Principles of Cooperation

Ezra Taft Benson
Ezra Taft Benson

I have felt confident that this time would come. This is a sobering experience, my brothers and sisters. Our great benefactor and leader said at one time regarding this great responsibility: “You cannot hide the heart when the mouth is open. If you want to keep your heart secret, keep your mouth shut.” But he also added that when it becomes our duty to talk, we ought to be willing to talk.

Questions Being Asked

I desire to repeat one sentence from the revelation which Brother Romney indicated has already been quoted two or three times in this conference:

And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine (D&C 104:15).

During recent weeks it has been my pleasure to visit with many young men and some older men, during which time they have asked several questions regarding some of the temporal matters pertaining to the Latter-day Saints. They have asked questions regarding the Church’s interest in agriculture and farming. They have commented that they do not hear as much now about these things as was once spoken in the Church. Some of them have suggested that they would like to know whether or not the Church looks with favor on young men going abroad to various parts of the country to establish themselves in farming and in business, or whether they should remain close to Church headquarters. Others have asked regarding cooperative business enterprises, and other cooperative activities.

I realize, my brethren and sisters, that in discussing temporal matters, the Lord has said:

. . . all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal (D&C 29:34).

Man’s Place Important In The World

The objective, of course, is spiritual. We live, however, in a material, physical, temporal world. Man is the center in Mormon philosophy.

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39).

The earth upon which we live was established for man. The Church is for man, not man for the Church.

We are blind until we see that in the human plan
Nothing is worth the making if it does not make the man.
Why build these cities glorious if man unbuilded go;
In vain we build the world unless the builder also grow.

But to us man is a dual being, temporal and spiritual, and in the early revelations to this people, the Lord took occasion, many times, to give direction and commandment regarding temporal matters. He directed the Saints and the leaders of the Church in the purchase of land and other property; in the construction of temples; even in the establishment of a printing press, and a store, and in the building of a boardinghouse for the “weary traveler” (D&C 124:23). In the great revelation known as the Word of Wisdom, he not only indicated what is good and what is not good for man, but he outlined a plan for the feeding of livestock (D&C 89:14), which, through more than a hundred years, has gradually been sustained through the scientific investigation of man. Whatever affects human welfare has always been and ever will be the concern of the Church. Our people have always been counseled in temporal affairs.

Cooperation Important in Temporal Matters

I read again recently some of the early discourses of President Brigham Young and other Church leaders as the Saints came into these valleys. The people were truly counseled in temporal affairs. Various types of projects were inaugurated under their direction. They were taught to conserve ranges and forests and to conserve water. They were taught also to conserve food and feed and other materials. They were encouraged in the production of more profitable crops and in more efficient methods of production. They were taught to work together, to cooperate, to sustain each other. Listen to the words of President Young:

Any people who will cooperate on correct principles will increase in material wealth and prosperity. . . If the people called Latter-day Saints do not become one in temporal things, as they are in spiritual things, they will not redeem and build up the Zion of God upon the earth. This cooperative movement is a stepping stone. We say to the people, take advantage of it, it is your privilege (Journal of Discourses 13:3).

Later he gave cooperative support to private enterprise and encouraged men to enter private business. Should not the counsel given by President Brigham Young in the early days of the settlement of these valleys be heeded today? The principles of cooperation and working together were used to develop the resources of these valleys and permit people to survive. We need to adopt these same principles, which have been tried and tested by the experience of the last hundred years, to preserve and conserve these resources and to raise our economic standards. I do not mean by this that our people should go out and in every priesthood quorum and in every ward organize cooperative business organizations. A warning has been given, and wisely so, that cooperative enterprises, business cooperatives, require efficient business management and direction. At the same time it is recognized that there is a place for cooperative endeavor, among our agricultural and rural groups particularly, as there is also an opportunity and a place for private enterprise.

Zion Embraces All Of America

We live in an area, my brothers and sisters, where we face rather peculiar problems, and to some extent, some limitations. Water is our most limited factor in the agriculture of the area in which the Latter-day Saints are concentrated. The topography of our country presents other serious problems. We have, in many areas where the Latter-day Saints live, a very serious pressure of population on the land. There is a tendency for our farms and farming units to be divided and redivided until many times they have become somewhat uneconomic because of their limited size. Because of this pressure there has been a tendency for many of our young people to go out into other areas where land seems to be more abundant and probably where the opportunities are greater. This is not a thing to be discouraged if they act wisely. All of America is the land of Zion.

I was pleased in visiting the Northwestern States Mission recently to find that many of our young people have gone into that fertile area, have established themselves in agriculture and in business, and are sinking their roots deep, becoming a part of the community life and a support to the branches of which they are loyal members. To me this is a condition that will likely increase as the years pass. As the Church grows and increases in numbers, no one state or area will be able to contain the Latter-day Saints.

Advice In Matter Of Debt

There are some things, my brethren and sisters, those who live in the rural communities particularly, that I would like to call to your attention which I think might be helpful in aiding us to improve the efficiency of our operations. One of them was referred to by Brother Clifford Young in his excellent address yesterday: the matter of debt. We face at the present time a great adjustment period. If history repeats itself, we may expect a declining price level in the case of agricultural products particularly. That will mean that more bushels of wheat, more tons of sugar beets and more farm products generally will be required to pay off a given amount of debt. It is well for Latter-day Saints to make a special effort during this period when prices are relatively high, to reduce our debts to the very minimum in order that we might be prepared to meet the adjustment period as it comes without losing our farms and without making undue sacrifices.

Ways Of More Effective Farming

There are many things that we could do to enlarge our farming units, not only by the acquisition of land, but by the more effective use of irrigation water, much of which is wasted through seepage and excessive irrigation. More acres on given farms can often be brought under irrigation through a wiser and more efficient use of water. We can add intensive units to our farming program without enlarging the area with such units as poultry, livestock feeding, production of truck crops, seed production, new crops, and other things. On many of our farms I believe we could reduce waste areas, corners, fence lines, ditch banks, and yard space.

There is a need to increase forage production to supplement our ranges, which, in many areas, are becoming seriously depleted. We need to use the information which has been developed by the United States Forest Service, by our agricultural colleges, and tested by leading ranchers, to plant improved grasses on our ranges, and thereby increase the number of livestock that can be carried. Many of our communities are built largely on a livestock economy.

Ofttimes the rearrangement of fields and the enlargement of fields, permits the more efficient use of power and heavy, horse-drawn farm machinery, which is a common need on many farms. The use of better breeding stock and better feed and seed will all tend towards a more efficient type of agriculture, a more profitable farming enterprise, and a more satisfactory community life.

We need to work together more than we do. In the joint ownership of heavy equipment such as combines, balers, tractors, drills, and in the cooperative ownership of breeding sires, and in many other ways, we can join together as farmers in our communities in order to make our farming operations more efficient and more effective.

In many areas our system of marketing and distributing our farm products and purchasing farm production supplies needs to be improved. Farmers need to improve their bargaining power. There is a tendency among many of our people, and not confined alone to our people, to sell their products in rather large quantities at wholesale, and to buy back in small dabs, here and there, their needed supplies at retail prices. As one of our distinguished financiers, Bernard M. Baruch, has said:

The farmer selling in unlimited competition with himself, has been buying at more or less controlled prices from industries which have organized their production and marketing.

We need to improve the distribution of our farm products. That does not mean that in every area we need to organize cooperative associations. There are limitations on these organizations. The need should be determined. Possibly the work is being done efficiently through private channels. We should determine whether or not there is a need for improvement in the marketing and distribution of our products in a given area.

The farm is largely a manufacturing plant where land, labor, fertilizer, supplies, seed, and feed are combined to produce a product for market. It is no easy matter to become an efficient farm operator today.

It is important that we keep our thinking straight, my brothers and sisters. Let us ever keep in mind that all material things are but a means to an end, that the end is spiritual, although the Lord is anxious and willing to bless his people temporally. He has so indicated in many of the revelations. He has pointed out, time and time again, that we should pray over our crops, over our livestock, over our households, our homes, and invoke the Lord’s blessings upon our material affairs. And he has promised that he will be there and ready and willing to bless us.

The Soundness Of Principles Of Self Help

Let us stand together on our own feet. Let us cooperate to accomplish these so-called material objectives. A sound agriculture is vital to the national economy. I like the words of that great Irish pioneer in cooperative effort, Horace Plunket, who labored for many years among the poor, down-ridden farmers of Ireland, when he said:

For the longer I live, the more certain do I become that what the best of governments can do for farmers is of insignificant importance compared with what, by carefully thought out and loyal cooperation, they can do for themselves.

Let us as Latter-day Saints stand on our own feet. Let us not be inclined to run to a paternalistic government for help when every problem arises, but to attack our problems jointly, and through effective cooperative effort, solve our problems at home.

To me one of the greatest bulwarks we have in this country against all the foreign isms, “crackpot” theories, and the unsound social reforms is the people who live on the land, close to the soil. Dr. Widtsoe emphasized a year ago at our conference the important part which the rural people of America play in the safety and security of this great land. Certainly no group of people in all the world know so well that, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap” (Gal. 6:7). And as Brother Widtsoe said in that excellent address, which I commend to you, “A strong rural membership brings safety to the Church, not otherwise obtainable. It is so in the nation.”

The principles of self-help are economically, socially, and spiritually sound. The Lord will not do for us what we can and should do for ourselves. But it is his purpose to take care of his Saints. Everything that concerns the economic, social, and spiritual welfare of the human family is and ever will be the concern of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

May the Lord bless us with inspiration to guide us in all of our material affairs that we might be successful. And may we ever keep in mind the great objective of life and the purposes of God in establishing us here in the earth, namely, to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life in the celestial kingdom, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Original Source

Principles of Cooperation
Elder Ezra Taft Benson
Of the Council of the Twelve Apostles
Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, October 1945, pp. 159-164
Accessed 27/12/2015