France – Farming In La Beauce

The Beauce is a wheat, oat and barley growing region, with much alfalfa as well. It had been M. Thirouin’s practice to lime his land with the soft, unburned limestone or chalk, once in twenty years, using perhaps twenty tons to the acre. He thought that more frequent applications would be better. His alfalfa thrives best on land recently limed. His rotation is alfalfa, plowed for wheat or oats or possibly for a small area of beets or potatoes; then oats or wheat again ; then alfalfa to stand for several years, sowing sainfoin with the alfalfa. It is not a natural grass soil. Along the roadsides one does not see the thick mats of bluegrass that one is used to seeing in the cornbelt; in fact, one sees no bluegrass at all. Labor, said M. Thirouin, drew wages every week, whereas once the men would hire for four or eight months and draw nothing till the end of that term. He paid $20 per month with board. His shepherd receives $200 per year and his board and some extras. M. Thirouin’s farm contains 500 acres; that is a large farm for France, though there are many large farms on the Beauce. It is worth $192 per acre, more or less. The buildings would cost that to build new, but some of them are 700 years old and yet serviceable. He uses twelve laborers the year around and six more at harvest. Practically all of his land is under cultivation. There are no fenced pastures and no woods. Occasionally he uses red clover in his rotation; it comes in between the sowings of alfalfa, and is often turned under. He plows eight to nine inches deep, and uses more than 500 pounds of phosphatic fertilizers per acre. He uses also nitrate of soda and sulphate of soda on beets and wheat. The yield of wheat is more than thirty-five bushels.

M. Thirouin has most of his lambs born in the fall. He feeds the ewes beets to make them milk well; he pushes the lambs with oats after weaning and then they get what bran they will eat. In 1911 his wool sold for 18 1-5 cents per pound. He has had a higher price than that. His grandfather sold wool for double that price, or 5 francs the kilo. One kilo (2.2 pounds) of his wool spun a yarn 77,000 meters long. His fat lambs bring from $8 to $10 each. His land tax is about $1.60 an acre, and his other taxes considerable. Yet it is evident that he is prospering. He said that there was not much land changing hands in his neighborhood, and such a thing as a farmer failing was almost unknown. Farmers work, save, live to a ripe old age, and do not overwork as they go. He took us driving over the Beauce. It was a most interesting ride. We passed many little plots where peasant proprietors owned as little as one-half an acre. Some had plowed their little narrow land up in high, rounded ridges. “Why is that done? Is the land wet?” I asked. He laughed. “No, that is the sign of a bad neighbor—a man who hopes to steal, when plowing, a little of your earth and turn it always toward the middle. You can be sure that is what it means when you see land farmed in that manner.” Some of his neighbors were leisurely threshing with horsepower threshers, treadmill affairs, which were very slow. The attendants were not half busy. It was a wasteful way, I suggested, and he agreed. Then he told of the Credit Agricole which lends money to farmers. Men form an association or stock company and pay in not less than $4 each. For each franc put in a man can again borrow twenty. He pays interest at varying rates, usually 3 1-2 to 4 per cent. The source of this money is, in part, the farmers themselves; they deposit and get interest at the rate of 3 per cent. If they have calls for more money than they have, the association gets a loan from the Bank of France, without interest, and re-lends to farmers at rates not exceeding 4 per cent. It seems like a fairy tale, but it is true, and it is working wonders in parts of France, giving farmers capital to do things, well. He had never heard of a man failing to repay the money he had borrowed. While it usually is borrowed for six months or a year, it may be repaid at any time. The Bank of France is obliged by the government to lend this money in return for some other concessions.