Is Land a Safe Investment?
Though it is true that farm land does not pass out of existence in a day, nevertheless it is by no means a safe investment, as witness the numerous abandoned farms in the older agricultural sections of this new country. It is easily possible for one of means to become land-poor—to have investments in land which will not pay the taxes and upkeep of buildings, fences and so forth. At prevailing prices for farm produce and labor there are vast areas of land in the older states far past the point of possible self-redemption; and, as a matter of business, one might better burn his money and save his energy than to expend all his resources in half-paying for such depleted land, depending upon the immediate income from it to raise a mortgage covering the unpaid balance.
Intelligent optimism is admirable, but fact is better than fiction; and blind bigotry paraded as optimism is dangerous and condemnable. Some one has said that such a bigot is not an optimist but a “cheerful idiot.” To purchase rich, well-watered land at a low price and become wealthy by merely waiting till the land increases in value tenfold, while making a living by taking fertility from the soil, has been easy and common in the great agricultural states during the last half-century. But, paradoxical as it may seem, land values have increased while fertility and productiveness have decreased and, with shorter days for higher priced and less efficient farm labor, with more middlemen absorbing the profits between the producer and the consumer, it is now difficult indeed to buy land with borrowed money and pay for it from subsequent farm profits. If continued soil depletion is practiced, ultimate failure is the only future for such investments.
That vast areas of land once cultivated with profit in the original thirteen states now lie agriculturally abandoned is common knowledge; and that the farm lands of the great Corn Belt and Wheat Belt of the North-Central states are even now undergoing the most rapid soil depletion ever witnessed is known to all who possess the facts. Unless this tendency is checked these lands will go the way of the abandoned farms.
Some Broad Facts
The United States Bureau of the Census reports that the total production of our five great grain crops—corn, wheat, oats, barley and rye—amounted to 4,414,000,000 bushels in 1899, and to 4,445,000,000 bushels in 1909, an increase of less than one per cent. Furthermore, if we assume the average production reported by the United States Department of Agriculture for the three-year periods 1898 to 1900 and 1908 to 1910 as the normal for 1899, and 1909, respectively, and compare these averages with the production actually reported by that department for 1899 and 1909, we find that as an average of all these crops 1909 was a slightly more favorable season than 1899, which indicates that with strictly comparable seasons the increase from 1899 to 1909 was less than 1/2 per cent in the production of these five great grain crops of the United States.