Cyril G. Hopkins.

The Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, online

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putting a clean round stone in the kettle with some water. Pepper
and salt were added, then some potatoes and other vegetables, a
piece of butter and a few scraps of meat. 'Stone soup,' thus made,
was a very satisfactory soup. He said that in practically all of the
tests of raw phosphate conducted by the various State Experiment
Stations, manure has been used as a means of supplying organic
matter to liberate the phosphorus from the raw rock, but in such
large quantity as to be entirely impracticable for the average
farmer to use on his own fields; and his opinion was that the entire
benefit was due to the manure. He had a little booklet entitled
'Available or Unavailable Plant Food - Which?' published by the
National Fertilizer Association, and said I could get a copy by
addressing the Secretary at Nashville, Tennessee."

"Fortunately," said Percy, "this is not a question of opinion but
one of fact; and it has been discovered that the fertilizer agents
who are long on opinions and short on facts prefer to sell four tons
of complete fertilizer for $80, or even two tons of acid phosphate
for $30, rather than to sell one ton of raw phosphate, containing
the same amount of phosphorus, for $7.50. In the manufacture of
acidulated fertilizers, one ton of raw phosphate, containing about
two hundred and fifty pounds of the element phosphorus, is mixed
with one ton of sulfuric acid to make two tons of acid phosphate;
and, as a rule, these two tons of acid phosphate are mixed with two
tons of filler to make four tons of complete fertilizer. A favorite
filler is dried peat, which is taken from some of the peat bogs, as
at Manito, Illinois, and shipped in train loads to the fertilizer
factories. The peat is not considered worth hauling onto the land in
Illinois, even where the farmers can get it for nothing; but it
contains some organic nitrogen, and, by the addition of a little
potassium salt, the agent is enabled to call the product a
'complete' fertilizer.

"Experiments with the use of raw rock phosphate have been conducted
by the State Agricultural Experiment Stations over periods of twelve
years in Maryland, eleven years in Rhode Island, twenty-one years
(in two series) in Massachusetts, fourteen years (in two series) in
Maine, twelve years in Pennsylvania, thirteen years in Ohio, four
years in Indiana, and from four to six years on a dozen different
experiment fields in different parts of Illinois.

"I have here some quotations taken from the directors of several of
these experiment stations which fairly represent the opinions which
they have expressed concerning their own investigations. Thus the
Maryland director says:

"'The results obtained with the insoluble phosphates has cost
usually less than one-half as much as that with the soluble
phosphates. Insoluble South Carolina phosphate rock produced a
higher total average yield than dissolved South Carolina rock.'

"The Rhode Island director comments as follows:

"' With the pea, oat, summer squash, crimson clover, Japanese
millet, golden millet, white podded Adzuka bean, soy bean, and
potato, raw phosphate gave very good results; but with the flat
turnip, table beet, and cabbage it was relatively very inefficient.'

"The following statement is from the Massachusetts director:

"'It is possible to produce profitable crops of most kinds by
liberal use of natural phosphates, and in a long series of years
there might be a considerable money saving in depending at least in
part upon these rather than upon the higher priced dissolved

"The director of the Maine State Experiment Station gives us the

"'For the first year the largest increase of crop was produced by
soluble phosphate. For the second and third years without further
addition of fertilizers, better results were obtained from the plots
where stable manure and insoluble phosphates had been used.'

"The stable manure and insoluble phosphates here referred to were
not applied together, but on separate plots. In deed, the raw
phosphate was not used in connection with manure either in Maryland,
Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania, or Indiana; and in
the extensive experiments in progress in Illinois the raw phosphate
has been used, as a rule, not with farm manure, but with green
manures; and wherever manure has been used in connection with the
raw phosphate, as in Ohio, the comparison is made with the same
amounts of manure applied without phosphate.

"The Pennsylvania Report for 1895, page 210, contains the following

"'The yearly average for the twelve years gives us a gain per acre
of $2.83 from insoluble ground bone, $2.45 from insoluble South
Caroline rock, $1.61 from reverted phosphate, and 48 cents from
soluble phosphate, thus giving us considerably better results from
the two forms of insoluble phosphate than from the reverted or
soluble forms.'

"The Indiana director reports as follows:

"'It will be seen that during the first and second years the rock
phosphate produced little effect, while the acid phosphate very
materially increased the yields. During the third and fourth
seasons, however, the rock produced very striking results, even
forging ahead of the acid. This and very similar investigations in
progress lead us to believe that rock phosphate is a cheap and
effective source of phosphorus where immediate returns are not

"In the Ohio experiments eight tons of manure per acre were applied
once every three years in a three-year rotation of corn, wheat, and
clover, three different fields being used, so that every crop might
be grown every year. The average yields for the thirteen years where
manure alone was used were:

53.1 bushels of corn
20.6 bushels of wheat
1.63 tons of hay

"The average yields on the unfertilized land were:

32.2 bushels of corn
11.4 bushels of wheat
1.16 tons of hay

"If the corn is worth 35 cents a bushel, the wheat 70 cents, and the
hay $6 a ton, in addition to the expense of harvesting and
marketing, then the total value of the manure spread on the land is
$2.07 a ton.

"Where $1.20 worth of raw phosphate (320 pounds) were added in
connection with the manure the average yields were as follows:

61.4 bushels of corn
26.3 bushels of wheat
2.23 tons of hay

"And where $2.40 worth of acid phosphate (320 pounds) were used with
the same amount and kind of manure the following average yields were

60.4 bushels of corn
26.5 bushels of wheat
2.16 tons of hay

"These are the actual yield, and by any method of computation yet
proposed, each dollar invested in raw phosphate has paid back much
more than has a dollar invested in acid phosphate."

"And was the use of the raw phosphate really profitable?" asked Mr.

"Well, you might figure that out for yourself," Percy replied,
"preferably using the average prices for your own locality for corn,
wheat and clover. As I figure it at prices below the ten-year
average for Illinois, the raw phosphate paid about eight hundred per
cent. net on the investment."

"Eight hundred per cent! You must mean eight per cent. net.

"No, Sir, I mean eight hundred per cent. net, but you had better
take the data and make your own computations. But does it not seem
strange that, with such positive knowledge as this available, many
of the Illinois landowners who have managed to sell off enough of
their original stock of fertility in grain or stock at good prices
to enable them to more than pay for their lands, should continue to
invest their surplus in more land with hope that it will pay them
eight per cent. interest, when they could secure many times that
much interest from investing in the permanent improvement of the
land they already own?"

"Perhaps it is not so strange," replied Mr. West. "I fear that some
of their ancestors did the same thing in Virginia and other Eastern
States until the land became poor, and then of course they were
'land poor.' But, say, that 'stone soup' wouldn't be so bad for
those Ohio landowners, would it? I should think they would avail
themselves of the positive information from their experiment
station. Speaking of soup, I wonder if it isn't time for lunch! But
tell me; are the Illinois farmers doing anything with raw

"Yes, they are doing something, but by no means as much as they
ought. About two months ago a group of the leading farmers from our
section of the State went up to Urbana to look over the experiment
fields, some of which have been carried on since 1870. The land is
the typical corn belt prairie, and consequently the results should
be of very wide application. Well, as a result of that day's
inspection of the actual field results, an even twelve carloads of
raw phosphate were ordered by those farmers upon their return home;
and I learned of another community where ten carloads were ordered
at once after a similar visit. As an average of the last three years
the yield of corn on those old fields has been 23 bushels per acre
where corn has been grown every year without fertilizing, 58 bushels
where a three-year rotation of corn, oats and clover is followed,
and in the same rotation where organic matter, limestone, and
phosphorus have been applied the average yield has been 87 bushels
in grain farming and 92 bushels in live-stock farming.

"I attended the State Farmers' Institute last February, and there I
met many men who have had several years' experience with the raw
rock. Usually they put on one ton per acre as an initial application
and plow it under with a good growth of clover; and, afterward,
about one thousand pounds per acre every four years will be ample to
gradually increase the absolute total supply of phosphorus in the
soil, even though large crops are removed.

"A good many of our thinking farmers are now using one or two cars
of raw phosphate every year, and they are figuring hard to keep up
the organic matter and nitrogen. The most encouraging thing is the
very marked benefit of the phosphate to the clover crop, and of
course more clover means more corn in grain farming, and more corn
and clover means more manure in live-stock farming.

"On the Illinois fields advantage is taken of these relations in the
developing of systems of permanent agriculture. You see, if the
phosphate produces more clover, then more clover can be plowed under
on that land; or, if the crops are fed, then more manure can be
returned to the phosphated land than to the land not treated with
phosphate and not producing so large crops. Really the phosphate is
not given full credit for what it has accomplished in the Ohio
experiments; because, while the land receiving phosphated manure has
produced about one-fourth larger crops than the land receiving the
untreated manure, the actual amounts of manure applied have been the
same, whereas one-fourth more manure can be produced from the
phosphated land and if this increased supply of manure were returned
to the land it would increase the supply of nitrogen and thus make
still larger crop yields possible."

"That is surely the way it would work out in practical farming,"
said Mr. West. "I think I did not tell that $4.80 a ton is the
lowest quotation I have been able to get as yet for ground limestone
delivered at Blue Mound Station."

"That would make its use prohibitive," said Percy. "You ought to get
it for just one-fourth of that, or for $1.20 a ton. In Illinois we
can get it delivered a hundred miles from the quarry for $1.20 a
ton. It costs no more for a thirty-ton car of ground limestone than
the farmer receives for a cow; and the cost of a car of fine-ground
natural phosphate is about equal to the price of one horse."

"Of course, our limestone supplies are essentially inexhaustible,"
said Mr. West, "but is that also true of our natural phosphate

"It is not true of the high-grade phosphate," replied Percy; "for,
according to the information furnished by the United States
Geological Survey, it is evident that the known supplies of our
high-grade phosphate will be practically exhausted in fifty years if
our exportation continues to increase at the prevailing rate. After
that is gone we may then draw upon our low-grade phosphate deposits,
which though probably not inexhaustible are known to be exceedingly



PERCY planned to walk to Blue Mound to take the three-thirty train
that Saturday afternoon; but Adelaide's parents both insisted that
she would willingly drive to the station, and the grandmother
discovered that she needed a certain kind of thread which Adelaide
could then also get at the store.

"Certainly," said Adelaide, with some merriment, "I always enjoy our
departing guests to the train."

"Very well," replied Percy. "If you must go to get the thread and
will permit me to be the coachman, I shall be satisfied, for you
will be home early."

"Then we will take the colts and buckboard, and I shall be home in
less than twenty minutes after your train leaves the station."

"I think I have missed several days of your beautiful 'Indian
Summer,' because of my trip to the North," Percy remarked to Mr.
West as they sat on the broad veranda waiting for the hour of two
thirty when the colts were to be ready for the drive.

"I wish you might have been with us while Professor Barstow was
here," replied Mr. West, "not only because of the mild autumn
weather we have had, but also because Professor Barstow has some
ideas about questions of soil fertility that are very different from
those you hold. He says a young man from Washington gave a lecture
at his college down in North Carolina, in which he informed them
that the cause of infertility of soils is a poisonous substance
excreted by the plant itself, and that this can be overcome by
changing from one crop to another because the excrete of one plant,
while poisonous to that plant, will not be poisonous to other plants
of a different kind. Thus, by rotation of crops, good crops could be
grown indefinitely on the same land without the addition of plant
food. He said that the soil water alone dissolved plenty of plant
food from all soils for the production of good crops, and that the
supply of plant food will be permanently maintained, because the
plant food contained in the subsoil far below where the roots go is
being brought to the surface by the rise of the capillary moisture,
and that there is in fact a steady tendency toward an accumulation
of plant food in the surface soil. He said that it is never
necessary to apply fertilizing material to any soil for the purpose
of increasing the supply of plant food in that soil. He admitted
that applications of fertilizers sometimes produce increased crop
yields, but that the effect was due to the power of the fertilizer
to destroy the toxic substances excreted by the plants, and this is
really the principal effect of potash, phosphates, and nitrates, and
also of farm manure and green manures. Humus, he said, is one of the
very best substances for destroying these toxic excrete although
they had some other things which were as good or better than any
sore of fertilizing materials. He mentioned especially a substance
called pyrogallol, which cost $2.00 a pound, and of course it could
not be applied on a large scale; but it was as good a fertilizer as
anything, although it contains nothing but carbon, oxygen, and
hydrogen, which, as you explained to me when you were here before,
the plants secure in abundance from air and water. This information
had been secured in the laboratories at Washington by growing wheat
seedlings in water culture for twenty-day periods."

"I have already heard something of those theories," said Percy, "but
I shall be glad to have you tell me more about them. As I understand
them, we need only to rotate and cultivate and our lands should
always continue to produce bountiful crops. Is that correct?"

"I understand that is the theory," replied Mr. West, "but I know it
is not correct for my grandfather used to grow two or three times as
much wheat per acre as I can grow, and I rotate much more than he
did. In fact I can grow only ten to fifteen bushels of wheat per
acre once in ten years, whereas he grew from twenty-five to forty
bushels per acre in a five-year rotation; and I don't see that there
is any particular connection between the growing of wheat seedlings
in small pots or bottles for a few twenty-day periods and the
growing of crops in soils during successive seasons. No, I don't
take any stock in their theories. I think they are _watered, _or
perhaps I should say _hydrated, _in deference to science. But I
would like to know about this question of plant food coming up from
below. That would be a happy solution of the fertilizer problem."

"It is true," said Percy, "that soluble salts are brought to the
surface in the rise of moisture by capillarity in times of partial
drouth; and in the arid regions where the small amount of water that
falls in rain or snow leaves the soil only by evaporation, because
there is never enough to produce underdrainage, the salts tend to
accumulate at the surface. The alkali conditions in the arid or
semiarid regions of the West are thus produced. But in humid
sections where more or less of the rainfall leaves the soil as
underdrainage the regular loss by leaching is so much in excess of
the rise by capillarity that soils which are not affected by erosion
or overflow steadily decrease in fertility even under natural
conditions, with no cultivation and no removal of crops. Of course
this applies at first only to the mineral plant foods, as phosphorus
potassium, magnesium, and calcium. While mineral supplies are
abundant in the surface soil, there may be a large acumulation of
organic matter and nitrogen, especially because of the growth of
wild legumes, which are very numerous and in places very abundant,
especially on some of the virgin prairies of the West. However, as
the process of leaching proceeds there comes a time when the growth
of the native vegetation is limited because of a deficiency in some
essential mineral plant food, such as phosphorus, or the limestone
completely disappears and soil acidity develops which greatly
lessens the growth of the legumes.

"Decomposition of organic matter begins almost as soon as any part
of the plant ceases to live, and there is certain to come a time
when the rate of decomposition and loss exceeds the rate of fixation
and accumulation; and from that time on the organic matter and
nitrogen as well as the mineral plant foods continue to decrease in
the surface, until finally the natural barrens are developed, such
as are found in different sections of the World and in some places
even where the rainfall is sufficient for abundant crops."

"Yes, Sir," said Mr. West. "I know that is true. I have visited
Tennessee and I know there are some extensive areas there of
practically level upland which have always been considered too poor
to justify putting under cultivation, and they are called the

"I know about those barren lands, too," said Percy. "Our teacher of
soil fertility in college told us that a farm is more than a piece
of the earth's surface. He said if we only wanted to get a large
level tract of upland where the climate is mild and the rainfall
abundant and where all sorts of crops do well on good soil,
including the wonderful cotton crop which brings a hundred dollars
for a thousand pounds, while corn brings forty dollars for a hundred
bushels, - well, he said we could go to the Highland Rim of Tennessee
where, according to analyses reported in 1897 by the Tennessee
Experiment Station, the surface soil of the 'Barrens' contains
eighty-seven pounds of phosphorus and the subsoil sixty-one pounds
of phosphorus per acre, counting two million pounds of soil in each
case. He said, if we didn't like that we might go into the Great
Central Basin of Tennessee or the famous Blue Grass Region of
Kentucky and find land that is still extremely productive and more
valuable than ever, even after a hundred years of cultivation, and
buy land containing from three thousand to fifteen thousand pounds
of phosphorus per acre."

"I know both of those sections very well," said Mr. West. "But
doesn't it seem strange that the scientists at Washington would
teach as they do? Why doesn't the plant food accumulate in the
surface soil of those barrens? Surely they have been lying there
long enough, with no crops whatever removed, so that they ought to
have become very rich. I wish I had known about their phosphorus
content so I could have told Professor Barstow. He was quite carried
away with the Washington theory."

"You ought not for a moment call it the 'Washington' theory," said
Percy; "and neither is it promulgated by scientists, but rather by
two or three theorists who are upheld by our greatest living
optimist. Science, Sir, is a word to be spoken of always with the
greatest respect. Of course you know its meaning?"

"Yes, I know it comes from the Latin _scire, _to know."

"Then _science _means _knowledge; _it does not mean theory or
hypothesis, but absolute and positive knowledge. Is there any
uncertainty as to the instant when the next eclipse will appear? No,
none whatever. Science means knowledge, and men are scientists only
so far as they have absolute knowledge, and to that extent every
farmer is a scientist.

"Nevertheless the erroneous teaching so widely promulgated by the
federal Bureau of Soils is undoubtedly a most potent influence
against the adoption of systems of positive soil improvement in the
United States, because it is disseminated from the position of
highest authority. Other peoples have ruined other lands, but in no
other country has the powerful factor of government influence ever
been used to encourage the farmers to ruin their lands."



AS we were riding to Montplain yesterday," said Adelaide to Percy,
soon after they started for Blue Mound, "Professor Barstow told me
that in his opinion all that was needed to redeem these old lands of
Virginia and the Carolinas is plenty of efficient labor, such as he
thinks we had before the war. I know papa does not agree with him in
that, but Professor said that soils do not wear out if well
cultivated, that in New England they grow as large crops as ever,
and that in Europe, on the oldest lands the crop yields are very
much larger than in the United States; and in fact that the European
countries are producing about twice as large crops as they did a
hundred years ago. He thinks it is because they do their work more
thoroughly than we do. He says that 'a little farm well tilled' is
the key to the solution of our difficulties."

"That might seem to be a good guess as to the probable relation of
cause and effect," replied Percy, "but we ought not to overlook some
well known facts that have an important bearing. It is exactly a
hundred years since DeSaussure of France, first gave to the world a
clear and correct and almost complete statement concerning the
requirements of plants for plant food and the natural sources of
supply. Sir Humphrey Davy, Baron von Liebig, Lawes and Gilbert, and
Hellriegel followed DeSaussure and completely filled the nineteenth
century with accumulated scientific facts relating to soils and
plant growth.

"Sir John Bennett Lawes, the founder of the Rothamsted Experiment
Station, the oldest in the world, on his own private estate at
Harpenden, England, began his investigations in the interest of
practical agricultural science soon after coming into possession of
Rothamsted in 1834. In 1843 he associated with him in the work
Doctor Joseph Henry Gilbert, and for fifty-seven years those two
great men labored together gathering agricultural facts. Sir John
died in 1900, and Sir Henry the following year.

"That the people of Europe have made some use of the science thus
evolved is evident from the simple fact that they are taking out of
the United States every year about a million tons of our best
phosphate rock for which they pay us at the point of shipment about
five millions dollars; whereas, if this same phosphate were applied
to our own soils that already suffer for want of phosphorus, it
would make possible the production of nearly a billion dollars'
worth of corn above what these soils can ever produce without the
addition of phosphorus. And our phosphate is only a part of the
phosphate imported into Europe. They also produce rock phosphate
from European mines, and great quantities of slag phosphate from

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