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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The Farmers' Trouble

The Farmers' Trouble.

The same trouble that besets the city worker also assails the farmer. I shall perhaps make this more readily understandable by the following diagram. The starting point of this diagram represents a farm 150 miles away from a market town. The 'husbandman' has 50 tons of produce to send to the market, on which when it leaves his farm there is an page 27 average profit of 15s. per ton. Say, 10 tons have a profit of 10s. per ton, 30 tons have a profit of 15s. per ton, and 10 tons have a profit of 20s. per ton. We will suppose the farmer's average charge to be only 2d. per ton per mile—the illustration will be the same if it were only 1d.—he starts to move, and with the following result:—

Miles. Farm—— 10—— 20—— 30—— 40—— 50—— At this point 6o = = all the 10s. profit is gone in railway charges. 70—— 80—— At this point 90= = all the 15s. profit is gone. 100—— 110—— At this point 120= = all the 20s. profit is gone. 130—— 140—— Market town 150——

On arrival at the market town the total railway charges, including 'terminals,' would be £66 3s. 4d. Thus, after losing his whole profit of £37 10s., he would have to pay a further sum of £29 3s. 4d. for transporting 50 tons 150 miles, and in addition would have to pay his town agent. Is it any wonder that people leave the country and crowd into the cities.

Farmers clamour for cheap rates. They ask that lime, manures, and produce may be carried at merely nominal charges. But is this really what they want? Suppose it were done, what would be the result? Would the farmer get the profit made by this reduction? He certainly would not. For a short time he would get some share of it, but that is all. If it enabled the 2lb. loaf to be sold for 2d. instead of 2½d., for the lower price it would soon be sold. Prices always adjust themselves.

While a low charge for freight is very desirable, what the farmer stands much more in need of is greater equality of treatment and more local markets. He wants to be brought near to his market, not so much by a low freight rate as by ignoring distance, that is to say, the distant farmer must be placed more on an equality with the one who is close up to the market. We must not take mere distance so much into account as we now do. Mere lowering of charges is not an unmixed good: it all tends to cheapen production, and that has probably gone too far already, for the cheaper goods can be produced the cheaper they will be sold.