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What I Know Of Farming

Grain-growing East And West

I disclaim all pretensions to ability to teach Western farmers how to
grow Indian Corn abundantly and profitably, while I cheerfully admit
that they have taught me somewhat thoroughly worth knowing. In my
boyhood, I hoed Corn diligently for weeks at a time, drawing the earth
from between the rows up about the stalks to a depth of three or four
inches; thus forming hills which the West has since taught me to be of
no use, but rather a detriment, embarrassing the efforts of the growing,
hungry plants to throw out their roots extensively in every direction,
and subjecting them to needless injury from drouth. I am thoroughly
convinced that Corn, properly planted, will, like Wheat and all other
grains, root itself just deep enough in the ground, and that to keep
down all weeds and leave the surface of the corn-field open, mellow and
perfectly flat, is the best as well as the cheapest way to cultivate
Corn. And I do not believe that so much human food, with so little
labor, is produced elsewhere on earth as in the spacious fields of
Wheat and Corn in our grand Mississippi valley.

And yet I have seen in that valley many ample stretches covered with
Corn, whereof the tillage seemed susceptible of improvement. Riding
between these great corn-fields in October, after everything standing
thereon had been killed by frost, it seemed to my observation that,
while the corn-crop was fair, the weed-crop was far more luxuriant; so
that, if everything had been cut clean from the ground, and the corn and
the weeds placed in opposite scales, the latter would have weighed down
the former. I cannot doubt that the cultivation, or lack of cultivation,
which produces or permits such results, is not merely slovenly, but

The West is for the present, as for a generation she has been, the
granary of the East. In my judgment, she will not long be content to
remain so. Fifty years ago, the Genesee valley supplied most of the
wheat and flour imported into New-England; ten years later, Northern
Ohio was our principal resource; ten years later still, Michigan,
Indiana, northern Illinois, and eastern Wisconsin, had been added to our
grain-growing territory. Another decade, and our flour manufacturers had
crossed the Mississippi, laying Iowa and Minnesota under liberal
contributions, while western New-York had ceased to grow even her own
breadstuffs, and Ohio to produce one bushel more than she needed for
home consumption. Can we doubt that this steady recession of our Egypt,
our Hungary, is destined to continue? Twenty-three years ago, when I
first rode out from the then rising village of Chicago to see the
Illinois prairies, nearly every wagon I met was loaded with wheat, going
into Chicago, to be sold for about fifty cents per bushel, and the
proceeds loaded back in the form of lumber, groceries, and almost
everything else, grain excepted, needed by the pioneers, then dotting,
thinly and irregularly, that whole region with their cabins. Now, I
presume the district I then traversed produces hardly more grain than it
consumes; taking Illinois altogether, I doubt that she will grow her own
breadstuffs after 1880; not that she will be unable to produce a large
surplus, but that her farmers will have decided that they can use their
lands otherwise to greater advantage. Iowa and Minnesota will continue
to export grain for perhaps twenty years longer; but even their time
will come for saying, "New-York and New-England (not to speak of Old
England) are too far away to furnish profitable markets for such bulky
products; the cost of transportation absorbs the larger part of the
cargo. We must export instead Wool, Meat, Lard, Butter, Cheese, Hops,
and various Manufactures, whereof the freight will range from 2 up to
not more than 25 per cent. of the value." They thus save their soil from
the tremendous exaction made by taking grain-crop after grain-crop
persistently, which long ago exhausted most of New-England and eastern
New-York of wheat-forming material, and has since wrought the same
deplorable result in our rich Genesee valley; while eastern
Pennsylvania, though settled nearly two centuries ago, having pursued a
more rational and provident system of husbandry, grows excellent
wheat-crops to this day.

I insist that the States this side of the Delaware; though they will
draw much grain from the Canadas after the political change that cannot
be far distant, will be compelled to grow a very considerable share of
their own breadstuff; that the West will cease to supply them unless at
prices which they will deem exorbitant; and that grain-growing eastward
of a line drawn from Baltimore this north to the Lakes will have to be
very considerably extended. Let us see, then, whether this might not be
done with profit even now, and whether the East is not unwise in having
so generally abandoned grain-growing.

I leave out of the account most of New-England, as well as of Eastern
New-York, and the more rugged portions of New-Jersey and Pennsylvania,
where the rocky, hilly, swampy face of the country seems to forbid any
but that patchy cultivation, wherein machinery and mechanical power
can scarcely be made available, and which seem, therefore, permanently
fated to persevere in a system of agriculture and horticulture not
essentially unlike that they now exhibit. In the valleys of the
Penobscot, the Kennebec, the Hudson, and of our smaller rivers, there
are considerable tracts absolutely free from these natural impediments,
whereon a larger and more efficient husbandry is perfectly practicable,
even now; but these intervales are generally the property of many
owners; are cut up by roads and fences; and are held at high prices: so
that I will simply pass them by, and take for illustration the "Pine
Barrens" of Southern New-Jersey, merely observing that what I say of
them is equally applicable, with slight modifications, to large portions
of Long Island, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas.

The "Pine Barrens" of New-Jersey are a marine deposit of several hundred
feet in depth, mainly sand, with which more or less clay is generally
intermingled, while there are beds and even broader stretches of this
material nearly or quite pure; the clay sometimes underlying the sand at
a depth of 10 to 30 or 40 inches. Vast deposits of muck or leaf-mold,
often of many acres in extent and from two to twenty feet in depth, are
very common; so that hardly any portion of the dry or sandy land is two
miles distant from one or more of them, while some is usually much
nearer; and half the entire region is underlaid by at least one stratum
of the famous marl (formed of the decomposed bones of gigantic marine
monsters long ago extinct) which has already played so important and
beneficent a part in the renovation and fertilization of large districts
in Monmouth, Burlington, Salem, and other counties.

Let us suppose now that a farmer of ample means and generous capacity
should purchase four hundred acres of these "barrens," with intent to
produce therefrom, not sweet potatoes, melons, and the "truck" to which
Southern Jersey is so largely devoted, but substantial Grain and Meat;
and let us see whether the enterprise would probably pay.

Let us not stint the outlay, but, presuming the tract to be eligibly
located on a railroad not too distant from some good marl-bed, estimate
as follows:

Purchase-money of 400 acres at $25 per acre $10,000

Clearing, grubbing, fencing and breaking up ditto at $20
per acre, over and above the proceeds of the wood 8,000

One thousand bushels of best Marl per acre, at 6 cents per
bushel delivered 24,000

One hundred loads of Swamp Muck, per acre, at 50 cents
per load 20,000

Fifty bushels (unslaked) of Oyster-shell Lime (to compost
with the Muck), per acre, at 25 cents per bushel, delivered 5,000

One hundred tuns of Bone Flour at $50 per tun 5,000
[Net cost, $180 per acre.] Total $72,000

I believe that this tract, divided by light fences into four fields of
100 acres each, and seeded in rotation to Corn, Wheat, Clover and other
grasses, would produce fully 60 bushels of Corn and 30 of Wheat per
acre, with not less than 3 tuns of good Hay; and that by cutting,
steaming, and feeding the stalks and straw on the place, not pasturing,
but keeping up the stock, and feeding them, as indicated in a former
chapter of these essays, and selling their product in the form of Milk,
Butter, Cheese and Meat, a greater profit would be realized than could
be from a like investment in Iowa or Kansas. The soil is warm, readily
frees itself, or is freed, from surplus water; is not addicted to weeds;
may be plowed at least 200 days in a year; may be sowed or planted in
the Spring, when Minnesota is yet solidly frozen; while the crop, early
matured, is on hand to take advantage of any sudden advance in the
European or our own seaboard markets. Labor, also, is cheaper and more
rapidly procured in the neighborhood of this great focus of immigration
than it is or can be in the West; and our capable farmers may take their
pick of the workers thronging hither from Europe, at the moment of their
landing on our shore. Of course, the owner of such an estate as I have
roughly outlined, would be likely to keep a part of his purchase in
timber, proving the quality thereof by cutting out the less desirable
trees, trimming up the rest, and planting new ones among them; and he
would be almost certain to devote some part of his farm annually to the
growth of Roots, Vegetables, and Fruits. But I have aimed to show only
that he would grow grain here at a profit, and I think I have succeeded.
His 60 bushels of corn (shelled) per acre could be sold at his crib, one
year with another, for 60 silver dollars; and he need seldom wait a
month after husking it for customers who would gladly take his grain and
pay the money for it. This would be just about double what the Iowa or
Missouri farmer can expect to average for his Corn. The abundant
fodder would also be worth in New-Jersey at least double its value in
Iowa; and I judge that the farmer able to buy, prepare, fertilize, and
cultivate 1,200 acres of the Jersey "barrens," could make more than
thrice the profit to be realized by the owner of 400 acres. He would
plow and seed as well as thrash, shell, cut stalks and straw, and
prepare the food of his animals, wholly by steam-power, and would soon
learn to cultivate a square mile at no greater expense than is now
involved in the as perfect tillage of 200 acres.

This essay is not intended to prove that Grain is not or may not be
profitably cultivated at the West, nor that it is unadvisable for
Eastern farmers to migrate thither in order so to cultivate it. What I
maintain is, that Wheat, Indian Corn, and nearly all our great food
staples, may also be profitably produced on the seaboard, and that
thousands of square miles, now nearly or quite unproductive, may be
wisely and profitably devoted to such production. Let us regard,
therefore, without alarm, the prospect of such a development and
diversification of Western Industry as will render necessary a large and
permanent extension (or rather revival) of Eastern grain-growing.

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