Over the last two hundred years, a number of agricultural journals have been published in Tennessee. The first, The Tennessee Farmer, began publication in 1834 and ran through 1840, when it and the short-lived Southern Cultivator and Journal of Science and Improvement (1839-40) merged with a new journal, The Agriculturalist and Journal of the State and County Societies, which itself lasted only until 1845. These three periodicals not only initiated a long line of farm publications, but their experience also typified the history of antebellum agricultural journalism.
Most magazines existed for a few years, experienced a set of common problems, and ended up dissolving or merging with another magazine. They were usually founded and managed by well-intentioned men who had an abiding interest in the advancement of agriculture but little journalistic or publication experience. Their editors–often the same people who initiated the projects–came from various occupations and included educators, businessmen, employees of state government, ministers, and successful farmers. Although internal disputes over content and external disputes over leadership within the agricultural community sometimes weakened the journals, their main problems involved financial insolvency. Most found it impossible to attract advertisers and subscribers sufficient to meet their expenses. None of the antebellum journals survived the Civil War; neither did the agricultural community’s penchant for founding journals. The occasional new periodical appeared in the late nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century, only to fail a short time later. There was sporadic publication of a magazine under a version of the appellation The Tennessee Farmer; for instance, one by the name of The Tennessee Farmer and Homemaker was published as late as the 1960s.
Despite their short lives and numerous problems, these magazines performed useful functions in the rural community. The most important was to inform their readers of recent developments in technology and practice. They discussed new tools and machinery and suggested guidelines to aid farmers considering implementing them. They evaluated and compared imported livestock strains to assist those wishing to upgrade their animals through the introduction of blooded lines. They recommended changes in farming routines, such as the use of better cultivation techniques, more effective fertilizers, and improved seed varieties. Less frequently, they advised readers on commercial and financial matters–on what products offered the greatest profit potential, on marketing strategies, and on investment options. Even less frequently, they commented on political issues of concern to farmers, e.g., tariffs, banking policies, and internal improvements. The journals also surveyed farming conditions across the state, reported on agricultural fairs and conventions, and carried letters and other communications on matters of interest to rural residents. Not everything dealt directly with the crops and animals. Women received hints on managing the household, children on performing their responsibilities, and the entire family on proper moral conduct.
Over time, the state farm journals played a declining role in rural life. Other media–the state agricultural college’s experiment station and extension service, demonstration trains, agricultural organizations, and suppliers of farm goods and services–increasingly assumed the journals’ function as a dispenser of information.