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- The Farm That Won't Wear Out - 6/9 -


Mind you, this does not prove that farming is profitable, but only that the intelligent use of phosphorus in farming is profitable. In other words the admixture--brains--is profitable.

In commenting upon his investigations the director of the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station states that the raw phosphate produced a higher total average yield than acid phosphate, and at less than half the cost.

The Rhode Island Experiment Station began a series of experiments with different forms of phosphorus in 1894. If we add together all the hay and grain crops grown during the decade following the first year of these experiments, we find that the increases per acre were 14,580 pounds for raw phosphate and 14,550 pounds for acid phosphate, on unlimed land; while lime and raw phosphate produced 27,030 pounds, and lime and acid phosphate 29,690 pounds, of increase; and the acid phosphate cost three times as much as the raw phosphate.

In commenting upon these investigations the director of the Rhode Island Experiment Station states that the raw phosphate gave very good results with such farm crops as oats, peas, crimson clover, millet, soy beans, and so forth, but very poor results with such garden crops as turnips, rutabagas, cabbage, beets, lettuce, squash, and so forth, and its use for these garden crops is not advised.

In 1890 the Massachusetts Experiment Station began investigations with different phosphates applied in equal money value, and in his report for 1900 the director states that the raw rock phosphate ranks above the acid phosphate both as an average for the entire period and as an average between 1895 and 1900, during which time the land to which no phosphorus was applied produced only 55 per cent as much as where raw phosphate was used--a result worth every farmer's consideration.

More Bushels and Tons

The Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station has reported investigations covering sixteen years in which raw phosphate was compared with acid phosphate costing twice as much per acre. As an average of all results secured, 320 pounds of raw phosphate applied with manure on clover sod produced 8.4 bushels more corn, 4.7 bushels more wheat, and 0.49 ton more hay per acre than where manure alone was used, and 320 pounds of acid phosphate, costing twice as much money but containing only half as much phosphorus, applied with the same amount of manure, produced 7.5 bushels more corn, 5.1 bushels more wheat, and 0.46 ton more hay than where the manure alone was used.

Now I have presented the averages or summaries of all investigations that have been reported covering ten years or more where equal money values of raw phosphate and acid phosphate have been used, or where any apparent provision was made to supply some organic manure, whether as farm manure, green manure or merely as clover grown in the rotation; and I invite the reader to mix his own brains with these data and not to expect me to state whether he should use the relatively cheap ground natural phosphate rock or the more costly manufactured acidulated phosphate in the improvement of his own soil in systems of permanent profitable agriculture.

Making Phosphate Available

If the natural rock is used it should be ground so that at least 90 per cent will pass through a sieve with 10,000 meshes to the square inch, and of course its content of phosphorus (from 12 to 15 per cent) or of so-called "phosphoric acid" (from 27 to 34 per cent) should also be guaranteed. Moreover it should be used liberally and in connection with plenty of decaying organic matter. People sometimes ask, "How much of the phosphorus in raw phosphate is available?" The best answer to this question is, "None of it; and, if you are not going to make it available, don't use it."

On my own farm I use about one ton per acre of raw phosphate once every six years, thus adding at least 250 pounds of phosphorus at a cost of less than $8; whereas 200 pounds of the common "complete" fertilizer per acre yearly would cost $12 every six years, and would supply only 40 pounds of phosphorus. I do not use "complete" fertilizers, because there is plenty of nitrogen in the air and plenty of potassium in the soil; and because, by growing and plowing under plenty of clover, I not only secure nitrogen from the air and liberate potassium from the soil but also liberate the phosphorus from the raw rock phosphate applied to the soil. In beginning the use of raw phosphate where the supply of organic manures is limited, I apply one ton of phosphate and 600 pounds of kainit in intimate connection, turn them under, preferably with organic matter, then add ground limestone if needed, and thus prepare to grow clover.

By far the most important agencies under the farmer's control for the liberation of plant food are the decomposition products of fermenting or decaying organic matter, such as green manures, crop residues and ordinary farm manures. In the decomposition of these organic materials sour or acid products are formed. Thus vinegar, containing acetic acid, is formed from the fermentation of apple juice, hard cider being an intermediate product. Sweet, chopped, immature field corn becomes sour silage in the silo, lactic, acetic, carbonic and other acids being formed. By a similar process cabbage is turned into sauerkraut. Likewise sweet milk becomes sour, with the formation of lactic acid. Oxalic, citric, tartaric, succinic, malic, gallic and tannic are other well-known organic acids. Some of these are contained in the sap or juice of certain plants, and these or others are formed when crop residues are decomposed in the soil.

In the ultimate decomposition of organic matter the carbon appears in the form of carbon dioxid which when combined with water forms carbonic acid. Though this is a very weak acid, its solvent action is very important.

But, in addition to the various organic acids and carbonic acid, we have also to consider the formation of nitric acid in connection with the decomposition of organic manures. Nitric acid is one of the strongest known, and in solvent power it is excelled by no single acid. The nitrogen contained in crop residues and other organic manures is chiefly in chemical combination with carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, much of it in insoluble protein compounds. Normally this organic nitrogen is transformed in the soil, first into ammonia nitrogen, next into nitrite nitrogen, and lastly into nitrate nitrogen, these three transformations being effected by biochemical action produced by different kinds of living microscopic organisms called bacteria. Though detectable amounts of free nitric acid do not accumulate during this process of nitrification, the soluble nitrate or final product is formed by the action of nitric acid upon a mineral base, such as calcium, magnesium, or potassium, which may have been in the soil in insoluble form, so that the nitrogen must pass through the form of nitric acid in the transformation into nitrates.

While the organic matter applied to the soil contains about twenty times as much carbon as nitrogen, and while corresponding amounts of carbonic acid and important amounts of intermediate organic acids must be formed, it is of much interest to know that even the nitric acid formed in the transformation of organic nitrogen to nitrate nitrogen in sufficient quantity for a given crop is seven times as much acid as would be required to convert raw rock phosphate into soluble phosphate to furnish the phosphorus required for the same crop. A knowledge of this definite quantitative relationship should help us to appreciate the possibilities of decaying organic manures in the important matter of making plant food available, including potassium, calcium and magnesium as well as phosphorus and nitrogen.

The value of rye, rape, buckwheat and other non-legumes when used as green manures is very largely due to the liberation of plant food by their decomposition in contact with the natural phosphates, potash and other minerals contained in the soil. The farmer has no more important business than that of making plant food available, especially by supplying liberal amounts of decaying organic matter.

The following suggestions are offered to the land owner:

To enrich the soil apply liberal amounts of limestone, organic manures and phosphorus.

To enrich the seller apply small amounts of high-priced "complete" commercial fertilizers.

Thus the average of seventy-three "Cooperative Fertilizer Tests on Clay and Loam Soils," extending into thirty-eight different counties in Indiana (Bulletin 155), shows 13 cents as the farmer's profit from each dollar spent for "complete" fertilizers used for corn, oats, wheat, timothy, and potatoes, if valued in the field at 40 cents a bushel for corn, 30 cents for oats, 80 cents for wheat, 50 cents for potatoes, and at $10 a ton for hay, over and above the extra expense for harvesting and marketing the increase, and of course the soil grows poorer, because the crops harvested removed much more plant food than the fertilizers supplied.

CHAPTER IV

PERMANENT SOIL FERTILITY

Its Relation to Profits and Future Values

THOUGH intelligent soil improvement is the most profitable business in which an honest man can engage, ordinary farming is not a highly remunerative occupation, and to a large extent the fortune of the farmer is bound up with the increase or depreciation in the market value of his land. There are at least three important factors of influence which induce people to continue farming:

First, the farmer is his own employer. He controls his own job, is his own boss and has no superior officer to lay him off because of disagreement, dull business or political preferment. Farmers constitute by far the largest class of citizens who own their own business, and are thus "independent."

Second, the farmer is able as a rule to make some sort of a living for his family very largely out of the produce of the farm, so that he gets some return for his labor in terms of food, even when there is no profit in farming as a business; whereas the wage-earner of the city, as soon as his wages stop and his savings and credit are exhausted, must see his family supported by charity or starve. This is not fiction, but fact.


The Farm That Won't Wear Out - 6/9

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