Agriculture as a Profession

Agriculture as a Profession


The word agriculture, derived from the Latin ager - a field plus culture, cultivation, meaning literally the cultivation of a field, the art or science of cultivating the ground, has gradually come to represent a great deal more than the original meaning was intended to convey. In Roman times, when class distinction played such a prominent part, the land was all owned by the patricians or upper class, while the actual labor of tilling the soil and its attendant duties was performed by the plebeians or lower class together with the helots or slaves. The land-owner was known as the farmer and was always respected, even looked up to, but, of course, he was never supposed to perform any manual labor. Such would have been beneath his dignity, but was quite proper for his inferiors.

From such standards, it can be readily surmised that farming at that date meant nothing more than a necessary means of sustaining life, and incidentally of providing labor for the uneducated and undisciplined population. From this fact we may also infer that practically nothing of scientific methods in agriculture was then in vogue. Somewhat similar conditions, we are told, existed in England and France during the Middle Ages (5th to 15th century). Agriculture has yet to receive a place among the leading industries. Manufacturing occupied the main attention of all classes. In most cases, there, a farmer was a tenant who was compelled to give a proportion (usually half) of his income to his landlord. Gradually, however, the common people got freer control of the land and began to take a more intelligent interest in its development. Jethro Tull and Jas Townsend were two of the pioneers in this respect; the latter following so successfully the cultivation of the turnip as to merit his title of “turnip Townsend.” It was about the same time that is was accidentally discovered that it was the potato tuber and not the vine which was intended for use. From then on this plant increased in popularity by leaps and bounds.

Now let us compare with these conditions our modern Canadian agriculture with all it entails. To us farming is not merely the growing of a certain crop. No person to-day would attempt to operate a mixed farm permanently without livestock forming his main basis. Should he do so, his methods are certain to spell failure in large letters. What has been the reason or list of reasons for such drastic changes in ideas and methods? To me it appears that a great many influences have been at work. I am speaking more particularly of Canada, because in it we believe is represented probably the highest standard of general farming anywhere to be found. It has already been named “The Granary of the World,” a tribute to the quality of its grain, particularly wheat. It has been largely in the British colonies and in the western European countries that scientific and intensive farming has been carried on. The pioneers found on landing in Canada a new country, sparsely populated, totally uncivilized and entirely underdeveloped. The first requirement was to get something to eat. By the way, it seems that eating has been a habit practiced as far back as history goes. Well, the old English, Irish, and Scotch emigrants were in for a job, but as time has shown, they were equal to the task. Eastern Canada, which naturally was first encountered, was chiefly forest. Thus began the long drawn-out contract of land-clearing. Naturally lumbering became an important industry, and building followed in turn. Once cleared, the land proved most productive, and the arduous labor of clearing had the after effect of influencing the settler to make the most use of his small clearance by thorough cultivation, harvesting, etc. Difficulty in obtaining foundation stock and seed led ultimately to the development of individual herds and varieties. Moreover, the fact that the individual himself was compelled to work his own land and not merely own it, proved a great factor in the uplift of the standard of the industry generally. Probably this latter effect was the most notable as well as most important. The farmer’s entire interest was centered in his farm, its development and its ability to produce the necessary livelihood. Thus interest gradually became affiliated with experiment; experiment grew into comparison; and comparison into wider and more united and insistent investigation. The final outcome was the recognition by the Governments of the importance of scientific agriculture, and in consequence the establishment in time of experimental stations and agricultural colleges. As yet, these are practically in their infancy. This is evidenced by the fact that comparatively few farmers in our Dominion have learned to take advantage of them, while some even try to ridicule them. So far, farming has failed to be considered as anything but an honest occupation, which is necessary in order that all classes may have food; that factory workers may have work; that manufacturers may be supplied with certain raw materials and assured of a market for machinery, etc.; and that the railroads may be very materially benefitted.

However, without the remotest shadow of a doubt, the word “farming” is coming to be far more comprehensive, and it is to be hoped that the day will soon dawn when agriculture s given its rightful allotment as a profession. Perhaps before many years men will find it necessary to qualify as professionals in order to keep pace with the development of the industry. To many people in our urban centres, the word “farmer” is very commonplace and is very lightly spoken of, sometimes even being looked upon in disgust. “Only a farmer,” have in the past been used as by-words, but their use in the last few years has very appreciably lessened. Of course, those in a position to understand should have paid no attention to such utterances. Their use was never anything but a sure and certain sign of gross ignorance on the part of the offender; but unhappily the effect of such on the farming industry has been only too apparent. To-day, however, when a man is introduced as a farmer people generally stop and take notice at least and rightly so.

What more complex subject could be imagined than agriculture? All its many branches, new ones cropping up every day and old ones becoming more intricate. The old and common belief that anyone could farm no longer holds sway. Time was, no doubt, and not so very remote either, when a rugged physique was the deciding factor between success and failure, and although it still remains important, it is no longer all important. People are only beginning to realize the possibilities in agriculture. The several branches, some of which have hitherto remained incognito and undeveloped are now shaping themselves into their proper location, and the interdependence of the several branches is being more completely understood and appreciated. We might go even farther, in fact, we have started on the way in the hope of discovering the true relationship of farming to other industries. Should this phase receive just and conscientious consideration, we may feel certain that a bright day is dawning for agriculture.

I have already intimated the rather ridiculous aspect taken towards farming as an occupation by the average urban dweller, due largely to ignorance of the facts. It has recently been commonly asserted, perhaps believed, that farmers were getting rich quick. Now, from even a limited experience I know that it is hopeless to try and convince such people the the contrary. Suffice it to say that farming is altogether too honest an occupation to belong to the get-rich-quick variety. However, when people actually desire to jump at unwarranted conclusions, nobody need try to prevent them. The surest evidence that any such belief is groundless lies in the fact that city would-be farmers have had their dreamy plans completely shattered in the primary stage. Experience is said to be a satisfactory teacher, and its application in such cases has proven the assertion to be true. No, everybody cannot farm successfully. The Almighty never intended such to be the case. By being successful, this world emphasizes the ability to collect (not exactly mass) worldly goods. There are occasional exceptions to this rule also, and personally I am of the opinion that the exceptions should be encouraged; but we must judge conditions by the standards as they exist. But to get back to our subject, Who should or should not farm? The question is a vexed one and cannot be settled satisfactorily by other than the individual himself. The industry, occupation or early profession, commonly known as farming, undoubtedly has its drawbacks, its unattractions. These need not be enumerated here; indeed they are too often emphasized. Every walk of life has such. If it were not so our civilization could not endure or develop to any degree beyond barbarism if even that, simply because everyone would start out with the same object in view and would land nowhere. Why? Simply because the supernatural plan of interdependence and interchangeability would be no longer possible. It must be self-evident to every sane person that there must be different industries and different inclinations in people in order that advancement may materialize. But is this any reason why any one class should be ranked subordinate to any other? Farmers and laborers have taken second place as regards to class distinction, and it is up to them, and they only, to redeem themselves and prevent unnecessary and undue humiliation in the future. Nineteen hundred and nineteen would appear to be the turning point in this respect, judging from the present trend of events. Organization, firstly by the more enthusiastic and ambitions and finally culminating in a thoroughly united understanding and object. Such a course would appear to be in process of experiment. Another fact worthy of note is the present-day meaning of capital, labor, and producer. The manufacturers, railroad companies and the more prominent professions are designated by the word “capital,” while those subservient to them are broadly and casually styled as “labor.” In other words, employers are the capitalists, while their employees are the labor. The movements on foot esponsed [sic] by distinguished leaders to establish means whereby these two classes can be brought to understand and appreciate each other's problems, are certainly bound to have the effect of mutual betterment in the long run. Why should not the other class, the producer, the farmer, be set on an equal basis with the capitalist? He too is a capitalist and employer in the industry of prime importance to the nation’s livelihood. Obviously the only possible objection lies in his lack of executive and organizing ability. But farmers are now becoming educated, are compelled to do so, and naturally the organization is following as a matter of course. Often when any person gets education other than the ordinary, it is taken for granted that the person intends to earn a living by his education, but of course not by farming. If he returns to the farm, he is constantly confronted with outbursts such as “Why don’t you go and get an easy job?” “You are only wasting your time.” “Do you not intend to make any use of your education?” Not only the city people, but people actually engaged in agriculture are guilty of such utterances. When viewed from this matter-of-fact angle, is it any wonder that agricultural education has been delayed or that the advancement in farming has been backward? Those who were the very best prepared to advance its cause were encouraged to leave the farm.

The intelligent observant person who is really anxious to live and not merely exist has all the necessary equipment at his disposal on the modern farm. Nature has provided unlimited material for observation and study in her soil, forest, rock, plants, the lower animals and in humanity itself. What better opportunity for study could be offered than is given the man on the land? And it is absolutely necessary for him to have considerable instruction before he can intelligently acquaint himself with the forces at work about him, and in order that he may derive the greatest benefit therefrom. To get the most out of farming and to rank with the really successful, a farmer must have unlimited knowledge. He must combine the scientist’s knowledge with that of the business man; must be a practical student of live stock and their diseases, of horticulture, bacteriology, chemistry, physics, botany and zoology, and above all he must be a keen observer of the changes to which our climate is susceptible, thus embracing a thorough knowledge of physical geography, and mayhap of astronomy. All these together with the very necessary qualities of sound physique, untiring energy, and faith in the industry itself are the requisites largely responsible for modern successful farming. Let us hope that all classes will soon come to a full realization of the producer’s problems and the greater encouragement and respect will be shown towards the industry, the value of which has been and must remain inestimable. Only can sincere consideration on the part of all contribute to the best interests of all and by so doing give agriculture its well-deserved rank. The time is now ripe and fully opportune for “professional agriculture.”

W. Mac Drummond


Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture

follow us on twitter #cdnaghistory