we know of crop rotation we have learned from the East. Every old
depleted agricultural country has worn out the soil by good systems
of crop rotation. I once took a legal option of an "abandoned" farm
in Maryland (beautiful location, two miles from a railroad station,
gently undulating upland loam, at $10 per acre) that had been worn
out under a four-year rotation of corn, wheat, meadow and pasture. A
few acres of tobacco were usually grown in one corner of the corn
field, and clover and timothy were regularly used for meadow and
pasture. Wheat, tobacco and livestock were sold, and manure was
applied for tobacco and so far as possible for corn also. In the
later years of the system the ordinary commercial fertilizer was
also applied for the wheat at the usual rate of two hundred pounds
per acre, this having become a "necessity" toward the end of this
slow but sure system of land ruin.
The "simple principles" of your "new method" were understood and
practiced in Roman agriculture two thousand years ago; and they
included not only thorough tillage, careful seed selection, regular
crop rotation, and the use of farm manure, but also the use of green
manures. Thus Cato wrote:
"Take care to have your wheat weeded twice - with the hoe, and also
And again Cato wrote:
"Wherein does a good system of agriculture consist? In the first
place, in thorough plowing; in the second place, in thorough
plowing; and, in the third place, in manuring."
Varro, who lived at the same time as Cato, wrote as follows:
"The land must rest every second year, or be sown with lighter kinds
of seeds, which prove less exhausting to the soil. A field is not
sown entirely for the crop which is to be obtained the same year,
but partly for the effect to be produced in the following; because
there are many plants which, when cut down and left on the land,
improve the soil. Thus lupines, for instance, are plowed into a poor
soil in lieu of manure. Horse manure is about the best suited for
meadow land, and so in general is that of beasts of burden fed on
barley; for manure made from this cereal makes the grass grow
Virgil wrote in his _Georgics:_
"Still will the seeds, tho chosen with toilsome pains, Degenerate,
if man's industrious hand Cull not each year the largest and the
It was in 1859 that Baron von Liebig wrote as follows, regarding
these and similar _ancient _teachings:
"All these rules had, as history tells us, only a temporary effect;
they hastened the decay of Roman agriculture; and the farmer
ultimately found that he had exhausted all his expedients to keep
his fields fruitful and reap remunerative crops from them. Even in
Columella's time, the produce of the land was only fourfold. It is
not the land itself that constitutes the farmer's wealth, but it is
in the constituents of the soil, which serve for the nutrition of
plants, that this wealth truly consists."
Suppose, Mr. Hill, that a successful American farmer should tell you
that your bank account will actually increase if you will give from
three to five members of your family the privilege of writing checks
instead of following the single checking system. "But," you will
ask, "doesn't rotation produce a larger aggregate yield of crops
than the single crop system?" Certainly, and, likewise, a rotation
of the check book will produce a larger aggregate of the checks
written; but the ultimate effect on the bank deposit is the same as
on the natural deposit of plant food in the soil, and finally the
checks will not be honored. Indeed, it would be a fine sort of
perpetual motion if we could actually enrich the soil by the simple
rotation of crops, and thus make something out of nothing.
Consider, for example, the common three-year rotation, corn, wheat,
and clover. A fifty-bushel crop of corn removes twelve pounds of
phosphorus from the soil; the twenty-five bushel wheat crop draws
out eight pounds; and then the two-ton crop of clover withdraws ten
pounds, making thirty pounds required for this simple rotation. The
most common type of land in St. Mary county, Maryland, after two
hundred years of farming, contains phosphorus enough in the soil for
five rotations of this simple sort. Mathematically that is all the
further traffic in rotations that soil can bear. Agriculturally that
soil has refused to bear any sort of traffic, whether single or in
rotations, and has been abandoned for farm use except where
These crops would remove from the soil one hundred and twenty-four
pounds of nitrogen in the corn and wheat, and the roots and stubble
of the clover would contain forty pounds of nitrogen. Now, if the
soil furnishes seventy-six pounds of nitrogen to the corn crop and
forty-eight pounds to the wheat crop, will it furnish forty pounds
to the clover crop, or as much as remains in the roots and stubble?
If so, how does the rotation actually enrich the soil in nitrogen?
You will be interested to know that there are many exact records of
the effect upon the soil of the rotation of crops. This particular
three-year rotation has been followed at the Ohio Agricultural
Experiment Station for thirteen years, and the average yield of
wheat has been, not twenty bushels, not sixteen bushels, but eleven
bushels per acre, where no plant food was applied; although where
farm manure was used the wheat yielded twenty bushels, and with
manure and fine-ground natural rock phosphate added the average
yield of wheat for the thirteen years has been more than twenty-six
bushels per acre. The corresponding yields for corn are thirty-two,
fifty-three and sixty-one bushels, and for clover they are one and
two-tenths, one and six-tenths and two and two-tenths tons of hay
You will wish to know also that the Ohio Station has conducted a
five-year rotation of corn, oats, wheat, clover, and timothy for the
last fifteen years, both with and without the application of
commercial plant food. As an average of the fifteen years the
unfertilized and fertilized tracts have produced, respectively:
30 and 48 bushels of corn
32 and 50 bushels of oats and 27 bushels of wheat .9 and 1.6 tons of
1.3 and 1.8 tons of timothy
In 1908 the unfertilized land produced nine-tenths ton of clover,
while land treated with farm manure produced three and two-tenths
tons per acre.
You will welcome the information that the average yield of wheat on
an Illinois experiment field down here in "Egypt," in a four-year
rotation, including both cowpeas and clover, has been eleven and
one-half bushels on unfertilized land, fourteen bushels where legume
crops have been plowed under, and twenty-seven bushels where
limestone and phosphorus have been added with the legume crops
turned under; and that the aggregate value of the four crops, corn,
oats, wheat, and clover, from another "Egyptian" farm, has been
$25.97 per acre on unfertilized land, and $54.24 where limestone and
phosphorus have been applied.
In your very busy and very successful railroad experience, you may
have overlooked the reports of the Pennsylvania Agricultural
Experiment Station, showing the results of a four-year rotation of
crops that has been conducted with very great care for more than a
quarter of a century. These, you will agree, are exactly such
absolute data as we sorely need just now when facing the stupendous
problem of changing from an agricultural system whose equal has
never been known for rapidity of soil exhaustion to a system which
shall actually enrich the land. By averaging the results from the
first twelve years and also those from the second twelve years, in
this rotation of corn, oats, wheat, and hay (clover and timothy), we
find that the yields have decreased as follows:
Corn decreased 34 per cent.
Oats decreased 31 per cent.
Wheat decreased 4 per cent.
Hay decreased 29 per cent.
Appalling, is it not? It is the best information America affords in
answer to the question, Will the rotation of crops actually enrich
No, Sir. We cannot make crops nor bank accounts out of nothing. The
rotation of crops does not enrich the soil, does not even maintain
the fertility of the soil. On the contrary, the rotation of crops,
like the rotation of your check book, actually depletes the soil
more rapidly than the single system; and, if you ever have your
choice between two farms of equal original fertility, one of which
has been cropped with wheat only, and the other with a good three or
five-year rotation, for fifty years, take my advice and choose the
"worn-out" wheat farm. Then adopt a good system of cropping with a
moderate use of clover, and you will soon discover that your land is
not worn out, but "almos' new lan" as a good Swede friend of mine
reported who made a similar choice. But beware of the land that has
been truly worn out under a good rotation, which avoids the insects
and diseases of the single crop system, and also furnishes regularly
a moderate amount of clover roots which decay very rapidly and thus
stimulate the decomposition of the old humus and the liberation of
mineral plant food from the soil.
Perhaps you have heard of Rothamsted. If not, your kindergarten
teacher is at fault. A four-year rotation of crops has been followed
on Agdell field for more than sixty years. An average of the crop
yields of the last twenty years reveals:
(1) That the yield of turnips has decreased from ten tons to
one-half ton per acre since 1848.
(2) That the yield of barley has decreased from forty-six bushels to
fourteen bushels since 1849.
(3) That the yield of clover has decreased from two and eight-tenth
tons to one-half ton since 1850.
(4) That the yield of wheat has decreased from thirty bushels to
twenty-four bushels since 1851, wheat, grown once in four years,
being the only crop worth raising as an average of the last twenty
No, Sir. Neither optimism, nor ignorance, nor bigotry, nor deception
can controvert these facts.
Do you know that the people of India rotate their crops? They do;
and they use many legumes; and some of their soils now contain only
a trace of phosphorus, too small to be determined in figures by the
chemist. Do you know there are more of our own Aryan Race hungry in
India than live in the United States?
Do you know that Russia regularly practices a three-year rotation
and actually harvests only two crops in three years, with one year
of green manuring? Yes, and the average yield of wheat for twenty
years is only eight and one-quarter bushels per acre.
Think on these things.
Your _third principle _is, that "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."
I grieve with you; pity 'tis, 'tis not true.
No, Sir. Neither crops nor animals can be made out of nothing, and
no independent system of livestock farming can add to the soil a
pound of any element of plant food, aside from nitrogen, and even
this addition is due to the legume crops grown and not to the live
Under the best system of live-stock farming about three-fourths of
the nitrogen, three-fourths of the phosphorus, and one-third of the
organic matter contained in the food consumed can be returned to the
land if the total excrements, both solid and liquid, are saved
without loss. Of course, the produce used for bedding can all be
returned, but it could also be returned without live stock.
Under a good system of crop rotation with all grain sold from the
farm it is possible to return to the soil more than one-third of the
phosphorus and more than one-half of the organic matter contained in
the crops, and even as much nitrogen as all of the crops remove from
the land in the grain sold. Thus, with a four-year rotation of
wheat, corn, oats, and clover, and a catch crop of clover grown with
the wheat and turned under late the following spring for corn, we
may plow under three tons of clover containing one hundred and
twenty pounds of nitrogen, in return for the one hundred and
nineteen pounds removed from the soil for the twenty-five bushels of
wheat, fifty bushels of corn, and fifty bushels of oats. These
amounts of grain and the two bushels of clover seed might be sold
from the farm, while the two and one-half tons of straw, one and
one-half tons of stalks, and three tons of clover might be returned
to the land. These amounts aggregate seven tons of organic matter,
or the equivalent of seventeen tons of manure, measured by the
nitrogen content, or of twenty-four tons, measured by the content of
organic matter. To replace the twenty-two pounds of phosphorus sold
from the farm in the grain of these four crops would require the
expenditure of sixty-six cents at the present prices for raw
phosphate delivered at Heart-of-Egypt.
I have no doubt you will be glad to have your attention called to
the fact that the world does not live wholly, or even largely, upon
meat and milk. Bread is the staff of life, and I note from your
_World's Work _article that you prefer to have the bread made of
wheat. Thus, most farmers must raise and sell grain and vegetables.
If no independent system of live-stock farming can add a pound of
phosphorus to the one hundred and sixty pounds still remaining in
the great body of the level uplands constituting forty-one per cent.
of St. Mary county, and forty-five thousand seven hundred and
seventy acres of Prince George county, Maryland, adjoining the
District of Columbia, nor even maintain the phosphorus supply in our
good lands, then what must we do to be fed?
Manifestly, we should make large use of legume crops for the
production of farm manure or green manure; and, manifestly, America
should stop selling every year for five million dollars enough raw
phosphate for the production of more than a billion dollars' worth
of wheat. How long can we afford to give away a thousand millions
for five millions?
Our annual corn crop is nearly three billion bushels, while the
estimated value of all the timber on the still remaining federal
lands is only one billion dollars. Again, our three trillion tons of
coal is sufficient for an annual consumption of half a billion tons
for six thousands years, whereas the United States Geological Survey
has estimated that at the present rate of increase in mining and
exportation our total supply of high-grade phosphate will be
exhausted in fifty years. It seems to me that about ninety per cent.
of the talk about conservation of natural resources is directed
toward ten per cent. of the resources, when we remember the soil as
the foundation of all agriculture and all industry.
Do you know, Mr. Hill, that, at the Second Conservation Conference
called by the President of the United States, Doctor Van Hise, of
the University of Wisconsin, was the only man to raise his voice in
the interests of the common soils of America? For three days the
statesman and experts discussed the forests, forests, forests, and
the waters, waters, and the coal and iron; and for fifteen minutes
President Van Hise pleaded for the conservation of phosphate, _the
master key to all our material prosperity; _and he was called a
crank with a hobby.
With deep respect, I am,
Very sincerely yours,
HEART-OF-EGYPT, November 14, 1909.
DEAR father and mother: I can scarcely realize that I have been an
"Egyptian" for almost two years. I feel that the time has been
shorter than two months of school-teaching.
Percy is so encouraged with the crops that I rejoice with him,
although I could never weep with him unless I weep for joy. He says
the crops needed only that I should stroll over the fields with him;
that they would grow rapidly if I only looked at them. Think of
it - I drove the mower to cut hay, - not all of the 80 acres, to be
sure, but I cut where it yielded two tons per acre. That is on No.
4, where Percy applied his first cars of limestone. I wish you could
have seen the untreated strips - no clover and only half a ton of
weedy timothy, while the rest of No. 4 and No. 6 were clean hay of
mixed alsike and timothy. Percy says that No. 4 produced as much
real hay last year as all the rest of the farm has produced since he
came, and that the hay crop this year is worth as much for feed as
all that has been harvested during the previous five years; and the
cattle and horses seem to agree with him.
We sold our main lot of hogs for $654, and have another lot to go
later. We are getting so many horses and cattle on the place, that
we are going out of the hog business.
Percy says that hogs belong more properly in the corn belt, than in
the wheat and fruit belt. You know the year I came the corn crop was
on No. I, which had never grown anything but corn, oats, and wheat,
so far as we can learn; and the corn was so poor the hogs ate most
of it in two months' time. During the same two months the price of
hogs dropped from 7 to 4-1/2 cents, so that the hogs were worth no
more after eating the corn crop than they were before.
Next year we are to have corn on No. 4, and Percy says it will be
the first time that corn has had a "ghost of a show to make a decent
crop" since he bought the place. The spring before we were married
he reseeded that forty, sowing mixed alsike and timothy. The clover
came on finely, evidently because the scanty growth of clover the
year before had at least allowed the field to become thoroughly
infected with the clover bacteria. There was no clover on the
unlimed strip. So we say that limestone and bacteria brought clover.
The hay and other feed has made manure enough so that No. 4 has been
completely covered with six tons per acre, and the phosphate has
also been applied; so with manure and phosphate on clover ground we
hope to grow corn next year, if we have good weather.
The phosphate has also been put on some of the other forties. I
convinced him that the money will pay a higher rate of interest in
phosphate than it would in the savings bank, even if he put it on
before manure and clover could be plowed under. The experiments of
several states show this very conclusively.
The corn is on No. 3 this year and it is the best crop in the six
years. Percy says the "Terry Act" (which means lots of work in
preparing the land) is some help, but he thinks the phosphate shows
against the check strips. The young wheat on No. 2 is looking fine,
and with both limestone and phosphate on that field and the extra
work on the seed bed, we hope for a better crop than we have ever
grown on a full forty; even though we must depend solely upon our
reserve stock of nitrogen for the crop. We are all about as jealous
of that reserve stock of organic matter and nitrogen as we are of
the Winterbine bank account.
I cannot forget how Percy tried to persuade me to postpone our
wedding for a year because, as he said, the hogs had taken his corn
crop and given nothing in return for it; and above all how he
objected to my reimbursing the Winterbine reserve from my teacher's
wages to the extent of $250, which he had drawn in part to tide over
the hard times, and in part to come to see me that Easter. But I am
glad to have him still insist upon it that that uncertain venture
proved his best investment, even if he does tease by adding that it
paid one hundred and fifty per cent. net profit at Winterbine.
We are selling some cows this fall, - trying to weed out our herd by
the Babcock test which shows that "some cows don't pay their board
and keep," to quote Governor Hoard's lecture on "Cows versus Cows,"
which Percy heard at Olney the winter Professor Barstow was married.
The "versus cows" are worth only $45.
I cannot tell you how I have enjoyed the summer. Sir Charles Henry
is the dearest child, and his grandmother insists upon it that it is
better for me to help Percy in the field with such light work as I
can do, and I am out for a few hours every day when the weather is
good. Percy's mother is such a dear. I am sure she could be no more
sweet and loving to an own daughter. She had Percy all to herself
for so long that I was really afraid she might not like to share him
with me, but Percy says that it was his mother who persuaded him to
make us that Easter visit. We tell her that she hasn't much use for
either of us now, and that we are likely to get jealous because
Charles Henry gets so much of her affection.
I forgot to tell you of Percy's four-acre patch of wheat. He said it
is so long to wait till 1912 for his first wheat crop on land that
had grown clover at least once during historic times that he thought
he would fix up a little patch to grow a crop of wheat, just to see
how real wheat would look; or, as he sometimes says, to see how
wheat grows in "Egypt" when it has a ghost of a chance.
He treated a four-acre patch down by the wood's pasture with
limestone, phosphorus, and farm manure, did the "Terry Act" in
preparing the seed bed, and drilled in a good variety of wheat, on
October 17, - a little later than he likes to finish sowing wheat. It
came up with a good stand but did not make very much fall growth,
partly owing to the dry weather. In the spring the man came across
the patch and reported to Percy that the wheat was mighty small and
he guessed it was "gone up," although it seemed to be all alive.
Percy said that he would not worry about it if it were alive because
the wheat would find something to please it when it really woke up
in the spring. I reckon it did, for a neighbor passed on his way to
town in early May and called over the fence to Percy that his patch
of rye down by the woods was looking fine. Well the four acres
yielded 129-1/2 bushels, or a little more than thirty-two bushels
per acre. Percy said if he could have eighty acres of it and sell it
for $1.18 a bushel, the same as he got for the last he sold, it
would amount to twice the original cost of the land - and then some.
Mr. Barton asked him if he could not raise "just as good crops with
good old farm manure," and if he could not build up his whole farm
with farm manure. Percy said yes, but he would need three thousand
tons for the first application. Mr. Barton then suggested that that
was more than the whole township produced.
No. 5 has been in pasture for three years, clover and grass having
been seeded in 1906, even though the wet weather had prevented the
seeding of wheat the fall before, and the ground was left too rough
for the mower. Percy hopes to have that forty completely covered
with manure by the time he will be ready to apply the phosphate and
plow it under for the 19 I I corn crop.
Now your "Egyptian" son has just read over this long, long letter,
and he says that if I were a real wise old farmer I would not begin
to talk about results before a single forty acres of grain had had a
ghost of a chance to make a crop. He says that every bushel of corn,
oats, and wheat that this old farm has produced during the last six
years has been wholly at the expense of the meager stock of reserve
nitrogen still left in the soil after seventy-five years of almost
continuous effort to "work the land for all that's in it" He says
that we have no right to expect really good crops until after the
second rotation is completed, because the clover grown during the
first rotation does not have a fair show, the limestone not yet
being well mixed with the soil, the phosphorus supply being
inadequate, the inoculation or infection being imperfect, and no
provision whatever having been made to supply decaying organic
matter in advance of the first clover crop. I think he is right as
usual and I promise to give no more advance information hereafter
except upon inquiry, at least not until 1918, when the first wheat
crop will be grown on land which has been twice in clover. We are
mighty sorry not to be able to be with you for Thanksgiving or
Christmas, but really we cannot go to the expense; our house is so
small (we just must build a larger barn) and our home equipment is
so meager that, in the words which you will remember Percy told us
his mother credited to Mrs. Barton, I feel that as yet I must say,
"Do come over when you can."
Your happy, loving daughter,
P.S. - Three big oil wells, belonging to the class called "gushers,"
have been struck about seven or eight miles from Poorland Farm. We
are all getting interested except Percy. He says he does not want
any oil wells on his six rotation forties or in the wood's pasture,