Popular annual Soil and Water Conservation dinner is set for Aug. 24

Published 7:15 pm Saturday, August 5, 2017

I can only imagine how quickly college textbooks become out-of-date in this high tech information era.

Back when I was a student, a good college agriculture textbook would be valid about 10 years, plus or minus a bit.

But even in the late ’60s, we were occasionally assigned books with chapters that time had passed by.

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I recall one Ag Economics text referred repeatedly to “cash crops,” a farm term very much in play for the previous 50 or so years.

During the first half of the last century, farming in the South and Midwest was nearly subsistence farming.  Farm families grew most everything they ate. They were adept at food preservation, i.e. canning vegetables and curing meat for a year round food supply.

They grew their own vegetables, all the ones that would grow in the local climate, as well as beef, pork, chicken, eggs and milk.

But there was a need for some cash money. The food staples of flour, sugar, rice, salt and pepper had to be purchased in town. Then there was the matter of clothes and toiletries.

Cash was necessary for shoes, Sunday clothes and Sunday giving.

The way most farm families obtained needed cash was by growing and selling a crop they did not eat, thus “cash crops.”

Here in the South the cash crop was almost exclusively cotton, with sugarcane an option much further south.

In other parts of the U.S., the primary cash crops were corn and wheat. Barley, oats and alfalfa were cash crops to a degree in some areas, but not hereabouts.

And those crops went into livestock feed that was often bought back with the cash they generated.

Another way cash for family needs was generated that became more and more popular over time was “public working.”

The first time I heard that term was when I began working in a sure enough cotton farming area of north Louisiana.

A lady and I were discussing her family’s farm and she referenced the time “ever since my husband started public working.”

Shucks, I thought that meant he had a government job like me. I assumed wrong.

“Public working” was a rural term that meant someone had taken a job off the farm; in the “public.” It could be a full-time job, but a lot of farmers began public working just during the winter, after harvest and before planting.

By the way, the university farm budgets of the past 40 years use the term “off-farm income.”

Out of curiosity, I Googled the two bygone terms. “Cash crops” generated several sites with definitions, but I reckon “public working” just didn’t survive the computer age.

Changing gears, evidently there’s been some wondering about the popular dinner meeting of the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation Commission.

It is scheduled a tad later than usual this year. Mark Aug. 24 on the calendar.  You haven’t missed it. The announcement is going out by mail plus I will have the details and registration information next week. Everyone is invited.
Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.