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What I Know Of Farming




Undeveloped Sources Of Power








The more I consider the present state of our Agriculture, the more
emphatic is my discontent with the farmer's present sources and command
of power. The subjugation and tillage of a farm, like the running of a
factory or furnace, involves a continual use of Power; but the
manufacturer obtains his from sources which supply it cheaply and in
great abundance, while the farmer has been content with an inferior
article, in limited supply, at a far heavier cost. Yet the stream which
turns the factory's wheels and sets all its machinery in motion
traverses or skirts many farms as well, and, if properly harnessed, is
just as ready to speed the plow as to impel the shuttles of a
woolen-mill, or revolve the cylinders of a calico-printery. Nature is
impartially kind to all her children; but some of them know how to
profit by her good-will far more than others. No doubt, we all have much
yet to learn, and our grandchildren will marvel at the proofs of
stupidity evinced in our highest achievements; but I am not mistaken in
asserting that, as yet, the farmers' control of Nature's free gifts of
power is very far inferior to that of nearly every other class of
producers.

I have been having much plowing done this Fall--in my orchards, for what
I presume to be the good of the trees; on my drained swamp, because it
is not yet fully subdued and sweetened, and I judge that the Winter's
freezing and thawing will aid to bring it into condition. And then my
swamp lies so low and absolutely flat that the thaws and rains of Spring
render plowing it in season for Oats, or any other crop that requires
early seeding, a matter of doubt and difficulty. All the land I now
cultivate, or seek to cultivate, has already been well plowed more than
once; no stump or stone impedes progress in the tracts I have plowed
this Fall; yet a good plow, drawn by two strong yoke of oxen, rarely
breaks up half an acre per day; and I estimate two acres per week about
what has been averaged, at a cost of $18 for the plowman and driver;
offsetting the oxen's labor against the work done by the men at the barn
and elsewhere apart from plowing. In other words: I am confident that my
plowing has cost me, from first to last, at least, $10 per acre, and
would have cost still more if it had been done as thoroughly as it
ought. I am quite aware that this is high--that sandy soils and dry
loams are plowed much cheaper; and that farmers who plow wall (with whom
I do not rank those who scratch the earth to a depth of four or five
inches) do it at a much lower rate. Still, I estimate the average cost
in this country of plowing land twelve inches deep at $5 per acre; and
I am confident that it does not cost one cent less.

Nor is cost the only discouragement. There is not half so much nor so
thorough plowing among us, especially in the Fall; as there should be.
The soil is, for a good part of the time, too dry or too wet; the
weather is inclement, or the ground is frozen: so the plow must stand
still. At length, the signs are auspicious; the ground is in just the
right condition; and we would gladly plow ten, twenty, fifty acres
during the brief period wherein it remains so; but this is impossible.
Others want to improve the opportunity as well as we; extra teams are
rarely to be had at any price; and our own slow-moving oxen refuse to be
hurried. Standing half a mile off, you can see them move; if your
eye-sight is keen, and you have some stationary object interposed
whereby to take an observation; but it is as much as ever. If your soil
is such that you can use horses, you get on, of course, much faster; but
all that you gain in breadth you are apt to lose in depth. There may be
spans that will take the plow right along though you sink it to the
beam; but they are sure to be slow travelers. I never knew a span that
would plow an acre per day as I think it should be plowed; though, if
your only object be to get over as much ground as possible, you may
afflict and titillate two acres, or as much more as you please.

Now, I have before me a letter to The Times (London) by Mr. William
Smith, of Woolston, Bucks, who states that he has just harvested his
fifteenth annual crop cultivated by steam-power, and has prepared his
land for the sixteenth; and he gives details, showing that he breaks up
and ridges heavy clay soils at the rate of six acres per day, and plows
lands already in tillage at the rate of fully nine acres per day. He
gives the total cost, (including wear and tear,) of breaking up a foot
deep and ridging 65 acres in September and October in this year, 1870,
at L20 6s. 6d. or about $100 in gold: call it $112 in our greenbacks,
and still it falls considerably below $2 (greenbacks) per acre. Say that
labor and fuel are twice as dear in this country as in England, and this
would make the cost of thoroughly pulverizing by steam-power a heavy
clay soil to a depth of twelve inches less than $4 per acre here. I do
not believe this could be done by animal power at $10 per acre, not
considering the difficulty of getting it thoroughly done at all. Mr.
Smith pertinently says: "Horse-power could not give at any cost such
valuable work as this steam-power ridging and subsoiling is." He tills
166 acres in all, making the cost of steam-plowing his stubble-land 4s.
8-1/2d. per acre (say $1.30 greenback). And he gives this interesting
item:

"No. 5, light land, 12 acres, was ridge-plowed and subsoiled last year
for beans: that operation left the land, after the bean-crop came off,
in so nice a state, that cultivating once over with horses, at a cost of
2s. per acre, was all that was needed this Autumn for wheat next year.
The wheat was drilled four days back."

--Now I am not commending Steam as the best source of power in aid of
Agriculture. I hope we shall be able to do better ere long. I recognize
the enormous waste involved in the movement of an engine, boiler, etc.,
weighing several tons, back and forth across our fields, and apprehend
that it must be difficult to avoid a compression of the soil therefrom.
A stationary engine and boiler at either end of the field, hauling a
gang of plows this way and that by means of ropes and pulleys, must
involve a very heavy outlay for machinery and a considerable cost in its
removal from farm to farm, or even from field to field. Either of these
may be the best device yet perfected; but we are bound to do better in
time.

Precisely how and when the winds which sweep over our fields shall be
employed to pulverize and till the soil, are among the many things I do
not know; but, that the end will yet be achieved, I undoubtingly trust.
I know somewhat--not much--of what has been done and is doing, both in
Europe and America, to extend and diversify the utilization of wind as a
source of power, and to compress and retain it so that the gale which
sweeps over a farm to-night may afford a reserve or fund of power for
its cultivation on the morrow or thereafter. I know a little of what has
been devised and done toward converting and transmitting, through the
medium of compressed air, the power generated by a waterfall--say
Niagara or Minnehaha--so that it may be expended and utilized at a
distance of miles from its source, impelling machinery of all kinds at
half the cost of steam. I know vaguely of what is being done with
Electricity, with an eye to its employment in the production of power,
by means of enginery not a tenth so weighty and cumbrous as that
required for the generation and utilization of Steam, and by means of a
consumption (that is, transformation) of materials not a hundredth part
so bulky and heavy as the water and steam which fill the boilers of our
factories and locomotives. I am no mechanician, and will not even guess
from what source, through what agencies, the new power will be
vouch-safed us which is in time to pulverize our fields to any required
depth with a rapidity, perfection, and economy, not now anticipated by
the great body of our farmers. But my faith in its achievement is
undoubting; and, though I may not live to see it, I predict that there
are readers of this essay who will find the forces abundantly generated
all around us by the spontaneous movement of Wind, Water, and
Electricity--one or more, and probably by all of them--so utilized and
wielded as to lighten immensely the farmer's labor, while quadrupling
its efficiency in producing all by which our Earth ministers to the
sustenance and comfort of man.





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