What is Sharecropping?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

In sharecropping, a tenant farmer is allowed to work land owned by someone else in exchange for a portion of the crop.
In sharecropping, a tenant farmer is allowed to work land owned by someone else in exchange for a portion of the crop.

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.

A farmer may keep one third to one half the crop during a sharecropping agreement.
A farmer may keep one third to one half the crop during a sharecropping agreement.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Modern sharecropping shouldn't be colored with such vitriolic language. It's simply a business arrangement between landowners and farmers -- many of whom own their own land as well -- to make use of land that often can't be farmed by the landowner. It's simply a business contract, not indentured servitude.


What were the housing and education conditions like for the sharecroppers?


If slavery is illegal, how is sharecropping legal? It sounds much the same as slavery to me.

I can’t think of any other industry in which the manager or owner would keep half of the profit that someone else worked for. It sounds harsh that they have to rent supplies and seeds, when they are farming to benefit the farmer, anyway.

If someone put all the effort they could into making a good crop, and then the weather or insect infestation damaged everything, then they shouldn’t wind up in debt. It’s no fault of their own, and the landlord should understand that. Sharecropping sounds like a good way to make a scapegoat out of hard working people.


My dad was born in the 1930s, and he remembers his family participating in sharecropping when he was a young boy. They had a nice landlord, so they didn’t have any problems with survival or debt.

The farm on which they worked had a small house that the landlord let my dad’s family live in. They paid the rent in crops, so they didn’t have to worry about making extra money.

Even during a particularly rough year full of drought, they were able to make it through the winter on the few crops they had, because the landlord saw that they were in need. Since he had plenty of money, he let them keep the majority of the crops that year.

Post your comments
Forgot password?