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LIVE STOCK FARMING AND SOIL FERTILITY.
Of the University of Missouri
The agricultural industry has been and will continue to be the greatest and most fundamental industry in the economic life of the American nation. Not only does agriculture supply the means of livelihood to a larger number of people than any other calling, but because of its intimate relation to many other arts, it occupies a most important place among American industries. From reliable statistics, the materials of manufacture drawn from agriculture constitute 42 per cent of all the materials used in the manufacturing industries. Any conditions tending to decrease these necessary materials of manufacture will react unfavorably on this industry and result in hardship to great number of laborers engaged in this occupation. The dominant place of agriculture in the commercial and economic life of the Nation is indicated by the enormous aggregate wealth invested in agricultural enterprises. In 1910, there was invested in lands, buildings and equipment used in agricultural pursuits $36,703,418,000. The value of agricultural products for the one year of 1910, according to the Secretary of Agriculture, was $8,926,000,000. A sum so large that the human mind is unable to grasp its real significance. All this enormous wealth comes directly from the soil. Any factors which tend to diminish the productiveness of this fundamental resource are of national concern. The fertility of the soil is not inexhaustible, it is not self-perpetuating. Soil fertility can be mined out of the soil as coal can be mined out of the earth. When the fertility of soils has decreased beyond a certain point, then the cost of cultivation becomes too great, and farming becomes unprofitable and we may have abandoned farms. This fact has been repeatedly demonstrated in the history of ancient and modern agriculture. But it is also true that soil fertility can be so utilized that the continuous production of crops on the same land can be indefinitely and successfully accomplished. It is also a fact that the conditions of fertility are of such a nature that the natural productiveness of the average soil can be greatly improved and the total production of food crops largely increased. Improved systems of farming based on perfectly definite scientific principles are now being practiced, which are not only more profitable, but likewise maintain successfully the productiveness of the soil. A permanent agriculture can only be established through a rational system of soil conservation. The most important factor in all agriculture is the productiveness of the acre of land. No system of farming can endure which is not profitable. Any scheme of conservation which aims to benefit succeeding generations but fails to provide for the necessities of the people now living on earth will surely fail. Systems of farming which are recommended should then fulfill two conditions; they must maintain or improve the fertility of the land, and they must be profitable. The failures in agriculture in the past have resulted from the failure to recognize one or the other or a combination of these two causes. Either the productiveness of the soil has been exhausted by unintelligent system or the agriculture has been unprofitable. In fact, the exhaustion of soil is rather to be regarded as an economic term which means that the operations of agriculture are no longer carried on at a profit rather than that the elements of fertility have been entirely removed from a one-time fertile soil. In considering live stock farming, then, it is only necessary to determine first whether it is and has been successful in maintaining soil fertility. What is needed to maintain and improve the fertility of the soils? The investigations on this matter are clear. There are four things needed under existing conditions to supply directly or indirectly to agricultural lands : vegetable matter or humus, phosphorus, nitrogen and potash. Does live stock farming. as a system, provide these materials in sufficient quantity to conserve the fertility of the soil? Without going too much into detail, it is correct for us to say that in any well planned system of stock farming, the humus supply can easily be sustained ; the nitrogen can be rapidly increased and the phosphorus and potash supplied either through the application of fertilizers directly or by the purchase of foods to be first fed to animals and the manure later applied to the land.
In attempting to determine whether or not live stock farming is to be considered as a system calculated to conserose soil fertility, one cannot be greatly impressed with the unanimity of opinion in favor of animal husbandry as a means of soil improvement. When soils have become exhausted and unprofitable from continuous grain growing, the almost universal advice is to change the system of farming to stock husbandry and feed out all crops on the land. Nor is this advice to be regarded as eminating from theorists whose conclusions have been drawn alone from the test tube of the chemist, but more often such advice comes from men who are trained in farm management, and have themselves demonstrated that a rational system of animal husbandry will not only maintain but improve the fertility of the average farm located in the corn belt. Live stock farming carried on for the purpose of soil improvement is not an untried experiment. Not only individual farms but whole communities have been brought up from a condition of exhaustion and unprofitableness to a condition of productiveness by animal husbandry. Exclusive grain farming as practiced from New England westward to the Dakotas has left behind a trail of depleted soils and where carried on for too long a time ruined farms and abandoned homes have marked the way. These same soils are today being reclaimed and profitably tilled as the result of changing from grain farming to dairy and stock farming. This change has taken place in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and is now occurring in Minnesota. The result of profitable system of live stock farming on even the poorest of soils is to be seen in Holland. On thin, sandy lands reclaimed from the sea, dairy farming has increased the value of the farming lands until now they are valued at $500 to $1,000 per acre. Holland today supports a population twelve times as dense as Illinois, and yet has an annual surplus of cheese and butter for export amounting to more than four dollars per acre. Fifty years ago Denmark was a wheat producing country. Its soils were gradually being depleted of fertility and agricultural ruin was imminent. The system of farming was at that time radically changed to a system of live stock production, with the result that after forty years of dairy farming the agriculture of Denmark is regarded as a model of farm management, both from the standpoint of the conservation of soil fertility and profits per acre. Farmvard manure is now and always has been the greatest resource for maintaining soil fertility on the typical Middle West farms. Dr. C. G. Hopkins says that “Farm manure always has been, and without doubt always will be, the principal material used in maintaining the fertility of the soil.” Director Thorne of Ohio has pointed out that the increased fertility of English farms as measured in increasing wheat yields has, in his opinion, been due to the fact that the cattle, sheep, hogs and horses have increased rapidly per cultivated acre since 1865. In that year Great Britain was maintaining the equivalent
of one cattle beast for each acre cultivated, while in 1900 the live stock nonula
tion had increased until there was maintained on British farms the equivalent of one cattle heast for each cultivated acre. When Great Britain maintained one cattle beast for each two acres of land cultivated in grain, the average wheat yield was twenty-eight bushels per acre. When she had increased her live stock population to the equivalent of one cattle beast to one acre of land cultivated in grain, the yield of wheat had risen to thirtytwo bushels per acre. The limits of this paper will not permit me to quote the opinions of all the leading agricultural and soil experts who have publicly expressed themselves on the important relations of animal husbandry to soil fertility. But such national authorities as Henry Wallace. President Waters, Dean Davenport, Dean Curtis, Governor Hoard and a host of others have publicly placed themselves on record as favoring live stock husbandry for conserving soil fertility on the American farm. The production of farmvard manure in this country now represents a value greater than the total value of the corn crop. The estimated annual value of farm manure produced in America is two and one-third billion dollars. All authorities agree that more than one-third of this material is absolutely wasted by the farmers. Here is a source of fertility ten times as great as all the commercial fertilizers annually sold in the whole United States. If this manure now wasted could be intelligently applied to the corn lands of America, there would be added $800,000,000 annually to the agricultural wealth of this country.
In planning systems of live stock farming for permanent agriculture, it is necessary to apply the amount of phosphorus removed in the annual products sold, either as commercial fertilizer or by the purchase of supplementary foods. This amount will be comparatively small, and if added by the purchase of supplementary foods may be supplied at little or no additional cost, as the profits from feeding will pay for the phosphorus used.
No scheme of soil conservation can be successful unless it is profitable. If live stock farming conserves fertility, but is unprofitable, then it need not be further considered. But live stock farming is profitable, and is more profitable than any other system of permanent agriculture which has been devised.
The latest census figures show conclusively that the net income per acre is greater from stock and dairy farms than from hay and grain farms.
The average annual net income from stock and dairy farms in the United States for the ten-year period ending with the year 1899 was $11.42, while the income from hay and grain farms was only $7.72 per acre.
Not only was the average income in the United States as a whole greater from stock farms, but in some of the more strictly grain growing states the same increased profit from stock farms is shown. In Illinois the income from grain farms was $10.60 per acre: from stock farms, $12.55. In Missouri, the income from grain farms was $760, and from stock farms, $0.55. In Iowa the income from grain farms was $8.88, and the income from stock farms, $13.17 per acre. In other words the profits from stock farming in Illinois were 18 per cent, in Missouri 24 per cent, and in Iowa 48 per cent greater than from grain farms. . In any ten-year period of the agricultural history of this country, the net income per acre from live stock farms has been greater than from grain crops.
I think all fair minded students of farm management problems in the Middle West will agree that the most prosperous and best managed farms throughout the corn belt today are the farms where live stock is a large, if not the chief, factor of production. The argument that live stock farming can be profitable only on cheap land is fallacious. The highest priced farming lands in the world are utilized for stock and dairy farms. In all systems of exclusive grain farming which have been planned for the maintenance of soil fertility, it is recommended that considerable quantities of clover be plowed under and that all of the straw and stover likewise be added directly to the soil for keeping up the humus supply. While this practice unquestionably will accomplish the results intended it is true that from an economic point of view such materials are too valuable for the nutrition of animals to be thus employed. When we remember that at a very conservative estimate, the stover or stalks, leaves and stems of the corn plant contain not less than 25 per cent of the total feeding value of the entire plant, and that under systems of exclusive grain farming, all this material is so utilized that only its humus value is secured, we must conclude that if there is another method whereby this valuable feedstuff may be first converted into animal products, such a method is certainly to be recommended in a convention assembled to discuss the broad problem of conservation. Plowing under green clover likewise is to be regarded as a practice of doubtful economic value. At the Missouri Experiment Station, for a series of two vears, the average income from such clover pastured off with hogs amounted to $34.11 per acre. This was estimating the pork product at only six cents per pound. As a matter of fact during the years in which this investigation was conducted, the pork was actually worth seven cents per pound, and the actual income from the clover alone amounted to $4000 per acre. I submit that when an acre of clover can be so utilized through animals as to return to the farmer the equivalent of $4000 in cash, that it is doubtful economy to use this material solely for its humus value by plowing under. In accomplishing the above result, it was necessary to feed an average of 3,000 pounds of grain per acre with the clover. This grain at prevailing market prices was charged to the hogs at sixty cents per bushel, the market price, and the $4000 per acre is therefore net income. The large amount of grain fed to the hogs on the clover undoubtedly returned to the soil as much phosphorus as was removed in the body of the animals, and the ultimate result of this experiment was therefore not only to secure a greater profit from the land by this method of utilization, but also to provide generously for the plant food losses incurred by the storing up of such materials in the bodies of the hogs. On the average Middle West farm, there are now and will continue to be great quantities of stover, hay, straw, grass and other materials which are too valuable to be used solely for manurial purposes and are yet too bulky to be profitably placed on the market. All such materials can be profitably marketed through animals, and by so doing at least 50 per cent of the humus value of the materials can be retained and a considerable profit secured from feeding to animals. The development of animal husbandry in modern farm practice is fundamentally important. Exclusive grain farming has never yet been satisfactory or permanently successful. History and present practice have clearly demonstrated the important relation of soil fertility to the keeping of animals. The productiveness of the acre of land is the most important factor in profitable agriculture. If it is true that the productiveness of the acre of land is maintained and often increased by the large use of domestic animals, this is a sufficient reason for large attention to live stock farming. Animal husbandry is more profitable than grain farming. In any ten-vear period of American agriculture, skillful live stock farming has been more profitable than exclusive grain farming. It is no argument to sav that the average stock farmer would have secured larger temporary gains by selling his grain instead of feeding to animals. Statistics have shown a larger net income per acre from live stock farms throughout the United States than grain farms. The highest type of farming is found in those localities where skillful stock farming is the rule. In Denmark. Holland, Great Britain, France, Canada and the United States, it is undoubtedly true that greater intelligence, skill and efficiency are required for the successful management of a live stock farm than a grain farm. The yield of wheat in England has increased in direct proportion to the increase of the number of animals per cultivated acre. The Middle West farmer will always produce large areas of grass, of corn stover, cheap hay and other products having little cash value. The profitable utilization of these materials involves the feeding and keeping of animals. The permanent prosperity of the Middle West farmers, and the conservation of our soil resources both require increased attention to successful methods of stock husbandry.
In the limited remarks I shall have to make on this subject, I wish to preface by saying that it seems to me that one of the crying needs of conservation today is to conserve conservation. There is an immense waste of talk and time and crude unconstructive thought on this subject. Too many men are crying, “Lo! salvation lies in this direction, or that.” Too many are talking with an ulterior purpose of personal gain in notoriety or politics. Forests, mines and water powers claim the principal part of the thought and attention, when they are not the paramount subjects of conservation we consider. It is too easy to generalize or denounce or set up impractical standards of action by men who have not a constructive, practical thought to offer whereby the desired things we might wish for may be obtained. But here stands a great necessity, a glaring mistake, the result of gross ignorance on the part of the farmers of the American nation for many generations. They have wasted their heritage; they are continually wasting it.
Eighty-three millions of people are depending todav for food on the wisdom, the skill, the conserving good sense of seven millions of farmers. By another decade a hundred million will face the same dependence. The cry goes up from this vast army of consumers against the high cost of living. The contingencies of the seasons, serious as they are oftentimes, are enough for producer and consumer to face. But we are confronted with the most serious danger of all in the wasting of fertility, the steady decline in the productive power of our arable lands. Here stands the question : An increasing demand and necessity for food and a steady decline in our lands of the power to produce food. How long shall that reproach to our intelligence continue?
Before that great and overwhelming necessity all other questions of conservation pale into insignificance. Study the situation as it exists today: 'From the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains the American farmer has blazed a pathway of destruction to fertility and forests. His is the hand that hath wrought this great destruction until today vast stretches of territory are hardly able to produce enough in an ordinary season to pay the cost of production.
The Commissioner of Agriculture of the State of New York asserts that that state alone has lost a hundred and sixty-eight millions of dollars in thirty years in the decline of farm values. In my native county of Madison in that state I can buy farms today for $20 to $30 an acre that once sold for $100 an acre. The same is true of the famous old Western Reserve in Ohio, of many sections in Indiana and proportionately so in the southern portion of Illinois. Who hath wrought this fearful destruction of the original productive power of the state and Nation ? The farmer. Why? Because of his ignorance of the principles of fertility and of the methods that belong to intelligent agriculture.
Until very recently the forces of education, all under the control of the states, have done nothing to educate the farmer to a better understanding of his duty to himself, his calling as a farmer, and the millions who must depend upon him for food. The people have gone mad, so to speak, in the pursuit and worship of so-called higher education, and neglected the basic subsidiary schools where the main body of farmers must be trained, if trained at all, into an understanding of what they are about. You know, as every man knows, that the country district school is the only school where 90 per cent of all of the farmers of the land have received or will receive for many years to come the schooling they will get. The teachers of the state and the political forces of the state are solely responsible for the character of the country school. There has been but little vital pushing force among the teachers for the uplift of the country schools. The politicians have given it the go-by because as yet there are no votes in it as an issue. The farmers do not believe in it as a vital energizing principle in their midst for their own enlightenment and that of their children concerning the things that make for the betterment of agriculture.
Do you for a moment suppose that all of this appalling waste of fertility that exists and consequent destruction of farm values would have taken place if the country district school had been organized to teach the farm children the elements of fertility as science and common sense knew them to exist? We must then charge upon the past and present system of education the responsibility for this ignorance that has wasted the productive power of the Nation. And the processes of ignorance and indifference are going on today with but little, if any, check. Our schools of agriculture reach but a thousandth part of the farm children with their corrective knowledge. The agricultural press is doing what it can, but not more than 50 per cent of the farmers are readers and students of this vital question.
... We flatter ourselves that we of the Middle West are to be saved from this tide of destruction because God has given us a soil of such marvelous fertility. But our farmers are just as great spendthrifts of this God-given heritage as were the Fastern farmers. The trouble lies in our lack of knowledge, real helpful knowledge. Think of the millions of acres of corn stalks in the great corn producing states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa that will stand next winter unharvested, and in mute reproach of the lack of a little conserving intelligence sufficient to store them in silos where the contents might be fed to cattle and sheep and so produce an abundance of meat cheaply for the people. An average acre of that corn in an average season, if placed in a silo, will yield ten tons of the finest meat and milk producing fodder known on earth. Thirty pounds a day with ten pounds of alfalfa hay is sufficient to fatten a fifteen-month-old steer to the pink of condition in a year. Each acre, then, and an acre of alfalfa, would suffice to feed two steers for the year. What a tremendous feeding power at low cost is here disclosed, and yet it is annually wasted and not a country district school or school teacher is telling the farmer and his children any better. Think of the thousands upon thousands of poor cows that are kept by the farmers of the dairy states because they do not know better. Think of the wasted labor to raise the feed to support those cows, the wasted time and effort to milk and care for them, when, by exhaustive research it can be shown that not half of those cows are producing enough to pay for their keeping. You ask: Don't the farmers know better than to keep such cows? Can you believe they would continue to breed and keep such cows if they did know better? Everywhere is seen the appalling waste of our farming—in fertility, in poor live stock, in lack of breeding knowledge, in lack of sanitary understanding, in a lack of intelligent methods of farm management. The discontent of the farmer is great. Let us be thankful for that, for we are told that “discontent is the vice of noble minds.” But, likewise, everywhere is he misled by contending politicians to believe that his salvation lies in politics, in the tariff up, or the tariff down, in fighting the corporations and the trusts, in order that certain leaders may have place and power. And all the time this ...:..!,4, Aerona, of waste is crettinor in his work. When will the farmer see that