Cyril G. Hopkins.

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

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their phosphatic iron ores.

"They feed their own crops and large amounts of imported food
stuffs, and utilize all fertilizing materials thus provided for the
improvement of their own lands. Legume crops are grown in great
abundance and are often plowed under to help the land.

"Do you wonder why the wheat yield in England is more than thirty
bushels per acre while that of the United States is less than
fourteen bushels? Because England produces only fifty million
bushels of wheat, while she imports two hundred million bushels of
wheat, one hundred million bushels of corn, nearly a billion pounds
of oil cake, and other food stuffs, from which large quantities of
manure are made; and, in addition to this, England imports and uses
much phosphate and other commercial plant food materials.

"Germany imports great quantities of wheat, corn, oil cake, and
phosphates, and thus enriches her cultivated soil, and Germany's
principal export is two billion pounds of sugar, which contains no
plant food of value, but only carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, secured
from air and water by the sugar beet.

"Denmark produces four million bushels of wheat, imports five
million bushels of wheat, fifteen million bushels of corn, fifteen
million bushels of barley, eight hundred million pounds of oil cake,
eight hundred million pounds of mill feed, and other food stuffs,
phosphate, etc., and exports one hundred and seventy-five million
pounds of butter, which contains no plant food of value, but sells
for much more than these imports cost.

"Italy applies to her soils every year about a million tons of
phosphates, which contain nearly twice as much phosphorus as is
removed from the land in all the crops harvested and sold from the
farms of Italy.

"The very good yields of the crops of New England are attributable
to large use of fertilizing materials, in part made from food stuffs
shipped in from the West; and the high development of certain lands
of Europe and New England has been possible under the system
followed only because the areas concerned are small. Thus, the
average acreage of corn in Rhode Island and Connecticut is less than
three townships, or less than one-tenth as much corn land in the two
States as the area of single counties in the Illinois corn belt.

"Did you ever hear of the 'Egypt' we have out West, Miss West?"

"Out West, Miss West," she repeated. "That is too much repetition
of the same word to make a good sentence. I like 'Miss Adelaide'
better; I do get tired of hearing West and Westover over and over.
Yes, I have heard of the 'Egypt' you have out West. Is it near

"Near Illinois? Why, Miss Adelaide, I am surprised that you should
even know about the crop yields of Rhode Island and not know where
'Egypt' is. Let me inform you that 'Egypt' is in Illinois, and our
'Egypt' is a country as large as thirteen states the size of Rhode
Island. Cairo is the Capital, and Alexandria, Thebes, and Joppa are
all near by. Tamm and Buncombe, and Goreville and Omega are also
among our promising cities of 'Egypt,' although you may not so
easily associate them with the ancient world."

"Well I know where Cairo is," Adelaide replied, "but if your 'Egypt'
is on the map you will have to show me. I know now that 'Egypt' is
in Southern Illinois, but how do you separate 'Egypt' from the rest
of the State?"

"We make no such separation," said Percy. "But to find 'Egypt' on
the map, you need only take the State of Illinois and subtract
therefrom all that part of the corn belt situated between the
Mississippi River and the west line of Indiana. The southern point
of 'Egypt' is at Cairo, the Capital, and it is bounded on the east,
south, and west, by the Wabash, the Ohio, and the Mississippi; but
the north line is not only imaginary, but it is movable. In fact it
is always just a few miles farther south, but I think all
'Egyptians' will agree that a sand bar which is being formed below
Cairo between the Ohio and the Mississippi is truly 'Egyptian '
territory. If you ever visit in the West do not fail to see 'Egypt.'

"I really hope I may, sometime," she replied. "We have relatives who
claim to live in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri, but I think
possibly they may all be 'Egyptians,' from what you have told me
about the vast area of that great fairy empire. I know I would
dearly love to go there."

"'Egypt' is the wheat belt and the fruit belt of Illinois," Percy
continued. "One of the grand old men of Illinois, Colonel N. B.
Morrison, who was for years a trustee of the State University, used
to be called upon for an address whenever he was present at
Convocation. He always stated proudly that he lived in the 'Heart of
Egypt.' He said the soil there was not so rich perhaps as in the
corn belt, but that with plenty of hard work they were able to live
and to produce the finest fruit and the greatest men in America. He
said they had to work both the top and bottom of their soil, and he
explained that they harvested wheat and apples from the top, and
then went down about 600 feet and harvested ten thousand tons of
coal to the acre, and still left enough to support the earth. I have
heard him say that when he was born there was not a mile of railroad
in the United States, and that he had during his own lifetime,
witnessed the practical agricultural ruin of almost whole States. He
used to plead for the University to send some of her scientific men
to help them to solve the problem of restoring the fertility of
their soils down in 'Egypt'; and I am glad to say that finally the
State appropriated sufficient funds so that the Illinois Experiment
Station is rapidly securing the exact information needed to make
those Southern Illinois lands richer than they ever were.

"I spent several days in 'Egypt' last month and I am planning to
make another trip down there next week before deciding definitely
about purchasing our poor land farm. I am not sure but the land of
'Egypt' is as poor as we ought to try to build up considering our
limited means."

"Oh, do you think so? But Papa's land is not so poor is it?"

"No, it is not so poor in mineral plant food on the sloping areas,
but even there it is extremely poor in humus and nitrogen. However,
I fear I could not enjoy farming in irregular patches of five or ten
acres, and the level lands of Virginia and Maryland are so
exceedingly poor, that much time and money and work will be required
to put them on a paying basis. There would be no pleasure or
satisfaction in merely robbing other farms to build up mine, as some
of the prosperous truck farmers and dairymen are doing. I should
want to practice a system of soil improvement of unlimited
application so that it would not be a curse to the agricultural
people, as is the case with the man who builds up his farm only at
the expense of other farms.

"We have been speaking of the development of agriculture on the
small tracts of cultivable land in the great manufacturing States of
New England. But, if we would make a fair comparison with a State
like Illinois, we should consider some great agricultural State, as
Georgia, for example, which is also one of the original thirteen.
Georgia is a larger State than Illinois, and Georgia cultivates as
many acres of corn and cotton as we cultivate in corn. But Georgia
land cannot be covered with fertilizer made from Illinois corn, nor
even with seaweed and fish-scrap from the ocean. Her agriculture
must be an independent agriculture, just as the agriculture of
Russia, India, and China must be, just as the agriculture of
Illinois must be, and as the agriculture of all the great
agricultural States must be. What is the result to date? The average
yield of corn in Georgia is down to 11 bushels per acre. This is not
for half of one township, but the average of four million acres for
the last ten years; and this in spite of the fact that Georgia out
more for the common acidulated manufactured so-called complete
commercial fertilizer than any other State."

"That is appalling," said Adelaide, "but still some larger countries
are building up their lands, such as those of Europe."

"In large part by the same methods as the New England truckers and
dairymen are following," he replied, "and in comparison with the
area and resources of their colonies and of the other great new
countries upon which they draw for food and fertilizer, they are
fairly comparable with the New England States in this country. Even
the Empire of Germany is only four-fifths as large as Texas. The
only country of Europe at all comparable with the United States is
Russia, and in that great country the average yield of wheat for the
last twenty years is eight and one-fourth bushels per acre, even
though, as a general practice, the land is allowed to lie fallow
every third year. The average yield for the five famine years that
have occurred during the twenty-year period was six and one-quarter
bushels of wheat per acre."

"That is wretched," said Adelaide, "I know about the Russian famines
for we have made contributions through our church for their relief,
but that condition can surely never come to this great rich new
country, can it?"

"It will come just as certainly as we allow our soil fertility to
decrease and our population to increase. As a nation we have
scarcely lifted a hand yet to stop the waste of fertility or to
restore exhausted lands; practically every effort put forth by the
Federal government along agricultural lines having been directed
toward better seeds, control of injurious insects and fungous
diseases, exploitation of new lands by drainage and irrigation,
popularly called 'reclamation,' although applied only to rich virgin
soils which can certainly be brought under cultivation at any future
time either by the Government or by private enterprise. But why
should not the Federal government make all necessary provisions to
furnish ground limestone and phosphate rock at the actual cost of
quarrying, grinding, and transporting, in order that farmers on
these old depleted soils may be encouraged to adopt systems of soil
improvement; or even compelled to adopt such systems, just as they
are compelled to build school houses, bridges, and battleships?"

"Perhaps the Government would do this," said Adelaide, "if the
Secretary of Agriculture would recommend it."

"I have heard of the '_big if,'" _Percy replied slowly, "but I am
afraid this _if _will beat the record for bigness. His soil
theorists continue to assure him that soils do not wear out, no
matter how heavily cropped, if they are only rotated and cultivated;
and to support their theories they have forsaken the data from the
most carefully conducted and long continued scientific
investigations, and indulged in a game of guessing that the
increasing productiveness of a few small countries of Europe is not
due to any necessary addition of plant food.

"But here is the depot, and I have taken almost an hour to drive
three miles. If I had hurried, you might have been back home by this
time. I am afraid I have been selfish in allowing the team to walk
nearly all of the way, but they will at least be fresh for the home
trip which you promised to make in less than twenty minutes, I
remember. Now if you will hold the lines, I will run into the store
to get the thread. I remember the kind; I often do such errands for

"I will wait while you get your ticket and find out if the train is
on time," said Adelaide, as Percy returned with the thread.

"At least fifty minutes late," he reported, "and the agent said he
was glad of it for he would need about that time to make out such a
long-jointed ticket as I want. I am rather glad too, for I can watch
you to the turn in the road on the hill, which must be a mile or
more, and I will time you. You can have six minutes to make that

"You mean I can have six minutes to get out of sight," she

"I think you are out of sight," he ventured.

Adelaide reddened. "I shall have to tell mother what slang you use,"
she said.

"I hope you will," he retorted, "for I have watched her watch you
and I am sure she will agree with me. But I do feel that I owe you a
sincere apology for taking up the time we have had together with
this long discussion of the things that are of such special interest
to me. I have been alone with my mother so much and she is always so
ready and so able, I may add, to discuss any sort of business matter
that I fear I have been forgetful of your forbearance."

"But you really have not," Adelaide replied. "I keep books for papa,
and I am very much interested in these social and economic questions
which are so fundamental to the perpetuity of our State and National
prosperity. I have been both entertained and instructed by these
discussions; and I might say, honored, too, that you do not consider
me too young and foolish to talk of serious subjects."

"I am sure it is kind of you to make good excuses for me. You have
at any rate relieved my mind of some burden, but I am sure you are
the only woman I have ever known, except my mother, who could endure
discussions of this sort. I have so greatly enjoyed the few short
visits I have had with you. I wish I might write to you and I shall
be so much interested to learn what success your father has if he
begins a system of soil improvement. Would it be presuming to hope
that I might hear from you also?"

"I am papa's stenographer," she replied, "and perhaps he will
dictate and I will write. We will be glad to hear of your safe
return, - and you, - you might ask papa. Now, I shall soon be out of

"Please don't," begged Percy. "It is still forty-five minutes 'at
least,' before the train comes. Let me go a piece with you. I will
leave my suit case here and with nothing to carry I shall easily
walk a mile in twenty minutes. May I drive, please?"

"No, I will drive. I want to ask you another question, and I am
afraid you would drive too fast.

"You mentioned some long-continued scientific investigations which I
assumed referred to the yield of crops. What were they?"

"I meant such investigations as those at Rothamsted and also those
conducted at Pennsylvania State College. I have some of the exact
data here in my note book.

"In 1848, Sir John Lawes and Sir Henry Gilbert began at Rothamsted,
England, two four-year rotations. One was turnips, barley, fallow,
and wheat; and the other was turnips, barley, clover, and wheat.
Whenever the clover failed, which has been frequent, beans were
substituted, in order that a legume crop should be grown every
fourth year.

"The average of the last twenty years represents the average yields
about fifty years from the beginning of this rotation.

"In the legume system, as an average of the last twenty years, the
use of mineral plant food has increased the yield of turnips from
less than one-half ton to more than twelve tons; increased the yield
of barley from thirteen and seven-tenths bushels to twenty-two and
two-tenths bushels; increased the yield of clover (when grown) from
less than one-half ton to almost two tons; increased the yield of
beans (when grown) from sixteen bushels to twenty-eight and
three-tenths bushels; and increased the yield of wheat from
twenty-four and three-tenths bushels to thirty-eight and four-tenths
bushels per acre.

"In the legume system the minerals applied have more than doubled
the value of the crops produced, have paid their cost, and made a
net profit of one hundred and forty per cent. on the investment, in
direct comparison with the unfertilized land.

"If we compare the average yield of turnips, barley, clover, and
wheat of the last twenty years with the yield of turnips in 1848,
barley in 1849, clover in 1850 and wheat in 1851 we find that on the
unfertilized land in this rotation of crops in fifty years the yield
of turnips has decreased from ten tons to one-half ton, and the
yield of barley has decreased from forty-six to fourteen bushels,
the yield of clover has decreased from two and eight-tenths tons per
acre to less than one-half ton, while the yield of wheat has
decreased only from thirty bushels to twenty-four bushels. As a
general average the late yields are only one-third as large as they
were fifty years before on the same land. Wheat grown once in four
years has been the only crop worth raising on the unfertilized land
during the last twenty years, and even the wheat crop has distinctly
decreased in yield; although where mineral plant food was applied
the yield has increased from thirty bushels, in 18851 to
thirty-eight bushels as an average of the last twenty years. In the
fallow rotation on the unfertilized land the yield of wheat averaged
thirty-four and five-tenths bushels during the first twenty years
(1848 to 1867) and twenty-three and five-tenths bushels during the
last twenty years.

"On another Rothamsted field the phosphorus actually removed in
fifty-five crops from well-fertilized land is two-thirds as much as
the total phosphorus now contained in the plowed soil of adjoining
untreated land.

"In the early 80's the Pennsylvania Agricultural Experiment Station
began a four-year crop rotation, including corn, oats, wheat, and
mixed clover and timothy.

"There are five plots in each of four different fields that have
received no applications of plant food from the beginning. Thus,
every year the crops are carefully harvested and weighed from twenty
measured plots of ground that receive no treatment except the
rotation of crops. The difference between the average of the first
twelve years and the average of the second twelve years should
represent the actual change in productive power during a period of
twelve years. These averages show that the yield of corn has
decreased from forty-one and seven-tenths bushels to twenty-seven
and seven-tenths bushels; that the yield of oats has decreased from
thirty-six and seven-tenths bushels to twenty-five bushels; that the
yield of wheat has decreased only from thirteen and three-tenths
bushels to twelve and eight-tenths bushels; and that the yield of
hay has decreased from three thousand seventy pounds to two thousand
one hundred and eighty pounds.

"As a general average of these four crops the annual value of
produce from one acre has decreased from $11.05 to $8.18. Here we
have information which is almost if not quite equal in value to that
from the Agdell rotation field at Rothamsted. While the Rothamsted
experiments cover a period of sixty years, each crop was grown but
once in four years; whereas, in the Pennsylvania experiments, there
have been four different series of plots, so that in twenty-four
years there have been twenty-four crops of corn, twenty-four crops
of oats, twenty-four crops of wheat, and twenty-four crops of hay.

"Under this four-year rotation the value of the crops produced has
decreased twenty-six per cent. in twelve years. What influence will
impress that fact upon the minds of American landowners? A loss
amounting to more than one-fourth of the productive power of the
land in a rotation with clover seeded every fourth year! This one
fact is the mathematical result of four hundred and eighty other
facts obtained from twenty different pieces of measured land during
a period of twenty-four years.

"As an average of these twenty-four years, the addition of mineral
plant food produced increases in crop yields above the unfertilized
land as follows:

Corn increased forty-five per cent.
Oats increased thirty-two per cent.
Wheat increased forty-two per cent.
Hay increased seventy-seven per cent.

"As a general average of the four crops for the twenty-four years,
the produce where mineral plant food is applied, was forty-nine per
cent. above the yields of the unfertilized land, although the same
rotation of crops was practiced in both cases."

"Those are some of the absolute facts of science secured from
practical application in the adoption and development of definite
systems of permanent prosperous agriculture, and they should be made
to serve this greatest and most important industry just as the
established facts of mathematical and physical science are made to
serve in engineering."

"I am glad to know about those long-continued experiments," said
Adelaide. "They are of fascinating interest. I have been so sorry
for grandma, and for papa and mamma, because of their increasing
discouragement over our farm. I do hope we may profit from this fund
of accumulated information which has already been secured from long
years of investigation. Surely we must endeavor to avoid in America
the awful conditions that already exist in the older agricultural
countries, where the lands are depleted and the people are brought
to greater poverty than even here in Virginia.

"But we have already reached the turn, and you have a mile to walk.
How much time have you?"

"Thirty minutes yet," said Percy. "Wait just a moment. Have you read
Lincoln's stories?"

"Many of them, yes."

"Here is the best one he ever told; I have copied it on a card. He
told it to a meeting of farmers at the close of an address in which
he urged them to study the science of agriculture and to adopt
better methods of farming:

"'An Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a
sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and
appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the
words, "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How
chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of
affliction! "And this, too, shall pass away." And yet, let us hope,
it is not quite true. Let us hope, rather, that by the best
cultivation of the physical world beneath and around us, and the
best intellectual and moral world within us, we shall secure an
individual, social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose
course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth
endures, shall not pass away.'"

"I agree with you that it is his best story," said Adelaide, as
Percy finished reading and placed the card in her hand. "Now you
must go or I shall insist upon taking you back to the station."

"I shall stand here and time you till you reach the next turn," he
replied. "Then you will be in sight of Westover. One! Two! Three!




December 4, 1 903

Mr. T. O. Thornton, Blairville, VA.

MY DEAR SIR: - I beg to report that I returned home a few days ago
and found my mother well and busy as usual. We have definitely
decided that we will not accept your kind offer to sell us a part of
your farm, but we appreciate nevertheless the sacrifice, at least
from the standpoint of sentiment, which Mrs. Thornton and Miss
Russell were willing to make, in order to permit us to secure such a
farm as we might want in a splendid situation.

As a matter of fact we are thinking very seriously of purchasing a
farm in Southern Illinois. My mother much prefers to remain in
Illinois, and for some reasons I have the same preference on her

While in Washington I was fortunate enough to find that a soil
survey had been completed for your county and also that a partial
ultimate analysis had been made of the common loam soil of your
farm, such as we sampled. Following are the number of pounds per
acre for the surface soil to a depth of six and two-thirds
inches, - that is, for two million pounds of soil.

610 pounds of phosphorus

13,200 pounds of potassium

1,200 pounds of magnesium

3,430 pounds of calcium

As compared with a normal fertile soil, your land is very deficient
in phosphorus and magnesium, and, as you know, the soil is acid. It
is better supplied with potassium than with any other important

I would suggest that you make liberal use of magnesian
limestone, - at least two tons per acre every four or five
years, - and the initial application might better be five or even ten
tons per acre if you are ready to make such an investment.

I am sorry that the nitrogen content of the soil was not determined,
or at least not published in the bulletin. There can be no doubt,
however, that your soil is extremely deficient in organic matter and
nitrogen, and you will understand that liberal use should be made of
legume crops. The known nitrogen content of legumes and other crops
will be a help to you in planning your crop rotation and the
disposition of the crops grown.

As to phosphorus, it is safe to say that in the long run fine-ground
rock phosphate will prove the best investment; but for a few years

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Online LibraryCyril G. HopkinsThe Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, → online text (page 16 of 23)