To the First Edition of Agricultural Changes
(The first three editions of this book were published under the title of Agricultural Changes.)
I have dedicated this book to my late really-to-be-lamented friend, Mr. Faunce de Laune of Sharsted Court, Kent, because I, in common with a vast number of landowners and farmers, owe him a great deal of gratitude for having, in his article 'On Laying Down Land to Permanent Pasture', been the means of calling attention to the once deplorable condition of the British seed trade. (Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, Part 1, No. xxxv, 1882.) This is sufficiently exemplified by a single quotation from the article alluded to, and in which Mr. de Laune says: 'I found that, however careful I was in my orders, and from whatever seed merchant I ordered my seed, the percentage of ryegrass, soft woolly grass, and other bad grasses and weeds, was beyond all belief.' My own experience, I am sorry to say, was the same as that of Mr. de Laune's, and in some cases a botanist I employed could not discover a single plant of some of the more valuable grasses the seeds of which I supposed I had put down, and which, of course, I had paid for. But my friend's article at once aroused the trade and the public, and led to that system of guaranteeing seed which was initiated by Mr. James Hunter, the well-known seed merchant of Chester, whose treatise on permanent pasture has, I may mention in passing, been highly and justly commended by Mr. de Laune. My friend had often been urged by me to bring out a book on the subject of laying down land to grass, and I am given to understand that he had made preparations for the work; but after his death all that could be discovered amongst his papers were some proofs, which were evidently those of his articles in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, though a good many passages, one of which I have quoted (vide Chapter 3), must have been deleted. The following brief notice of Mr. de Laune will be interesting to his friends, and also, I hope, to many of those who, like myself, have benefited by his work:
Mr. Faunce de Laune came of an old Kentish family, and one of his ancestors -- a naval officer -- was present at the attack on the Spanish Armada in the year 1588. The family suffered much in the civil wars, and one of them was knighted at the Restoration for his loyalty to the Royal cause. My late friend was born in 1843, succeeded his father in 1861, and died in 1891 from an illness contracted when travelling in India. He was a man of many accomplishments and varied interests, much travel in various parts of the world, and was always a most agreeable companion. He was fond of sport, a good man across country, and possessed of all those physical and mental energies which are indispensable to success in most branches of life. Though he wrote and spoke on other subjects, he was chiefly known for the great interest he took in agriculture and fruit-growing, and also for his experiments as regards the cultivation of home-grown tobacco. But, as we have seen, the work of greatest value to the agricultural world was that connected with laying down land to grass. This I followed up in Scotland, both by writing, lecturing, and experimenting on a large scale; and if I have in any degree been the means of improving the mixtures now being used, and diminishing the weeds which the farmers once sowed with their grass seeds, it is entirely owing to the initiative of my late friend, the consequential value of whose work it would, indeed, be difficult to overestimate. He was appointed one of the governors of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, and, had he not been so unfortunately cut off, would, no doubt, have contributed still further to the progress of agriculture in Great Britain.
I have much pleasure, in conclusion, in acknowledging my obligations to Mr. James Hunter, who has been kind enough to supply me with the remarks and valuable tables which the reader will find in the Appendices.
Robert H. Elliot
Clifton Park, Kelso,
18th October 1898
To the Second Edition of Agricultural Changes
The first edition of this book was printed for private circulation, and many copies were given away -- mostly to people personally unknown to me. From the numerous letters I have received asking for advice, and the many agricultural visitors to the farm from Scotland and England, I am now satisfied that a book on the subject is urgently needed. I therefore publish what I have previously written, and have added an account of our most recent experiences.
I may add that my object throughout has been to show how the farmer can steadily improve his condition and the fertility of the soil, and at the same time diminish his expenditure. I need hardly say that, under the present conditions and future prospects of the labour market, these points must be carried out in order to place our agriculture on a sound footing.
Robert H. Elliot
7th November 1900
To the Third Edition of Agricultural Changes
Since the publication of the second edition much valuable experience has been gained, and, as the second edition of 1,000 copies is nearly exhausted, I beg to offer the present edition to the agricultural world, and this Preface to every Englishman who feels any interest in our national welfare. This book shows how vast sums now spent on imported manures and feeding stuffs may be saved, how crops may be successfully grown on land that has become almost derelict, how the decline of employment in our rural districts may be arrested, and, further, how it may be gradually increased. The proofs of these statements are open to anyone who chooses to visit the Clifton-on-Bowmont farm, which has been visited by many hundreds of practical farmers from many parts of these islands. The valuable confirmatory opinions I have received have amply compensated me for the time and labour I have expended on this subject. For many years past we have been doing what ought to have been the work of an agricultural department; our correspondence has reached far beyond these islands, and it may be of interest to mention that we have heard on the subject, either directly or indirectly, from India, Chili, Peru, the Argentine Republic, the Antipodes, Canada, and Rhodesia. From the many confirmatory opinions I have received I quote the following from a Roxburghshire tenant farmer, as it illustrates so conclusively the national importance of the work that has been carried to most successful results at Clifton-on-Bowmont. The passage, I may mention, has already appeared in my letter in The Times, under the heading of 'Agricultural Depression', on 12th October 1904. The tenant farmer alluded to writes as follows:
'From the short experience I have had on my farm of practising a modification of your system, I am now thoroughly convinced that most of the poor land in this country could be profitably farmed and give more employment to labour than it possibly can do at present. Clifton-on-Bowmont proves beyond question how much can be done to cheapen production and maintain the fertility of the land through natural and scientific methods. Your example should prove a guide and a warning to many who would run to extremes in laying too much land, thought worthless for growing crops, to grass of inferior quality. Such land can never be profitably held in that way. Clifton-on-Bowmont teaches a different lesson, and conclusively proves that much poor land going out of cultivation, and carrying a poor short stock in consequence, can be successfully cropped by a proper rotation; and that, instead of driving more people off the land to make room for a few sheep, it can be made to give employment to more people, and produce much more and better sheep. This is the first year I have adopted your system as regards cropping, and I am highly pleased with the results so far, as I never had turnips do so well, and the system saves certainly 30 per cent in labour and manure. By another year I hope to work much more of my land on your system.'
(I have noticed in Chapter 8 that if labour can be saved on some farms by the introduction of my system, this reduction will be amply made up for by the quantity of labour that will be required when land now occupied by worthless pasture is again brought under the plough.)
But the system, which is now widely known as the Clifton Park system, will do much more than produce the effects so forcibly pointed out by my correspondent. It will arrest the steady decadence of all British arable soils. For the last thirty years I have had them through my hands on a large scale, from alluvial flats up to thin soil 800 feet above the level of the sea, and find an only too ample confirmation of the general complaint of practical farmers. At the first great meeting of 400 Aberdeenshire farmers, held more than twenty years ago, exhaustion of the soil was declared to be one of the greatest causes of their difficulties. In the course of discussion with ten leading farmers at Clifton-on-Bowmont last year all seemed to agree in thinking that the soil had declined owing to the exhaustion of organic, or vegetable, matter. With the aid of liming, and a freer and freer use of artificial manures, the decadence thus caused is steadily continuing. And the farmer expects that foreign competition may be met by ever augmenting bills for purchased fertilizers, which will cause the soil still further to decline in fertility, while the agricultural chemist, aided by the manure merchant, is emptying his pockets, and at the same time enabling the farmer to run out the remaining fertility of the soil. When, some months ago, I told a very old and experienced practical farming friend that I proposed to grow a fine crop of turnips without the aid of any manure he laughed in my face, and evidently thought the assertion the best joke he had heard for some time; yet this has been done, and on land that never has had any farmyard manure, and the previous turnips of which had only received some artificials. With reference to the successful growing of crops without any other manure excepting that of a turf grown on the spot, and consisting of deeply rooting plants, combined with a full supply of the leguminosae, the correspondent previously quoted writes as follows:
'There is one point which always strikes me, as also many others, when visiting Clifton from time to time, and that is the remarkable fact of seeing such crops from year to year (the farm has now been in the proprietor's hand for seventeen years) when so much breeding stock is raised and sold off the place, and so little feeding stuff consumed -- practically none. I know of no other secondary arable farm in this country farmed on the old system, and sown down every year with ordinary grass mixtures, that would continue to grow paying crops unless a very great amount of cake-fed manure, or other artificials, were applied to the turnip break every year. Even valuable old pastures quickly degenerate when a breeding stock, or young animals, are kept without extra cake feeding. Looking at these facts, it is all the more remarkable how much your system and scientific seeding has accomplished on poor high land such as Clifton-on-Bowmont. Your wonderful success in growing potatoes also raises the question of how much might be made from that valuable crop through cheap production by natural means, and practically no other expenses than the labour of planting and lifting, in contrast to the regular potato districts, with their high rents and enormous expenditure of artificial and farmyard manure.'
High farming on the old lines is no remedy for low prices. For our sole resource in the face of foreign competition we must look to an economy of production which will carry with it, with the smallest possible expenditure on commercial fertilizers, an increasing fertility of soil. These objects have throughout been kept steadily in view, and have been successfully carried out at Clifton-on-Bowmont.
It is remarkable, or perhaps it is not remarkable, that the Board of Agriculture should have not only failed to distribute leaflets on this important subject, but should even have declined to send (as I suggested it should) to the various County Councils notices of the work at Clifton-on-Bowmont, on the ground that for it to do so would be to identify itself with a system -- the principles of my system being as old as agriculture, though the method of carrying them out may be new, and, so far as I know, is new.
I have much pleasure in acknowledging my obligations to Dr. Voelcker and Mr. James Hunter, who have throughout taken great interest in the work at Clifton-on-Bowmont, and supplied me with much valuable matter, which will be found in the appendices.
Robert H. Elliot
22nd October 1904
To the Fourth Edition of Agricultural Changes
As the third edition of 1,000 copies of Agricultural Changes is nearly exhausted I offer the present new and enlarged edition to those interested in land, and to all those who are interested in the welfare of the kingdom. As writers in the agricultural world have generally alluded to my system as the Clifton Park System of Agriculture I have adopted this description of it in the new title which I have given to my book. Those outside of the agricultural world are particularly asked to peruse Chapter 8, which has been added to this edition, by which they will perceive that agriculture is certain to become a matter of far greater national importance than it is now. If it is of importance as being our biggest industry, what will its importance be when it one day becomes -- as it must for the reasons given in the chapter alluded to -- the sole big industry in the Kingdom? After a careful study of the most recent American works on agriculture, and especially Fletcher's work on Soils (Constable & Co., London, 1907) I have found ample confirmation of the principles of the agricultural system I have for so long pursued. It may be mentioned that, by a curious coincidence, I have recently received a letter written by a former Ceylon planter, now farming in Scotland, who has, like myself, practised the same principles in coffee planting and farming, leading in either case to a liberal supply of humus, and the reduction to a minimum of commercial fertilizers. Formerly he had spent £5 an acre on artificial manures in Scotland, now, to use his own words, 'not a penny'.
It is thought by some that the economy of production in this country that would be caused by my system of farming would not benefit the farmer as it would lead to an increase of rents. It is no doubt probable that it might do so, but it is obvious that a farmer had far better have a higher rent with a safe, sound, and profitable system -- involving a reduced demand for capital -- than a system involving a larger demand for capital and increased risks. Some have objected to my system that it is too costly as regards seed mixtures. On the average it is, as I have shown, not so, if the cost of these mixtures is divided over the four grass years of the rotation, but I am told that the farmer will not take this into consideration as he looks at the high initial cost, as compared with the much lower initial cost of the mixtures he usually sows. Here it should be remembered that it is not what you spend that should be considered but what you get for your expenditure, and viewed in that light there can be no doubt that in grazing, in hay, and the enrichment of the soil by the vegetable matter supplied by a four-year-old turf, the farmer will have an infinitely greater yield from the mixtures used by me, while the old time 'windle-strae' farmer has much less grazing, less hay and aftermath and when he ploughs, having no manurial residue worth mentioning as compared with a four-year-old turf composed of the large, and deeply rooted plants supplied by my system, he has therefore to lay out money in top dressing his cereal crops with artificial manure.
In conclusion I may add that I have had most satisfactory evidences of the spread of my system, and of various modifications of it from all parts of the kingdom. A widely known agriculturist, after a careful survey of my demonstration farm, wrote to me as follows: 'What I saw the other day convinces me that you have revolutionized the methods hitherto pursued, proved to the hilt that the old are very inferior in results to those you advocate, and I cannot but believe that sooner or later what you have so persistently laboured at will be generally adopted.' I thought at the time that the writer had formed too wide a view of the results of my work, as I had originally only intended my system for the cultivation of poor and worn-out lands, but I am now inclined to agree with the writer excepting perhaps in the case of heavy clay lands.
What a contrast there is between our Government action and that of State action in America! The former through its Board of Agriculture seems not to be able to rise beyond the conception of urging the farmer to put down more and more artificial manures, while the American Government is urging the farmer to cut the fertilizer bill in two by the adoption of the principles advised in these pages.
Robert H. Elliot
Clifton Park, Kelso,
P.S. -- The Clifton-on-Bowmont Experiment and Demonstration Farm is always open to visitors, who are requested to give notice of the time of their arrival to Robert Reid, Steward, Clifton-on-Bowmont, Yetholm, who will show them round the farm.
Clifton-on-Bowmont farm is distant from: Kelso (railway station), 8-1/2 miles; Yetholm (post town), 1-1/2 miles; Mindrum (railway station), 6 miles; Clifton Park, 4-1/2 miles.
Next: Chapter 1: Introductory
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