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It must, however, be noticed that under the system of cooperative colonies economic success must be purchased by some sacrifice of the social advantages which are justly claimed for small holdings. The members of the colony are held in leading strings ; they are under discipline and obey instructions. They cannot, it is true, become unprogressive and conservative. But they are not trained in those habits of independence, initiative, and self-reliance, which render individual small holders valuable assets to the State; nor do they obtain that freedom from control which is dear to those who desire to call no man master. The cooperative framework will, it is to be hoped, be so constructed as to allow in the future the utmost possible exercise of individualism. In the initial stages of the enterprise, it is all-important that the colony should be started on right lines. Spoonfeeding is necessary. But it may be hoped that eventually the guidance of the expert and the supervision of the instructors may be relaxed, if not dispensed with altogether, when once the members have mastered the principles of their industry, and have learned to work together without the paternal despotism which is inconsistent with true cooperation. If the colony meets the economic difficulty only at the expense of some of the social advantages, it cannot be regarded as anything more than a means to an end, a transitional educational stage in the evolution of the small holder. The virtues of the class are not created in a day; but colonies organised on the proposed lines will be valuable training schools. More than is, if they are more or less completely organised before the settlers are placed upon the land, they will protect inexperienced men from wasting their slender capital on ill-judged outlay, and prevent them from hampering themselves with business connexions from which they will find it difficult to get free. It is often contended that as many isolated small holdings have been formed as are capable of profitable working. Whether this is true or not, it must be admitted that in many instances there would be more prosperity if there were more expert guidance. Cooperative colonies, therefore, seem to offer a useful means of planting a larger population on the land, and of meeting the economic difficulties which, in the
initial stages of their industry, the settlers must expect to encounter.
As to the general policy of small holdings, the position is well summarised by Mr A. D. Hall in his admirable book on 'Agriculture after the War' (pp. 58–59): Compared with the industrialised farm, the small-holding colony will be a less efficient and more expensive producer; it is also indifferently adapted to farming for wheat and the other staple crops, and to the breeding and fattening of cattle and sheep. The establishment of a colony of small holders would also require more capital than would be wanted for an industrialised farm of the same area and giving employment to the same number of men, because of the extra cost of buildings, fencing, roads, etc., necessitated by the multiplicity of holdings. Nevertheless, as small holdings are justified by their social advantages, as they respond to certain real if not universal factors in human nature, the State may be expected after the war to continue and extend its former policy of promoting their creation and financing their establishment out of public funds. Having gone so far, and because the security for its loans depends upon the prosperity of the holders, the State should even in its own interest go a stage further and divide up no estate into small holdings without at the same time setting up an organisation for cooperative working, which alone can enable the small farmer to compete with the large producer.'
With these conclusions the present writer substantially agrees.
But it is suggested that the lessons of the war have forced upon the nation the advisability of increasing its home-grown supplies of the staple articles of food. Whether this greater degree of self-supporting independence is at the present moment the paramount consideration for this country, or whether it is less urgent than the settlement of a larger population on the land, may perhaps be disputed. It is at all events a matter of serious importance. We cannot extend without limit the cultivation of vegetables, fruit and flowers without trenching upon the resources available for the production of more essential articles. We may emphasise the social advantages of small holdings, and remove or modify their economic disadvantages; but we cannot afford to ignore our everyday need of bread and meat. Unless cooperative societies are found by
Vol. 226.--No. 448.
experience to be efficient factories of corn and beef, national safety demands that some limit should be placed on the immediate extension of small holdings in this as well as in the isolated form,
One of the strongest arguments that can be urged in favour of small holdings is that, in these democratic days, no industry, in which only a small section of the population is interested, can hope to obtain a proper share of attention or even of justice at the hands of the public or of Parliament. At the present time owners of land, tenant farmers, and agricultural labourers, present a divided front. Even the union of landlords and tenants is less secure than it was; and the class which is numerically the most important is opposed, and often bitterly opposed, to both. The basis of the landed interest must be broadened, or it will crumble to pieces. That broader basis in the national life can be best consolidated by the extension of small holdings. Commercially, they may be unsound; but socially, they make for contentment. The life of the small holder is often hard and grinding ; yet the man is a better citizen because of his independence. It probably will take years to make him all that he might be, and ought to be. He will need agricultural education; he will require the help of State capital; he will have to acquire some of the virtues of the French peasant. But, when once he is able to stand on his own feet, whether in this generation or the next, he will prove an invaluable national asset. No better material for the small holders of the future-whether owners or occupiers--can be found than the soldiers and sailors who have already proved their worth on the hardest of all fields.
It is not, therefore, in any spirit of hostility to the movement that a plea for cautious handling is urged. If the Government scheme is to proceed on the lines laid down, it is open to two obvious objections. There must be a considerable displacement of farmers and labourers to make room for the new settlers. A further objection is that the expense is necessarily heavy in proportion to the results obtained. From both these points of view, attention should be paid to the suggestion made by an anonymous correspondent in the Times (Reclamation of Waste Land,' June 12, 13, 14). He
proposes that the Government should use German prisoners, interned aliens, and conscientious objectors, in the national work of reclaiming cultivable land in Great Britain on scientific principles. At present, work of this kind is not undertaken because it will not pay. It means spending more on labour and fertilisers than the capital value of the land. The principal item in the cost is labour, of which, at the present moment, the Government commands a large and cheap supply. The opportunity is, therefore, unique. Some of the reclaimed land would be rich alluvial soil. The bulk of it would be light or sandy in character, easily worked and capable under scientific treatment of bearing useful crops. If the money, which under the Government scheme is to be spent upon individuals, were put into the reclaimed soil, the land would rapidly improve in value, add to the agricultural wealth of the country, and provide a large vacant area on which the new settlers might be profitably placed. The suggestion at least deserves consideration. In the hands of Mr A. D. Hall, the Development Commissioner, whose reputation for knowledge of the chemistry of the soil and the properties of fertilisers is European, the enterprise of reclamation would have the best possible chance of success,
By whatever means small holders are placed upon the land, the most formidable difficulty for them as well as for all other agriculturists is the weather. No legislative enactment can alter the barometer as it has already altered the clock. Apart from this capricious source both of fortune and of misfortune, market-gardeners suffer most from the competition of foreign producers and from the want either of capital or of cheap credit. On both these points a few words may be said.
First, as to competition. One of the necessary conditions of success for a small holder is a remunerative price for his produce. Probably the multiplication of the number of market-gardeners and the increased competition in the supply of flowers, fruit and vegetables will result in a lower range of prices. The fall may possibly be accentuated by a decline in the purchasing power of the nation when peace is declared. Presumably, supply and demand will be adjusted in the ordinary
way by the industry becoming less overstocked. But the process is severe on individuals; and for this reason, if for no other, the State should be careful not to encourage too many small occupiers to embark in this branch of the agricultural industry. It does not seem probable that any attempt will be made to restrict competition by imposing duties on foreign imports. Taxes on imported food may be considered necessary for the benefit of the country as a whole; but they seem to be the last form in which the principle of tariffs will be acceptable to the nation. As a body, urban wage-earners are opposed to any such taxation, because they believe that it would result in higher prices for food and a consequent reduction in the real value of their wages. They may be open to conviction on a point which is certainly open to argument. But the issue need not be raised here. All parties would certainly agree that foreign producers ought not to be brought into the English market on more favourable terms than home producers obtain. Yet this is what, as English market-gardeners contend, our English railways do for foreigners.
The point is intricate ; but to home producers of vegetables, fruit and flowers, some of which are lowpriced and perishable and therefore require cheap and quick delivery, it is one of great importance. It is mentioned now, because there is a favourable opportunity to investigate all the circumstances which militate against the prosperity of small holders, and to remove any artificial obstacles to their success. No one suggests that the English Railway Companies are acting illegally; on the contrary, as the law stands and has been interpreted in the courts, their action is justified. It may even be admitted that the policy of the Companies is to the interest, not only of their shareholders, but of the consumer. The grievance is a grievance of home producers. Put shortly, it is this. English market-gardeners, raising their produce for a home retail market, are told by the railways that, in tendering their goods for carriage, they must conform to conditions which are suitable, and indeed necessary, for the foreign producer who grows for a wholesale export trade. If they can, and do, conform, then they will receive the same favourable treatment as the foreigner; if they cannot, or will not,