The New Student's Reference Work/Agriculture

For works with similar titles, see Agriculture.

Ag′riculture comprehends the tillage of the soil, the cultivation and harvesting of crops, the rearing, breeding, feeding and management of the various domesticated animals, and the manufacture of numerous products of the farm into commodities suitable for home use or for commercial purposes. No other of the arts antedates this, which not only feeds and clothes the world but contributes in ways innumerable to its wealth and welfare.

History. Wherever husbandry has been in highest esteem there has been found a people advanced in civilization. Apart from the present-day advantages of knowledge that centuries of research and investigation have given, and those contributed by agricultural chemistry, new and improved machinery and modern transportation facilities, the husbandmen of some of the nations of antiquity were in many essentials so advanced as to make comparison of their practices with those of to-day appear by no means discreditable. The ancient Egyptians, we are informed, knew the wisdom of crop rotation, were skilled in their methods of suiting these to soils and seasons, and even the rearing of poultry hatched by artificial incubation was not uncommon. The exceeding care in their execution of deeds of conveyance, minute description of both the seller and realty and explicitness of terms warrant the belief that land was held in earliest times at high value as a means of producing wealth. Farming operations were overseen by superintendents, shelter provided for beasts and vehicles, and records kept of accounts. The Scriptures abound in allusions to flocks and herds and the produce of the field.

Palestine afforded an early example of intensive farming, where small holdings were the rule. The limited farms, it is recorded, produced abundantly, and their fertility was maintained by judicious cultivation and management. A mixed husbandry obtained, and the fields were enriched by the application of manures. Ancient Romans were among the foremost of their time in agricultural pursuits, and problems of irrigation, tillage and fertilization were among those which commanded their attention. Cato, Pliny and others expounded doctrines that in the present century are being promulgated by our most learned teachers. They recommend rotation, such, for instance, as having wheat follow legumes, because, as Pliny said, they enriched the ground; also the keeping and feeding of live stock was advocated. To-day it is quite generally recognized that any rational system of farming includes these usages.

During the Middle Ages agriculture in Europe under barbarian conquerors was neglected, and those engaged in it held in contempt; its peaceful pursuits were largely abandoned by the landowners for war and the chase, and every one not of the nobility was regarded as a slave, subject to the will of a master. This resulted in a most deplorable condition of labor, and retarded progress; but the end of the feudal system marked the beginning of a new era, and renewed attention was given to tillage. By the end of the seventeenth century it was probably as skilfully practiced as ever before, and the prestige of the husbandmen had been regained.

The eighteenth century was one notable in its relation to the world’s agriculture. Jethro Tull, an Englishman, introduced the method advocated by him of sowing crops in drill rows, which admitted of their cultivation, and a four-crop rotation that has been followed more or less strictly to the present time is credited to Lord Townshend. Robert Bakewell, another Englishman, revealed the methods by which all breeds of farm live stock have since been improved, i.e., by judicious selection, mating and feeding, as illustrated in the Leicester sheep which he developed, and in the cattle known as Longhorns which he improved. By the same methods the brothers Colling produced from the native Teeswater cattle the famous breed now known as the Shorthorn, and Herefords were similarly improved or developed by Benjamin Tomkins. These were the pioneers in this work. Thomas Bates, Thomas Booth and others became famous as improvers of Shorthorns, as did Amos Cruickshank, a Scotchman, later, and through the latter’s breeding came some of the greatest Shorthorns of the last quarter of a century.

In the light of present-day knowledge and practices agriculture differs much in our own from that of earlier times. Chemistry, invention of new tools and machinery and improvement of the old, better methods of tillage, and superior educational facilities raising the general plane of intelligence are among the more potent forces that have effected the change. The most far-reaching developments have been accomplished during the past century, and from the multitude of scientists and investigators now delving into the mysteries of the soil and of animal and plant life, much more of value is likely to be evolved. Agricultural implements and machinery were developed and perfected to their present efficiency only in recent times, and there is nothing to suggest that the end in their improvement is near; the rapid extension of railroads and improved methods of travel and transportation are the work of the past few years, and the institutions on every hand for agricultural education are also the products of modern times.

Agriculture in the United States. In the United States there has been no lack of appreciation of agriculture. The chief executives from Washington to Roosevelt have been strong advocates of its promotion. In his first annual message to Congress, in 1790, Washington urged its advancement by all proper means. Many of his later messages and writings contained discussions of the country’s agriculture, which he considered of primary importance with reference either to the individual or national welfare. In his last message to Congress he said: “In proportion as nations advance in population and other circumstances of maturity this truth becomes more apparent, and renders the cultivation of the soil more and more an object of public patronage.” President Roosevelt in his message to Congress, December 4, 1906, urged the wisdom of scientific research and education as a means of forwarding the country’s agriculture, recognized as the nation’s chief industry. He wrote: “It is a mere truism to say that no growth of cities, no wealth, no industrial development can atone for any falling off in the character and standing of the farming population…There is no longer any failure to realize that farming, at least in certain branches, must become a technical and scientific profession.”

The pioneer American farmers derived their methods from those in vogue in the respective countries from which they came, and these practiced ever so perseveringly oftentimes failed because lacking adaptability to the new conditions of soi1s and climate. Besides the natural wildness of the country to be tamed and subdued, the vicissitudes of their environment were many and hazardous. Wild beasts, unfriendly Indians and the absence of adequate facilities all retarded the country's development. For approximately two centuries farming in America was confined to a comparatively narrow area adjacent to the Atlantic. The first of the farmer’s implements were of the crudest, and his practices were wasteful. The conserving of the land’s fertility was ignored; such vast areas, uncultivated and unclaimed, encouraged no other practice; and if a field was exhausted it was abandoned and another cleared and tilled. Buildings, equipment and other necessities were had at the expense of the soil. Thus an indifference to the maintaining of the soil’s fertility was inherited by succeeding generations, with the result that one of the great problems of our times in the older portions of America is to remedy the evil done in days gone by and inaugurate a system that tends in the other direction. Agricultural chemistry is quite clearly pointing the way. It required a full century for Americans to realize that the productivity of their land was limited, and that the deep fertile soil could become exhausted.

In the aggregate of its field productions the United States is without a close competitor among the nations, but it must be confessed that from the viewpoint of the acre-yield we do not favorably compare with others whose density of population makes small holdings and intensive cultivation a necessity. That our average yields are low may be accounted for by the fact of abundant land in proportion to population. The capabilities of some portions are yet but partially comprehended and of others well-nigh unknown. Owing to the country’s vast area the developments already achieved are comparatively superficial because of the largeness of the farms and lack of sufficient labor. These conditions scarcely make possible the use of methods adapted to producing the maximum per acre, although the use of modern machinery has made farming on an extensive scale exceedingly profitable. As the country more nearly approaches a maximum development, with the inevitable increase in population, smaller farms and benefits of the revelations and teachings of science, it may be expected that average yields per acre will show continual increases until the maximum has been attained. Recent economic revolutions in the art and science of agriculture have had a noticeable effect already, as evidenced in the nation’s enlarged prosperity.

At the close of the eighteenth century the great percentage of our population were farmers. The farms were comparatively small in area, and tilled sparingly and mostly for self-support; because of lack of adequate transportation facilities markets were not available, and hence there could be little incentive to produce more than was required for home consumption. Inefficient equipment was also a barrier to any surplus that might have been desired. Under these conditions none but the simplest methods were employed, and but scant attention given to cultivation. Providence was the main reliance. In those days it was commonly said that “anybody can farm,” and in truth nearly everybody did. With a population the greater part of whom raised their own supplies, and the exporting of any surplus being practically impossible, the situation of the American farmer about the close of the eighteenth century was one that created little enthusiasm. About this time, however, the discoveries of science led to the belief that chemistry would greatly promote the art of agriculture; new ideas were entertained, better implements sought, improved methods were adopted, and a general awakening marked the first great stride in a progress that has become the admiration of the world.

As the population increased and the frontier was gradually pushed further into the interior of the continent the pioneers in the westward movement were required to adapt themselves to yet other conditions and solve new problems. Each new outpost of civilization was in a sense an agricultural experiment station. The vast expanse of country presented a variety of soils and climates, and to learn what crops and methods were best adapted to their differing conditions was tedious and expensive. This gave birth to the state agricultural experiment stations, and with their help many obstacles have been overcome and the development of the country steadily expanded.

The first society for the promotion of agriculture in the United States was organized in 1785; this was followed by others in rapid succession, and at the present time nearly every community has its agricultural association. Agricultural fairs have been helpful educators, and nearly if not all the states have their boards of agriculture or other similar organizations supported with public funds for the purpose of advancing the farming interests. From these are issued reports, bulletins and other useful publications, which are usually distributed free. An extensive agricultural literature has grown up, including not only many general and special works but a long list of periodicals, some of them devoted exclusively to special products of the farm, some particular breed of live stock, or branch of industry, such as dairying, poultry raising, market gardening, fruit-growing, bee-keeping and the like.

Agricultural Colleges. The educational movement inaugurated by the early agricultural societies has grown into the excellent agricultural colleges, with which are generally connected the experiment stations, in every state and territory. These are given liberal appropriations by national and state governments, and are assisted and co-operated with by the United States Department of Agriculture. This Department was established in 1862 as a Bureau, under direction of a commissioner. In 1889 Congress enacted a law making it an executive department of the government, under direction of a secretary to be appointed by the president and to be a member of his cabinet. In 1862 Congress also passed the Land-Grant Act, donating public lands to the states and territories providing colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts, which has resulted in the establishment of such institutions in every state and territory. The Hatch Act of 1887 gave $15,000 a year for the maintenance of each agricultural experiment station, for experimentation, investigation and the reporting of results. The value of these stations as agencies for the advancement of agriculture through scientific research was early demonstrated, and in 1906 Congress passed the Adams Act, which has for its object the extension and strengthening of the experimental work of the stations by additional appropriations. By provision of this act the initial appropriation of $5,000 is to be increased each year until 1911, when it will amount to $15,000, making then and thereafter annually available an aggregate of $30,000 of government funds for each station, under the Hatch and Adams Acts.

Labor-Saving Implements—Transportation. It is a far cry from the old-time forked stick for stirring the ground to the modern steam plow that turns sixteen or more furrows at a time, or from the flail to the twentieth-century thrashing machine, but these improved implements have been brought to their present perfection in comparatively recent times, and to Americans belongs the distinction of first providing farm implements of the greatest labor-saving and time-saving qualities. The invention of those adapted to the requirements of the American farmers has been a potent factor in developing the country’s agriculture. Eli Whitney’s cotton gin was the first of these wonderful contributions; Charles Newbold and Jethro Wood were probably the first to fashion the plow of modern times; and Cyrus H. McCormick made the first successful reaper. Until better means of transportation were provided by railways there were comparatively few settlements away from the seaboard or the navigable rivers. Transcontinental railways, by making markets available, have brought remote areas within the pale of profitable agriculture, incidentally quickening a widespread interest in the improvement of country roads, and modern machinery has in large measure solved the next problem caused by the sparse population in proportion to area—that of labor. The acreage of arable land yet uncultivated is vast, the greater proportion, of course, being in the states west of the Mississippi River; much of that previously regarded as barren is being brought into a high state of productivity by systems of irrigation, and much is being accomplished in this line also through a better understanding of climate and soils, the adoption of methods of tillage best adapted to them, and the introduction of plants found more suitable. It is claimed by engineers that under the operation of the National Irrigation Act of 1902, 100,000,000 of acres of practically arid lands now useless may be reclaimed for agricultural and home-making purposes.

Crop Distribution and Development. Climate and soil determine the kind of crops raised; for instance, the farmers of some portions of the southern states found theirs especially adapted to cotton and tobacco; others found theirs peculiarly suited to corn, and especially was this the case in the Mississippi Valley states; the great wheat-growing region is further north in the middle states, and semi-tropical fruits are grown throughout the south.

Something of the country’s rapid development may be gathered from the fact that the yield of corn in 1910 in the United States was more than twice as much as was produced in 1875. In 1874 the country assumed first rank as a wheat-producer, surpassing France in an aggregate yield of 308,102,700 bushels. In 1901 the yield was 119 million bushels more than double that quantity.

In quantity and value our agricultural productions exceed those of any other class. Sixty years ago the United States produced insufficient breadstuffs to supply home demands, but now is the largest exporter of breadstuffs and other kindred products. American agriculture rivals that of all Europe in the aggregate of its yields, and with a continued growth in population, the consequent decreased areas in individual farms and their better cultivation, a far greater production seems inevitable.

Exports. Millions of acres of fresh land have come into production faster than domestic consumption required; this necessitated finding markets elsewhere for their surplus products, and much of America’s prosperity is due to her export trade. In providing export commodities the farms overshadow all other sources. Not only this, but the farms support the manufactures of the country by supplying the raw material. For the year ending June, 1910, the value of farm products exported reached $933.000,000, the largest by any country. Of this the live-stock products constituted no small proportion. The annual shipments of our cattle and sheep to foreign ports are estimated in the hundreds of thousands, and dressed meats in millions of pounds. The leading export-product is cotton, the quantity exported in 1910 amounting to 3,206,708,226 pounds, worth $450,447,243. The 1910 cotton crop of Texas alone was greater than that of British India, nearly three times that of Egypt and half as much again as the crop of the world outside of the United States, India and Egypt. Cotton and tobacco were among the first export articles grown in America. In 1910 the live animal exports exceeded a value of $17,000,000, while the packing house and dairy products aggregated $130,632,783.

Crop Acreage and Value. According to the national census of the year 1900 there were in the United States 838,591,774 acres, or about 1,310,300 square miles, divided into 5,737,372 farms. Of their entire areas perhaps half were under cultivation. In 1910 the wealth-production of the farms of the United States amounted to $8,926,000,000. Among the crops largest in acreage and contributing to this wealth the most important is Indian corn or maize, a product native to America. The crop of 1910 amounted to 3,121,381,000 bushels, grown on approximately 108,500,000 acres. The value of the 1909 corn crop of the United States was $1,652,822,000, and no other crop of the year was worth half so much. Naturally, corn is more used in America for human food than in other countries, but this is little compared with the whole, and by far the most is utilized in the meat-making industry, of which it is the mainstay and buttress. Its commercial uses have been largely increased in late years, however, and it is important in the manufacture of such commodities as alcohol, starch, glucose, cellulose and oils for various uses, and the newer products have resulted in increasing its price.

Corn is grown in every state and territory, but in recent years the six states of Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana and Kansas have yielded the major portion. In 1906 these states raised nearly 60 per cent of the year’s product. Corn contributes more to the nation’s wealth than any other of the cereals. Of the world’s total production of 3,478,328,000 bushels of corn in 1908, the United States raised 2,668,651,000 bushels.

Wheat comes second among the grain crops, and as a nation the United States ranks first in its production. The crop of 1909 was 737,189,000 bushels from 46,723,000 acres. For the five years ending with 1909 the average annual yield was somewhat over 700,000,000 bushels. Large quantities of wheat and wheat-flour are exported. Oats, rice, sugar-cane, potatoes, rye, barley, buckwheat and many other crops receive more or less attention, the climate and character of the soil in large measure dictating which shall be grown. Timothy, clovers, blue-grass, alfalfa, and the like, often mixed, and the native wild grasses, both for meadows and pastures, claim vast areas, and especially in many of the central and more western states immense tracts of native grasses are utilized for grazing purposes alone. No survey of agriculture in America would be adequate without special mention of alfalfa or lucerne, which, while one of the world’s oldest forage plants, is one of the newest to America. Within a decade its values have brought it to attention as one of the richest acquisitions to the farm. Considerably more valuable as a feed, acre for acre, than the justly-prized red clover, it is even superior as a soil renovator and fertilizer. In the Middle West especially it has already made itself a permanent place, and to this more than to any other agency perhaps is due the marvelous growth of the dairy industry there, which is a striking feature of its husbandry, as it is an important one to the whole country. (See Alfalfa.)

Dairy Industry. Indeed, a foremost branch of American agriculture is the dairy, and in recent years its progress has been most marked. The Babcock test, a simple but accurate device for ascertaining the per cent of fat in milk, and the separator which extracts the fat from the milk by centrifugal force, have been incalculable aids to dairymen as well as to the progress of the dairy industry. The Babcock test, in connection with the scales, enables the farmer to detect the profitable and unprofitable cows. The separator cannot only separate the butter-fat from the milk as soon as drawn from the cow, but secures more of the butter-fat or cream from the milk than is possible by the old and laborious gravity system of setting milk in pans or other receptacles and skimming by hand. Creameries and cheese factories mark the thriftier agricultural communities, and it is not uncommon for these institutions to draw their supplies from long distances, many railroads supplying special milk trains to insure prompt delivery. The skill and appliances required for the making of high-grade articles are such that the manufacturing of butter and cheese for commercial purposes has become an extensive business, and has raised the quality of the product as well as taken a burden from the formerly overtaxed housewives.

Silos.—The storage of green or partly green forage crops, such as corn, the clovers and the sorghums, in silos, which then becomes silage, has overcome many difficulties of the cattle grower, and especially of the dairyman, making available in winter succulent food second only to June pastures. It not only saves in feed and labor, but makes possible the keeping of an increased number of animals on a given area, as by its use pasture can be largely or entirely dispensed with. It promotes an intensive husbandry that makes possible greater returns from the same farm, and helps to simplify the problem of winter feeding. Use of the silo affords ideal conditions both for the preparation and conservation of feed, and its introduction may be considered one of the important features of modern agriculture.

Veterinary Science. Commensurate with and contributory to the advance in animal husbandry has been the progress in veterinary science. Among beneficial economic measures made possible by veterinary schools have been the inspection by government officials of meat animals and meat and dairy products for both home consumption and export, the quarantine against contagious diseases, and extensive investigation of diseases not hitherto understood. The successful treatment of milk fever in cows by simple, harmless processes has become a great boon to dairymen everywhere. The tuberculin test as a means of detecting tuberculosis in cattle has been perhaps the most valuable discovery of recent years. “Texas” or “Spanish” fever is no longer the dreaded disease it formerly was, and immunity is had by inoculation and by immersion in crude petroleum or other dips.

Stock Feeding. All breeds of domesticated animals have been greatly improved in the past century, and the methods of feeding and care have kept pace with the advancement in other lines. Much earlier maturity in meat-producing animals is one of the great improvements attained, as by it increased profits are derived, the feeding period is comparatively shortened, and the investment can be turned oftener. It has been fully demonstrated, too, that far greater gains for given quantities of feed are made in the earlier stages of an animal’s growth. Early finishing obviously has many advantages over the former practice of fattening meat animals when several years old. Feeding standards for the various farm animals have been computed that show the quantities and combinations of the different feedstuffs for rations containing the proper proportions of essential compounds, such as protein, carbohydrates and fat. Experiments to identify the digestible nutrients of the different feeds and test their effects when used have resulted in practically determining the food requirements of all kinds of farm live stock under normal conditions. Tables of such feeding standards have been conveniently arranged, and the various rations cover such a wide diversity of feedstuffs that they meet all ordinary farm situations and enable the farmer to form the most advantageous combinations, from the viewpoints of both cost and efficiency. Many farmers have regarded Indian corn as an all-sufficient grain, and, probably because of its abundance and ease of production, it has been difficult to persuade them otherwise. While its low cost of production and high feeding value make it the leading meat-making feed on American farms, its value is greatly enhanced by the use with it of other elements in which it is lacking. Corn has an excess of carbonaceous matter in proportion to the protein compounds, and the tables of feeding standards point out, among other things, how and with what it may be most advantageously associated to make the properly balanced ration. The study of animal nutrition has resulted in most valuable developments for the farmer and stock-raiser.

Stock Breeding. Wonderful advancement has been made in the breeding of horses, and one of the marvels in horse speed was the performance in 1906 of the harness horse, Dan Patch, when he paced a mile in a minute and fifty-five seconds. The different breeds of swine have been greatly improved, and something of the importance of the swine industry of the United States may be noted from the fact that about two-fifths of the world’s hog supply is produced in the United States, and about six-sevenths of this is from the Mississippi Valley, where the corn is most extensively raised. The various breeds of cattle have likewise been greatly improved for their specific uses, as evidenced by the increased milk flow from dairy cows, and in the superior flesh-forming and fattening propensities of the beef breeds. The live-stock industry has increased greatly in importance in the last half century, and the value of the various kinds on hand in the United States January 1, 1910 amounted to $5,138,486,000, divided as follows: Horses, $2,276,363,000; mules $494,095,000; milch cows, $780,308,000; other cattle, $917,453,000; sheep, $233,664,000; and hogs, $436,603,000.

Agricultural Chemistry and Seed Selection. Progress in agricultural chemistry is assisting to a constantly widening development in agriculture. It has taught the composition of soils, whereby their adaptability to certain crops is shown; of the composition of plants, thus determining their relative values in compounding food rations of greatest excellence at minimum cost. It has also tended to the development of new crops, and improved in various ways those already staple. Great strides have been made in beneficially changing the chemical properties of plants, especially in recent years. Plants, like animals, can be modified and improved by selection and breeding, and this is a work now employing the minds of many of our foremost agricultural authorities. For example, corn can be improved in its physical characteristics by the selection of seed according to certain standard requirements, and by planting seed tested by chemical analyses the chemical composition of its progeny can be changed at will, as to a high- or low-protein, or oil content, or other constituent, as desired. The significance of this is readily apparent from the facts stated regarding the feeding standards, as a corn richer in protein would be correspondingly more valuable as a feed for growing animals; high-oil corn would be of special advantage in fattening stock; and an increase in the percentage of carbohydrates would render it more valuable to the manufacturers of starch, glucose, syrup and other articles. By the application of similar principles the gluten content of wheat has been increased, enhancing its value for the manufacture of flour. Strict selection of seed, which is coming to be more or less generally practiced, according to well-known principles, is having a most telling effect upon subsequent productions. In Minnesota, particularly, where the work has been carried on systematically and continuously for a series of years, the staple crops, such as wheat, corn and flax, have been so improved by selection and breeding that they yield much larger crops per acre than formerly. The study of entomology is also contributing its quota of usefulness to the country’s agriculture by revealing the habits of various insects, distinguishing the useful from the harmful, and promoting the increase of those desirable and retarding that of others.

Farming in the United States is being reduced to such a science that the likelihood of crop failure is gradually becoming less. Haphazard methods are replaced by scientific practices that accurately lead to probable results foreknown. It is no longer the drudgery it once was, and the environments of the farmer of to-day are vastly changed for the better from those of the preceding generation. In this time trolley cars, telephone lines, rural free mail delivery and improved roads have modified and benefitted his industrial and social conditions. An enlarged prosperity provides for the modern conveniences in his home, and the situation of the more progressive present-day farmer is one of increased comfort and ease.