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- The Farm That Won't Wear Out - 4/9 -
applied during the previous thirty years. It is true that the cost of the fertilizers used exceeded the value of the increase in yield; but let us bear in mind that this truth does not destroy the other truth.
Prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. It is a good fact that 1218 bushels of wheat were produced by the application of nitrogen to an acre of land during a period of sixty years, over and above the produce of another acre which differed only by not receiving nitrogen; whereas the total produce from an acre of unfertilized land was only 756 bushels during the same sixty years. It is a good fact that the increase alone from the nitrogen applied is more than twice the total yield of the unfertilized land during the last thirty years, and he does well who holds fast this fact.
It is also a good fact that as an average of sixty years the yield of barley was increased by 21.6 bushels an acre by nitrogen; that nitrogen increased the yield of hay on permanent meadow land at Rothamsted by 1-1/2 tons an acre as a fifty-year average; and that nitrogen increased the average yield of potatoes by 88 bushels as an average of twenty-six years; while the average of the unfertilized land was only 51 bushels an acre, these increases in barley, bay, and potatoes being obtained over and above the yields where minerals alone were used.
Where Is Nitrogen?
If nitrogen has such enormous power to increase the yield of our great staple farm crops then we may well inquire, Where is nitrogen, and how can it be secured economically and utilized profitably in practical agriculture?
The weight of the atmosphere is 15 pounds to the square inch. This means that a column of air 1 inch square taken to the full height of the terrestrial atmosphere weighs 15 pounds. More than three fourths of the air is nitrogen. Since there are 43,560 square feet in one acre, it follows that the nitrogen in the air above each acre of the earth's surface amounts to 70,000,000 pounds, or nearly 500,000 times the 150 pounds of nitrogen required for a hundred-bushel crop of corn. The leaves of the corn plant are blown about by the wind carrying 75-1/2 per cent of nitrogen, but cannot utilize an ounce of this supply.
Many people know that clover and other legumes have power, through the bacteria which inhabit their root tubercles, to feed upon the inexhaustible supply of atmospheric nitrogen which freely enters the pores of the soil; but who knows how much nitrogen is taken from the air by a given crop of clover? Not one in a thousand can answer this question; and meanwhile our continued agricultural and national prosperity depends in large part upon the possibility of wide dissemination and practical application of a quantitative knowledge of the nitrogen problem.
As a rule the so-called "practical" farmer is a theorist. He first believes that the virgin soil is inexhaustible, even though cropped continuously. Later he clings to the popular theory that the rotation of crops will maintain the productive capacity of the land; and it is safe to say that a large majority of the farmers of the United States gladly hold to the erroneous theory that clover grown once every three to five years will increase and permanently maintain the fertility of the soil.
The fact that clover was grown for generations on the lands of the older Eastern states until the clover crop itself finally failed on millions of acres now agriculturally abandoned is overlooked or forgotten by present-day farmers, especially by the descendants of those who have gone West and settled on new, rich lands.
Six Facts and a Question
The following six facts will furnish a comprehensive basis for the solution of the nitrogen problem in practical general agriculture:
(1) To produce 100 pounds of grain requires about 3 pounds of nitrogen, of which 2 pounds are deposited in the grain itself and 1 pound in the straw or stalks.
(2) In live-stock farming one-fourth of the nitrogen in the food consumed is retained in the animal products--meat, milk, wool, and so on--and three-fourths may be returned to the land in the excrements if saved without loss.
(3) When grown on soils of normal productive capacity legumes secure about two-thirds of their total nitrogen from the air and one-third from the soil.
(4) Clover and other biennial or perennial legumes have about two-thirds of their total nitrogen in the tops and one-third in the roots, while the roots of cowpeas and other annual legumes contain only about one-tenth of their total nitrogen.
(5) Hay made from our common legumes contains about 40 pounds of nitrogen per ton.
(6) Average farm manure contains 16 pounds of nitrogen per ton.
Question: How many tons of average farm manure must be applied to a 40-acre field in order to provide as much nitrogen as would be added to the soil by plowing under 2-1/2 tons of clover per acre? Answer: 400 tons.
Either method will furnish about as much nitrogen as would be taken from the soil by a 50-bushel crop of wheat, a 75-bushel crop of corn or a 100-bushel crop of oats per acre. The decision by the individual between live-stock farming and grain farming should be based upon preference and profit rather than upon the erroneous teaching that farm manaure is either essential or sufficient for the maintenance of soil fertility in this country.
Bread is the staff of life, and many must sell grain. I do not advise all grain farmers to become live-stock farmers; but I do advise both grain farmers and live-stock farmers to enrich their soils by practical, profitable and permanent methods. Both classes of farmers may secure new nitrogen--that is, they can positively increase their nitrogen supply by sufficient use of legume crops.
How to Supply Nitrogen
The cotton-grower who sells cotton lint at 10 cents a pound and the market gardener who sells from $100 to $300 worth of fruits and vegetables from one acre may well make liberal use of commercial nitrogen at 15 or 20 cents a pound; but if after deducting the cost of harvesting, threshing, storing and marketing the average farmer receives only 1 cent a pound for his grain and if 40 per cent of the commercial nitrogen applied is lost by leaching, then the total crop of grain would bring only enough money to pay for the nitrogen required to produce it, at 20 cents a pound. We may sometimes advise the American grain-grower to buy water with which to irrigate his crop, but not to buy nitrogen with which to fertilize it.
If the grain farmer grows 40 bushels of wheat to the acre, clover having been seeded on the same land in order to plow under the equivalent of 1-1/2 tons of hay as green manure the following spring, and follows this by a 60-bushel crop of corn and a 50-bushel crop of oats, and this the fourth year by two crops of clover aggregating 3 tons an acre, including 2 bushels of seed, he can thus secure from the air about 180 pounds of nitrogen in the 4-1/2 tons of clover. Moreover, if the first cutting of clover the fourth year is left on the land and the threshed clover straw from the seed crop and likewise all straw and stalks are returned to the soil, only 154 pounds of nitrogen an acre would leave the farm if the total grain and clover seed were sold. With 80 cents a bushel for wheat, 50 cents for corn, 40 cents for oats and $8 for clover seed, the total returns from the four acres would amount to $98.
On the other hand the live-stock farmer may grow two 60-bushel crops of corn, followed by 50 bushels of oats and then 3 tons of clover hay containing 120 pounds of new nitrogen. The four crops would contain 350 pounds of nitrogen; and if the grain and hay and half the corn-stalks are used for feed, with the straw and the remainder of the stalks for bedding, it is likewise possible to replace the 230 pounds of nitrogen required for the grain crops, provided not more than one-seventh of the manure is lost before being returned to the land. The important weakness on the common live-stock farm lies in the enormous waste of manure.
If 10 pounds of feed produce 1 pound increase in the live-weight of the animals fed, and if they bring 6 cents a pound on the hoof, the gross returns aggregate $107.50 from the four acres, barring losses from accidents, animal diseases, and so on.
Thus, with a few established facts in mind, one can easily determine how to maintain or even to increase the supply of nitrogen in the soil, and without the purchase of nitrogen in any form; and it is just as possible and just as necessary thus to provide the nitrogen needed in grain farming as in livestock farming. When we consider that animals destroy two-thirds of the organic matter in the food consumed we find that as between the two systems above described the organic matter or humus of the soil will be better maintained in the grain system outlined.
Live-Stock or Grain Farming
For those who believe that live-stock farming must be adopted for the maintenance of fertility on all farms, attention should be called to the fact that there are 900,000,000 acres of farm-land in the United States and only 90,000,000 head of live-stock equivalent to cows, including all farm animals. Will the manure from one cow serve to enrich 10 acres of land?
It should also be known that a hundred bushels of grain will support five times as many people as could live for the same length of time on the meat and milk that could be made by feeding the grain to domestic animals. It is because of this fact that the consumer may sometimes boycott meat or other animal products, while he never boycotts bread; but let us hope that permanent systems will become generally adopted in America, for the production of both grain and live stock, so that high standards of living may be maintained for all classes of people in this country.
The oldest direct comparison between these two systems of farming, so far as the writer has learned, is on the experiment fields of the University of Illinois, where as an average of six years the yield of corn has been 87 bushels an acre in grain farming and 90 bushels in live-stock farming, the same crop rotation being practiced. Where wheat was introduced the average yield for six years was 43.1 bushels in grain farming and 43.5 in live-stock farming.
No nitrogen was purchased in any form in either of these systems; but clover is grown in the rotation to secure nitrogen from the air
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