One Hundred Years Ago

Just out of curiosity I decided to look at the sheep industry one hundred years ago, June 1920.  There will be further articles I will write about, but I thought this was apropos for what is happening in the meat industry. It was astounding that what was happening in 1920 is still going on today. Looking at only the sheep industry the imports for July 1, 1919 to June 30, 1920 were as follows:

Wool 427,578,038 pounds

Mutton and lamb 16,358,299 pounds

Sheep (live) 199,549

(I will do a comparison of these numbers with July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 statistics when they are available)

In looking further into the year, the July to Oct the imports were as follows:

Wool 44,435,248 pounds

Mutton and lamb 64,623,776 pounds

Sheep (live) 94,960

Lambs waiting for their mothers being sheared.

It did not get better for the sheep men in the next quarter of the year, 1920 as the above numbers revealed. Prices for wool averaged for the July 1, 1919 to June 30, 1920 about $0.48 per pound, with the highest price at $0.50 and the lowest at $0.44.  A drop of six cents can be a lot of money to a wool grower.  Using 100,000 pounds of wool for illustrative purposes:  100,000 pounds of wool at the 50 cents a pound price, $50,000 is made at the sale of the wool. But at $0.44 he loses $6,000. Some of the sheep men relied on the wool to pay their expenses for the year. Those expenses would include the herders pay and their room and board, grazing fees, other expenses for the outfit such as shearers and transportation of the wool to the purchaser and expenses for their own family, taxes, etc.  At about 6 pounds per sheep that 100,000 pounds means the sheep grower had more than 16,000 sheep which only a few sheep men had that many sheep. Most flocks averaged about between 5,000 and 7,500 sheep from what can be garnished from the wool growers’ records.  

It was also suggested by J. R. Howard, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, writing to the extension director of Arizona, “There is no reason to believe that the demoralized condition of the wool market is more than temporary, and we suggest that you immediately get this report to every county agent and county farm bureau and urge them to advise their members to avail themselves when necessary, of credit extended through the federal reserve bank agreement and to pool their wool and hold it until the market becomes stabilized.” Unfortunately, the price of wool dropped further in 1920, selling at $0.28 a pound in the third quarter and decreasing another two cents in the fourth quarter of 1920. Looking at the wool market today, sheep growers have no market for the wool and they must hold onto it, paying for storage and other costs. Some sheep owners could not sell their lambs for a decent price either this year. They could not afford to hold onto the lambs so had to take the reduced price.

How true it is that in an article written in February 1921, it stated, “It doesn’t require an expert to realize just how much the above free competitive imports (see list above of imports of wool, sheep, mutton and live animals) have discriminated against our farmers and stockmen, and their consequent losses thus occasioned.“  The article further stated that it was about time that the American farms and ranches products have priority so a living wage can be paid” and “we must so arrange our tariff schedules on such products and substitutes as will equalize our cost of production with that of foreign countries.”  It seems we do not learn from the past.  Tariffs were eliminated over one hundred years ago hurting the American farmer and rancher and it is still going on today.  Farmers and ranchers are not paid fair wages for their products. The consumer of these products are paying more; the additional price paid goes to middle men and not the farmer or rancher.