really don’t want this type of ‘bottom land.’
6. Don’t plan your farm operations. It’s hard work thinking – trust to luck.
Think you don’t have time to ‘think’ or plan? Or log data then review the numbers? Put up the “For Sale” signs now.
7. Regard your woodland as you would a coal mine; cut every tree, sell the timber and wear the cleared land out cultivating it in corn.
We’re blessed to have abundant, diverse natural resources that include forests and woodlands on many of our farms. Those trees are not just “the back woods.” They are a crop to be managed for a variety of uses: timber, recreation, wildlife habitat.
8. Hold fast to the idea that the methods of farming employed by your grandfather are good enough for you.
“The day of better, deeper, stronger thinking is coming,” Hoard’s Dairyman founder W.D. Hoard said … in 1885. “Wise old Solomon said, ‘As a man thinketh, so is he.’ He did not say as a man laboreth, so is he, and nowhere is this truer than in agriculture.”
9. Be independent – don’t join with your neighbors in any form of cooperation.
10. Mortgage your farm for every dollar it will stand, to buy things you would have cash to buy if you followed a good system of farming.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)