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(b) decomposing potash and phosphorus-bearing silicates, liberating these two elements for plant-food; (c) affecting soils physically, making them granulated, or loose and mellow; (3) and that it decomposes sodium carbonate and thus breaks up the so-called “black-alkali.” Common Salt.—This has also been used as a fertilizer for at least several decades. In the eighties it was a common practice in England to sow salt in the early spring on wheat land that was too rich, the idea being that a larger deposit of silica in the stalk would result, enabling the wheat to stand better. While it has been found a valuable agent for increasing the yield of barley, it is of less importance in raising wheat. Miscellaneous Fertilizers.--A great many other materials have been used to a greater or less extent as fertilizers. Among them are: Animal products, as wool waste and the refuse of modern slaughterhouses, blood, bone, hair, horn, hoof, etc., which with fish, manure and sulphate of ammonia from the gas works, are still the main sources of nitrogen applied to crops; swamp muck, marsh mud, sea-weed, sludge, poudrette, potassium, cottonseed meal, rape-cake, burnt clay, charred peat, soot and green manuring crops. The latter are simply plowed under, a practice widely followed in the United States, especially with alfalfa and other legumes. Where stock can be raised, green crops and cottonseed meal have nearly as great a value for fertilizer after feeding as before, and yield the additional intermediate product of milk or beef. It is interesting to note that the aborigines taught the early settlers of New England the value of fish as a fertilizer. Fish or fish waste should be composted. Quicklime is used in France. Fish compost readily yields its elements to growing crops, consequently it should be applied in the spring, and not deeply covered. Sludge is the precipitant of sewage, and poudrette is the same reduced to a dry powder. A part of their value lies in the germs of nitric ferment which they contain. Some 40 tons of wheat straw leached and burned on the soil contribute to it 8 pounds of phosphorus and 680 pounds of potassium, besides the nitrogen leached into the soil before the straw was burned. This immensely increases the yield of wheat. Mulching with straw does not seem to be of any benefit to wheat, whether applied for fertilizing or for winter protection.
Fertilizing by Irrigation.—To show the fertilizing value of irrigation waters, some analyses are given below.
The waters of the Nile seem to have the largest amount of nitrogen, 1.7 per cent, all the others having merely a trace. Some 24 acre-inches of Rio Grande water add to the soil about 1,075 pounds of potash, 116 pounds of phosphoric acid, and 107 pounds of nitrogen. The same amount of Delaware river water contains 741.08 pounds of materials, while the Mississippi, St. Lawrence, Amazon and La Plata rivers average 655.6 pounds of solid matter for every 24 acre-inches. As a rule sewage waters from the cities have the highest value for irrigation, and muddy river waters stand next. Waters containing sulphate of iron are positively injurious when applied to land. They usually issue from peaty or boggy swamps. While the fertilizing value of sewage waters is unquestioned, and while their use has been almost universally favored, objections have been made to them on other grounds. To say the least, they undoubtedly contain a hidden danger, and if used at all, it should be with the greatest of care. It has been claimed that ‘‘the use of sewage for fertilizing purposes is not to be commended because of the danger of contaminating the soil with pathogenic ferments, which may subsequently infect the health of man and beast. These ferments may attach themselves to vegetables and thus enter the animal organism, or they may remain with a suspended vitality for an indefinite period in the soil and awaken to pernicious-activity when a favorable environment is secured.’’
1 Rept. Mont. Exp. Sta., 1902, p. 62. * Exp. Sta. Record, V. 14, No. 11, p. 1057.
Vast stores of fertilizing materials are continually being washed from the earth by floods, and carried away by streams and rivers. The Seine river thus annually carries two million tons of silt, a greater weight than the merchandise which its waters transport. The War carries seaward yearly 23,000 tons of nitrogen, and one cubic meter of water per second from this stream could be made to produce crops valued at 35,000 francs each year. The river Durance, an Alpine stream, annually carries silt, the fertilizing power of which is equal to 100,000 tons of stable compost or excellent guano. It would take 119,000 acres of forest trees to yield the carbon that this volume of silt contains.
Effect on Germination.—In general, fertilizers never seem to aid in the germination of seeds, and may be harmful if used in large quantities. One per cent of muriate of potash, or of sodium nitrate, is very detrimental, whether applied directly, or mixed with the soil. Phosphoric acid and lime are much less injurious, and may be harmless if not used in excess. It is safest not to bring commercial fertilizers into immediate contact with germinating seeds, and the effect of chemicals applied to seeds before they are planted is no index of their action in this respect when used as fertilizers. When injury does result, it is chiefly to the young sprouts during the time between when they leave the seed coat and when they emerge from the soil, the seed being affected but slightly, if at all. Salts injurious to wheat seedlings have been given in the following order: Magnesium sulphate, magnesium chlorid, sodium carbonate, sodium sulphate and sodium chlorid. Different varieties of wheat vary in their ability to resist the same toxic salt, as does also one variety in different salts.
Effect on Yield and the Supply of Plant Food.—There seems to be a certain minimum yield of wheat which a soil will give under continuous cropping and ordinary cultivation, and this yield can be increased by rotation of crops, and still more by improved methods of cultivation. Fertilizing is also a factor which generally increases the yield, whether utilized by itself, or in conjunction with other factors. The use of commercial fertilizers must, however, be accompanied by intensive methods of cultivation in order to be profitable, and now and then the returns seem to diminish with continued use. Mr. Whitney, chief of the bureau of soils in the United States department of agriculture, maintains that he never saw a case of soil exhaustion which was probably due to the actual removal of plant food. He considers the so-called worn-out soils of the United States due to conditions which make the plant food unavailable, and holds that the primary object of fertilizing is the adaptation of soils to any desired crop or crops. Fertilizing can also be practiced to force growth, even on rich soil. Texture and drainage of soils can be improved, the ratio of soil constituents balanced, and acidity neutralized. Attention is called to the facts that “the soils of India, which tradition says have been cultivated for 2,000 years, under primitive methods, without artificial fertilizing, still give fair returns. In Egypt, lands which have been cultivated since history began are as fertile as ever. In Europe there are records of cultivation of soils for 500 years.” Tradition is not always scientific, however, and soil is not greatly taxed by such primitive methods of culture as have existed in India for 2,000 years. The sediment which is deposited by the waters of the Nile at every annual overflow is entirely adequate to maintain the fertility of the cultivated lands of Egypt, while fertilizing, improved methods of cultivation, and crop rotation have greatly increased the yield of European soils. On some of the fields in France 28 bushels of wheat are raised per acre where 17 bushels were raised 50 years ago. The soil of France is more fertile today than it was in the time of Caesar. The fertility of the soil in Germany has increased proportionately. In England, land on which wheat was grown continuously for 50 years without fertilization yielded 12 to 13 bushels per acre, while adjacent plots to which fertilizers were applied averaged about 30 bushels per acre. Mr. Whitney takes the position that if the soils of eastern and southern United States have any less plant food than when first cultivated, they at least have all the ingredients essential for crop production. This position is certainly supported by statistics that have been given on the amount of plant food contained by soils. An acre of very fertile soil contains about 70,000 pounds, or 2 per cent, of potash in the first foot of ground. A crop of wheat removes about 15 pounds of potash from each acre. It has been estimated that the first eight inches of soil contain on an average enough nitrogen to last 90 years, enough phosphoric acid to last 500 years, and enough potash to last 1,000 years. This supply is materially increased when we consider the great depth penetrated by the roots of wheat. It must also be borne in mind that the loss of plant food is often much greater than that removed by crops; for example, it has been given as three to five times as much in the case of nitrogen. Extensive farming, nevertheless, soon reduced the productivity of our first cultivated soils, and with the cpening of the large and level western wheat fields of fully as great fertility as was ever possessed by any soils of the United States, many of the older lands were abandoned. Now, however, most of the farm lands of the west have 'seen occupied, the standard of farming is being raised, and conditions have so changed as to make it seem profitable again to resume the cultivation of these abandoned lands. But they must be farmed by intensive methods, of which fertilizing is a valuable part. Some lands have already been restored to fertility and are being cultivated with profit. Missouri soils are still rich in plant food, yet their productivity is much less than it was 50 years ago. Commercial fertilizers had been profitably used in wheat raising in Ohio over a decade ago. Growing a leguminous crop on light sandy soil deficient in humus increased the yield of the following crop of wheat over 50 per cent in Arkansas. When 400 pounds of a complete fertilizer were used in addition, the following 2 years the wheat crop averaged over 70 per cent more than on soil not thus treated. Manure treatment and the application of phosphorus is found very profitable in Illinois.