France – A Farm Credit Society

The Credit Agricole was started fifteen years ago for the purpose of helping the poorer farmers, but they at first neglected to use its opportunities.

They feared that should they borrow money their credit would be impaired. The way they get the money is this : the would-be borrower must have a little money; this he deposits with the Credit Agri-cole, taking stock in it. For this deposit he gets three per cent interest. He then makes a written application for what he desires, which may be twenty times what he has deposited. This written application states the amount and purpose of the de-sired loan, together with facts about the existing debts of the borrower. It is secretly examined by a committee of eight men. If they find the man industrious and with fair hopes of succeeding in his enterprise, whatever it may be, they grant him the money. Men were slow to take out funds because they were afraid of injuring their credit, so Albert Royneau and other rich men began borrowing money and telling of it publicly, just to encourage the timid; then they followed suit, and all went well. The fact is there seems greater kindness, one man toward another, in this land than we usually see in America.

We visited a “model farm” of 475 acres where the new buildings had cost $120,000. They were good buildings, fairly well adapted to their uses, yet as the place carried but 600 sheep, it was clear that no dividends could be paid—at least not from the live stock end of it.

We went the next morning to Illiers to see its worthy mayor, M. Chapet, and his magnificent farm, Le Hayes. Here we saw wonderful Dishleys. Le Hayes is a little farm of 300 acres, carrying 400 sheep, managed in the unfenced fields by the aid of the shepherd and the dogs. M. Chapet had moved to town and left the farm to his son, building him a good new house, which had cost $12,000. As many of his farm buildings were nearly new, I learned that they would cost about $30,000, though in America they would cost much more. “There is but one obstacle to agricultural happiness in this part of France,” said M. Chapet; “it is the labor problem. It is increasingly difficult to get men enough, and to get good men. The bicycle takes men to the towns as soon as their work is done; they go to the cafes and drinking places, and it is not as it was in the olden days.” When told of our freedom from drinking places, he heaved a sigh and wished it were so with him. M. Chapet breeds a fine type indeed of Dishley sheep, and wins many prizes at the shows. We dined with the worthy mayor, and, after seeing his marvelous garden in town, went with Albert Royneau in a fine automobile to his farm at 011e, near Bailliau. All this is in the department of Eure et Loire, near La Perche. M. Royneau keeps on his 425 acres about 800 sheep, besides fourteen working horses. Of course they are in the fields; they also are superb Dishleys. His ewe flock shears nine pounds. He received twenty cents for his wool because he had kept his sheep nights in the barn, and there was no clay on the wool, He sometimes lets rams for $25 each for a six weeks’ season to farmers in the neighborhood. He is making plenty of money. But he buys each year in order to maintain the extraordinary fertility of his farm fifty-five tons of superphosphate and thirty-three tons of kainit. This year (1911), he had forty-nine and one-third bushels of wheat per acre. As the result of feeding the land, and of the use of alfalfa,’ he says for the past ten years good farmers have made plenty of money.

Each man whom we visited took us to see his walled garden. The walls are about ten feet high, thus sheltering it from wind and making the season longer. These gardens are bowers of beauty, planted with rare trees, shrubs and flowers, and often with little artificial lakelets or canals or fountains in them. Fruits are trained on the walls and vegetables grow in their places. The Beauce is so level that it needs hills, so these men make them, in their gardens. M. Albert Royneau took us up a winding pathway to the summit of a little hill that seemed quite natural; at the crest we found our-selves at the level of the top of the wall right at the corner, and there was a shady nook with chairs whence one could look afar over the wondrous plain.

Nearly every farm had its rabbit hutches. These are usually built of brick or concrete; the little cubical rooms three by three feet and maybe two feet high, put in rows and perhaps two or three tiers high. They take little space, thus placed, in the barn or near the dwelling. Each little room has its grated door of metal, and in each room is a rabbit, or a pair, or a mother with ten babies. No yards are required for exercise. The men feed them alfalfa, green or dry, cabbage leaves and all sorts of odds and ends. It is no rabbit craze, it is simply a business-like way of growing a lot of food for the table, and doing it very cheaply. Our farm boys could raise rabbits, thus managed, with an hour’s attention a day for 100 of them.