Cyril G. Hopkins.

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

. (page 21 of 23)
Online LibraryCyril G. HopkinsThe Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, → online text (page 21 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

I was nearly through college that the trustees of our own University
devoted a large amount of time to that public service with no
financial remuneration whatever. They are merely reimbursed for
their actual and necessary travelling expenses."

"Well, if I were a young man about your age, this letter would be an
inspiration to me," said his mother.

"You mean his suggestion about changing the name of our farm?"

"No, I mean his possible suggestion about changing the name of his

Percy was silent.

"How can I tell anything from your blank face? Why do you not

"You will have to show me," said Percy.

"Will you accept his invitation?"

"Oh, Mr. West always closes his letters with an invitation for me to
visit them if I ever come East. There is nothing exceptional or
unusual in that."

"The letter is very exceptional," she repeated, "insomuch that if
there is no understanding there is no misunderstanding, and if there
is some misunderstanding there was no intention. When Mrs. Barton
says: 'Do come over when you can,' there is no invitation intended
and no acceptance expected; but when Mrs. McKnight says: 'Can't you
and your son come over and take supper with us Thursday
evening,' - well that is an invitation to come. In the case of Mr.
West's letter, perhaps you had an invitation to spend the Easter
vacation at Westover when his daughter will be at home, - and perhaps

Percy was silent and his mother quietly waited.

"In any case," he said, "I cannot afford to go this spring. We never
were so short of funds. I almost begrudged the railroad fare I paid
to go to the Institute."

"I have agreed to agree with you regarding the matter of hiring more
help on the farm if you need it," she said; "for it is easily
possible to lose by saving. There are some things which should never
be influenced by financial considerations. It is more than three
years since your Eastern trip. You need a rest and a change. It
would be entirely commonplace for you to spend the Easter time in
Virginia. You ought to see the country in the spring; and you ought
especially to be interested in Mr. West's sixty acres of alfalfa.
Expectations are always followed either by realization or by
disappointment, either of which my noble son can bear."

Her fingers passed through his hair as she kissed his forehead.

"The only question is, whether you would enjoy a visit to Westover,"
she continued. "You have insisted that the Winterbine deposit
remain in my name, but I have written and signed a check against
that reserve for $100, and you have only to fill in the date and
draw the amount at the County Seat whenever you wish. If you go,
express my regards to the ladies, and especially remember me to the




November 9, 1909.

Hon. James J. Hill,

Great Northern Railroad Company, St. Paul, Minnesota.

MY DEAR SIR: - I have read with very great interest your article in
the November _World's Work _on "What We Must Do to be Fed." I wonder
if you read _The American Farm Review!_ In the editorial columns of
that journal, issue of October 28, 1909, occurs the following:

"The pessimist always assumes that every man who quits farming for
some other business does so because there is something the matter
with the farm. Mr. James J. Hill has recently considered the
question and decided that, unless the farmer and his family can be
confined on the land and be compelled to do better work than they
have been doing, the balance of the population must starve to death.
The bug-aboo of impending decadence raised by such talk is based
upon a wrong assumption, inadequate statistics, and a failure to
comprehend the evolutional movement in agriculture."

The evolutional movement means, of course, that we are different
from other people. Have not England, Germany and France run their
lands down until they produce only fourteen bushels of wheat per
acre and have we not steadily built ours up to an average yield of
thirty bushels? Other peoples wear out their soil because they fail
to have part in the evolutional movement; whereas, did we not come
to America and at once begin to make our rich land richer than it
ever was in the virgin state? Do you not know, Sir, that the oldest
lands in America are now the richest, most productive, and most
valuable? We admit, of course, that the Bureau of Soils of the
United States Department of Agriculture reports the common level
upland loam soil of St. Mary country, Maryland, to be valued at $1
to $3 an acre, and the same kind of land in Prince George county,
adjoining the District of Columbia, to be worth $1.50 to $5; but do
you not know the American evolutional movement could easily move all
those decimal points two places and at once make those values read
from $100 to $500 an acre. And likewise, it would be a very simple
matter to change the yield of corn in Georgia from eleven bushels
per acre and have it read one hundred and ten bushels. Why not, if
an acre of corn in the adjoining State of South Carolina has
produced two hundred and thirty-nine bushels in one season? Do you
not see that this simple evolution would also put plate glass in the
thousands of windowless homes now inhabited by human beings, both
white and colored, in the state of Georgia?

There is another phase of this evolutional movement which should not
be overlooked. There is already fast developing in this country a
class of people who can live and grow fat on hot air, and they will
tell you that your only trouble is poor digestion, and they are glad
that they can see the bright side of things and enjoy life in this
glorious country, assured that the future will take care of itself.
Have not all other great agricultural countries rapidly gotten into
this evolutional movement until all their people live on Easy

I have a letter from a missionary in China, a former schoolmate,
Clarence Robertson, who resigned the position of Assistant Professor
of mechanical engineering in Purdue University in order to accept in
the largest sense the Master's specific invitation to "Go ye,
therefore, and teach all nations."

This letter was written in February, 1907 and contained the
following statement regarding the famine district in which the
writer was located:

"At the present time the only practical thing to do is to let four
hundred thousand people starve, and try to get seed grain for the
remainder to plant their spring crops."

I think we have failed utterly, Mr. Hill, to lay special emphasis
upon either the evolutional or the emotional in agriculture. Is it
not probable that a superabundance of emotion would even permit the
constitution to wave the bread requirement in the
bread-and-water-with-love diet? As a cure for pessimism the
emotional tonic is strongly recommended.

On the other hand, there are some people who are even too emotional,
people who are inclined to sit up and take notice when the
mathematics and statistics are spread out in clear light and plainly
reveal the fact that the time is near at hand when their children
may lack for bread. (They already lack for meat and milk and eggs in
many places). To ally any feeling of this sort that might tend to
excite those who are so emotional as even to love their own
grandchildren, some sort of soothing syrup should be administered. A
preparation put out by the Chief of the United States Bureau of
Soils and fully endorsed by the great optimist, the Secretary of
Agriculture, is recommended as an article very much superior to Mrs.
Winslow's. As a moderate dose for an adult, read the following
extracts from pages 66, 78, and 80 of Bureau of Soils Bulletin 55
(1909), by the Chief of the Bureau:

"The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation
possesses. It is the one resource that cannot be exhausted; that
cannot be used up."

"From the modern conception of the nature and purpose of the soil it
is evident that it cannot wear out, that so far as the mineral food
is concerned it will continue automatically to supply adequate
quantities of the mineral plant foods for crops."

"As we see it now, the main cause of infertile soils or the
deterioration of soils is the improper sanitary conditions
originally present in the soil or arising from our injudicious
culture and rotation of crops. It is, of course, exceedingly
difficult to work out the principles which govern the proper
rotation for any particular soil."

"As a national asset the soil is safe as a means of feeding mankind
for untold ages to come. So far as our investigations show, the soil
will not be exhausted of any one or all of its mineral plant food
constituents. If the coal and iron give out, as it is predicted they
will before long, the soil can be depended on to furnish food,
light, heat, and habitation not only for the present population but
for an enormously larger population than the world has at present."

"Personally, I take a most hopeful view of the situation as respects
the soil resources of our country and of the world at large. I
cannot bring myself to believe that the discouraging reports that
have been issued from time to time as to the threatened
deterioration of our soils, as to the exhaustion of any particular
element of fertility, will ever be realized."

Sweeten to taste, and repeat the dose if necessary.

If you desire mathematical proof that we can always continue to take
definite and measurable amounts of plant food away from the limited
supplies still remaining in our American soils and still have enough
left to supply the needs of all future crops, let it be understood:

That y = x

Then xy = X3

And xy-y2 = x3-y2

Or y(x-y)=(x + y) (x-y)

Hence, y = x + y

Thus, y = 2y

Therefore, 1=2

Now cube both sides of the last equation and:


Multiply by one hundred and sixty, the number of pounds of
phosphorus still remaining in the common upland soil of Southern
Maryland, and behold:

160 =1280

Thus the soil again becomes the equal of the $200 corn belt
land, - Q. E. D.

Fortunately, Mr. Hill, you have not found it "exceedingly difficult
to work out the principles which govern the proper rotation" that
"actually enriches the land."

Seriously, I hope you will permit me to take this opportunity to say
that I deplore, as must all right-minded and clear-thinking men, the
occasional petty criticisms which attribute to you some selfish
motive for the honest and noble stand you have taken concerning the
importance of immediate action and of a widespread, far-reaching,
and generally effective movement looking toward, not the
conservation, but the restoration, and permanent preservation of
American soils. According to the Scriptures, there is a sin which
God, Himself, will not forgive; namely, the sin of imputing bad
motives to the one who does right from motives only good and pure.

Thoughts that deserve a place of honor in American history you have
expressed in the following words:

"The farm is the basis of all industry, but for many years this
country has made the mistake of unduly assisting manufacture,
commerce, and other activities that center in cities, at the expense
of the farm. The result is a neglected system of agriculture and the
decline of the farming interest. But all these other activities are
founded upon the agricultural growth of the nation and must continue
to depend upon it. Every manufacturer, every merchant, every
business man, and every good citizen is deeply interested in
maintaining the growth and development of our agricultural
resources. Herein lies the true secret of our anxious interest in
agricultural methods; because, in the long run, they mean life or
death to future millions; who are no strangers or invaders, but our
own children's children, and who will pass judgment upon us
according to what we have made of the world in which their lot is to
be cast."

True and noble thoughts are these, from the master mind of a great
statesman; for there are statesmen who neither grace nor disgrace
the Halls of Congress.

Your article contains twenty-eight pages of wholesome reading matter
and instructive illustrations, and, in addition, about one page, I
regret to say, of misinformation that will do much to destroy your
otherwise valuable contribution to agricultural literature.

Briefly you have shown very clearly and very correctly that the
present practice of agriculture in America tends toward land ruin,
and that, with our rapidly increasing population, with continued
depletion of our vast areas of cultivated soils, and with no
possibility of any large extension of well-watered arable lands, we
are already facing the serious problem of providing sufficient food
for our own people.

You summarize your conclusions along this line in the following

"We have to provide for a contingency not distant from us by nearly
a generation, but already present. The food condition presses upon
us now. The shortage has begun. Witness the great fall in wheat
exports and the rise of prices. Obviously it is time to quit
speculating about what may occur even twenty or thirty years hence,
and begin to take thought for the morrow. As far as our food supply
is concerned, right now the lean years have begun."

It is certain that the time is near when our food supplies shall
become inadequate if our present practices continue, but the
enforced reduction in animal products will at least postpone the
time of actual famine in America. I keep in mind always that we are
feeding much grain to domestic animals, an extremely wasteful
practice so far as economy of human food is concerned; because, as
an average, animals return in meat and milk not more than onefifth
as much food value as they destroy in the corresponding grain
consumed; and, as we gradually reduce the amounts of grain that are
fed to cattle, sheep, and swine, we shall also gradually increase
our human food supply. Ultimately our milk-producing and
meat-producing animals will be fed only the grass grown upon the
non-arable lands and possibly some refuse forage not suitable for
human food or more valuable for green manure, unless we modify our
present practice and tendency, which we can do if the proper
influences are exerted by the intelligent people of this country,
and thus make possible the continuation of high standards of living
for all our people.

I keep in mind, too, that much of the food taken into the average
American kitchen is wasted, and that progress in the science of
feeding the man will ultimately prevent this waste and, by adding to
this better preparation and combination of foods, will increase to
some extent the nutritive value of our present food supply.

The serious fact remains, however, that our older lands are
decreasing in productive power and, in spite of what may be
accomplished by such methods of conservation, we are now facing a
rapidly approaching shortage of food supplies for the rapidly
increasing population of these United States; and you have put me
and all other American citizens under lasting obligations to you for
your frankness, good sense, and true patriotism in thus pointing out
n advance our great national weakness.

According to the statistics of the United States Government, a
comparison of the last five years reported in this century with the
last five years of the old century, shows, by these two five-year
averages, that our annual production of wheat has increased from
about five hundred million to seven hundred million bushels: that
our annual production of corn has increased from two and one-quarter
billion to two and three-quarter billion bushels; that our wheat
exports have decreased from thirty-seven per cent. to seventeen per
cent. of our total production; that our corn exports have decreased
from nine per cent. to three per cent. of our total production; and
yet the average price of wheat, by the five-year periods, has
increased thirty-one per cent., and the average price of corn has
increased ninety-one per cent., during the same period.

The latest Year Book of the Department of Agriculture (1908 )
furnishes the average yields of wheat and corn for four successive
ten-year periods, from 1866 to 1905. By combining these into two
twenty-year periods this record of forty years shows that the
average yield of wheat for the United States increased one bushel
per acre, while the average yield of corn decreased one and one-half
bushels per acre, according to these two twenty-year averages.

If we consider only the statistics for the North-Central states,
extending from Ohio to Kansas and from "Egypt" to Canada, the same
forty-year record shows the average yield of wheat to have increased
one-half bushel per acre, while the average yield of corn decreased
two bushels per acre.

Thus, notwithstanding the great areas of rich virgin soils brought
under cultivation in the West and Northwest during the last forty
years, notwithstanding the abandonment of great areas of wornout
lands in the East and Southeast during the same years,
notwithstanding the enormous extension of dredge ditching and tile
drainage, and, notwithstanding the marked improvement in seed and in
the implements of cultivation, the average yield per acre of the two
great grain crops of the United States has not even been maintained,
the decrease in corn being greater than the increase in wheat, and
not only for the entire United States, but also for the great new
states of the corn belt and wheat belt.

( Seasonal variations are so great that shorter periods than
twenty-year averages cannot be considered trustworthy for yield per

Meanwhile, the total population of the United States increased from
thirty-eight millions in 1870 to seventy-six millions in 1900, or an
increase of one hundred per cent. in thirty years; and the only
means by which we have been able to feed this increase in population
has been by increasing our acreage of cultivated crops and by
decreasing our exportation of foodstuffs; and I need not remind you
that the limit to our relief is near in both of these directions.
But have we decreased our exportation of phosphate? Oh, no. On the
contrary, under the soothing influence of the most pleasing and
acceptable doctrine that our soil is an indestructible, immutable
asset, which cannot be depleted, our exportation of rock phosphate
has increased during the years of the present century from six
hundred and ninety thousand tons in 1900, to one-million three
hundred and thirty thousand tons in 1908, an increase of practically
one hundred per cent., in accordance with the published reports of
the United States Geological Survey.

But I am writing to you, Mr. Hill, not only to thank you for what
you have said and shown in the twenty-eight pages above referred to,
but also in part to repay my obligation to you by giving you some
correct information, which I am altogether confident you will
appreciate; namely, that, while you are a graduate student or past
master in your knowledge of the supply and demand of the world's
markets, you are just entering the kindergarten class in the study
of soil fertility, as witness the following extracts from the one
erroneous page of your article.

"Right methods of farming, without which no agricultural country
such as this can hope to remain prosperous, or even to escape
eventual poverty, are not complicated and are within the reach of
the most modest means. They include a study of soils and seeds, so
as to adapt the one to the other; a diversification of industry,
including the cultivation of different crops and the raising of live
stock; a careful rotation of crops, so that the land will not be
worn out by successive years of single cropping; intelligent
fertilizing by the system of rotation, by cultivating leguminous
plants, and, above all, by the economy and use of every particle of
fertilizing material from stock barns and yards; a careful selection
of grain used for seed; and, first of all perhaps in importance, the
substitution of the small farm, thoroughly tilled, for the large
farm, with its weeds, its neglected corners, its abused soil, and
its thin product. This will make room for the new population whose
added product will help to restore our place as an exporter of
foodstuffs. Let us set these simple principles of the new method out
again in order:

_"First - _The farmer must cultivate no more land than he can till
thoroughly. With less labor he will get more results. Official
statistics show that the net profit from one crop of twenty bushels
of wheat to the acre is as great as that from two of sixteen, after
original cost of production has been paid.

_"Second - _There must be rotation of crops. Ten years of single
cropping will pretty nearly wear out any but the richest soil. A
proper three or fiveyear rotation of crops actually enriches the

_"Third - _There must be soil renovation by fertilizing; and the best
fertilizer is that provided by nature herself - barnyard manure.
Every farmer can and should keep some cattle, sheep, and hogs on his
place. The farmer and his land cannot prosper until stock raising
becomes an inseparable part of agriculture. Of all forage fed to
live stock at least one-third in cash value remains on the land in
the form of manure that soon restores worn-out soil to fertility and
keeps good land from deteriorating. By this system the farm may be
made and kept a source of perpetual wealth."

Your _first principle _will be agreed to and emphasized by all; but
it should be kept in mind that the large farms are frequently better
tilled than the small farms. The $200 land in the corn belt is
usually "worked for all that's in it." It is tile-drained and well
cultivated, and the best of seed is used. If more thorough tillage
would increase the profits, these corn-belt farmers would certainly
practice it.

It ought to be known (1) that as an average of six years the
Illinois Experiment Station produced seventy and three-tenths
bushels of corn per acre with the ordinary four cultivation, and
only seventy-two and eight-tenths bushels with additional
cultivation even up to eight times; and (2) that the average yield
of corn in India on irrigated land varies from seven bushels in poor
years to twelve bushels in good seasons, and this is where the
average farm is about three acres in size.

One Illinois farmer with a four-horse team raises more corn than ten
Georgia farmers with a mule a piece on the same total acreage
Fertile soil and competent labor are the great essentials in crop
production. A mere increase in country population does not increase
the productive power of the soil.

The farms down here in "Egypt" average much smaller than those in
the corn belt of Illinois, but our "Egyptian" farms are nevertheless
poorly tilled as a rule and some of them are already becoming
abandoned for agricultural purposes.

Certainly the land should always be well tilled, but tillage makes
the soil poorer, not richer. Tillage liberates plant food but adds
none. "A little farm well tilled" is all right if well manured, but
it should not be forgotten that the men who consider "Ten Acres
Enough" are market gardeners, or truck farmers, who are not
satisfied until in the course of six or eight years they have
applied to their land about two hundred tons of manure per acre, all
made from crops grown on other lands.

All the manure produced in all the states would provide only thirty
tons per acre for the farm lands of Illinois. In round numbers there
are eighty million cattle and horses in the United States, and our
annual corn crop is harvested from one hundred million acres. All
the manure produced by all domestic animals would barely fertilize
the corn lands with ten tons per acre if none whatever were lost or
wasted; and, if all farm animals were figured on the basis of
cattle, there is only one head for each ten acres of farm land in
the United States.

Your _second principle _is, that "a proper three or five-year
rotation of crops actually enriches the land."

I hope the God of truth and a long-suffering, misguided people will
forgive you for that false teaching. If there is any one practice
the value of which is fully understood by the farmers and landowners
in the Eastern states and in all old agricultural countries, it is
the practice of crop rotation. Indeed, the rotation of crops is much
more common and much better understood and much more fully
appreciated in the East than it is in the corn belt. Practically all

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21 23

Online LibraryCyril G. HopkinsThe Story of the Soil; from the Basis of Absolute Science and Real Life, → online text (page 21 of 23)