BUMPS IN A BUMPER CROP
something of awe in the manner in which Farmer Elder heard the story, simple as it was.
“You say," he repeated, as though he was struggling to grasp the full significance of the thing, “you say that Sid Siderman’s son way out in Saskatchewan has got a crop of fifteen thousand bushels of grain in one year! Gad!”
Then as though it were still a dream, he mumbled again:
“Sid Siderman’s son Sandy has got ten thousand bushels of. wheat, and five thousand bushels of oats. Do you hear that, Maria?
.... How many years we’d have to work to get fifteen thousand bushels, goodness only knows.”
For Farmer Elder was back in Old Ontario where wealth creeps upon the farming community in a stealthy way and not with great leaps and bounds, and he was'hearing one of those rosy stories which have the habit of
drifting down east, or “back home” asit were, in an airy way, to stir up the wealth-lust of the youthful to daring things, even to a migration to the Great Plains beyond.
“We could have gone West at the same time as Sandy Siderman,” Farmer Elder ruminated. “The railways was pretty nigh paying you to go that Spring; but Maria didn’t want to tear up the old home. . . .So we’re here yet, slugging along in Old Ontario, and Sandy Siderman has got fifteen thousand bushels in one year.”
Farmer Elder sighed; but Maria merely shrugged her shoulders, cast her glances strayingly about the old familiar scenes, and was content.
As for the Farmer Elders in Eastern Canada, there has been a legion of them in years past. They are the men who, because of the Marias, or the sweeping view from the hill on the back fifty, or the chirruping songs of birds in the springtime, or some one of a hundred other reasons, have refused to hearken to the lure of the West. They are the men who did not join in the stampede of migration some thirty years ago; they are the men who turned deaf ears to those countless stories of free-rolling gold on the western plains of wheat; and now, in their older years, they gather around the post offices of Old Ontario, or at the corner store, or at any one of a thousand other places; they let those stories of the West creep past their old reserve, and they shake their heads and sigh and whisper to each other:
‘Now, if I had only gone West that same Spring as Sandy Siderman!”
If they had only gone? Doubtless to-day they would have been a Sandy Siderman, telling the best tale first, putting the best foot forward, smiling in the face of grim reality which torments, tossing the last two-bits across the counter for a cigar which serves but one purpose in the scheme of existence, and that to advertise to the world the fact that a real Westerner can grin and bear it.
For in spreading abroad that story of fifteen thousand bushels of grain in one year, Sandy Siderman was telling his best tale first.
These pages doubtless will be a solace to the Farmer Elders who did not go West in the heydey of their youth; and yet they are not intended primarily for Farmer Elder at all. They are, instead, intended as a tribute to the courage of the Sandy Sidermans who can still grin in the face of it all, after they have told their best tale first and have found nothing beyond.
For there are plenty of Sandy Sidermans who, after the reckoning of the bumper crop has been made, will send out that story of fifteen thousand bushels of grain, and who then will find nothing beyond.
Sounds strange, perhaps ridiculous, to say that a man can have fifteen thousand bushels of grain in one year, and yet have nothing. Yet it is a grim fact. It is one of the spectres of the West of which the East doubtless knows little or nothing; and yet in the past few years it has grown up to be so much a part of the story of the West that it has become almost a monotony.
If you doubt, ask the bankers. They know the dark side of the bright story which Sandy Siderman has so often sent back home in the years of the past. Ask the trust and loan companies, the mortgage concerns, the crop and farm lien firms, the'insurance people, the railways, the farm, implement factories, or even the small stores dotted over the plains; for they all know the story of the man who had fifteen thousand bushels of grain in one year, and who yet had nothing.
/"ANE might as well admit frankly that this is a plea for the West, a plea that the East should attempt to understand something of the problems of the West, that it should wash its mind clear of all thought of envy or rebuke, and that, in looking at a bumper crop in the West, it should look through the eyes of the West instead of those of the East.
For fifteen thousand bushels of grain on the plains of Saskatchewan are not fifteen thousand bushels on the fields of Oxford County, and the man who attempts to view them in the same light or look at them through the same pair of eyes is doomed to disappointment when it comes down to a settlement of the problems of the farflung areas of Canada.
“Fifteen thousand bushels,” Farmer Elder harps, for we cannot keep him away from the point, “just think, Maria, if we had that, we’d be rich in a day. I suppose Sandy Siderman will be coming back home this Winter with a coon-skin coat, and he’ll be kinda condescending
to call on us. Well, for me, I won’t bear no hard feelings if he is a bit uppish. ...Say, Maria, if we only had that fifteen thousand bushels . .. !”
Yes, if Farmer Elder had it down in Oxford County or in York or Glengarry, or in any other part of Old Ontario, it would make itself heard when he strolled through the Automobile Show with Maria on his left arm; but out in Saskatchewan!? Well, that’s different.
For up to this minute, Sandy Siderman has told his best tale first, and because he has tried to grin while he told it, you have not taken time to turn it over and look at the gloomy side. And there is a dark side.
“You don’t say?” says Farmer Elder. “It can’t be possible.”
Yes, Farmer Elder, it is perfectly true. It is regrettable; and it seems impossible, but it is a fact.
Sandy Siderman was seized last week and his affairs are now in the hands of the sheriff. Seems unbelievable, doesn’tit? 'NJ ( “Seized? Out of the question, with fifteen x thousand bushels of grain!”
Out of the question, of course; but nevertheless true. Why?
For the simple reason that Sandy Siderman was croppoor, as other Westerners have found themselves landpoor. In other words, at the prevailing wheat prices, it cost more to raise 15,000 bushels of grain than they produced on the market. That naturally drags in the question of the Wheat Board, which is not, and the price of wheat, and a few other knotty problems. But for the meantime, suppose we stick to Sandy Siderman.
The Case of Sandy Siderman
CANDY is not a person of fiction. On the other hand, ^ he is too drastically real and his doubles are scattered all over the three Western provinces in numbers which run into the thousands, but which have not been accurately counted. For the West does not like to advertise its Sandy Sidermans any too blatantly. It talks about them on the side, it admits their existence when the matter is brought directly to official attention, and it wall even pull out a drawer of the filing-cabinet, and say:
“Yes, here are the names of the Sandy Sidermans for our district. Columns and columns of them....No, I wouldn’t like to say how many there are just around here, for this is a fine district and we don’t want it to get a bad name. ..”
Quite right. Nobody wants the West to get a bad name, so let us press no further for the percentage of Sandy Sidermans in the Center West. The writer, having seen a couple of filing-cabinets of papers dealing with the affairs of the Sandy Sidermans, is willing to concede their existence in some numbers; and th^next thing is to wonder how Sandy, with 15,000 bushels of grain, fell into the hands of the sheriff this Fall.
To begin with, Sandy is like many another human being—when the sky dawns rosy, he feels like trimming the world. He is a real character, living in the'West to this day; and if necessity demanded, his name could.be furnished, together with section locations and all the rest of it. The only fiction about him is the name, and that has been conceded because of the game fight he has put up.
To get back to the first, Sandy reached the West many years ago. He put up his ear y struggle, made good in his own modest way, but failed to send any of those plua to ratic stories back to the East. He was 6 doing well, and that was all. Possibly, in another ten years, he would have been able
to retire with a sufficient foundation for future ease; but along came the war.
Sandy, lured by the prices of war, plunged. He was guided more by mathematics than by reason, for he figured that if a half section of land could produce six thousand bushels of wheat at two dollars a bushel net, then two sections of land would produce just four times as much, and would, in a year or two, put him in the Packard class.
Good reasoning, by mathematics only.
He bought land, in all directions where neighbors could be persuaded to sell; but since odd neighbors here and there had been pondering the same harvest of the pencil, Sandy had to pay the price for his expansion, for he fell into that commercial quagmire which has been planted over so many hundreds of thousands of fertile lands in the West. He bought on either the one-third or the one-half crop agreement.
So when Sandy recovered from the buying fever, it was found that he had retired several other farming gentlemen to the nearby towns and that he was ostensibly the head of three whole sections of land. It was a proud moment in Sandy Siderman’s life, for wheat was still at two dollars a bushel, net, and the pencil had shown him that a couple of good crops would sweep aside his obligations to those retired gentlemen in towns and vil-
That, of course, was the beginning of Sandy’s tragedy, and it accounts for the fact that though he had 15,000 bushels of grain this year, he merely had it spread over his three sections of land for the sheriff to run about and put his tags on.
for Land with Wheat
GETTING down to an analysis of Sandy’s troubles, it appears that except for that onethird crop agreement of purchase for his lands, he could have struggled through. There are many in the West to-day who are ready to declare that type of land-sale agreement an iniquity, except for the man who sells. For it simply means that when Sandy Siderman bought one section from John Jones, he made no cash payment, but agreed that each year John Jones should have one third of the crop clear and that this should continue until the purchase price of the land had been paid. It meant as well, that when Sandy bought another section from Frank Smith, he agreed that each year Frank Smith should have one half of the crop, and that Sandy should try to struggle along on the rest. Looked at calmly, you see the possibilities of that. Sandy Siderman, first of all, needed scarcely any direct financial investment to load himself up with more land than he could work with hope of success; and the John Joneses and the Frank Smiths, being retired gentlemen in the towns, got one third or one half the crop—according to the stiffness of the bargain they could drive—without ever turning over a hand.
So far as Sandy Siderman was concerned, it meant that when his buying outbreak was over he had succeeded in driving two or three or four capable farmers into retirement, he had grouped their lands under his control and had obligated himself to turn over sometimes a third and sometimes a half of his crop to the gentlemen he had forced into leisure. He had reduced the working staff and executive brains on those sections of land, he had loaded up the towns of a young country with citizens of leisure, and he had counted not at all upon the fluctuations of world commerce.
Even so, a careful study of Sandy's past seems to indicate that he could have survived the shocks of world depression if he had only clung to his original half-section of land and had declined to join in the popular pastime of a few years ago and load himself up with lands bought on the third or half crop scheme. The price collapse was bad enough for Sandy, but it was not that alone which brought the sheriff to camp on his doorstep this Fall and wait until those 15,000 bushels were threshed.
For here is the way Sandy’s crop turned out; and remember, as well, that Sandy is a real, living human being, with his fists gripped and his teeth clenched, ready to take a shake at the world next Spring.
On his three sections of land, he had managed to accumulate arrears of $1,429.95 on the year previous, and on top of that he had gone out and borrowed S599 to pay for a portion of this spring’s seed, and had a cash payment of $2,500 to make on one portion of the new land which he had not bought on the crop-share plan.
To illustrate, here is how one section of Sandy's land produced, subject to the entanglements of purchase.
Wheat produced on one half section, 3738 bushels, half to go to the original owner of the land, leaving Sandy 1869 bushels. Wheat on second half-section, 457 bushels, one third to go to former owner of land, Sandy being left 305 bushels; Flax, 360 bushels; Sandy’s share 240 bushels, valued at $324; Oats, 3160 bushels; Sandy’s share 2110 bushels. On the surface, it looks as though Sandy might still have a chance, but an analysis, as made by the sheriff, proved otherwise.
The wheat on that section was high grade, so it produced him 90 cents net on the farm, which, for 186 bushels, meant a revenue of $1,682.10. The flax, you will see from above, netted him $324. But his 2110 bushels of oats, unfortunately, returned Sandy a loss. Seems strange that 2110 bushels of oats could become a liability to Sandy, but. such is the case. Remember that Sandy had a crop of 3160 bushels, and he had to pay for the threshing of the whole lot at ten cents a bushel. Cost of threshing $316. His 2110 bushels netted him 16 cents a bushel on the farm, or a revenue of $337.60; but that makes no allowance whatever for the cost of cutting and the twine used. So, not to be too hard on Sandy, instead of declaring a loss there, we will just wipe the oats off the slate. That leaves Sandy a total revenue for that one section of $2,006.10.
Now, as to operating costs: Twine, $132.50; Wages for harvest help, $384; Threshing flax at 40 cents a bushel, $144; Threshing wheat at 15 cents a bushel, $629.25; Lien on seed grain, $599.
Total operating costs of $1,888.75.
Total operating revenue of $2,006.10.
So at the end of the season, after all Sandy's tugging of muscle and racking of brain he has $117.35 staring him in the face with which to meet the obligations of other years. That, of course, does not include all Sandy’s real operating costs, but just takes in the surface ones. For instance, no mention is made of the cost of feeding threshing gangs, which some estimate as high as five cents a bushel when the crops are thin and spread over wide areas such as Sandy now owns; and no allowance is made for the fact that this particular section controlled by Sandy Siderman is sixteen miles from the nearest elevator. On top of
As was mentioned above. Sandy may be slightly depressed, but he stills retains his courage and he had informed the sheriff that he is going to buckle in another spring and see if he can not overcome the handicap which the past has put upon him.
that, if one really wanted to get pessimistic with Sandy, he could point to the fact that there was considerable wear and tear on machinery, that there were horses which had to be fed, that there was an occasional pair of overalls which he should have bought, even if he did not; and that there were a hundred and one other incidental expenses inseparable from the operation of a farm the size of Sandy’s. So no wonder the sheriff is still camping around Sandy’s private elevators and that he is adjusting his own pet locks to the doorways.
"You see,” Sandy remarked to the sheriff the other day. “the biggest mistake I made was to buy land on that third or half-crop agreement plan. If I could only get those fellows to come back from the towns and villages, take their land back and work it themselves. we would all be set up in business. For if you look at my crop figures, you can see that I just nicely nosed out on top with only half the crop to go on. If the other half didn’t have to go to keep those fellows sitting around on their haunches in the town, I would be making good.”
On top of that Sandy blames the low prices, the lack of a Wheat Board and all the rest of those conditions which make for small returns. In analyzing that one section of Sandy's land, we allowed him 90 cents net for his wheat; but in the poor section where the frost nipped it before it had filled properly, the net price dropped as low as 59 cents.
“Guarantee me a dollar wheat and I will still make good,” Sandy declares, and then he goes into a long harangue about freight rates, operating costs and all those other features which lower the revenue of a Western farmer.
By dollar wheat he means a dollar on the farm, net, for the poorest grades, instead of this $1.19 or $1.25 or whatever it is that one sees quoted from day to day at Fort William or other points. For freight rates take a big slice out of that $1.19, the size of the s ice being regulated by the distance which Sandy is from the central markets.
Even the sheriff admits that Sandy is in something of a quagmire; but he has his own pet solution.
“Give them the dollar wheat net,” he declares. “They need it. And make those fellows who unloaded their land on the third and half crop agreement scheme get back on their old sections and work them. That’s the trouble. Too many got out from under in the boom days; and too many other fellows like Sandy thought they could grab up a few sections and work them just as well as they can a half section. Now they are learning that they can’t. They are finding out that a good crop on a half section, properly worked and owned outright , is worth much more than a skimpy crop on one or two full sections improperly worked and mortgaged up to the hilt by that half-crop thing. They’re killing the farming game; that’s what's wrong with them. Why, look at Sam Kirkoff. !”
So we looked at Sam Kirkoff, foreign-born and landgrabber though he is.
Taking a Look at Sam Kirkoff
KIRKOFF is another link in that chain of events which keeps the sheriff bolting about the country in a flivver and pasting his seals about the front gate, the private elevators and over the farm machinery and the backs of the saddle horses of some portions of the West. Kirkoff really had a bigger grabbing eye than hail Sandy Siderman, for lie controls 1.015 acres bought from the original owners on the one-third crop agreement, and he has 275 acres which he picked up so late this spring and worked so rapidly that his crop on that portion averaged him only seven bushels an acre.
But on t he whole, Kirkoff seemed to be doing well, lits crop beat out. Sandy Siderman by many thousands of bushels, for he netted 15,000 bushels of wheat and Continued on page 46
Bumps in a Bumper Crop
Continued from page 29
6.000 bushels of oats. Another of those tremendous crops, when viewed through the envious eyes of Farmer Elder, and doubtless another of those stories which make the East say that the West is rolling in wealth; but likewise it is a story which needs turning over for a look at the gloomy side. Suppose that land had remained in the hands of the original half dozen homesteaders, there never would have been any story running eastward about a foreign-born gentleman cropping
21.000 bushels of grain in one year. Nor would there have been any of those third-crop agreements which wrecked the greed of the foreigner.
Here is what happened to Kirkoff’s
15.000 bushels of wheat:
5,000 bushels went to the original holders of the land; 3,400 bushels were needed to pay off the seed grain lien; 3,600 bushels squared the threshing account, and 2,200 bushels met the bill for twine and harvest labor. Balance, 800 bushels, left to Sammy Kirkoff, to meet the odds and ends of a year’s operation.
Now, take the story of the whole 11,000 bushels of wheat and oats combined. He sold one carload of wheat at $1.18 a bushel, but the balance, being lower grade, ran from 69 to 82 cents a bushel. Of the 6,000 bushels of oats, after paying ten cents a bushel for threshing, there was not much left ; but after the former holders of the land had received their third of the crop, and after an outstanding account of $2,093.56, lien on seed grain, had been squared, there was left to Kirkoff just $5,818.75. And here is the way the bulk of that vanished: Threshing account, $2,550; Seed grain lien from previous year, $1,525; Twine, $650; Wages of ten men during harvest alone. $900. . Making a total of $5,625.
In other words, we find Sam Kirkoff with a balance of $193.75 on his hands to pay off mortgages totaling $4,400 incurred on stock, farm machinery and other odds and ends, and to meet the wage and feed and all other bills for running 1,290 acres of land for that portion of the year not included in the harvest period.
The Seat of the Trouble
AND with a crop of 21,000 bushels?” you ask, as you find it hard to credit. “Then what in the worldisthetrouble?” The primary trouble, of course, was that Sam Kirkoff was a land-grabber; at least that, is what sheriffs and parliamentarians and others in position of authority say about it.
“No person can work 1,200 acres of land properly, without an army of men about him,” the sheriff says, “and least of all would Kirkoff hire enough men when he had so many other bills against him. No, there is only one way out of it. We will have to split up Kirkoff’s farms into a half dozen pieces; so if any of those gentlemen under the shade trees will come out and throw on the overalls again we will receive them with open arms.”
So would Sammy and Sandy.
Yes, that is one of the troubles; the
West started to retire before the job was half done, and now the officials are scurrying around and are wondering where they are going to get the necessary population to finish the job.
“Smaller farms, and work them; don’t mine them, for every mine plays out in time,” so they say. “And stop that half and third crop agreement; for if you look around, you will find that over fifty per cent, of the men now in the hands of the sheriff are there because they overbought on the crop-sharing plan. Why, just look at Ivan Yanhow.
So we looked at Ivan Yanhow, another foreign-born and another foreign landgrabber though he is.
Meet Ivan Yanhow
TVAN, through his own eyes, is one of
the kings of them all; for he acquired six sections, all on the half-crop plan. Foolish Ivan. He had 28,000 bushels of grain this year: 15,000 of wheat, 10.000 of oats, and 3,000 of barley. But half of it was whisked away and fell in the pockets of those gentlemen under the shade trees; the threshing account took up another quarter, and the remaining quarter was not enough to meet wages, twine account, taxes, etc. Besides, the crop, what there was left of it to Ivan, had to be hauled 14 miles to find a market. When the sheriff walked around to see him just as the crop was being threshed, Ivan threw up his hands and said:
“Take the whole thing; I’ll get out.”
But the Trust Company, it developed, would not even take the estate, with its
28,000 bushels of grain. It wasn’t worth it. Because Ivan had agreed to pay $70,000 for the land some day or other, on that half-crop agreement; and he had acquired another $25,000 in liabilities for machinery and other equipment. No, the Trust Company would not have it; so Ivan is going to plug along for another year and see what he can do with it; but he has sent out the rescue call to some of those gentlemen under the shade trees to come back and take the land off his hands.
“The original owners could work it at a profit,” the officials admit, “but at the present prices for grain, no man can step in, work the land in a hap-hazard manner, give half the crop away, and then hope to keep out of the hands of the sheriff. Stop the land-grabbing, and let us get back to the stage where every man owns his own farm and works it.”
Still, it appears that the land-grabbing has met its Marne already; the chief thing that remains is for Sandy Siderman, Sam Kirkoff and Ivan Yanhow to work out a graceful means of retreat. If the gentlemen of leisure hear the rescue call, all well and good; much of the solution will be there. But if they are listening to the jazz record on the phonograph instead? Ivan says he will try it but one season more, and if the break in his luck doesn’t come, or if he fails to get his dollar wheat, on the farm, then he will flit to other scenes. For he is foreignborn anyway. That means that Ivan’s
six sections fall hack into the hands of some trust company or other, and it means a new population stepping in to work them. It would probably mean the death-knell of the land-grabbing, with twelve good husky farmers working in a proper manner the twelve farms which Ivan could not work.
Perhaps it would be best, after all, if Ivan would flit. For Ivan, assuredly, has not added anything to the reputation or the prosperity of the West; and we hear all manner of stories about the boatloads of British emigrants hanging about the docks of Great Britain just waiting for (he signal to be raised.
That is the solution which some of the officials advance: Split up those big farms, go in for farming in an intensive way, and in a few years the sheriff will be the one to be seized up.
Frank Barber’s Case
FOR, speaking generally, it is not the man who owns his land outright who worries the sheriff, unless he has had a regular series of crop failures or something like that. There are, of course, men like Frank Barber, who own their land, have good crops from the standpoint of quantity, and who yet become bankrupt. Here is Barber’s trouble:
A year ago the crops were poor, so he started this season with executions of $1,000 against him. He threshed 5,800 bushels of wheat and 500 bushels of oats; but something was wrong with his chief crop. They graded it number three, and on the farm it brought him 54 cents a bushel. Total revenue, $2,862.
Cost of operating: Threshing, $1,220; Twine, $174.25; Wages, $397; Seed grain lien, $921; Hauling to elevator at eight cents a bushel, $164.65. . . Total, $2,876.90.
So that brings Barber out of his season with a loss of $14.90, to say nothing of taxes, or his own labor.
There is no use piling up illustrations, nor is there any attempt to claim that this situation is by any means general. As a matter of fact, the Frank Barbers are scarce except in those districts where there have been persistent crop failures from year to year. But Sandy Sidermans and the Sammy Kirkoffs are all too numerous.
Looking backward, some of the officials blame the two-and-three-dollar wheat of a few years ago for the whole situation of to-day. It was that vision of high prices which made land-grabbers, which led to skimpy working of the soil, and that hurried snatching of thin crops from large areas which it will take time to overcome. The Departments of Agriculture are now trying'to combat it, as are the various Government Experimental Farm stations, and as is the University of Saskatchewan.
From all those centers the message is constantly going out that the farms of the West must be worked more intensively, that stock should be raised more freely, that the day of the big farm and the swift wealth is over, that there should be a more careful study of regular rotation of crops instead of the constant sowing of wheat, that each man should endeavor to own the land he works and hold it free of financial encumbrances, that all Canada should get over the idea that the West is a land to mine instead of work; and that those who come to the West in the future should look upon it as their home instead of as the El Dorado over which one flits for a few seasons until he has picked up enough wealth to flit on again.
“Make the West a land of homes instead of a land of migrants, and you will hear the last of the Sammy Kirkoffs and the Sandy Sidermans,” says the sheriff who has made of the West his home, and who has watched the West since its sprouting days.
And of course the sheriff is right.