Sharecropping is an agreement between a tenant and a landlord in which a tenant farmer is allowed to work a plot of land in exchange for surrendering part of the crop. Numerous cultures have a history of sharecropping in their agricultural past, and some nations continue to allow this agricultural practice. The conditions under which sharecroppers work are quite variable. In some regions, this practice is a form of peonage which borders on the abusive, while in others, it is an equitable agreement which may even empower the farmer.
The terms of a sharecropping agreement vary. The farmer may keep one third to one half the crop, and is usually expected to supply equipment and seeds. Landlords may lease or sell supplies, sometimes at high cost and on credit, and in some cases a sharecropper ends the year in the red because he or she is not able to repay the credit. In lean years, the ability to keep part of the crop prevents the sharecropper from starving, but the sale of the crop may not generate enough income for the farmer to save money or cover household expenses.
In the United States, sharecropping was widely used from the close of the Civil War through the 1930s. Sharecropping became notorious during the Depression, when artists and writers documented the practice extensively. Sharecroppers in the United States could be trapped on their land through abusive credit agreements, often lacked access to an education, and were rarely able to save enough to buy land of their own.
From the point of view of landowners, sharecropping can be beneficial because it provides landlords with a steady source of crops for sale from tenants who take care of the land on their own. The landowner does not need to pay staff or maintain supplies for working the land, which cuts down on overhead costs. For tenants, sharecropping can be an beneficial arrangement which also rewards them for hard work, as a larger crop means more returns. The equity of the arrangement depends very much on the terms of the contract, the skills of the farmer, and the laws which provide protections to sharecroppers.
Sharefarming more generally can also include contracts for things like sharemilking, in which a farmer raises dairy cows on leased land and the landlord accepts dairy products in payment. Some critics argue that such arrangements have a tendency to concentrate land ownership in the hands of a few, while farmers who enrich lands belonging to other people receive few benefits.