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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/163

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UNITED STATES' WHEAT-GROWING CAPACITY.

leguminous plants dissociate the nitrogen of the atmosphere, where the supply is unlimited, converting it to the nutrition of the plant, and thence to the renovation of the soil. Sir William deals only with the renovating qualities of clover, having apparently no comprehension of the existence of the cow-pea vine, the soya bean, the alfalfa, and many other types of legumes by which the partially exhausted soil, especially of the South, is now being renovated with great rapidity at a low cost. Sir William's hopes of nitrogen seem to be based on some method being found to save the sewage of cities, but mainly on the conversion of the water power of Niagara and other great falls to the generation of electricity and thence to the dissociation of the nitrogen of the atmosphere.

The point to which I wish to direct attention and inquiry is this alleged nearly complete taking up of the land of the United States capable of producing wheat in paying quantities. The question which Sir William Crookes puts is this: He says there is a deficit in the wheat area of thirty-one thousand square miles which must be converted to wheat-growing in order to keep up with the increasing demand of the world to prevent wheat starvation in less than one generation. It will be observed that the present necessities of the world are computed by Sir William Crookes at 2,324,000,000 bushels, of which this country will supply 600,000,000 to 700,000,000 bushels from an area of land devoted to wheat of 71,000 square miles, a fraction over two per cent of the area of the United States, omitting Alaska.

The problem may then be stated in these terms: Given a demand of the wheat-consuming population of the world for this whole supply of 2,324,000,000 bushels, this country could supply it at the present average per acre by devoting two hundred and fifty thousand square miles to this crop, or less than ten per cent of the area, omitting Alaska. We could supply the world's present demand, but of course such computations are purely speculative.

I venture to say that if a contract could be entered into by the bread-eaters of the world with the farmers of the United States, giving them an assurance of a price equal to one dollar a bushel in London, or a fraction under thirty-three shillings per quarter of eight bushels of sixty pounds each, which would yield to the American farmer from sixty to eighty cents per bushel on the farm, the land now under cultivation in wheat and not required for any other crop or for pasture would be opened in the United States which would be devoted to this service year by year as fast as the consumption called for it. In fact, there are now fully one hundred thousand square miles of land, 64,000,000 acres, fully suitable to the production of wheat at fifteen bushels to the acre, practically unoccupied in