TWO, POINTS IN THE AGRICULTURAL DIFFICULTY.
WE are not among those who think that any great good can come from writing about the agricultural depression. No amount of fine words will make two blades of corn grow where one grew before. But though we are unwilling, as well as unable, to tell the landlords, farmers, and labourers how they ought to conduct their business, there are two points in the agricultural problem which at the present moment strike us as interesting and important, and upon which we should like to have more light. The first of these points is connected with allot- ments. Some three er four weeks ago we noticed Lord Lansdowne's speech at the annual meeting of the Rural Labourers' League. The Secretary of State for War, after mentioning how satisfactory and punctual allotment- tenants were in the matter of rent-paying, went on to say that the only difficulty in the matter was the trouble caused by the collection of small sums of money from a great number of people. If a farm of a hundred acres is let to a farmer, he pays his rent in one transaction. If the farm is split into two hundred half-acre lots, the landlord has to deal with a regiment of men. Lord Lansdowne suggested that to get over this obstacle to the provision of cheap allotments, it would be advisable to introduce a middleman who would rent land whole- sale from the landlord, and let it out retail to the labourer. A propos of this speech, we pointed out that the best middleman would be a Co-operative Society, and that this hiring wholesale and letting retail was work exactly suited to a co-operative organisation. Since -writing in this way, evidence has come to hand of the existence of a most successful Allotment Co-opera- tive Society, which has been doing the very thing which we advocated. This society is the " Denmead Co-opera- tive Allotment Society," formed in the village of Denmead, near Havant, on ordinary co-operative lines. No doubt the help and direction given by the vicar, Mr. Green, has been of enormous value, especially as the Society was a pioneer, but there is no reason to suppose that the work might not be done by an intelligent body of labourers and small tradesmen and artisans without external aid. The operations of the Denmead Society were exactly like those of a body of consumers who co-operate to supply themselves with groceries and clothes and the other necessaries of life, and who, to do so, buy wholesale, sell at ordinary retail prices, and distribute profits in proportion to purchases. They wanted to be sup- plied with allotments by the year. They, therefore, took a farm in one block of between sixty and seventy acres from Winchester College, and proceeded to let it out to their members. The rent paid for the farm was about £115, but it included, a farmhouse and cottage. The farmhouse and ten acres the Society let off at £40 a year, and the cottage at £10. They thus reduced the amount which the allotments would have to produce to pay for the remaining fifty or sixty acres to £65. They, however, fixed the allotment rent at a higher rate per acre than seemed necessary at first sight,—no doubt partly in order to have elbow-room for rates and taxes and other expenses, and partly on the Rochdale principle, which makes the dividend of profits act like a savings-bank. Accordingly, the rent per quarter-acre of allotment was fixed at about 7s.,—or 288. per acre. This made the allotment rents come to about £98 for the year. But out of this had to come over .215 for rates and taxes. This left some £83 to pay the land- lord with ; but out of that again had to come a number of small expenses mounting up to about £3, and then £80 only remained to meet the rent. But, as we have shown, the net rent, after letting off the land and cottage, amounted to about £65. Hence there was about £20 over and available for dividend. It was resolved, how- ever, last year, that it would not be safe to appropriate more than 2s. per acre in the shape of a dividend. But this division, at the rate of 2s. per acre, absorbed £6 6s. 3d., and therefore there were £13 or .214 to be carried forward, a balance which it may be said was met by a good balance from previous years, and raised the total balance produced by the four years during which the Society has been in existence, to nearly £40. The committee in their report declare that their inability to divide a larger sum last year was due to the heaviness of the rates. Unquestion- ably, over £15 is a very heavy burden on a rent of £115. But in any ease, the dividend is not a bad one, for it reduces the rent to 268. per acre. It should be added that there are now forty-seven members in the Society. What is the average size of the allotments is not stated, but we gather that though one or two are large enough to pro- vide feed for a horse, the greater number are not more than a quarter-acre in extent—the amount which is usually considered all that a man can manage by spade labour in his leisure time, and while he is working for wages on a farm. The whole experiment seems to us a most successful one, and we trust that it may be largely imitated. We do not, of course, suppose that it is going to revolutionise British agriculture, or to cure the depres- sion, but we do believe that it may do something—nay, a good deal—to bring about two things. At present land- lords are anxious to get land off their hands, and to find tenants for farms, and labourers are anxious to get allot- ments cheap. (It is a delusion to suppose that a labourer does not care whether he pays at the rate of £1 or ..e4 per acre for his allotment ; he cares very much, and will take at one price, and not at the other.) But Co-operative Allotment Societies would. perform both these services. Up till now co-operation in agriculture has been a failure because it has been communal in its organisation. Cul- tivation by a committee has proved impossible. But in the Denmead plan co-operation takes the form in which co-operation has always proved commercially most sue- cessful,—the form of associated individualism. The allotment holders combine to take the land for their common good, but they work their lots alone. We have only one criticism to make on the Denmead scheme. We should. like to see the members encouraged to leave their dividends to accumulate in the hands of the society, receiving, of course, interez` *hereon. The accumulations could then be lent by the Society to members who wanted to borrow for the purpose of improving their holdings. Thus the savings of the Society could be used to fertilise the soil, and might act as a land-bank, which again would act as a ladder of improvement. There is, however, plenty of time for all this. We hope, too, that the Denmead Society, if it has not done so already, will put itself into communi- cation with the rest of the co-operative world. Why should they not become co-operators in other things, and supply their members with seeds and tools and other necessaries, buying, of course, from the Wholesale, and sharing also in its dividends ? Men who have begun co-operating so successfully should not stop at allotments. We have left ourselves little space to deal with the other point in the agricultural problem to which we desire to draw attention. It is this. English farmers are always complaining that they are not treated fairly by the whole- sale buyers. Though their butter, their bacon, or their cheese is as good as possible, and is admitted to be so by the dealers, those dealers distinctly prefer to buy from the foreigner. The answer given by the dealers is always the same, and therefore, we presume, the real one. They say, "We would buy of you if you would sell in large quanti- ties, but you won't. We want to make a contract for 6,000 lb. of butter a week, and you offer to let us have 45 lb. Hence, though your butter is as good as that of the Danish dealer, we 'much prefer to go to him. We must have the stuff in one reliable lot, and cannot potter about picking up 40 lb. here and 15 lb. there." Now, what is the economic meaning of this ? Does it not mean that agriculture is now going through exactly the same change that was experienced by the woollen, cotton, and linen industries at the beginning of the century ? The factory system is beating the home industries. Farming has been up till now a home industry. It must, if it wants to flourish, adopt the factory system. Suppose, instead of a hundred farmers in a district, each trying to sell 100 lb. of butter a week, you had a Creamery able to turn out 10,000 lb., and 1,000 lb. of cheese and more. At once you would find the dealers' objection done away with. There would be a great pro- ducer with whom to make bargains. Depend upon it, if the farmer could be primarily a producer of raw material, and could, as it were, simply feed a big central factory which would do all the marketing, the produce on which he depends would take a far higher position and be far more saleable. No doubt we shall be told in reply that we are proposing to take away a piece of the farmer's profit and. to give it to a new middleman, the farm- produce factory or creamery-owner. We admit the objection, but could not this be got over by co-operation among the farmers, as it has been in Ireland ? In Ireland the creameries proved a great blessing to the farmers, but they took a profit which seemed naturally to be the farmers'. It occurred to Mr. Horace Plunkett that the farmers might create their own creameries. After an infinity of trouble he induced them to combine and to start co-operative creameries. Hence, the profit the farmer lost by not selling his butter and cheese direct, he got returned to him in the shape of a Co-operative Society's dividend. At the same time, he has the butter trade put on a better basis. Why should not the same thing be done in England ? The labourers of Denmead have shown that they can co-operate in allotments. Let the farmers of a dairy district co-operate to start a creamery on a big enough Beale to meet and beat the foreign importers on their own ground. The accident of an over-sea export trade has made the Danish farmers adopt the factory system for agriculture earlier than we, and hence their power to take and keep the market. If, however, our farmers have the wit and energy to imitate them, there is plenty of hope for English agricul- ture, especially on the dairy side. We have got the cows, we have got the dairy-maids, and we shall very soon have the money if we only show a little more energy and elasticity, and do not cling to the futile belief that Pro- tection is the only cure for English agriculture.