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Farming is a business, and the successful farmer must be first of all a business man. He follows his vocation primarily for the money he can make, and like other business men should aim to get the greatest possible returns for the money and labor involved. It is not enough simply to grow crops, but they must be so produced as to yield a profit on the capital invested. To succeed, he must be thoroughly acquainted with every detail of his occupation, and must strive to stop all leaks and prevent needless waste. At the same time, he must bear in mind that it is a good business principle to spend a dollar whenever he can see that it will come back to him with interest.
Agriculture is not merely a business but an art as well: the art of producing plants and animals that are useful to man. A real knowledge of farming necessitates a knowledge of the principles upon which the art of agriculture is founded; for an understanding of these principles is essential to an intelligent and rational practice. A few years since, "anyone could be a farmer.” It was only necessary to sow and reap, for Nature dealt lavishly with man, and gave to him freely of the fertility she had been storing up for countless ages. A system of extravagant and unbusinesslike farming, however, has so impoverished the soil, in some parts of our country, that many farms are already abandoned, having ceased to be profitable; and that too, in localities where the land once commanded high prices. This fact is the more lamentable, because the exhaustion of the soil might have been prevented by an intelligent foresight on the part of our earlier farmers. The farming of the future, therefore, must be done by men of broad training which should in
An abandoned farm. Many farms have been abandoned because the soil is said
to be exhausted. This exhaustion of the soil might have been prevented and the soils in many cases can be restored to their original fertility.
clude, among other things, some knowledge of such sciences as geology, chemistry, botany, zoology and physics. These sciences have done much to explain how the fertility of the land may be conserved, and it is the aim of this little book to present in a brief manner the latest views of agricultural investigators and farmers on this important subject. The intention is to make the treatment of the subject thoroughly practical, and for this reason the minimum of theory and the maximum of demonstrated facts will be given, and with the least possible use of technical language. Before taking up the subject of manures and fertilizers it is desirable to devote a short time to the consideration of plant food in general, explaining what it is and its source of supply.
Plants of First Importance to the Farmer.-All agriculture depends upon the growth of plants, and
consequently the profit that accrues to the farmer depends primarily upon the value of the crops his farm produces. In some kinds of farming the profit comes from the sale of crops that are useful in providing food, fuel, or raiment for man, while in others the direct gain comes from the sale of animals or animal products. Even in the latter case the feeding crops that can be grown upon the farm determine its earning power, for the sale of animal products is simply an indirect method of marketing the crops.
The profit from the farm is dependent not only upon the total crop produced but also, and to perhaps a still larger degree, upon the yield per acre. It stands to reason that if the crops now produced on two hundred acres could be grown upon one hundred, the returns would be greater, provided the labor and other expense involved were not materially increased; for in the latter case the interest on the money invested in one hundred acres of land would be clear gain. On the other hand, it is apparent that nothing is gained by increased production per acre if the larger crop is obtained at a total expenditure in excess of that required for the smaller yield. As a matter of fact, our most successful farmers have demonstrated that the present average of crops can be doubled, and that at a cost per acre scarcely more than is now required for the halfcrop. To accomplish this necessitates a broader knowledge of the food requirements of plants than is possessed by the majority of our farmers. This knowledge being fundamental, it seems strange that more efforts have not been made to acquire it by those vitally interested. Strange as it may seem, it is a fact that while he has reasonably clear ideas on feeds for animals, the average farmer has only very vague and often false notions on the subject of plant food and plant nutrition. A thorough understanding of these subjects on the part of our forerunners in agriculture would have rendered it unnecessary to deal with the matter considered in the next paragraph.
Exhaustion of the Soil.—It is a matter of common
experience that continued cropping results in a loss of fertility. The experiences of the older sections of our country teach some lessons by which the newer parts may profit. In the beginning the productiveness of the rich virgin soil seemed unlimited. For years large crops were produced with apparently no decrease in fertility. Sooner or later, however, the crops began to diminish in size, gradually, to be sure, but unceasingly, until at last the yield became so small that it no longer paid for the cost and labor of cultivation. This state of affairs came about more rapidly if the same crop was grown continuously on the same field, as was often done with wheat. The soil was now said to be exhausted, and in many cases the farms were abandoned. An exhausted soil in this sense means one that will no longer yield profitable returns, and not necessarily one that will produce no crop. As a matter of fact a soil can not become exhausted, if by exhaustion we mean total inability to produce a crop.
At the experiment station at Rothamsted, England, barley grown continuously on the same plot for fortythree years without the use of fertilizers of any kind yielded in the forty-third year 10 bushels of dressed grain per acre; the average for the last eight years being 1134 bushels. Wheat grown in the same way for fifty years produced in the fiftieth year 934 bushels of grain per acre; the average for the last eight years being 11/2 bushels. In these cases the soil seems capable of keeping up the yield indefinitely, as the average for the last twenty years is practically the same as the average given above for the last eight years.