From the January 1937 issue of The Southern Planter
There are approximately 6,800,000 farmers in the United States. Of these, about 2,860,000 or 42% are full tenants, renting all the land they operate. Another 10% of all farmers rent some land in addition to what they own.
Only 47%, less than half, of American farmers are full owners, and have title to all the land they operate.
The first count of farm tenants was made in 1880. At that time 25% of all farmers were tenants. Since that time, the number and percentage of farm tenants has grown every decade from 1930 to 1935 it is estimated that the number of arm tenants was increased by 200,000.
Tenancy is less prevalent in New England. Less than 7% of the farmers in Maine and Massachusetts are tenants. The highest percentages are found in the South, with about 70% of the farmers of Missouri classed as tenants. Corn Belt states, such as Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska, however, also have a higher than average percentage of farm tenants.
There are three major classes of tenants. Cash tenants pay their rent in money. Share tenants, the largest rough throughout the United States, operate the farms under their own direction and split the crops and livestock with the owner at the end of the year. Share croppers, most of whom are found in the Cotton Belt, usually possess no tools, equipment or capital, and have only their labor to offer. The landlord provides them with land, buildings, stock, tools, seed, and “furnishes” them with food, feed, and part or all of the fertilizer. The share cropper receives a part of the crop at harvest.
The average farm tenant in the United States moves to a new farm about every three years. This instability of tenure is the root of the tenancy problem. Farmers with only a brief occupancy of the land they till cannot afford to build up the soil, prevent erosion, or improve farm buildings. Consequently, farm tenancy has become associated with such factors as soil depletion ad low living standards.
Tenancy was once considered “a step on the ladder to farm ownership.” Many young farmers started out by becoming tenants. Today, there is a growing number of older farmers among tenants, showing that the upward shift form tenancy to ownership is not made so frequently. In fact, the progress has to a large extent been reversed, owners becoming tenants through foreclosure and loss of their farms.