Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/547

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THE SOIL AS AN ECONOMIC FACTOR.

THE SOIL AS AN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL FACTOR.
By FRANK K. CAMERON,

U. S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE.

THERE is no part of the material world about us that is more intimately connected with the general welfare of the people than the soil. It has often been said, and well said, that it is the foundation of agriculture, in more senses than one. And the importance of agriculture in our present social systems is too well understood to justify any further comment here.

For practically a century the study of soils, and the phenomena they present, has received the attention of some of the ablest and most distinguished savants the ranks of science have held. Much is now known about soils from the point of view of the geologist, the physicist, the chemist and the bacteriologist. Much more is yet to be learned, and this perhaps is not the least interesting feature of the subject to one of a philosophic or scientific turn of mind. But when the geologist, the physicist, the chemist and the bacteriologist have brought together all the data and material of which they are capable, and have presented it to the world in accessible form, it is evident that but a very small part of the study of soils has been accomplished, or can be accomplished, by them.

It is necessary, as this paper will endeavor to show, that upon the labors of those investigators who have worked from the point of view of the natural sciences, the economist and the sociologist must build for the best development and use of the soil. They seem, up to the present, to have given very little attention to the subject, and the general knowledge of it seems to be summed up in the saying—*A poor soil, a poor people; a rich soil, a rich people.' This aphorism is in fact the immediate text of this paper. It implies what is apparently self-evident—that the soil is an economic factor because upon its character and the treatment of it depends the success of agricultural operations; and it is a social factor because the character of the soil in a very large measure determines the character of the people living upon it. The causal connection between the typical Yankee's well-known characteristics and his peculiar soils and environments has become almost classical in our literature. That which exists between some of the poor white communities in our Southern States and their soils is even more obvious. And just as striking are the opposite conditions on some of the rich limestone soils of our eastern states, or some of the intensely cultivated, rich, irrigated districts of the west.