Daviess County farmers crowded into the circuit courtroom 100 years ago to consider an endorsement presented by the Burley Tobacco Growers Co-operative Marketing Association – and overwhelmingly voted to organize a similar organization in the Green River, One Sucker and Stemming district.
Yes, that’s what it was called, according to an article published in the Jan. 15, 1922, edition of the Owensboro Messenger.
The eloquent appeal detailing benefits of cooperative marketing included an example previously experienced by fruit growers in California. Prior to their organization, they had received anywhere from 8 to 12 cents for every $1 spent by consumers for their products. Now, their share had risen to 48 cents.
In describing how the system would work for local farmers, Virgil Chapman of Lexington, the assistant general counsel of the cooperative marketing association, explained that “under the present system, the tobacco manufacturer and buyers borrow money with which he buys tobacco, pays insurance, wages, handling costs, etc., adding these to the price he asks for his tobacco – but not taking into consideration the cost to the farmer growing the crop.”
He added: “Under the co-operative system, the farmer would figure land values, depreciation, labor, interest on his investment, and base the price for his tobacco on the actual cost of raising it plus a reasonable profit.”
The co-op also offered the benefit of consistent grading, and the speaker promised that buyers and warehouses were not opposed to the development of the organization.
This was a big deal to local farmers. As of Feb. 19 that same year, the tobacco crop in the five-county Green River district had been measured at 28,000,000 pounds – and its growers had been paid $4,085,881.83.
A lot of money then (and now!) – especially when a quick zip through an inflation calculator places that figure at $72,056,471.73 in 2022 dollars.
By June 1922, more than 25 percent of Daviess County’s tobacco acreage – conservatively estimated at 14,000 acres – had been pledged to the “tobacco pool.”
The figure would have been higher, the newspaper reported, but of course “the growers are all very busy,” and so far only eight out 86 districts had been surveyed, but of those eight districts, anywhere from 75 to 85 percent of farmers signed up.
Recruitment was important because of a requirement that two-thirds of the total acreage of tobacco grown in the county had to be pooled before the contract became binding.
Chairman Will Hayden reported “the organization committee was highly elated over the spirit displayed on all occasions when workers have submitted the contracts to growers.”
As an example, about 115 acres out of a total of 214 in the Masonville district were committed. J.W. Ellis of that district said it was an easy decision: “There is nothing else to do if the tobacco growers ever expect to get anywhere than mere laborers by the day.”
By Aug. 27, about 15,000 acres had been pledged, including 8,000 acres in Daviess County – and it was clear that the overall district quota would be met. Farmers were informed that receiving stations would be held in Owensboro, Fordsville, Hartford, Calhoun, Cloverport, Hawesville and Livermore, and the growers would receive advances on their crops after they had been delivered and graded.
It was just one example of progress being developed among the agricultural foundation upon which Daviess County stood so strongly. Overall, 1922 was a very good year for local farmers, with an Owensboro Messenger article on Oct. 15 saying crop reports in Daviess County exceeded those of neighboring counties. Corn, wheat, Irish potatoes, tobacco, sorghum for syrup and, of course, tobacco, were all having a successful year of production.
And it may have been for that reason that land values in Daviess County exceeded those of other counties in the district. Land without improvements was valued at an average of $77 an acre; with improvements, the valuation soared to $94.
By comparison, unimproved land in Hancock County was valued at a measly $23.33 per acre; Ohio County, not much better at $23.75; McLean, $45; and Henderson, $50. With improvements, values “rose” to $32.25 in Ohio County; $46 in Hancock; $58.33, McLean; and $60 in Henderson County.
What does it all mean? Maybe nothing.
Or maybe everything.
Because here’s what we know for sure: Farmers are important, their work is essential, and their contributions to our community, state, country and the world are priceless.