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AGRICULTURE AND AGRICULTURAL EDUCATION.
PROGRESS OF AGRICULTURE IN THE UNITED STATES.
BY DANIEL LEE, M. D.
Agriculture gives employment to more capital and labor in the United States than all other pursuits combined; and its progress marks, in a peculiar manner, the advancement of the republic in wealth, civilization, and power. The natural fruitfulness of the American soil, its vast area, and wide range of climates, between the gulf and the great lakes, the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, present for consideration resources and capabilities almost unlimited in extent and quite inestimable in value. We shall not attempt to do more than point out the direction in which American tillage and husbandry are making such rapid progress, and indicate the probable result of our present system of farm economy, if steadily pursued to the close of the present century.
In 1821 there were exported from the United States 124,893,405 pounds of cotton. In 1849 the export was 1,026,602,269 pounds. These figures show an increase of more than 800 per cent. in 28 years in the surplus production of the most important commercial staple of the country and the world. At this time an average crop of cotton may be estimated at 3,000,000 bales, of 400 pounds each; and the prospect is that the demand will equal, if it does not exceed, the supply for many years. Hence the production of this article is destined to increase much faster than population; for, as civilization and commerce extend, the number that will consume cotton fabrics, and the annual consumption of each person, by reason of his greater productive power, will extend in a still greater ratio; in other words, the same causes that increased the foreign demand for American cotton more than 800 per cent. in 28 years, will augment the amount now exported 300 per cent. in the next quarter of a century.
Fortunately we have the land and climate most desirable for the annual growth of 9,000,000 bales, and we shall probably have the labor and capital needed for the economical production of such crops. At a half bale per acre, only 18,000,000 acres would be planted to realize the crop named; while the four States of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and
Texas, contain four times that number of acres of choice cotton lands. Without some unforeseen and improbable event, the exportation of cotton will steadily and rapidly increase until its value reaches three hundred million dollars per annum. It is as unlikely that the vascular tissue of flax or hemp will ever supersede the cellular tissue of cotton for the cheap production of desirable clothing, as that loaves of baked clay will serve as a substitute for loaves of bread in feeding the human family. There is an organic difference between the fibres of cotton and flax, in favor of the former, that can no more be changed than iron can be transmuted into gold. Nevertheless, great improvements in the preparation and manufacture of flax are doubtless attainable, as they are certainly desirable.
Cotton culture presents one feature which we respectfully commend to the earnest consideration of southern statesmen and planters, and that is the constantly increasing deterioration of the soil devoted mainly to the production of this important crop. Already this evil has attained a fearful mag. nitude; and, under the present common practices, it grows a little faster than the increase of cotton bales at the South. Who can say when or where this ever-augmenting exhaustion of the natural resources of the cottongrowing States is to end short of their ruin? Every year's labor in tillage renders the existing impediments, in the way of adequate restitution to the injured soil, more difficult to be overcome; and if the depleting policy be much longer pursued, with the rapid increase of field hands and mules, deeper ploughing, and greater facilities for sending cotton to market, to what future resources can the community look for manure enough to recuperate all the impoverished land in the planting States?
No cotton-grower should wish to conceal from himself or the public the fact that the soil of the South will be injured as much in the next fifteen years as it has been in the last twenty-five; while the means of renovation in cultivated fields, fifteen years hence, will be less than half what they now are. If, in practice, it is now found somewhat difficult to give back to cotton plantations a fair equivalent for the elements of crops, removed by the leaching and washing of many sudden showers and heavy rains falling upon light and thoroughly or poorly-tilled land, can it be easier to make restitution after many million tons of the few precious atoms extracted in the growth of agricultural plants have been either wasted at home or sent to distant States and countries for consumption? If a wise and skilful planter finds it apparently impracticable to export largely the raw material of crops drawn from the surface of his fields, and not impair their fruitfulness, when they are rich in the elements of cotton and grain, who can do any better by these same fields after they have been partially or wholly exhausted? If adequate restitution is ever to be made, who does not see that every year's delay to begin the great work lessens the resources of every owner of the soil, while it augments the necessities of all arated land? In case no restitution is contemplated, and the present system of planting is to continue, what a humiliating and inglorious destiny must not the sunny South finally reach? Can her patriotic statesmen close their eyes against the evidence of an erroneous policy which impoverishes the soil, because full and perfect restitution appears impracticable? Our old colonial system of agriculture is defective. and wrong in the extreme. Having come down to us from before the Revolution, the evils which are entailed admit of no remedy short of wise and timely legislation. Isolated cultivators are entirely powerless
to change a public policy that has grown up with the growth of six or eight generations, whose uniform practice has been to take everything from the virgin earth and give nothing back. This great error is by no means limited to the cotton and tobacco-growing States. It exists in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and all the other States, and will lead to precisely the same results as at the South. The difference in climate makes a corresponding difference in degree and in the length of time that the natural fertility of land will last; but in the end a common system will lead to a common result in all parts of the republic. It would gratify our self-esteem, as owners of the soil which we cultivate, to conceal our short-comings in reference to its obvious wants, and dwell upon the statistics that prove our ability to extract more of the agricultural staples of the country from its arable lands than an equal number of laborers ever before extracted. By the aid of better farm implements, greater experience, and more skilful operatives, cotton, corn, wheat, and tobacco are grown very cheaply on rich lands; and if all of the so-called improved farms were really fertile and exempt from the loss of the essential constituents of crops, American agriculture would soon approximate perfection. As an art, it has made wonderful progress in the last thirty years: but as a science, we have yet to plant the seed; and, what is worse, the ground has to be grubbed, and ploughed, and manured, before the germs of rural science can thrive in American soil. Agricultural statistics show this, and we shall appeal to them to prove both the advancement of tillage and husbandry as arts, and their deplorable condition as sciences.
American agriculture as an art.
In the art of subduing wild lands, whether forest or prairie, American farmers have no equals. The census of 1840 did not ascertain the number of acres of improved land in the United States; therefore, there are no data showing the increase during the last decade. Corn, being the most important and universal crop grown, is the best test of the progress of the art of tillage in all parts of the Union. In 1840, the returns of this cereal were 377,531,875 bushels; in 1850 they were 592,141,230. These figures indicate a gain of over 50 per cent., while population increased only about 35 per cent. in the same length of time. The crop of wheat would have shown an equal advance, had it not been very badly damaged before the harvest from which the census of 1850 was made. To our knowledge, this staple has been raised in some States, and sold at from twenty-five to fifty cents a bushel, during the last thirty years. Since the discovery of the gold deposites of California, and the partial exhaustion of the best wheat lands in the country, the price of this crop has advanced considerably in all the newly-settled districts. In no other nation can wheat and maize be grown at so small an outlay in the labor of man and beast as in the United States. This advantage, which extends to cotton and tobacco culture, and the production of hay, is to be ascribed mainly to the circumstance of the comparative scarcity of labor in this country of cheap farming lands since the first settlement of the British colonies. A demand for labor beyond the supply has operated as a standing bounty on improved agricultural implements, and
extraordinary skill in every manipulation practised in rural affairs; and the natural result is unrivalled attainments in the arts of tillage and husbandry. The same amount of toil of a man and horse which will produce a bushel of wheat in England, will yield ten bushels of corn on good land in this country. Hence it is that our annual crop of maize now exceeds six hundred million bushels. We have often had occasion to admire the tact, skill, and industry with which over three thousand million pounds of seed-cotton are picked by human fingers, in a harvest of a few months' duration. Both cotton and corn are grown in many countries, and where labor is much cheaper than in the United States; but one travels in vain to find a people whose knowledge of the art of cotton and corn-planting approaches that of the citizens of this republic. Productiveness of crops and destructiveness of soil are the two most prominent features of American agriculture. The latter feature arises. from the fact that we have a continent to cultivate and exhaust of its virgin fertility. Long experience has taught us all the advantages of this American system; its disadvantages have been sadly overlooked. They consist in compelling all classes to give an ever-increasing amount of labor in all the older States for their daily food and necessary clothing. Railroads and canals extending into the heart of fresh lands, temporarily abate the evil named, and inspire a false confidence in the popular policy of the age. If we will take the time required to master the true principles of rural economy, and the statistics of tillage, as they affect the soil, we shall find abundant evidence of the great and almost irreparable injury done to one hundred million acres of our so-called "improved lands." The number of acres returned at the census of 1850 was 118,435,178 "improved," and 184,596,025 " unimproved." It is only in two or three States, where State statistics aid us in our researches, that the constant deterioration of the soil is demonstrated. The object sought by those that prepared the blank schedules for the collection of agricultural statistics by the United States marshals, appears not to have been to promote the interests of agriculture by improving the soil, but to benefit inland and foreign commerce, trade, and manufactures, which look to the products of rural industry, not to its influence on the enduring fruitfulness of the earth. The careful and critical study of agriculture, with a view to make it the foundation of a wise system of political economy, has never been undertaken by American statesmen. Hence, their statesmanship and political economy have been at war with the true principles of tillage and husbandry from the first settlement of this continent by Europeans. Instead of inculcating the public duty to feed the land, that both feeds and clothes all classes and all generations, they have taught doctrines and established a policy which render it wholly impracticable to supply cotton, tobacco, and grain, for home consumption, without seriously impairing the natural resources of the soil. The truth of this remark we will now proceed to demonstrate: All will admit that the farmers of New York have the benefit of canals, railways, plank roads, cities, villages, and home markets.
With these advantages, it has been assumed that no further aid to agriculture was necessary, except such as the free schools, academies, and colleges now established would furnish. Since the State census of 1845, New York farmers have had the best services of a popular and