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Tenant Farming


Tenant farming is a system of agriculture whereby farmers cultivate crops or raise livestock on rented lands. It was one of two agricultural systems that emerged in the South following the American Civil War (18611865); the other system was sharecropping. The South in economic ruin, former plantation owners were now without slave labor and lacked resources to hire wage laborers. They began dividing up their land and arranging the tracts to be farmed by one of these two methods. In 1860 there were just under 700,000 farms in the South; in 1910 the division of the former plantations resulted in more than three million farms.

A tenant farmer typically could buy or owned all that he needed to cultivate crops; he lacked the land to farm. The farmer rented the land, paying the landlord in cash or crops. Rent was usually determined on a per-acre basis, which typically ran at about one-third the value of the crop. At the end of the harvest the landowner would be paid one-third the value of the crops or would receive one-third the crops directly from the farmer. While this system was superior to that of sharecropping and many sharecroppers aspired to being tenant farmers, the method also had its downfalls. Tenant farmers frequently found themselves in debt to the landowner. At the beginning of a planting season, the farmer would secure store credit based on the crop's expected yield. If conditions were poor or market prices for the crop decreased, the farmer became indebted to the storeowner and to the landowner (which was often the same person). Another consequence of tenant farming was the deterioration of the land; since it did not belong to them, many farmers were not motivated to do ample upkeep or make improvements, thus, farms tended to deteriorate. However some tenant farmers proved successful and ultimately moved off rented lands to purchase their own tracts. Generally, however, this was not the case and the system, along with sharecropping, proved to be a failure.

See also: Reconstruction, Sharecropping

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