Tenant Farming

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A cottage owned by a tenant in Virginia
A cottage owned by a tenant in Virginia

What is tenant farming? 

Tenant farming is a type of agriculture practiced in the United States and other countries, especially those with many tenant farmers (tenant farming). The practice decreases labor costs for the landlord or landowner by shifting much of the risk to the tenant. The crop is typically wholly owned by the landowner and grown on rented land. In some cases, there is also an agreement that ownership will transfer to tenants at harvest time. 

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Reasons why tenant farming became a dominant form of agriculture in the 1870s

Many tenant farmers live in rural areas like this one in Virginia, United States. The renting of land from landowners by tenant farmers to produce food crops has been a widespread phenomenon since at least the 18th century. Historically, the arrangement freed tenants from renting land for cash and having to tend crops daily. In modern times, many countries have witnessed the breakdown of traditional farming practices such as subsistence farming and the economy of rice growing in Bangladesh.

– In the 1870s, the U.S was still recovering from the effects of the civil war. The south had not recovered completely from the devastation of the civil war, and the east had barely started to recover from it. This meant that rents were low and agricultural prices were high.

– Landowners would not invest in new equipment or buildings because they could make more money by leasing their land than by farming it themselves. 

– “The coming of railroads and the growth of cities made it possible for farmers to sell their crops at markets rather than suffer loss upon speculation so that most manufacturing plants began to farm out the raising of their cotton and tobacco. Farmers found it profitable to take on government contracts to raise wheat, corn, and hogs. The government contracts brought them cash and provided a market for their crops.” 

Differences and similarities between tenant farming and sharecropping

– “The difference between tenant farming and sharecropping is the amount of control held over the farmer’s land. Whereas tenant farmers have little or no control and practically no say in their farming methods, sharecroppers are generally free to use and change their fields as they wish. Still, they also have to work on farms under a particular crop plan prepared by the farm’s owner. These two methods are the predominant ways to farm a particular crop in the U.S.” 

– “Both tenant farming and sharecropping are forms of farm tenancy in which a family has no land ownership but agrees to rent farmland, either for a fixed payment or in exchange for a share of the crop produced. In both arrangements, the tenant provides some labor (plowing and sowing seed, harvesting) and some management (irrigation), but with widely differing amounts and degrees of participation by the landlord.”

Why tenant farming was a total economic disaster during reconstruction

“During the reconstruction following the Civil War, U.S. farm tenancy soared. Many farmers were cash poor after decades of war and inflation, but wartime troops had been compensated with land grants that brought in high rents and made it appear that many farmers had money to invest in new equipment or buildings. Landlords didn’t need to look for new tenants as long as prices remained high, so they did everything they could to increase production, even turning their land over to tenant farmers for a share of the crop. You also learn allopatric speciation and how it affects farming.

Tenant farmers began to suffer from high rents and interest rates, crop failures, and buying too much equipment in a short period. When cotton, tobacco, and corn prices fell sharply in the 1870s, tenant farmers fell into debt.” 

Problems associated with tenant farming

1. Sharecroppers had little control over their farms, and little say in their farming methods. They had to obey the rules set by the farm owners and could not change anything on the farm, even if it was illegal or inappropriate. 

2. Tenant farmers were obligated to work for their farms for the entire crop cycle. If the tenant farmers did not work, the landlord would send in law enforcement (police and sheriff) to get them to work. The landlord would also ensure that their crops would be harvested at a certain time, thus leaving very little time for tenant farming. 

3. Sharecroppers usually worked on the crops of their landlords instead of working on them. They were obligated to pick for their landowners but could also watch over their crops. 

Significance of tenant farming 

“The tenancy system is significant in the economy of both the United States and Britain because it lowers farm costs for consumers, redistributes income from farmers to landlords and merchants, and provides a major market for farm products.” 

Results of tenant farming to freedmen

“After the Civil War, many freedmen returned to their farms but could not produce the crop that their former owners wanted them to produce. Tenant farmers ran into debt because they could not pay what they owed, and landowners could not sell their crops because few people wanted to buy them. Tenant farming was a total disaster for freedmen. They could not sell their crops. Instead, they had to work the land that belonged to their former owners.” 

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Categories: History