The Farmers' Union and the Tobacco Pool

KENTUCKY has been having an experience unique, costly, tragic, and probably to some extent valuable, with the farmers engaged in the chief agricultural industry of the state — growing tobacco. Some 80,000 of them, representing probably 400,000 of the population of the state, have been engaged in a union demonstration for the purpose of securing higher pay. The result has been in some sections anarchy, in all great distress. Fortunately, the movement in this case has not been among the growers of a necessary article of food. A strike of farmers to increase the price of bread, could it be carried out with the success and with the features which have accompanied the trouble in Kentucky, would throw the entire nation into turmoil. Flour and bread going up instantly would cause a readjustment of all wages and of all prices, so that for a considerable term of years the consequences would continue to be felt. If 80,000 farmers in each of the wheat states could be for one or two years as thoroughly organized as these tobaccogrowers have been in Kentucky, commercial and civil chaos would result.

On first thought, it appears impossible that any such movement should ever become general enough thus to affect the whole people. But the farmer is becoming a keen citizen. Educated, more or less wisely, by the cheaper magazines and the newspapers, to the methods and aggressions of the so-called trusts, awakened to a knowledge of the skill and impunity with which some capitalists break both civil and moral law, he is apparently becoming less devoted to his old ideal of the law, and more inclined to try these new ventures for himself. We have a multitude of indications of this on every hand. The new constitutions, such as that of Oklahoma, are designed to allow him wide latitude. In Texas, in Illinois, and in many other states, he has had passed anti-trust laws which specifically exempt the farmer from their terms. In Montana, Idaho, and Utah, the woolgrowers have combined to raise the price of their wares, and with considerable success. In the South, the cotton-growers, under the able leadership of Mr. Harvie Jordan, have held together for higher prices and for reduced acreage. They have pointed out clearly to the farmer that, if it costs him 7 cents a pound to raise cotton, and he raises ten bales to sell at 10 cents, he will make 3 cents a pound, or $150 cash profit; whereas if he raises only five bales, and the price goes to 15 cents, he will have a profit of 8 cents a pound, or $200 cash profit; he will only have done half as much work, and will have half his land left on which to grow other things. This sound reasoning holds many acres out of the cotton crop — until cotton goes so high that every farmer hastily plants all his acreage in the hope of getting the extra profit on his whole farm. Then comes the big drop, the price about equals the cost of production, the “ pool ” has failed, and the work is all to do again.

The farmers’-union movement has reached the point of establishing regular warehouses capitalized by farmers, in which the union man may hold his goods, drawing cash against them at the bank, refusing to sell at the cheap prices which prevail at harvest, and holding them until the later, higher price comes on. And there has grown up out of all this a still stronger movement, which has its headquarters now at Indianapolis, called the equity movement, intended to unite the farmers of the entire nation in a movement for more equitable living, in which the chief element is to secure a higher price for farm products. This equity movement — the American Society of Equity is its official style — has developed the method of “pooling crops” to the highest point that it has yet attained.

This method of pooling has now arrived at a test of a peculiar character, in which there has been pooled a crop which is by nature limited to a small area of production, and which is by financial manipulation limited to a small market for sale. That is, a trust having arisen in New York which was able to control the output, and therefore to make prices to suit itself, the farmers have answered this trust by forming under the equity society a union of their own, and going on a strike for higher prices. Combining the methods of labor union and capitalistic organization, they have chosen, not to fight the trust under the laws of the state, nor to attempt to build up its commercial rivals, but to battle with it in the open, fight it to a standstill, and compel it to dicker with their organization as an equal. The public is not considered in their arrangements. They have made no plans for humanity in general. If there is a good thing in this crop they intend to share it, and they wish to teach the trust that they have the power. The result cannot for a moment be in doubt. The movement in the end will fail. But in the mean time it has thrown so much light upon the farmer as a union man, and on the possibility of his striking, as to be worth study.

The union to which I refer is the Burley Tobacco Society, in Kentucky. It is organized to oppose the exactions of the American Tobacco Company of New Jersey.

Tobacco is grown in several distinct districts in Kentucky, and there, as elsewhere, each district has, by reason of soil or climate, a virtual monopoly of its own type. Down in the southwestern corner, in the so-called Black Patch, embracing several counties of Tennessee, a dark and heavy leaf is grown and fire-cured for the foreign trade. This is bought by government, or so-styled “ regie ” buyers. North of this is a heavy leaf stemmed for the British trade. North and east of this is the region in which a dark aircured leaf is grown for domestic uses. East of this, embracing all Blue Grass and extending to Maysville, is the Burley district, in which is grown the famous red and white Burley tobacco. Burley tobacco is a light fine-fibred leaf, which has to a large degree the property of absorbing licorice and other adulterants. It is therefore used for making sweet chewing tobaccos, — plug, twist, and fine-cut. Because of its peculiar fitness for this, the tobacco companies have for forty or fifty years made use of it in this way, and the popular brands, which are assets of no mean value, are based upon the public taste for this manipulated Burley.

Formerly Burley was grown only in the hill comities, and not at all in the Blue Grass. Under those conditions, with some dozens of concerns making and selling chewing tobaccos, competition for the best grades was keen; the farmers used their best skill in developing the weed, and prices ranged high, so that 22 cents was no unusual “ round price ” for a crop. A round price, be it said, is an average price for all the leaves, lugs, trash, bright leaves, and tips, which make up a crop. It embraces several sub-prices which may run from 10 cents for fliers and trash (at a 22-cent round) to 30 cents for the best bright-red leaves. At such prices the farmers of the hill counties were able to make rich living. But in the course of time two things happened. In Kentucky the high price of Burley tempted the Blue Grass farmers; they planted the weed and found it would grow in their wonderful soil, and produce twice as much per acre as on the hills. Forest after forest was felled to give the new land to tobacco, and the production rose faster than the demand. At the same time there was formed in the eastern financial market one coalition after another, each with an additional amount of watered stock, until the result was the American Tobacco Company, an immensely too-heavy concern, paying rich dividends on a huge volume of water, and controlling more than 80 per cent of the Burley output.

To produce Burley in the rich Blue Grass cost so much less than the current price, and the output was coming so much more abundantly than it was needed, that this big concern began putting down the price — a thing it was easily able to do — by refusing to pay more than a set sum for the crop. In this way it reduced the price to 6.5 cents a pound and proposed to reduce it further to 5.5 cents, in the hope of finding a minimum price which would supply the demand it had for Burley without encouraging the farmer to grow more, and would leave the trust the difference between this and the sale price (forty cents) as margin for profit. It did not, however, seek a truly normal price; but artificially stimulated production by paying to one or more favored farmers in each county about double the regular price, in order to arouse the same gambling instinct among their neighbors that the winning of a lottery prize arouses.

Almost all tobacco in Kentucky is grown upon the share-tenant system, and is the “ money crop ” of those who grow it. That is, instead of working a whole farm as a business proposition, conserving the soil, practicing advanced methods of rotation, and studying the markets to discover what may be grown on the land to return the highest value, the farmer sets aside his tobacco-land to raise his money, and uses the rest of the land for running support. A few acres of corn, a little rye, a little wheat, — the traditional crops,—and a more or less thin stand of blue grass, — these make up in the hill counties the burden of the poorly-tilled soil. Out of 300 acres, perhaps 90 acres will be suited for tobacco. The tobacco so drains this that it can be used for the crop only once in six years, and during the other five generally lies idle, or is set in clover. Thus a 300-acre farm has, in a given year, 15 acres of tobacco, which will keep entirely employed the families of two tenants. To them the landlord furnishes houses, stock, and tobacco-barns, corn-land, gardens, pasturage, money advance for living, and the tools to work the crop. In return, he takes half the produce of the corn-land — which is very little — and half the tobacco.

There is land in the hill counties that produces 1000 pounds to the acre in Burley. The average, however, is not over 800 pounds. The crop is the hardest of all crops to grow, requiring about 123 days’ labor from the tenant, and in busy times the assistance of all his family and some hired help. One man can grow only about four acres, and then requires help for “ worming,” “ suckering,” topping, and harvesting.

The crop is begun with a forcing-bed in early spring, and often is not marketed for sixteen months. At 10 cents a pound it returns to the landlord, in the hill counties, $40 to the acre, or $600 as the money return from a 300-acre farm in a year. Out of this he pays interest, taxes, insurance, and upkeep on two tenant houses, several tobacco-barns (worth about $800 each), and the tenants’ stockbarns; pays taxes and interest on his idle 75 acres of tobacco-land; pays interest on perhaps $500 which he has advanced to his tenant; renews tools, and meets certain other expenses. The tenant hires help, works in the field himself, and at the end of the year has raised his own corn and hogs, has worked hard and continuously, has paid out perhaps $250 for help, insurance, paris green for spraying, and other necessities, and has at the end $300, or a cash profit of $50, for his year’s work. Sometimes he has not this, but remains in debt to his landlord. At 6.5 cents a pound Burley cannot be grown under decent living conditions in such counties as Mason, which produces now 7,000,000 pounds a year.

In Blue Grass there is no such sad tale. At 10 cents a pound, on land producing 2000 pounds to the acre, so easily tilled that a tenant can handle twice as much as on the hills, the return to the landlord may amount to $100 an acre, on land which may bear tobacco every fourth year and which in the intervening years bears abundant crops of clover, grass, or rye. The tenant who handles ten acres may receive $1000, out of which he may have $500 clear. And, at that, many tenants have bought the costly Blue Grass land for themselves. The price of 6.5 cents just about meets the cost of production in this region, and means beggary for the hills.

Pooling tobacco in Kentucky started down in the Black Patch, or received its greatest impetus there. The regie buyers combined, or were formed into a combination by their superiors, and the Patch was districted, each man being given an exclusive territory, and no farmer being allowed to sell to any one but his own buyer. In this way a set price as low as four cents was made, and the farmer had no option but to take it; no option, at least, that was open to the farmer not rich enough to ship his crop to Bremen and seek European competition.

In this situation a group of canny planters formed a tight little corporation of $200 capital, for the avowed purpose of holding, handling, buying, and selling tobacco. They induced about a thousand of their neighbors — there are forty thousand dark-tobacco growers in the Patch — to pledge their crops with them, and they planned to hold this much off the market and compel the regie buyers to pay a higher price for it. This proving popular, they soon had five thousand pledges. Then they — or interests closely allied with them — organized a band of Ku-Klux, called Night Riders, who, first by so-called “ peace armies,” and then by raiding at night all who resisted, frightened or forced — during the next three years — all the forty thousand to sign.

The tight little corporation thus had a monopoly of the dark tobacco. It forced the regie buyers to pay a price raised by slow degrees to 11 cents round, exacted large commissions and profits, — as much as 1500 per cent a year on the capital, — and now controls the Black Patch absolutely. All its pledges expire in January, 1909, and the situation will then become anarchistic. The success of this Black Patch plan was entirely due to the employment of Night Riders, who correspond to the professional “ sluggers ” of a labor union, or the hired assassins of a Black-Hand league. Both Kentucky and Tennessee were at the time suffering from weak state administrations, neither Governor Beckham nor Governor Patterson caring to endanger his political fences by risking the enmity of the Night Riders and their friends. So, with a series of horrors such as no city union has ever equaled, these Ku-Klux swept over the Patch, burning cities, destroying homes, burning barns, shooting men and women, until from very terror the great majority of planters, unable to secure state protection, joined the association and pledged their tobacco to the little corporation. In this way it came to handle nearly 100,000,000 pounds in a year, and, absolutely controlling the market, forced the price up step by step until it now has reached 11 cents. This is a very high price for dark tobacco. It can be maintained only so long as the association is held together. As this is not a voluntary association, but a private trust, into alliance with which the individuals have been herded by an army, there is no doubt that the expiration of 40,000 pledges in January next will see the Patch plunged into trouble and both association and Night Riders fighting for life.

Kentucky is, however, no longer under the Beckham rule. Governor Willson, who was honored with a doctorate by Harvard last June, is a man of different fibre. He has covered every county in which the Night Riders have appeared, or threatened to appear, with militia, and is bending every effort to restore law and order, and to end this species of anarchy.

The partial success of the Black-Patch combination stirred up the Burley planters to form a pool of their own. It is remarkable in this, that while it was the hard-driven hill-county men who began the agitation, it was the prosperous landlords of the Blue Grass who took the lead and carried out the plans; for these owners of rich plantations have been more bitter over the decimation of their abundance than the others over the passing of their livelihood.

The movement of the Burley Pool took shape in the formation of the Burley Tobacco Society, an organization allied with the American Society of Equity, and working under its general plan. J. Campbell Cantrill, state president of the Equity Society, took the lead in directing the organization; and Clarence Lebus, a speculator in tobacco, became president of the new concern. The two societies worked in common. A plan was devised by which the Burley Society in each county should make a pool of all the 1906 crop, and should hold it off the market until the price went up so high that it could be sold at a round price of 15 cents a pound. The Equity Society aided this, not only by agitation but by organizing local warehouses in which the pool crops could be stored, so that money could be raised on them. About 50,000,000 pounds, perhaps a third of the 1906 crop, was thus pledged and held. Some of this was held in common. That is, in some counties all the tobacco was entered at the round price of 15 cents, and thereafter, whenever any was sold, the money was divided pro rata among the whole county membership. In other counties, individual lots were held separately, but all for the same round price.

The headquarters of the pool were established at Winchester, Kentucky, and there in a big warehouse ware gathered the samples or types, one sample representing each hogshead in the pool — 45,000 or 50,000 in all. This 1906 tobacco was a bad crop, but the supply was large, and the end of the year found the tobacco companies well supplied, and Burley selling at from 7 to 8 cents. The pool remained unsold. The Burley Society had pledged itself to advance onehalf the held price, or 7.5 cents on every pound, to the farmers, and this made the success of the scheme, for there was as much in this advance as there was in marketing the tobacco, and the farmer took a gambling chance for more. However, the financing arrangements did not always succeed; but the local bankers in many counties advanced 5 cents a pound or more on warehouse receipts, and as a general thing the members of the pool were satisfied.

In 1907 there was planted an unusually large acreage of Burley, the pool-growers planting their usual crops, and outsiders going in more heavily. The agitation by the Equity Society and the Burley Society was kept up, until one after another the farmers came under the shelter of the association, and about 115,000,000, or possibly 125,000,000, pounds were pledged.

Meanwhile the Equity Society had been playing at politics. In order to strengthen its position, it had gone into the legislature and secured several new laws. It is a curious commentary on the hopes of the farmers, that these were not directed toward destroying the American Tobacco Company, or intended to hurt any other trust. They were, on the contrary, trust-empowering, designed to provide for the development of a secure trust in agricultural products which would be as safe within the law as the Tobacco Company without it. The constitution of Kentucky makes it mandatory upon the legislature to enact laws making it an offense for any persons or corporations to combine or pool any objects to enhance their price. The legislature, however, being strongly affected by the agricultural population, passed a bill providing that persons “ engaged in agriculture ” might combine or pool “ products of agriculture grown by themselves, in order to secure a better price for them.”

It provided further that such persons might pledge their crops to an agent, or to the pool as agent, and that it should be an offense for any person to persuade any pledged member to withdraw from the pool or to buy any pledged or pooled tobacco except through the regular officers of the pool. Securely intrenched in these unconstitutional statutes, the Burley Society continued its campaign. It made no attack on the trust, nor the trust on it, for by a peculiar working it was certain that neither had any real cause to oppose the other.

This was because the new pool was strangling all competition to the American Tobacco Company. The trust controls about eighty per cent of the sales of tobacco manufactured from Burley. The other twenty per cent is controlled by a large number of small independents. There was one of these independents in Lexington, who, up to the time of the pool, was prospering extremely. The low grades of Burley — trash and poor lugs — were then selling at about 2 to 4 cents a pound. The plug and twist and smoking tobaccos made from them were selling at about 25 to 34 cents a pound wholesale. Star navy, the standard of price, was at 42 cents. This Lexington manufacturer had gone wisely about his business, and finding he could go twice as far on cheap grades as on expensive, he had bought lugs and trash and fliers, and had built up a trade in cheap tobaccos. He had spent $150,000 in advertising, and was doing a business of $500,000 a year. He was typical of an increasing class. His method was to go into a city where the trust sold perhaps $50,000 worth in a year, and work his trade up to about $2000 a year. Then, keeping it at that figure, he would begin somewhere else, and in this way built up a widespread popularity. The trust could not afford to stand a loss on their big trade to knock out his little one.

In such competition there was hope for the Burley people. A lot of independents, properly encouraged, would soon have established free bidding in the markets, and the Tobacco Company would no longer have been able to control the price. These independents, however, soon found they were to have no credit with the pool, and no help from it. Instead of doing what it might well have done, —set aside certain grades for their use, or made them a concession of a certain percentage to increase their chances against the big monopoly, — it held strictly to one price and one treatment for all. It made the round price 15 cents, with lugs a little less, and high grades a little more.

The American Tobacco Company does its chief business on star navy plug and on certain other chewing and smoking brands which require high-priced leaf. It was able, however, to substitute a great deal of lower-class leaf and, by doctoring, still fill orders. So in the open market it bid the low grades higher and higher until, as the winter of 1907 approached, there was nothing to be had of any grade for less than 13 or 14 cents. Meanwhile the high grades, which should have fetched up to 26 cents, went begging, and when they were offered, the trust gathered them in at about 16. Harder and harder this worked upon the independents. The 1907 crop was coming in, but the pool would sell none of the cheap grades it contained until all the 1906 was off. That in the pool had hardly begun to move. In Louisville the “ breaks ” were almost empty. Large forces of office-hands and warehouse employees usually busy at that season were laid off. Business was stagnating. The free Burley, outside the pool, was coming in loose leaf to Lexington, and there the American Tobacco Company was taking it in, bidding up the low grades above the reach of the independents, and taking the high grades at the same low figures.

This could not go on and let the independents live. One by one they were crushed out of business. In June, 1908, when the open market was barren of tobacco, the trust was buying 16-cent grades of 1906 tobacco from the pool, the higher grades were still unsold, and there remained 100,000,000 pounds of 1907 pooled tobacco of all grades, which could not be sold till all of 1906 was off. The independent manufacturer at Lexington, on whom the neighborhood should have depended for competition and stable prices, had closed up his factory and quit. His investment was a loss. That trade which had cost $150,000 in advertising was now nothing. The farmers’ trust was as oppressive and as ruthless as that which it was fighting.

With the 1906 crop unsold, and 1907 coming in (and of this latter perhaps 25,000,000 pounds of pledged leaf was secretly or openly sold away from the pool), the Burley and Equity societies began an active campaign which has produced a result unique in America. They decided to go on strike and to grow no more Burley till they had sold what was on hand. This was not an educational campaign to induce the farmers to make more profitable use of their land. It was simply a strike. In the beginning all who could be so induced were persuaded to “ sign off ” the number of acres they would not grow. Upon members of the society this was mandatory. Many outsiders who had, thanks to the pool, sold off their own crops at 14 or 15 cents, felt that it was no more than fair to sign off a year and give the pool a chance to unload. To others the pool leaders made this statement (which I quote in substance as I heard J. Campbell Cantrill deliver it in a court house at New Castle, Henry County, to a crowd of tenant-farmers): —

“ You who are in the pool, I tell you to sit idle this year. You will get rich doing nothing. You have two crops of Burley in the pool. If you sell them for 15 cents each, there will be 25 cents coming back to you, and if you are idle there will be three years to divide it over. That will be 8 cents a pound a year. But if you grow tobacco this year the pool will be thrown on the market, and you will get only 4, or maybe 6, cents a pound for each year. Three years at 6 cents is 18 cents. Two years at 15, less cost of the pool, is 25. You will have more profit if you sit idle than if you work. But you who are not in the pool, let me say to you that if you grow tobacco enough to threaten our market, when your crop is almost ready we will dump 175,000,000 pounds of pooled tobacco on the market for what we can get. The market will drop to 2 cents or less, and you will not get enough for yours to pay to haul it to market. Now take your choice. Stand idle and help us — or we will ruin you.”

It was a gloomy prospect. Kentuckians were divided. Some thought that by growing they could get high prices; some feared just such a catastrophe as Cantrill had predicted. January and February of this year were periods of such tension in Kentucky as preceded the actual outbreak of the Civil War. Business was suspended, and the entire attention of the Burley region was centred on the problem of “ no crop for 1908.”

Through January and February, excitement over this movement grew steadily more intense; yet it was impossible to estimate how large an area would actually be “ cut out ” from the crop. As the time for burning plant-beds approached, the tale of night-riding in the Black Patch began to be told more and more through Burley. Emissaries from the Patch traveled in the Blue Grass country and made speeches. Cantrill and other leaders, while decrying such outbreaks, made speeches which contained the seed of the idea, and while telling the farmers not to indulge in violence, at the same time suggested that they could not be blamed for using a little force. In some counties, meetings of farmers became tremendously dramatic, as when, in Henry County, old Judge Ben F. Hill, after reading the Bill of Rights to his constituents, assembled in the court house, declared that he would uphold to the last ditch the right of every man to grow a crop if he so desired.

Governor Willson, who had his hands full with the violence in the Patch, announced that he would send militia to any section where trouble threatened. The whole state was on tiptoes, fearful, hesitant, —and then the plantbed season came, and with it came the night-riding. The leaders of the Burley movement were gentlemen of culture and refinement — in their business methods, as well as in daily life. They therefore tended naturally to the methods of the Wall Street financier, and fought the trust that way. But the plebiscite was composed of common, hardworking, often uncultured and unintelligent, working-men. They adopted naturally the methods of the labor union. Slugging became the order of the day. Though there was no concerted uprising in Burley, there were sporadic outbreaks from county to county. A farmer who had prepared to grow a crop was called to his door at midnight by his neighbors and shot to death. Barns were burned, plant-beds scraped, houses set afire, tobacco destroyed, and in a week Burley was an armed camp, filled with militia sent by a determined governor.

Nevertheless the harm was done. The certainty that sooner or later his neighbors would punish him had persuaded nearly every farmer to give up his crop. Here and there through Blue Grass some wealthy planter hired armed guards and set them over his fields, but in the main districts not a crop of tobacco was set out. In all the Burley there is being raised this year just about 16,000,000 pounds of Burley tobacco — a tenth of a crop. That is almost entirely in the outlying counties, such as Henry, where the organization is not complete, where the farms are more scattered, or where some determined man has taken a stand for law and order. Sixteen million pounds of Burley will not begin to supply the demand this year, and the Burley pool wil1 find its market. Before the spring of 1910, when the 1909 crop comes up for sale, the American Tobacco Company must have taken the old crops off their owners’ hands. Fifteen-cent Burley will have been achieved.

And to what end? Such a price cannot be artificially maintained. The taste for Burley products has been fostered by companies now in the American Tobacco Company. There are a thousand ways for them to wean the public from that taste. They can vary the method of manufacture and make those brands unpopular, while substituting something else for them. They can use only the cheaper Burleys and leave the costly leaves untouched. They can gradually introduce other varieties of weed into their plug, until they have entirely supplanted Burley. They can experiment and develop other fields where Burley or something like it can grow. And this they can afford to do if they can get their tobacco eventually at seven or eight cents a pound, which means to them a saving of ten million dollars a year over the 15-cent price.

If they do not make any such move, but continue to buy Burley, paying for the pooled tobacco what it commands, and getting the rest in the open market, what then ? The Blue Grass region in Kentucky alone can easily double its production of Burley, and if it is to have such a bonanza price it will quickly do so. The present shortage of labor wall be overcome by importing Italian or other immigrant workmen, and the market will be flooded with Burley produced in this way. If the members of the Equity Society prove more patriotic and more unselfish than the average of mankind, and refrain from growing a larger acreage, in order to keep the supply down, their neighbors, who are not members, will promptly take advantage of this and plant the more. And it is absurd to suppose that even in Kentucky, the state of the Ku-Klux, of the toll-gate raids, and of innumerable feuds, the lawless prevention of tobacco-growing can continue. Governor Willson while he remains in office will enforce order. And his successor, whoever he may be, must either follow that programme or plunge the state into a condition of civil disorder horrible to imagine. The hill counties of the state will continue to produce their extreme quantities of Burley. They cannot increase. But the production will rise from 160,000,000 to 240,000,000 or more, under such an abnormal condition as a price buoyed by pooling.

No market can stand such an overproduction. The crash will come very quickly, and the farmers will be worse off than before, with their tobacco a drug on the market.

Of course in the end the affair must be taken in hand sensibly and solved some other way. The American Tobacco Company may be violating the laws of the state. It certainly violates laws which exist in other states. But there is no law which can be passed which will prevent the monopolizing of a restricted business by a concern of this nature. Certain measures can be taken to mitigate this monopoly. Independent concerns can be fostered by law, and encouraged by the Equity Society, so as to assure a growing competition. Laws can be passed so regulating the sale of tobacco that many of the existing abuses will be remedied. No law can be passed and maintained which wall compel the monopoly to pay more than it is willing to pay for its crop. But much can be done toward reducing the overproduction which enables it to cut prices; and this can be done in the way of educating the farmer to better uses of his land.

It would seem that nothing could be simpler than to solve such a problem. “ Grow something else,” the world at large says to the hill-farmer. And if all the hills turned to something else, the shortage of Burley would send the price promptly up again. But growing something else is not so easy as it seems. The way to it is barred by ignorance — ignorance of many things. Set by lifelong tradition in the habit of tobacco-growing, the farmer points to his tenant-houses, his tobacco-barns, and his implements, and declares that all his capital is invested in this business. He asserts that his tenant knows how to grow nothing else with profit in it, that the traditional wheat and rye will not support life here. And this is true. But a tobacco-barn makes a stockbarn with very little alteration. Kentucky land raises fine corn, and Kentucky corn and grass and clover are as good for fattening fine stock as are those of Iowa. Chicago and Cincinnati are near markets, and this business alone ought to spell prosperity to many hill counties.

But the hill farmers are very poor farmers. All the horrors of soil-exhaustion and erosion which were described at the President’s Conference of Governors are here shown in their worst state. Shallow ploughing — three inches or so — followed by the scattering of a little fertilizer in the rows, the rotation of perhaps two crops, and the abandonment of old fields to wash away with the torrential rains — these leave the farmer poorer and his land more exhausted every year. Stock well handled, land deeply subsoiled and ploughed in with the rich fertilizer of the stock-barn, long rotation of crops, such as is practiced on the best Illinois land, the introduction of such market crops as potatoes, onions, and beans, and the terracing or sodding of the steepest hillsides and planting with hardy pecans, walnuts, fruit, or grapes — these things will transform the hill counties of the Burley region and render them independent of any trust.

And in the end that is part of the work which Kentucky must do for its people. Either through some outside organization, or through a state commission, it must educate, must spread the work of its agricultural experiment stations, until the hill counties, as well as Blue Grass, are conserving their soil and enriching themselves in crops of stable and permanent value. It would, indeed, be an economic saving if some law could be passed by which the state itself, or the counties, could assist its tobacco-farmers in getting their new start, loaning to them on their land to furnish needed new equipment, in order that the change may be sooner brought about.

Aside from that, there is room for considerable modification in the anti-trust laws and in the laws governing the sale of tobacco. The regie combination which began the trouble was caused by a desire to eliminate “ nested ” tobacco, or the insertion of poor leaves in a hogshead of good by the connivance of prizer and sampler. If the prizer and the sampler were bonded and held liable for the delivery, and if the state were to assume the liability when the prizer and sampler were found guiltless, and if this were provided for by a slight insurance fee charged at the prizing, there would have been no need for such combination. And if the South Carolina law forbidding combination to avoid competitive bidding on agricultural products had been in force, the regie combination could not have existed.

I do not, however, believe that any law can be passed which will prevent the monopolizing of a restricted crop, as the American Tobacco Company has monopolized Burley. Independent concerns can be fostered by law and encouraged by such organizations as the Burley Tobacco Society to insure some competition, but the monopoly will dodge this in some underhand way. As we have said, the monopoly cannot be compelled to pay more than it is willing to pay for its crop. It is only by shifting to some other crop that the state can create the shortage that will increase the price; and even then the monopoly need not necessarily give the larger figure, since it is the only buyer. Just as hemp was given up by the Kentucky farmers forty years ago, so they must solve this problem by giving up Burley.

It is, however, unprofitable for us to go further into the hypothetical future of the Kentucky tobacco regions. I have described their troubles in full, in order to illustrate what may happen when the producers of a given crop, or a large number of them, make up their minds to stand together. Agricultural colleges are turning out every year a better educated class of farmers. Newspapers, books, and magazines are carrying education into the farthest part of the country. The average wheat-grower is no longer part of a lump — he is a busy and intelligent citizen. He has seen combination tried in many ways. The time may easily come when the right agitator will be able for a year or for two years to hold a great number of wheat-growers together in a union.

It is as impossible to police the country at large as it is to police Kentucky. It is easier to organize a band to enforce some popular movement than to organize a home-defense squad to resist it. Night-riding over the entire wheat belt is no more an impossible supposition than night-riding over all Kentucky. There is a wide margin between the farmers’ price and the selling price for tobacco, so that the purchaser has as yet hardly felt the doubling of the farmers’ price. But in wheat the margin is small. A combination to put up wheat to $1.25, or to exact $1 on the farm, wherever that might be, would be felt quickly by the whole country. It would send flour soaring. It could not be maintained except by violence. In the end it would collapse. But the quondam success of the pooling movement in the Kentucky tobacco district suggests that the time is past when the agriculturist should be left out of the anti-trust laws, or when we should consider him as exempt from the union-labor agitation.