While going through a box of items kept by my father for many years, I came upon a book from Ohio Congressman J. Harry McGregor, The Yearbook of Agriculture, 1958.
This marked the year my dad was seeking advice, putting pencil to paper more than ever, trying to reach the decision whether to remain a full-time equipment salesman and a working-til-midnight, part-time farmer or to go for his goal of becoming a full-time dairy and crop farmer.
An invaluable resource
The book is interesting in many ways, but one thing that kept me reading was the foreword by the Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, reminding the stewards of the land they need to know more about it.
He writes, “Land, indeed, is part and parcel of our growth as a nation — of our history and our national attitudes toward freedom and democracy. Ours is a choice land, blessed of Heaven.”
This speaks volumes of the general viewpoint in the 1950s. Farmers, and the land they stood on, was hallowed ground.
My father often said he came of age at the perfect time to become a successful farmer, when hard work and attention to business details could assure growth and a healthy balance sheet.
Along with that, farmers had a strong support network within their communities.
Throughout this 600-page book, farmers were being encouraged to consider how invaluable they were.
“From the technical viewpoint, we need to look ahead to the requirements of coming generations for food, fiber and timber, and for urban and rural development.”
Chapters were dedicated to our history as a nation, then on to the growing need for farmers, stressing the importance of best use of all land.
“An inventory and projection can tell us what we must do to husband our God-given resources and how we must deal with problems of land use and conservation. It will remind us of the ways in which we have been careless, unaware, and indifferent to our heritage. It demonstrates how much we have for which we must be thankful to the Creator of all,” wrote Benson.
In a chapter entitled The market for farm real estate, readers were told “the price of land usually reflects net farm income, but not always.”
Net farm income had declined 25 percent by the end of 1955 from a peak in 1951, but land values were up 4 percent.
This chapter goes on to explain, “The strong demand for land to enlarge existing farms is likely to continue. The expanded highway program and further dispersal of industry seems likely to create additional areas in which location value, rather than productive value, will assume new importance in the land market.
“Land for living space could well become of even greater importance as a price-making factor in the future as the population continues to grow.”
As I read these passages, I realized it would have been impossible, in 1958, to fathom farming’s future: widespread, sometimes massive, development driving urban sprawl and soaring land prices, farmers often not respected, let alone revered, by new neighbors who chose to build a home right up against a farm that had stood for generations, battles over such things as mineral rights, immigrant labor issues, computerized equipment, robotic milking systems…
The list could go on and on.
One truth remains. Land is, and always will be, an incredibly valuable resource.
The stewards of that land realize they are standing on hallowed ground, whether the rest of the world knows it or not.
Once gone from agricultural production, it’s gone for good.
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