Chapter 3 : The Possibilities of Agriculture

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Chapter 3

The text is taken from my copy of FIELDS, FACTORIES AND WORKSHOPS: or Industry Combined with Agriculture and Brain Work with Manual Work, Thomas Nelson & Sons, London, Edinburgh, Dublin and New York, 1912.



The development of agriculture--Over-population prejudice-- Can the soil of Great Britain feed its inhabitants?-- British agriculture-- Compared with agriculture in France; in Belgium; in Denmark--Market-gardening; its achievements--Is it profitable to grow wheat in Great Britain?-- American agriculture: intensive culture in the States.

THE industrial and commercial history of the world during the last fifty years has been a history of decentralization of industry. It was not a mere shifting of the center of gravity of commerce, such as Europe witnessed in the past, when the commercial hegemony migrated from Italy to Spain, to Holland, and finally to Britain: it had a much deeper meaning, as it excluded the very possibility of commercial or industrial hegemony. It has shown the growth of quite new conditions, and new conditions require new adaptations. To endeavor to revive the past would be useless: a new departure must be taken by civilized nations.

Of course, there will be plenty of voices to argue that the former supremacy of the pioneers must be maintained at any price: all pioneers are in the habit of saying so. It will be suggested that the pioneers must attain such a superiority of technical knowledge and organization as to enable them to beat all their younger competitors; that force must be resorted to if necessary. But force is reciprocal; and if the god of war always sides with the strongest battalions, those battalions are strongest which fight for new rights against outgrown privileges. As to the honest longing for more technical education--surely let us all have as much of it as possible: it will be a boon for humanity; for humanity, of course--not for a single nation, because knowledge cannot be cultivated for home use only. Knowledge and invention, boldness of thought and enterprise, conquests of genius and improvements of social organization have become international growths; and no kind of progress--intellectual, industrial or social--can be kept within political boundaries; it crosses the seas, it pierces the mountains; steppes are no obstacle to it. Knowledge and inventive powers are now so thoroughly international that if a simple newspaper paragraph announces to-morrow that the problem of storing force, of printing without inking, or of aerial navigation, has received a practical solution in one country of the world, we may feel sure that within a few weeks the same problem will be solved, almost in the same way, by several inventors of different nationalities.1 Continually we learn that the same scientific discovery, or technical invention, has been made within a few days' distance, in countries a thousand miles apart; as if there were a kind of atmosphere which favors the germination of a given idea at a given moment. And such an atmosphere exists: steam, print and the common stock of knowledge have created it.

Those who dream of monopolizing technical genius are therefore fifty years behind the times. The world--the wide, wide world--is now the true domain of knowledge; and if each nation displays some special capacities in some special branch, the various capacities of different nations compensate one another, and the advantages which could be derived from them would be only temporary. The fine British workmanship in mechanical arts, the American boldness for gigantic enterprise, the French systematic mind, and the German pedagogy, are becoming international capacities. Sir William Armstrong, in his works established in Italy and Japan, has already communicated to Italians and Japanese those capacities for managing huge iron masses which have been nurtured on the Tyne; the uproarious American spirit of enterprise pervades the Old World; the French taste for harmony becomes European taste; and German pedagogy--improved, I dare say--is at home in Russia. So, instead of trying to keep life in the old channels, it would be better to see what the new conditions are, what duties they impose on our generation.

The characters of the new conditions are plain, and their consequences are easy to understand. As the manufacturing nations of West Europe are meeting with steadily growing difficulties in selling their manufactured goods abroad, and getting food in exchange, they will be compelled to grow their food at home; they will be bound to rely on home customers for their manufactures, and on home producers for their food. And the sooner they do so the better.

Two great objections stand, however, in the way against the general acceptance of such conclusions. We have been taught, both by economists and politicians, that the territories of the West European States are so overcrowded with inhabitants that they cannot grow all the food and raw produce which are necessary for the maintenance of their steadily increasing populations. Therefore the necessity of exporting manufactured goods and of importing food. And we are told, moreover, that even if it were possible to grow in Western Europe all the food necessary for its inhabitants, there would be no advantage in doing so as long as the same food can be got cheaper from abroad. Such are the present teachings and the ideas which are current in society at large. And yet it is easy to prove that both are totally erroneous: plenty of food could be grown on the territories of Western Europe for much more than their present populations, and an immense benefit would be derived from doing so. These are the two points which I have now to discuss.

To begin by taking the most disadvantageous case: is it possible that the soil of Great Britain, which at present yields food for one-third only of its inhabitants, could provide all the necessary amount and variety of food for 41,000,000 human beings when it covers only 56,000,000 acres all told--forests and rocks, marshes and peat-bogs, cities, railways and fields--out of which only 33,000,000 acres are considered as cultivable?2 The current opinion is, that it by no means can; and that opinion is so inveterate that we even see men of science, who are generally cautious when dealing with current opinions, endorse that opinion without even taking the trouble of verifying it. It is accepted as an axiom. And yet, as soon as we try to find out any argument in its favor, we discover that it has not the slightest foundation, either in facts or in judgment based upon well-known facts.

Let us take, for instance, J. B. Lawes' estimates of crops which were published every year in The Times. In his estimate of the year 1887 he made the remark that during the eight harvest years 1853-1860 "nearly three-fourths of the aggregate amount of wheat consumed in the United Kingdom was of home growth, and little more than one-fourth was derived from foreign sources"; but five-and-twenty years later the figures were almost reversed--that is, "during the eight years 1879-1886, little more than one-third has been provided by home crops and nearly two-thirds by imports." But neither the increase of population by 8,000,000 nor the increase of consumption of wheat by six-tenths of a bushel per head could account for the change. In the years 1853-1860 the soil of Britain nourished one inhabitant on every two acres cultivated: why did it require three acres in order to nourish the same inhabitant in 1887? The answer is plain: merely and simply because agriculture had fallen into neglect.

In fact, the area under wheat had been reduced since 1853-1860 by full 1,590,000 acres, and therefore the average crop of the years 1883-1886 was below the average crop of 1853-1860 by more than 40,000,000 bushels; and this deficit alone represented the food of more than 7,000,000 inhabitants. At the same time the area under barley, oats, beans, and other spring crops had also been reduced by a further 560,000 acres, which, alone, at the low average of thirty bushels per acre, would have represented the cereals necessary to complete the above, for the same 7,000,000 inhabitants. It can thus be said that if the United Kingdom imported cereals for 17,000,000 inhabitants in 1887, instead of for 10,000,000 in 1860, it was simply because more than 2,000,000 acres had gone out of cultivation.3

These facts are well known; but usually they are met with the remark that the character of agriculture had been altered: that instead of growing wheat, meat and milk were produced in this country. However, the figures for 1887, compared with the figures for 1860, show that the same downward movement took place under the heads of green crops and the like. The area under potatoes was reduced by 280,000 acres; under turnips by 180,000 acres; and although there was an increase under the heads of mangold, carrots, etc., still the aggregate area under all these crops was reduced by a further 330,000 acres. An increase of area was found only for permanent pasture (2,800,000 acres) and grass under rotation (1,600,000 acres); but we should look in vain for a corresponding increase of live stock. The increase of live stock which took place during those twenty-seven years was not sufficient to cover even the area reclaimed from waste land.4

Since the year 1887 affairs went, however, from worse to worse. If we take Great Britain alone, we see that in 1885 the area under all corn crops was 8,392,006 acres; that is very small, indeed, in comparison to the area which could have been cultivated; but even that little was further reduced to 7,400,227 acres in 1895. The area under wheat was 2,478,318 acres in 1885 (as against 3,630,300 in 1874); but it dwindled away to 1,417,641 acres in 1895, while the area under the other cereals increased by a trifle only--from 5,198,026 acres to 5,462,184 -- the total loss on all cereals being nearly 1,000,000 acres in ten years! Another 5,000,000 people were thus compelled to get their food from abroad.

Did the area under green crops increase correspondingly, as it would have done if it were only the character of agriculture that had changed? Not in the least! This area was further reduced by nearly 500,000 acres (3,521,602 in 1885, 3,225,762 in 1895, and 3,006,000 in 1909-1911). Or was the area under clover and grasses in rotation increased in proportion to all these reductions? Alas no! It also was reduced (4,654,173 acres in 1885, 4,729,801 in 1895, and 4,164,000 acres in 1909-1911). In short, taking all the land that is under crops in rotation (17,201,490 acres in 1885, 16,166,950 acres in 1895, 14,795,570 only in 1905, and 14,682,550 in 1909-1911), we see that within the last twenty-six years another 2,500,000 acres went out of cultivation, without any compensation whatever. It went to increase that already enormous area of more than 17,000,000 acres (17,460,000 in 1909-1911) more than one-half of the cultivable area-- which goes under the head of "permanent pasture," and hardly suffices to feed one cow on each three acres!

Need I say, after that, that quite to the contrary of what we are told about the British agriculturists becoming "meat-makers "instead of "wheat-growers," no corresponding increase of live stock took place during the last twenty-five years. Far from devoting the land freed from cereals to "meat-making," the country further reduced its live stock in 1885-1895, and began to show a slight increase during the last few years only. It had 6,597,964 head of horned cattle in 1885, 6,354,336 in 1895, and 7,057,520 in 1909-1911; 26,534,600 sheep in 1885, 25,792,200 in 1895, and from 26,500,000 to 27,610,000 in 1909-1911. True, the number of horses increased; every butcher and greengrocer runs now a horse "to take orders at the gents' doors" (in Sweden and Switzerland, by the way, they do it by telephone). But if we take the numbers of horses used in agriculture, unbroken, and kept for breeding, we find only small oscillations between 1,408,790 in 1885 and 1,553,000 in I909. But numbers of horses are imported, as also the oats and a considerable amount of the hay that is required for feeding them.5 And if the consumption of meat has really increased in this country, it is due to cheap imported meat, not to the meat that would be produced in these islands.6

In short, agriculture has not changed its direction, as we are often told; it simply went down in all directions. Land is going out of culture at a perilous rate, while the latest improvements in market-gardening, fruit-growing and poultry-keeping are but a mere trifle if we compare them with what has been done in the same direction in France, Belgium and America.

It must be said that during the last few years there was a slight improvement. The area under all corn crops was slightly increasing, and it fluctuated about 7,000,000 acres, the increase being especially notable for wheat (1,906,000 acres in 1911 as against 1,625,450 in 1907), while the areas under barley and oats were slightly diminished. But with all that, the surface under corn crops is still nearly one-and-a-half million acres below what it was in 1885 and nearly two-and-a-half million acres below 1874. This represents, let us remember it, the bread-food of ten million people.

The cause of this general downward movement is self-evident. It is the desertion, the abandonment of the land. Each crop requiring human labor has had its area reduced; and almost one-half of the agricultural laborers have been sent away since 1861 to reinforce the ranks of the unemployed in the cities,7 so that far from being over-populated, the fields of Britain are starved of human labor, as James Caird used to say. The British nation does not work on her soil; she is prevented from doing so; and the would-be economists complain that the soil will not nourish its inhabitants!

I once took a knapsack and went on foot out of London, through Sussex. I had read Leonce de Lavergne's work and expected to find a soil busily cultivated; but neither round London nor still less further south did I see men in the fields. In the Weald I could walk for twenty miles without crossing anything but heath or woodlands, rented as pheasant-shooting grounds to "London gentlemen," as the laborers said. "Ungrateful soil" was my first thought; but then I would occasionally come to a farm at the crossing of two roads and see the same soil bearing a rich crop; and my next thought was tel seigneur, telle terre, as the French peasants say. Later on I saw the rich fields of the midland counties; but even there I was struck by not perceiving the same busy human labor which I was accustomed to admire on the Belgian and French fields. But I ceased to wonder when I learned that only 1,383,000 men and women in England and Wales work in the fields, while more than 16,000,000 belong to the "professional, domestic, indefinite, and unproductive class," as these pitiless statisticians say. One million human beings cannot productively cultivate an area of 33,000,000 acres, unless they can resort to the Bonanza farm's methods of culture.

Again, taking Harrow as the center of my excursions, I could walk five miles towards London, or turning my back upon it, and I could see nothing east or west but meadow land on which they hardly cropped two tons of hay per acre-- scarcely enough to keep alive one milch cow on each two acres. Man is conspicuous by his abscence from those meadows; he rolls them with a heavy roller in the spring; he spreads some manure every two or three years; then he disappears until the time has come to make hay. And that--within ten miles from Charing Cross, close to a city with 5,000,000 inhabitants supplied with Flemish and Jersey potatoes, French salads and Canadian apples. In the hands of the Paris gardeners, each thousand acres situated within the same distance from the city would be cultivated by at least 2,000 human beings, who would get vegetables to the value of from £50 to £300 per acre. But here the acres which only need human hands to become an inexhaustible source of golden crops lie idle, and they say to us, "Heavy clay!" without even knowing that in the hands of man there are no unfertile soils; that the most fertile soils are not in the prairies of America, nor in the Russian steppes; that they are in the peat-bogs of Ireland, on the sand downs of the northern seacoast of France, on the craggy mountains of the Rhine, where they have been made by man's hands.

The most striking fact is, however, that in some undoubtedly fertile parts of the country things are even in a worse condition. My heart simply ached when I saw the state in which land is kept in South Devon, and when I learned to know what "permanent pasture" means. Field after field is covered with nothing but grass, three inches high, and thistles in profusion. Twenty, thirty such fields can be seen at one glance from the top of every hill; and thousands of acres are in that state, notwithstanding that the grandfathers of the present generation have devoted a formidable amount of labor to the clearing of that land from the stones, to fencing it, roughly draining it and the like. In every direction I could see abandoned cottages and orchards going to ruin. A whole population has disappeared, and even its last vestiges must disappear if things continue to go on as they have gone. And this takes place in a part of the country endowed with a most fertile soil and possessed of a climate which is certainly more congenial than the climate of Jersey in spring and early summer--a land upon which even the poorest cottagers occasionally raise potatoes as early as the first half of May. But how can that land be cultivated when there is nobody to cultivate it? "We have fields; men go by, but never go in, "an old laborer said to me; and so it is in reality.8

Such were my impressions of British agriculture twenty years ago. Unfortunately, both the official statistical data and the mass of private evidence published since tend to show that but little improvement took place in the general conditions of agriculture in this country within the last twenty years. Some successful attempts in various new directions have been made in different parts of the country, and I will have the pleasure to mention them further on, the more so as they show what a quite average soil in these islands can give when it is properly treated. But over large areas, especially in the southern counties, the general conditions are even worse than they were twenty years ago.

Altogether one cannot read the mass of review and newspaper articles, and books dealing with British agriculture that have been published lately, without realizing that the agricultural depression which began in the "seventies" and the "eighties" of the nineteenth century had causes much more deeply seated than the fall in the prices of wheat in consequence of American competition. However, it would lie beyond the scope of this book to enter here into such a discussion. Moreover, anyone who will read a few review articles written from the points of view of different parties, or consult such books as that of Mr. Christopher Turnor,9 or study the elaborate inquest made by Rider Haggard in twenty-six counties of England--paying more attention to the data accumulated in this book than to the sometimes biased conclusions of the author--will soon see himself what are the causes which hamper the development of British agriculture.10

In Scotland the conditions are equally bad. The population described as "rural" is in a steady decrease: in 1911 it was already less than 800,000; and as regards the agricultural laborers, their number has decreased by 42,370 (from 135,970 to 93,600) in the twenty years, 1881 to 1901. The land goes out, of culture, while the area under "deer forests"--that is, under hunting grounds established upon what formerly was arable land for the amusement of the rich--increases at an appalling rate. No need to say that at the same time the Scotch population is emigrating, and Scotland is depopulated at an appalling speed.

My chief purpose being to show here what can and ought to be obtained from the land under a proper and intelligent treatment, I shall only indicate one of the disadvantages of the systems of husbandry in vogue in this country. Both landlords and farmers gradually came of late to pursue other aims than that of obtaining from the land the greatest amount of produce than can be obtained; and when this problem of a maximum productivity of the land arose before the European nations, and therefore a complete modification of the methods of husbandry was rendered imperative, such a modification was not accomplished in this country. While in France, Belgium, Germany and Denmark the agriculturists did their best to meet the effects of American competition by rendering their culture more intensive in all directions, in this country the already antiquated method of reducing the area under corn crops and laying land for grass continues to prevail, although it ought to be evident that mere grazing will pay no more, and that some effort in the right direction would increase the returns of the corn crops, as also those of the roots and plants cultivated for industrial purposes. The land continues to go out of culture, while the problem of the day is to render culture more and more intensive.

Many causes have combined to produce that undesirable result. The concentration of landownership in the hands of big landowners; the high profits obtained previously; the development of a class of both landlords and farmers who rely chiefly upon other incomes than those they draw from the land, and for whom farming has thus become a sort of pleasant by-occupation or sport; the rapid development of game reserves for sportsmen, both British and foreign; the absence of men of initiative who would have shown to the nation the necessity of a new departure; the absence of a desire to win the necessary knowledge, and the absence of institutions which could widely spread practical agricultural knowledge and introduce improved seeds and seedlings, as the Experimental Farms of the United States and Canada are doing; the dislike of that spirit of agricultural cooperation to which the Danish farmers owe their successes, and so on--all these stand in the way of the unavoidable change in the methods of farming, and produce the results of which the British writers on agriculture are complaining.11 But it is self-evident that in order to compete with countries where machinery is largely used and new methods of farming are resorted to (including the industrial treatment of farm produce in sugar works, starch works, and the drying of vegetables, etc., connected with farming), the old methods cannot do; especially when the farmer has to pay a rent of twenty, forty, and occasional]y fifty shillings per acre for wheat-lands.

It may be said, of course, that this opinion strangely contrasts with the well-known superiority of British agriculture. Do we not know, indeed, that British crops average twenty-eight to thirty bushels of wheat per acre, while in France they reach only from seventeen to twenty bushels? Does it not stand in all almanacs that Britain gets every year £200,000,000 sterling worth of animal produce--milk, cheese, meat and wool--from her fields? All that is true, and there is no doubt that in many respects British agriculture is superior to that of many other nations. As regards obtaining the greatest amount of produce with the least amount of labor, Britain undoubtedly took the lead until she was superseded by America in the Bonanza farms (now disappeared or rapidly disappearing). Again, as regards the fine breeds of cattle, the splendid state of the meadows and the results obtained in separate farms, there is much to be learned from Britain. But a closer acquaintance with British agriculture as a whole discloses many features of inferiority.

However splendid, a meadow remains a meadow, much inferior in productivity to a cornfield; and the fine breeds of cattle appear to be poor creatures as long as each ox requires three acres of land to be fed upon. As regards the crops, certainly one may indulge in some admiration at the average twenty-eight or thirty bushels grown in this country; but when we learn that only 1,600,000 to 1,900,000 acres out of the cultivable 33,000,000 bear such crops, we are quite disappointed. Anyone could obtain like results if he were to put all his manure into one-twentieth part of the area which he possesses. Again, the twenty-eight to thirty bushels no longer appear to us so satisfactory when we learn that without any manuring, merely by means of a good culture, they have obtained at Rothamstead an average of 14 bushels per acre from the same plot of land for forty consecutive years;12 while Mr. Prout, in his farm near Sawbridgeworth (Herts), on a cold heavy clay, has obtained since 1861 crops of from thirty to thirty-eight bushels of wheat, year after year, without any farm manure at all, by good steam plowing and artificial manure only. (R. Haggard, I. 528.) Under the allotment system the crops reach forty bushels. In some farms they occasionally attain even fifty and fifty-seven bushels per acre.

If we intend to have a correct appreciation of British agriculture, we must not base it upon what is obtained on a few selected and wellmanured plots; we must inquire what is done with the territory, taken as a whole.13 Now, out of each 1,000 acres of the aggregate territory of England, Wales and Scotland, 435 acres are left under wood, coppice, heath, buildings, and so on. We need not find fault with that division, because it depends very much upon natural causes. In France and Belgium one-third of the territory is in like manner also treated as uncultivable, although portions of it are continually reclaimed and brought under culture. But, leaving aside the "uncultivable" portion, let us see what is done with the 565 acres out of 1,000 of the "cultivable" part (32,145,930 acres in Great Britain in 1910). First of all, it is divided into two parts, and one of them, the largest-- 308 acres out of 1,000--is left under "permanent pasture," that is, in most cases it is entirely uncultivated. Very little hay is obtained from it,14 and some cattle are grazed upon it. More than one-half of the cultivable area is thus left without cultivation, and only 257 acres out of each 1,000 acres are under culture. Out of these last, 124 acres are under corn crops, twenty-one acres under potatoes, fifty-three acres under green crops, and seventy-three acres under clover fields and grasses under rotation. And finally, out of the 124 acres given to corn crops, the best thirty-three, and some years only twenty-five acres (one-fortieth part of the territory, one twenty-third of the cultivable area), are picked out and sown with wheat. They are well cultivated, well manured, and upon them an average of from twenty-eight to thirty bushels to the acre is obtained; and upon these twenty-five or thirty acres out of 1,000 the world superiority of British agriculture is based.

The net result of all that is, that on nearly 33,000,000 acres of cultivable land the food is grown for one third part only of the population (more than two-thirds of the food it consumes is imported), and we may say accordingly that, although nearly two-thirds of the territory is cultivable, British agriculture provides homegrown food for each 125 or 135 inhabitants only per square mile (out of 466). In other words, nearly three acres of the cultivable area are required to grow the food for each person. Let us then see what is done with the land in France and Belgium.

Now, if we simply compare the average thirty bushels per acre of wheat in Great Britain with the average nineteen to twenty bushels grown in France within the last ten years, the comparison is all in favor of these islands; but such averages are of little value because the two systems of agriculture are totally different in the two countries. The Frenchman also has his picked and heavily manured "twenty-five to thirty acres" in the north of France and in Ile-de France, and from these picked acres he obtains average crops ranging from thirty to thirty-three bushels.15 However, he sows with wheat, not only the best picked out acres, but also such fields on the Central Plateau and in Southern France as hardly yield ten, eight and even six bushels to the acre, without irrigation; and these low crops reduce the average for the whole country.

The Frenchman cultivates much that is left here under permanent pasture--and this is what is described as his "inferiority" in agriculture. In fact, although the proportion between what we have named the "cultivable area" and the total territory is very much the same in France as it is in Great Britain (624 acres out of each 1,000 acres of the territory), the area under wheat crops is nearly six times as great, in proportion, as what it is in Great Britain (182 acres instead of twenty-five or thirty, out of each 1,000 acres): the corn crops altogether cover nearly two-fifths of the cultivable area (375 acres out of 1000), and large areas are given besides to green crops, industrial crops, vine, fruit and vegetables.

Taking everything into consideration, although the Frenchman keeps less cattle, and especially grazes less sheep than the Briton, he nevertheless obtains from his soil nearly all the food that he and his cattle consume. He imports, in an average year, but one-tenth only of what the nation consumes, and he exports to this country considerable quantities of food produce (£10,000,000 worth), not only from the south, but also, and especially, from the shores of the Channel (Brittany butter and vegetables; fruit and vegetables from the suburbs of Paris, and so on).16

The net result is that, although one-third part of the territory is also treated as "uncultivable," the soil of France yields the food for 170 inhabitants per square mile (out of 188), that is, for forty persons more, per square mile, than this country.17

It is thus apparent that the comparison with France is not so much in favor of this country as it is said to be; and it will be still less favorable when we come, in our next chapter, to horticulture.

The comparison with Belgium is even more striking--the more so as the two systems of culture are similar in both countries. To begin with, in Belgium we also find an average crop of over thirty bushels of wheat to the acre; but the area given to wheat is five times as big as in Great Britain, in comparison to the cultivable area, and the cereals cover two-fifths of the land available for culture.18 The land is so well cultivated that the average crops for the years 1890-1899 (the very bad year of 1891 being left out of account) were from twenty-six and a half to twenty-eight and a half bushels per acre for winter wheat, and reached an average of thirty-three and a half bushels in 1900-1904; over fifty-four bushels for oats (thirty-five to forty-one and a half in Great Britain), and from forty to forty-three and a half bushels for winter barley (twenty-nine to thirty-five in Great Britain); while on no less than 475,000 acres catch crops of swedes (3,345,000 tons), carrots (155,000 tons), and more than 500,000 of lucerne and other grasses were obtained.19

As to extraordinarily heavy crops, Mr. Seebohm Rowntree mentions, for instance, the wheat crop in the commune of Oirbeck, near Louvain, which was,in 1906, on the average,fifty-seven bushels per acre, while the average of the whole country was only thirty-four bushels, or a yield of 111.5 bushels of oats in the commune of Neuve-Eglise, while the average for Belgium was fifty-four bushels, and so on, the average crops of several communes for some cereals being seventy-three per cent. in excess of the average for Belgium, and from 106 to 153 per cent. for roots.20

All taken, they grow in Belgium more than 76,000,000 bushels of cereals--that is, fifteen and seven-tenths bushels per acre of the cultivable area--while the corresponding figure for Great Britain is only eight and a half bushels; and they keep almost twice as many cattle upon each cultivable acre as is kept in Great Britain.21


1 I leave these lines on purpose as they were written for the first edition of this book.

2 Twenty.three per cent. of the total area of England, 40 per cent. in Wales, and 75 per cent. in Scotland are now under wood, coppice, mountain heath, water, etc. The remainder-- that is, 32,777,513 acres--which were under culture and permanent pasture in the year 1890 (only 32,094,658 in 1911), may be taken as the "cultivable" area of Great Britain.

3 Average area under wheat in 1853-1860, 4,092,160 acres; average crop, 14,310,779 quarters. Average area under wheat in 1884-1887, 2,509,055 acres; average crop (good years), 9,198 956 quarters. See Professor W. Fream's Rothamstead Experiments , (London, 1888), page 83. I take in the above Sir John Lawes' figure of 5.65 bushels per head of population every year. It is very close to the yearly allowance of 5.67 bushels of the French statisticians. The Russian statisticians reckon 5.67 bushels of winter crops (chiefly rye) and 2.5 bushels of spring crops (sarrazin, barley, etc.).

4 There was an increase of 1,800,000 head of horned cattle and a decrease of 4.25 million sheep (6.66 millions, if we compare the year 1886 with 1868), which would correspond to an increase of 1.25 million of units of cattle, because eight sheep are reckoned as equivalent to one head of horned cattle. But five million acres having been reclaimed upon waste land since 1860, the above increase should hardly do for covering that area, so that the 2.25 million acres which were cultivated no longer remained fully uncovered. They were a pure loss to the nation.

5 According to a report read by Mr. Crawford before the Statistical Society in October, 1899, Britain imports every year 4,500,000 tons of hay and other food for its cattle and horses. Under the present system of culture, 6,000,000 acres could produce these food-stuffs. If another 6,000,000 acres were sown with cereals, all the wheat required for the United Kingdom could have been produced at home with the methods of culture now in use.

6No less than 5,877,000 cwts. of beef and mutton, 1,065,470 sheep and lambs, and 415,565 pieces of cattle were imported in 1895. In 1910 the first of these figures rose to 13,690,000 cwts. Altogether, it is calculated (Statesman's Year-book, 1912) that, in 1910, 21 lb. of imported beef, 13.5 lb. of imported mutton, and 7 lb. of other sorts of meat, per head of population, were retained for home consumption; in addition to 11 lb. of butter, 262 lb. of wheat, 26 lb. of flour, and 20 lb. of rice and rice-flour, imported.

7 Agricultural population (farmer and laborers) in England and Wales: 2,100,000 in 1861; 1,383,000 in 1884; 1,311,720 in 1891; 1,152,500 (including fishing population) in 1901.

8 Round the small hamlet where I stayed for two summers there were: One farm, 370 acres, four laborers and two boys another, about 300 acres, two men and two boys; another, about 300 acres, two men and two boys; a third 800 acres, five men only and probably as many boys. In truth, the problem of cultivating the land with the least number of men has been solved in this spot by not cultivating at all as much as two-thirds of it. Since these lines were written, in 1890, a movement in favor of intensive market-gardening has begun in this country, and I read in November, 1909, that they were selling at the Covent Garden market asparagus that had been grown in South Devon in November. They begin also to grow early potatoes in Cornwall and Devon. Formerly, nobody thought of utilizing this rich soil and warm climate for growing early vegetables.

9Land Problems and National Welfare, London, 1911.

10Rural England, two big volumes, London, 1902.

11 See H. Rider Haggard's Rural Denmark and, its; Lessons , London, 1911, pp. 188-212.

12 The Rothamstead Experiments, 1888, by Professor W. Fream, p. 35 seq. It is well worth noting that Mr. Hall, who was the head of Rothamstead for many years, maintained from his own experience that growing wheat in England is more profitable than rearing live stock. The same opinion was often expressed by the experts whose testimonies are reproduced by Rider Haggard. In many places of his Rural England one finds also a mention of high wheat crops, up to fifty-six bushels per acre, obtained in many places in this country.

13The figures which I take for these calculations are given in Agricultural Returns of the Board of Agriculture and Agricultural Statistics for 1911, vol. xlvi., pt. 1. They are as follows for the year 1910:--

Total area (Great Britain)			56,803,000
Uncultivable area				24,657,070
						in 1895)
Cultivable area					32,145,930
Out of it, under the plow			14,668,890
Out of it, under permanent pasture		17,477,040

(During the last ten years, since the census of 1901, the cultivable area decreased by 323,000 acres, while the urban area increased by 166,710 acres, thus reaching now 4,015,700 acres. Since 1901, 942,000 acres were withdrawn from the plow, 661,000 acres in England, 158,000 in Wales, and 123,000 in Scotland .)
The distribution of the area which is actually under the plow between the various crops varies considerably from year to year. Taking 1910 (an average year) we have the following:--

Corn crops			7,045,630
Clover and mature grasses 	4,157,040
Green crops and orchards	2,994,890
Hops				   32,890
Small fruit			   84,310
Flax				      230
Baer fallow, etc.		  354,000	
Total under culture
(including that
part of permanent
pasture which gives hay) . . . 14,668,890
		(In 1901 . . . 15,619,890)
		(In 1895 . . . 16,166,950)

Out of the 7,045,530 acres given to corn crops, 1,808,850 acres were under wheat (nearly 200,000 acres less than in 1899 and 100,000 acres less than in 1911), 1,728,680 acres under barley (only 1,597,930 in 1911), 3,020,970 acres under oats, about 300,000 under beans, and about 62,000 acres under rye and buckwheat. From 640,000 to 670,000 acres were given to potatoes. The area under clover and sown grasses is steadily declining since 1898, when it was 4,911,000 acres.

14Only from each 52 acres, out of 308 acres, hay is obtained. The remainder are grazing grounds.

15 That is, thirty to thirty-three bushels on the average; forty bushels in good farms, and fifty in the best. The area under wheat was 16,700,000 acres in 1910, all chief corn crops covering 33,947,000 acres; the cultivated area is 90,300,000 acres, and the aggregate superficies of France, 130,800,000 acres. About agriculture in France, see Lecouteux, Le ble, sa culture extensive et intensive ,1883; Risler, Physiologie et culture du ble , 1886; Boitet, Herbages et prairies naturelles , 1885; Baudrillart, Les populations agricoles de la Normandie , 1880; Grandeau, La production agricole en France , and L'agriculture et les institutions agricoles du monde au commencement du vingtieme siecle ; P. Compain, Prairies et paturages; A. Clement, Agriculture moderne , 1906; Auge Laribe, L'evolution de la France agricole , 1912; Leonco do Lavergne's last edition; and so on.

16 The exports from France in 1910 (average year) attained: Wine, 222,804,000 fr.; spirits, 54,000,000 fr.; cheese, butter and sugar, 114,000,000 fr. To this country France sent, same year, £2,163,200 worth of wine, £1,013,200 worth of refined sugar, £2,11G,000 worth of butter, and £400,000 worth of eggs, all of French origin only, in addition to £12,206,700 worth of manufactured silks, woolens, and cottons. The exports from Algeria are not taken in the above figures.

17 Each 1,000 acres of French territory are disposed of as follows: 379 acres are under woods and coppices (176), building, communal grazing grounds, mountains, etc., and 621 acres are considered as "cultivable." Out of the latter, 130 are under meadows, now Irrigated to a great extent, 257 acres under cereals (124 under wheat, and 26 under wheat mixed with rye), 33 under vineyards, 83 under orchards, green crops, and various industrial cultures, and the remainder is chiefly under permanent pasture or bare fallow. As to cattle, we find in Great Britain in 1910, which was an average year, 7,037,330 head of cattle (including in that number about 1,400,000 calves under one year), which makes twenty-two head per each 100 acres of the cultivable area, and 27,103,000 sheep--that is, eighty-four sheep per each 100 acres of the same area. In France we find, in the same year, 14,297,570 cattle (nineteen head per each 100 acres of cultivable area), and only 17,357,1340 sheep (twenty-one sheep per 100 acres of the same). In other words, the proportion of horned cattle is nearly the same in both countries (twenty-two head and nineteen head per 100 acres), a considerable difference appearing in favor of this country only as to the number of sheep (eighty-four as against twenty-one). The heavy imports of hay, oil cake, oats, etc., into this country must, however, not be forgotten, because, for each head of cattle which lives on imported food, eight sheep can be grazed, or be fed with homegrown fodder. As to horses, both countries stand on nearly the same footing.

18 Out of each 1000 acres of territory, 673 are cultivated, and 327 are left as uncultivable, and part of them are now used for afforestation. Out of the 673 cultivated acres, 273 are given to cereals, out of which 61 are under pure wheat, 114 under meteil (a mixture of two-thirds of wheat and one-third of rye) and pure rye, and 98 under other cereals; 18 to potatoes, 45 to roots and fodder and 281 to various industrial cultures (beet for sugar, oleaginous grains, etc.); 27 are under gardens, kitchen gardens and parks, 177 under woods, and 57 are cultivated periodically. On the other hand, each 65 acres out of 1000 give catch-crops of carrots, mangolds, etc.

19Annuaire Statistique de la Belgique pour 1910, Bruxelles, 1911. In Mr. Seebohm Rowntree's admirable work, Land and Labor: Lessons from Belgium, published 1910 (London, Macmillan), the reader will find all concerning Belgian agriculture dealt with in detail on the basis of the author's personal scrupulous inquiries on the spot, and all available statistical information

20Land and Labor: Labor from Belgium, pp. 178,179.

21 Taking all horses, cattle and sheep in both countries, and reckoning eight sheep as equivalent to one head of horned cattle, we find that Belgium has twenty-four cattle units and horses upon each 100 acres of territory, as against twenty same units and horses in Great Britain. If we take cattle alone, the disproportion is much greater, as we find thirty-six cattle units on each 100 acres of cultivable area, as against nineteen in Great Britain. The annual value of animal produce in Belgium is estimated by the Annuaire Statistique de la Belgique (1910, p. 302) at £ 66,040,000, including milk (£4,000,000), poultry (£1,600,000), and eggs (£1,400,000).


Moreover, they even export cattle and horses. Up to 1890 Belgium exported from 36,000 to 94,000 head of cattle, from 42,000 to 70,000 sheep, and from 60,000 to 108,600 swine. In 1890 these exports suddenly came to an end-- probably in consequence of a prohibition of such imports into Germany. Only horses continue to be exported to the amount of about 25,000 horses and foals every year.

Large portions of the land are given besides to the culture of industrial plants, potatoes for spirit, beet for sugar, and so on.

However, it must not be believed that the soil of Belgium is more fertile than the soil of this country. On the contrary, to use the words of Laveleye, "only one half, or less, of the territory offers natural conditions which are favorable for agriculture"; the other half consists of a gravelly soil, or sands, "the natural sterility of which could be overpowered only by heavy manuring." Man, not nature, has given to the Belgium soil its present productivity. With this soil and labor, Belgium succeeds in supplying nearly all the food of a population which is denser than that of England and Wales, and numbers 589 inhabitants to the square mile.

If the exports and imports of agricultural produce from and into Belgium be taken into account, we can ask ourselves whether Laveleye's conclusions are not still good, and whether only one inhabitant out of each ten to twenty requires imported food. In the years 1880-1886 the soil of Belgium supplied with homegrown food no less than 490 inhabitants per square mile, and there remained something for export--no less than £ 1,000,000 worth of agricultural produce being exported every year to Great Britain. But it is not possible to say with certitude whether the conditions are the same at the present time.

Since 1880, when the duties on imported cereals were abolished (they were before that sixpence for each 220 lb.), and corn could be imported free, "the importers were no more obliged to make special declarations for merchandise which had to be reexported; they declared their imports as if they were destined to be used within the country."1 The result was, that while in the year 1870 the imports of cereals were 154 lb. per head of population, the same imports rose to 286 lb. in 1880. But no one can say how much of these 286 lb. is consumed in Belgium itself; and if we deduct from the total of the imports the quantities reexported the same year, we obtain figures which cannot be relied upon.2 It is therefore safer to consider the figures of the annual production of cereals in Belgium, such as they are given in the official Annuaire.

Now, if we take the figures given in the Annuaire Stastique de la Belgique for the year 1911, we come to the following results. The annual agricultural census, which is being made since 1901, gives for the year 1909 that 2,290,300,000 lb. of wheat, rye, and wheat mixed with rye were obtained on all the farms of Belgium larger than two and a half acres (2,002,000,000 lb. in 1895). Besides, 219,200,000 lb. of barley, 1,393,000,000 lb. of oats, and a considerable quantity of oleaginous grains have been produced.

It is generally accepted that the average consumption of both winter and spring cereals attains 502 lb. per head of population; and as the population of Belgium was 7,000,000 on January 1, 1907, it appears that no less than 3,624,400,000 lb. of cereals would have been required to supply the annual food of the population. If we compare this figure with that of the annual production just mentioned, we see then that, notwithstanding the considerable decrease of the area given to wheat since the abolition of the entrance duties, Belgium still produces at least two-thirds of the cereal food required for its very dense population, which is nearly 600 persons per square mile (596 in 1907).

It must be noticed that we should have come to a still higher figure if we took into account the other cereals (to say nothing of the leguminous plants and vegetables grown and consumed in Belgium), and still more so if we took into account what is grown upon the small holdings less than two and a half acres each. The number of such small holdings was 554,041 in 1895, and the number of people living upon them reached nearly 2,000,000. They are not included in the official statistics and yet upon most of them some cereals are grown, in addition to vegetables and fodder for cattle.

If Belgium produces in cereals the food of more than two-thirds of its very dense population, this is already a quite respectable figure; but it must also be said that it exports every year considerable quantities of products of the soil. Thus, in the year 1910 she exported 254,730 tons of vegetables (as against 187,000 imported), 40,000 tons of fruit, 34,000 tons of plants and flowers (the whole nearly £ 3,000,000 worth), 256,000 of oleaginous grains, 18,500 tons of wool, nearly 60,000 tons of flax, and so on. I do not mention the exports of butter, rabbits, skins, an immense quantity of sugar (about 180,000 tons), the vegetable oils and the spirits, because considerable quantities of beet and potatoes are imported. In short, we have here an export of agricultural produce grown in the country itself attaining the figure of 48s. per head of population.

All taken, there is thus no possibility of contesting the fact, that if the soil of Great Britain were cultivated only as the unfertile soil of Belgium is cultivated--notwithstanding all the social obstacles which stand in the way of an intensive culture, in Belgium as elsewhere--a much greater part of the population of these islands would obtain its food from the soil of its own land than is the case nowadays.3

On the other side it must not be forgotten that Belgium is a manufacturing country which exports, moreover, manufactured home-made goods to the value of 198s. per head of population, and 150s. worth of crude or half-manufactured produce, while the total exports from the United Kingdom have only lately attained during the extraordinary year of 1911 the value of 201s. per inhabitant. As to separate parts of the Belgian territory, the small and naturally unfertile province of West Flanders not only grew in 1890 the food of its 580 inhabitants on the square mile, but exported agricultural produce to the value of 25s. per head of its population. And yet no one can read Laveleye's masterly work without coming to the conclusion that Flemish agriculture would have realized still better results, were it not hampered in its growth by the steady and heavy increase of rent. In the face of the rent being increased each nine years, many farmers have lately abstained from further improvements.

Another example of what could be achieved by means of an effort of the nation seconded by its educated classes is given by Denmark. After the war of 1864, which ended in the loss of one of their provinces, the Danes made an effort widely to spread education among their peasants, and to develop at the same time an intensive culture of the soil. The result of these efforts is now quite evident. The rural population of Denmark, instead of flocking to the towns, has been increasing: in five years, 1906-1911, it rose from 1,565,585 to 1,647,350. Out of a total population of 2,775,100, no less than 990,900 find their living in agriculture, dairy work, and forestry. With a very poor soil, they have a cultivated area a trifle below 7,000,000 acres, out of which 2,773,320 acres are under cereals. Their wheat crops are on the average 40.6 bushels per acre, and the value of the homegrown food-stuffs is estimated at £ 40,000,000, which makes a little less than £ 6 per acre. As to their exports of homegrown produce, they exceed the imports by £ 14,483,000. The chief cause of these successes are: A highly developed agricultural education, town markets accessible to all the growers, and, above all, co-operation, which again is a result of the effort that was made by the educated classes after the unfortunate war of 1864.

Everyone knows that it is now Danish butter which rules the prices in the London market, and that this butter is of a high quality, which can only be attained in co-operative creameries with cold storage and certain uniform methods in producing butter. But it is not generally known that the Siberian butter, which is now imported in immense quantities into this country, is also a creation of the Danish cooperators. When they began to export their butter in large quantities, they used to import butter for their own use from the southern parts of the West Siberian provinces of Tobolsk and Tomsk, which are covered with prairies very similar to those of Winnipeg in Canada. At the outset this butter was of a most inferior quality, as it was made by every peasant household separately. The Danes began therefore to teach co-operation to the Russian peasants, and they were rapidly understood by the intelligent population of this fertile region. The co-operative creameries began to spread with an astounding rapidity, without us knowing for some time wherefrom came this interesting movement. At the present time a steamer loaded with Siberian butter leaves every week one of the Baltic ports and brings to London many thousands of casks of Siberian butter. If I am not wrong, Finland has also joined lately in the same export.

Without going as far as China, I might quote similar examples from elsewhere, especially from Lombardy. But the above will be enough to caution the reader against hasty conclusions as to the impossibility of feeding 46,000,000 people from 78,000,000 acres. They also will enable me to draw the following conclusions: (1) If the soil of the United Kingdom were cultivated only as it was forty-five years ago, 24,000,000 people, instead of 17,000,000, could live on homegrown food; and this culture, while giving occupation to an additional 750,000 men, would give nearly 3,000,000 wealthy home customers to the British manufactures. (2) If the cultivable area of the United Kingdom were cultivated as the soil is cultivated on the average in Belgium, the United Kingdom would have food for at least 37,000,000 inhabitants; and it might export agricultural produce without ceasing to manufacture, so as freely to supply all the needs of a wealthy population. And finally (3), if the population of this country came to be doubled, all that would be required for producing the food for 90,000,000 inhabitants would be to cultivate the soil as it is cultivated in the best farms of this country, in Lombardy, and in Flanders, and to utilize some meadows, which at present lie almost unproductive, in the same way as the neighborhoods of the big cities in France are utilized for market-gardening. All these are not fancy dreams, but mere realities; nothing but the modest conclusions from what we see round about us, without any allusion to the agriculture of the future.

If we want, however, to know what agriculture can be, and what can be grown on a given amount of soil, we must apply for information to such regions as the district of Saffelare in East Flanders, the island of Jersey, or the irrigated meadows of Lombardy, which are mentioned in the next chapter. Or else we may apply to the market-gardeners in this country, or in the neighborhoods of Paris, or in Holland, or to the "truck farms" in America, and so on.

While science devotes its chief attention to industrial pursuits, a limited number of lovers of nature and a legion of workers whose very names will remain unknown to posterity have created of late a quite new agriculture, as superior to modern farming as modern farming is superior to the old three-fields system of our ancestors. Science seldom guided them, and sometimes misguided--as was the case with Liebig's theories, developed to the extreme by his followers, who induced us to treat plants as glass recipients of chemical drugs, and who forgot that the only science capable of dealing with life and growth is physiology, not chemistry. Science seldom has guided them: they proceeded in the empirical way; but, like the cattle-growers who opened new horizons to biology, they have opened a new field of experimental research for the physiology of plants. They have created a totally new agriculture. They smile when we boast about the rotation system, having permitted us to take from the field one crop every year, or four crops each three years, because their ambition is to have six and nine crops from the very same plot of land during the twelve months. They do not understand our talk about good and bad soils, because they make the soil themselves, and make it in such quantities as to be compelled yearly to sell some of it: otherwise it would raise up the level of their gardens by half an inch every year. They aim at cropping, not five or six tons of grass on the acre, as we do, but from 50 to 100 tons of various vegetables on the same space; not £ 5 worth of hay but £ 100 worth of vegetables, of the plainest description, cabbage and carrots, and more than £ 200 worth under intensive horticultural treatment. This is where agriculture is going now.

We know that the dearest of all varieties of our staple food is meat; and those who are not vegetarians, either by persuasion or by necessity, consume on the average 225 lb. of meat--that is, roughly speaking, a little less than the third part of an ox-every year. And we have seen that, even in this country, and Belgium, two to three acres are wanted for keeping one head of horned cattle; so that a community of, say, 1,000,000 inhabitants would have to reserve somewhere about 1,000,000 acres of land for supplying it with meat. But if we go to the farm of M. Goppart--one of the promoters of ensilage in France--we shall see him growing, on a drained and well-manured field, no less than an average of 120,000 lb. of corn-grass to the acre, which gives 30,000 lb. of dry hay--that is, the food of one horned beast per acre. The produce is thus trebled.

As to beetroot, which is used also for feeding cattle, Mr. Champion, at Whitby, succeeded, with the help of sewage, in growing 100,000 lb. of beet on each acre, and occasionally 160,000 and 200,000 lb. He thus grew on each acre the food of, at least, two or three head of cattle. And such crops are not isolated facts; thus, M. Gros, at Autun, succeeds in cropping 600,000 lb. of beet and carrots, which crop would permit him to keep four horned cattle on each acre. In fact, crops of 100,000 lb. of beet occur in numbers in the French competitions, and the success depends entirely upon good culture and appropriate manuring. It thus appears that while under ordinary high farming we need 2,000,000 acres, or more, to keep 1,000,000 horned cattle, double that amount could be kept on one-half of that area; and if the density of population required it, the amount of cattle could be doubled again, and the area required to keep it might still be one-half, or even one-third of what it is now.4

French Gardening.--The above examples are striking enough, and yet those afforded by the market-gardening culture are still more striking. I mean the culture carried on in the neighborhood of big cities, and more especially the culture maraîchère round Paris. In this culture each plant is treated according to its age. The seeds germinate and the seedlings develop their first four leaflets in especially favorable conditions of soil and temperature; then the best seedlings are picked out and transplanted into a bed of fine loam, under a frame or in the open air, where they freely develop their rootlets, and, gathered on a limited space, receive more than the usual care. Only after this preliminary training are they bedded in the open ground, where they grow till ripe. In such a culture the primitive condition of the soil is of little account, because loam is made out of the old forcing beds. The seeds are carefully tried, the seedlings receive proper attention, and there is no fear of drought, because of the variety of crops, the liberal watering with the help of a steam engine, and the stock of plants always kept ready to replace the weakest individuals. Almost each plant is treated individually.

There prevails, however, with regard to market-gardening a misunderstanding which it would be well to remove. It is generally supposed that what chiefly attracts market-gardening to the great centers of population is the market. It must have been so; and so it may be still, but to some extent only. A great number of the Paris maraîchers , even of those who have their gardens within the walls of the city and whose main crop consists of vegetables in season, export the whole of their produce to England. What chiefly attracts the gardener to the great cities is stable manure; and this is not wanted so much for increasing the richness of the soil--one-tenth part of the manure used by the French gardeners would do for that purpose--but for keeping the soil at a certain temperature. Early vegetables pay best, and in order to obtain early produce not only the air but the soil as well must be warmed; and this is done by putting great quantities of properly mixed manure into the soil; its fermentation heats it. But it is evident that with the present development of industrial skill, the heating of the soil could be obtained more economically and more easily by hotwater pipes. Consequently, the French gardeners begin more and more to make use of portable pipes, or thermosiphons , provisionally established in the cool frames. This new improvement becomes of general use, and we have the authority of Barral's Dictionnaire d'Agriculture to affirm that it gives excellent results. Under this system stable manure is used mainly for producing loam.5

As to the different degrees of fertility of the soil--always the stumbling-block of those who write about agriculture--the fact is that in market-gardening the soil is always made, whatever it originally may have been. Consequently--we are told by Prof. Dybowski, in the article "Maraîchers" in Barral's Dictionnaire d'Agriculture--it is now a usual stipulation of the renting contracts of the Paris maraîchers that the gardener may carry away his soil, down to a certain depth, when he quits his tenancy. He himself makes it, and when he moves to another plot he carts his soil away, together with his frames, his water-pipes, and his other belongings.

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