One of the Christmas gifts I received was a book from the Iowa State University library entitled, “Years of Struggle, The Farm Diary of Elmer G. Powers, 1931-1936.”
It is a book of excerpts from his daily diary that was diligently and literally recorded, considered to be one of the best of the era of the farm depression.
Elmer farmed six miles west of Ogden. I may share more in the future, but as we broach the New Year with a new president that is the most unpredictable in my lifetime, I thought that I would share Elmer’s perspective for the New Year as he perceived them to be in the 1930s.
Correct or not, there is optimism being expressed for the year ahead, for which I am admittedly agnostic. Elmer had some good fortune that allowed him to survive farming through The Great Depression. Though a Republican he put a lot of faith in Democrats penning many letters to then Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace, whom he revered.
While the current financial condition of agriculture is nowhere near as bleak as it was during the depression, history rhymes.
There are events from the 1930s that have yet to happen this cycle that I believe are likely to unfold. We don’t even have a new Secretary of Agriculture yet to send an e-mail to.
Excerpts from Elmer G. Powers’ book:
- Fri. Jan. 1, 1932. “Today is the beginning of a new year. I believe everyone is speculating more than usual as to what the New Year will bring to themselves and to all of us. Personally, I still think the farm is by far the best place of all. The future may not look so good from a financial standpoint.
“However, for many folks, the farm is more than a business and a place to try to accumulate wealth. It is life itself. First of all, the soil, the feel of the earth. The respect they have for it. The fields. The weather and the changing seasons. All life itself comes from these several things.
“Then there is the plant life. The crops. The trees. The livestock and poultry and all of their young things to be cared for. The responsibility of growing the food and flesh for a distant and often unappreciative city. Just to be close to and work with nature is one of life’s greatest opportunities.
- Wed. Jan 18, 1933. “I still do not seem to be able to work out a plan of farming for the coming season that I am certain will produce results regardless of how market conditions will be at the end of the season. A new clover variety plant offers some possibilities. If it is adaptable to our conditions, it would take next year yet to get it into production enough to show much profit.”
- Monday Jan. 1, 1934. “I wrote 1934 without any trouble today. Usually I always forget and write the old year for several days before I finally remember. The New Year is with us, came in today. I thought one year ago today, that with the passing of the old year things would be better for everyone.
“Perhaps it has. In a way, the old year was about the toughest one I ever had. The serious illness and the death of my father during last year is one of the greatest losses I can ever experience. Of course, one cannot keep his Father forever, but a few more years would certainly have meant much to me.
“Regarding the possibilities of the New Year, I always think of things as affecting all of the farm folks rather than myself as an individual. I am certainly wishing things would change. Except for the loan value of corn, everything is much the lowest in price that it has ever been. And the things the farm folks buy are mainly higher.
“There is some concern among farm people as to who will pay the extra expense of all that is being done? There is still the possibility that other industries will make a go of it again and agriculture will be left to get along as best it can.
“This has been the way it has been working in former years. Farm folks, as I talk to them, seem to be beginning the New Year with renewed hope, but with much apprehension.”
- Tue. Jan. 2, 1934. “We are beginning to hear much loose talk about the corn loans and perhaps some of it isn’t so loose at that. In many cases, the loan money did not reach as far as it was hoped that it would. With the loan money gone there isn’t much prospect until another crop is produced.
“One farmer took his loan money to the bank planning to pay the bank some and distribute the balance among creditors; however, the bank took all but $20 and now six merchants are suing the farmer. They cannot see anything for them until another crop and they are not in shape to continue so indefinitely.
“Some farmers have about decided that their credit is gone since they took a loan. Advance payments on the corn-hog plan will hardly get to needy farmers by March first and some of them are finding themselves in a more difficult position than they were before.”
- Wed. Jan 3, 1934. I spent a part of the morning listening on the radio. A farmer reads in the papers and magazines and listens on the radio (he could put in all of his time doing this and wouldn’t get it all) to all of the things they have been and are being done for him, and about how much better he is prospering now than he was a year ago.
“Then he goes out to work a little and reflect on how the whole thing just don’t fit together at all. From the amount of radio advertising there is on the air now, I am almost convinced that the other industries are off on a fair wave of business and prosperity and as usual, the farmer is furnishing the food and clothing for the nation and doing it at the same old loss.”
- Wed. Jan 1, 1936. “Today is the beginning of yet another New Year. And we farm folks are beginning the year with thoughts that are a mixture of hopeful anticipation and uneasy fear. Experience has taught us that some of the years are very unkind.
“The land and the farms usually are very good to us. Sometimes the weather and the markets and our other business associates are not fair or even decent in their treatment of us.
“Our increasing taxes are one of the many things that worry me. For the years of 1935 we have paid in excess of $2.00 per acre for the various taxes of all kinds. This is too much for a 160 acre farm. And if taxes worry me, I know they must worry many other farmers.”
As we begin 2017, some of the same concerns for agriculture raise their ugly heads as in Elmer Power’s diary … May God be with us as we head into the most unprecedented Presidential uncertainty of my lifetime and what that will mean for the farm community.
David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.
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