TENNESSEE: A GUIDE TO THE STATE
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The Great Seal of the State of Tennessee fittingly symbolizes Agriculture and Commerce, the twined warp upon which Tennessee's past and present have been woven. Even in prehistoric times the region supported an agricultural people, the Mound Builders, whose culture, like that of the Mayas of Central America, was based upon maize. Archeologists have unearthed their granaries and the baskets of corn which they buried as offerings with the dead.
Later the Cherokee and Chickasaw occupied the old village sites of the Mound Builders, and tilled the same cornfields in much the same simple manner.
The white hunters and trappers who came into the region in the early eighteenth century usually "hit a lick of farming" during the summer months. Along their routes they cleared small patches of ground in the crude Indian fashion and planted them with seed which they had likely bartered from the Indians. Months later they returned to harvest what crops chance had given them. Thus they provided themselves with corn and vegetables to go with their venison and bear meat.
In 1769 farmers from backwoods Virginia and Carolina began crossing the mountains to settle the fertile lands described by the hunters and trappers. Their farms were at first small and almost entirely self-sufficient. Plows, axes, hoes - often crude makeshifts - were their only iron tools. Practically every necessity was either grown on the place or made from materials from the surrounding hills and forests. This self-sufficiency remained a characteristic of small farmers in the State for generations and still persists to a degree remarkable in an age when the country has largely become one vast interlocked economic system.
From the first, corn was the chief crop because it was easily cultivated and because its prolific growth was favorable to hog raising. Thus Tennessee's first agricultural exports were bacon, lard, and corn whisky, all of which could be marketed readily in New Orleans, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Wheat and tobacco were soon added to the list of money crops and were exported in small quantities. Crops produced for home consumption included cotton, hemp, flax, indigo, timothy hay, and vegetables.
In East Tennessee, a high tumbled plateau area broken by innumerable narrow valleys and steep ridges, the size of the farms was limited. Middle Tennessee, however, was a region where hills were low and valleys wide, and the pioneer farm patches could grow as fast as the forest was cleared. Here large farm holdings became the rule. Because of this development - dictated by topography - Middle Tennessee was particularly suited for the wheat boom which came just after the turn of the century.
When it was discovered that Tennessee wheat matured early enough to be shipped to eastern markets ahead of the northern crop, farmers turned to wholesale wheat growing. The fever spread even to the small farmers of East Tennessee. But over-production brought collapse of the market, and Tennessee never regained its early lead as a wheat-growing region.
Farmers in East Tennessee - except for those in the fertile valley of the Tennessee River - returned to the pioneer type of small subsistence farms. In Middle Tennessee the farmers retained the system of specialized farming and its large profits. Many began raising tobacco and fruit as cash crops. Others turned to stock raising and dairying on the bluegrass pasture lands of the Central Basin where the mild climate minimized feeding costs. Arabian horses were imported as early as 1825, and Middle Tennessee became noted for breeding them. There was a growing demand for the sturdy Tennessee mule.
By 1810 improvements in the cotton gin and spinning machinery had created an enormous demand for cotton, and farmers in the middle part of the State feverishly planted it in their pastures and old wheat fields. Though some cotton was grown in East Tennessee, the quality was generally poor and the boom affected the region little. West Tennessee, with its tremendously fertile bottomlands hitherto left to the Chickasaw and a handful of white trappers and squatters, was ideal for cotton growing. In 1818 the region was purchased from the Chickasaw and settlers flocked in. Land was swiftly cleared, and by 1825 West Tennessee - the lower section in particular - had become one of the cotton growing centers of the Mid-South. Cotton showed a decline in Middle Tennessee during this period. Here the farmers could not compete with the vast crops produced by the slave-gang system of the newly cleared sections within the State and in Alabama and Mississippi.
With the lines of development clearly laid out for each division - small subsistence farms in the east; dairying, livestock raising, tobacco, and truck farming in the central part; and large-scale cotton production in the west - Tennessee entered upon an era of agricultural prosperity that continued until the War between the States. In 1854 the State's first agricultural bureau was formed with Governor Andrew Johnson as president and in the following year the first biennial fair was opened. Even before that, Tennessee farmers received international recognition at the Great Exhibition in London, where Colonel John Pope was given first place in the cotton exhibit, and Mark Cockrill received the same rating for his sheep. The census of 1860 showed approximately 82,000 farms under cultivation, with nearly seven million acres, valued at 340 million dollars.
Four years of war virtually wiped out the development of three-quarters of a century. The losses sustained by farmers were estimated at $115,000,000 exclusive of the losses of their slaves, who constituted one-third of the value of farm property in 1860. Not for forty years were farm values restored to the 1860 level.
During the Reconstruction period the farm tenancy system had its beginning in the State. Farmers, forced to borrow, found themselves unable to take up mortgages that fell due. With no other means of livelihood they became tenants on the farms they had once owned. Most of the freed slaves also became tenants. There was a sharp decline in the size of the average farm, partly because sales of land to raise funds for operating expenses greatly reduced individual holdings. The 1860 average of 251 acres dwindled by 1900 to 91. The 1929 depression caused further shrinkage, bringing the average (according to a 1935 census) to 73 acres. However, until 1930 the value of the land itself increased, reaching a peak valuation of $743,222,363 in that year. By 1935 the valuation had fallen to $556,000,000 and the proportion of tenants had materially increased. Of the 19 million acres in 273,783 farms, about one-third were in crops. Gross income, including livestock, approximated $164,000,000 in 1935. The average cash income of $600 was about the same as the Kentucky figure and higher than in most Southern States. Farmers now (1939) constitute 62.8 per cent of Tennessee's population. Of these, 18.18 per cent are sharecroppers, while 27.4 per cent rent farms outright and furnish their own stock and seed.
Corn always has been the leading crop in value and volume. For more than 50 years the State has had a yearly average of three million acres in corn. In 1935 the crop amounted to more than 60 million bushels. One third of the corn grown is the high-yield variety known as Neal's Paymaster. It is interesting to note that until 1904, when W. H. Neal of Lebanon developed this variety, most Tennessee farmers had been growing the same type of corn planted centuries before by the mound builders. The major part of the Tennessee crop is consumed in the region of its production. Sweet sorghum, from which thick brown molasses is made, is grown throughout the State and is one of the most important locally consumed crops.
Cotton, the second most valuable and the main cash crop, can be grown at a cost of as little as three cents a pound on some of the bottomland plantations, and with an occasional profit of from six to twelve cents on the pound. Production volume has varied considerably, with an almost continuous downward trend in the past few years. In 1936 the State produced 431,000 bales, averaging 500 pounds each.
Next in rank is the hay and forage crop, with a production in 1935 of 1,620,453 tons valued at $20,279,751. This includes timothy, planted since pioneer days; alfalfa and all types of clover, abundant in East Tennessee and in the Central Basin; and many other plants, such as millets, orchard grass, vetch, soybeans, cowpeas, Sudan grass, and Austrian peas. Tennessee farmers were pioneers in the introduction of lespedeza (Japanese clover), under the direction of the University of Tennessee College of Agriculture. Lespedeza has developed rapidly and constitutes an important new cash crop.
Tobacco has in recent years become the fourth most valuable crop in the State, second only to cotton in cash returns. Burley tobacco predominates in East Tennessee and the darkfired variety is generally planted in Middle Tennessee. The largest tobacco market in the State, at Greeneville, handles about 12,000,000 pounds a season, or about one-fifth of the entire burley crop of Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. The principal markets for dark tobacco are at Clarksville and Springfield. The combined 1935 crop of burley and darkfired tobaccos was estimated at more than 94 million pounds, valued at nearly $12,000,000.
The discovery that Tennessee hard wheat produced a damp-resisting flour which was highly water-absorbent in baking revived wheat production to some extent. It has never regained its former place and now ranks fifth in importance. In 1936 the 454,000 acres sown in wheat harvested 4,858,000 bushels.
Although Henry and Weakley Counties produce more than two-fifths of Tennessee's sweet potatoes, this crop can be grown in almost any part of the State. It did not become a commercial crop, however, until the curing house made possible shipment without decay. Tennessee's Nancy Hall sweet potato is widely in demand on the national market. The Irish (white) potato, among the first crops planted in Tennessee, was also difficult to market for many years. Since 1922, when the State Department of Agriculture put into effect a system of certifying seeds and standardizing varieties, spring and fall crops have been produced regularly. The average yearly production exceeds 5 million dollars. Middle Tennessee is noted for its peanut crop, which is more than 500,000 bushels annually. In only two other States, Virginia and North Carolina, are more peanuts produced.
The Tennessee peach, maturing immediately after the Georgia crop and before that of the northern States, is grown principally in Anderson Bradley, Hamilton, Knox, and Roane Counties. Apple trees thrive on the Cumberland Plateau and in parts of the Unaka Range and Smoky Mountains. One orchard near Mt. Le Conte produces 30,000 bushels in a normal season. Strawberries, the chief berry crop, are shipped from many parts of the State. The principal areas devoted to its cultivation are Gibson and Sumner Counties. About 16,000 acres are cultivated annually, yielding approximately 18 million quarts. Tennessee's wide variation in climate makes possible the production of both the cherry, which flourishes in extremely low temperatures, and the fig, which requires sub-tropical warmth.
Truck gardening and the specialized production of vegetables for canning factories constitute an important source of cash income in many localities, especially in Gibson and Cocke Counties. One of America's largest vegetable canneries began business about 1902 in Cocke County Tomatoes, the principal cannery crop, yield as much as $500 an acre in favorable years.
Tennessee, with about six million acres in pasturage, is well adapted to livestock raising and dairying. Most of this land is well watered and can be grazed all year. The purebred beef cattle industry, introduced in 1917, brought many excellent Angus, Hereford, Shorthorn, Polled, and Durham herds into the State. Five herds have won grand championships at international livestock exhibitions.
The coming of the motor age has dwarfed what was once another leading industry in the Central Basin - the breeding of thoroughbred horses. The number of horses on farms decreased from 333,000 in 1910 to 151,000 in 1936. But the Tennessee mule is still in great demand. In 1936 an estimated 791,000 mules were at work on Tennessee farms.
Sheep have been kept by many farmers since the early days, but only recently has it been discovered that the state's early spring gives Tennessee shippers of young lambs a distinct advantage in northern markets.
The early importance of hog raising has not diminished. From 1850 to 1860 Tennessee raised more hogs than any other State in the nation, with an average annual production of 3,000,000 heads. The industry never reached that dominant position again, although it is still an important factor in the farm program. In 1936 there were in Tennessee nearly one million hogs, valued at $8.40 per head.
Tennessee pioneered in testing milk for butterfat, to check the practice of watering. In 1889 Major W. J. Webster, of Columbia, made the first officially recorded butterfat test in the United States. In cooperation with the Bureau of Dairy Industry of the United States Department of Agriculture, the State Extension Service undertook a systematic regulation of dairy conditions, and national manufacturers of evaporated, condensed, and powdered milk, and of milk products were attracted to Tennessee. Such rapid progress was made that in 1925 the State's dairy products were valued at 40 million dollars. The decline in the price of milk during the depression, however, greatly reduced the value of both herds and products.
Another major source of cash income for the farmer is poultry. The combined value of eggs and poultry in 1935 exceeded $16,000,000. East Tennessee, with its small farms, leads the State; Morristown, in the northeast, and Cookeville, in Middle Tennessee, are among the largest poultry-shipping centers in the country.
Cooperative marketing of farm products is carried on in Tennessee in two divisions. One comprises the large incorporated associations with hundreds and sometimes thousands of member producers, who confine themselves to major products, or to those grown in considerable volume. The other consists of producers from a county or group of counties, who form smaller organizations in their own localities for joint marketing.
In 1877 a group of sheep-growers formed the Goodlettsville Lamb Club, the first lamb pool organized in the United States, and made its first sale in May 1878. One of the first southern cooperative creameries began operation in 1910 at Winchester, in Franklin County. Earlier, more than five unsuccessful attempts had been made to establish cooperative creameries.
Today there are fewer cooperative associations in Tennessee than was the case some years ago. Trucking facilities enable growers to haul their products to market at convenient times rather than wait for the periodic shipments of cooperative associations. In this way, too, they get their money immediately. Marketing by associations usually requires a ten-day period before cash for the products can be received.
Under the direction of the State Department of Agriculture and with the cooperation of the University of Tennessee College of Agriculture, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and county demonstration agents, Tennessee farmers have made great strides. Methods of cultivation have been improved, better seeds and more efficient equipment have been utilized, and grades of products have been standardized. Farms on the whole are fertile, but in some sections, particularly in the Unaka Range and the Cumberland Plateau, the land is poor. Through the efforts of the Farm Security Administration, however, most of this area may be restored as forest land and the farmers who have been trying to work it moved to more fertile sections.
One of the most important current factors in the development of agriculture in the State is the Tennessee Valley Authority. In addition to its hydroelectric and soil conservation programs, it has been instrumental in improving living conditions on the farms in the State by encouraging the widespread use of electricity. Complete electrification of the rural districts, a goal which the present program seems likely to attain in the near future, promises a new era of scientific agriculture not only to the Tennessee Valley but to Tennessee as a whole.
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TENNESSEE: A GUIDE TO THE STATE