Chapter 7
Why Government Experimental Farms are so Specially Needed and the Lines on which They Should Be Laid

'People unacquainted with Agriculture quite forget that land is a destructible material, and its productive powers more easily squandered than a pocketful of loose guineas.' -- Lord Dufferin

It is well known that, with but few exceptions, agriculturists will not read, and are, indeed, averse to any form of intellectual exertion. This is not peculiar to farmers. I have found it the same in the case of my brother planters in India. The chief explanation of this is that, as a rule, the brightest members of families who have to earn their bread are sent to the professions and the public services, and the remainder to pursuits where no examinations have to be passed, and which do not call for intellectual activity. The natural result, then, is that a lad goes into, or is bred on, a farm, learns the routine that goes on there, and nothing outside of it, for anything outside of it would require that intellectual activity for the want of which he was sent to farming. For a time this answers fairly well, for every farmer gradually acquires a considerable amount of valuable practical knowledge which is suitable to existing conditions. But let any change in the times occur which demands a new system, or important modifications in the old one, and the farmer who knows nothing outside of the routine he has been drilled into is liable to be, and often is, in a very helpless condition in consequence of his want of general agricultural knowledge. Worse still, he is steeped into a thorough belief that the system he has learned is infallible, and therefore suited to any times -- a belief which, of course, seals his mind against the intrusion of any new ideas. When discussing with a farmer the changes required by the times, and a need for a thorough knowledge of grasses, he pointed to an old pasture, and said, 'I know as much as most of them, and yet I could not tell you the name of one of these grasses.' 'We are awfully ignorant,' said another to me when I was alluding to that or some other farming subject. And the class to which I belong, the landlord class, is in much the same position as their tenants; rather worse, indeed, for the agricultural ignorance of the landlords consists of what theologians denounce as the worst form of ignorance -- a desire not to know -- as I have previously shown in the early pages of this book. When, lastly, we turn to the factor or land agent, we shall find that he is simply an estimable gentleman who goes round with a bag, and when he has filled it he has not the slightest idea whether he has done so with the legitimate interest of the soil, the capital of the tenant, or the capital of the .landlord, or a mixture of all three. Nor does he appear to think it his duty to make any inquiries on the subject. For many years past he has filled it very largely with the capital of the landlord; and, indeed, this must have been so, or we should not have heard such numerous complaints of exhausted soil. This is simply another term for depleted landlords' capital, which, I need hardly explain, consists mainly of soil. Now, to make any progress in our agriculture in such a way as to enable it to grapple successfully with these difficult times, we must, first of all, take into account the mental condition of the three great classes engaged in land, and its management and cultivation, and adapt our educational methods in such a way that the classes in question may not be called upon for any form of intellectual exertion. In other words, you must teach not so much by books and lectures as by practical illustration in the field, and such illustration must not consist of experimental plots, but of farms of moderate size, conducted on the lines that any farmer could imitate, though, of course, attached to such farms experimental plots might be formed, and used for educational purposes. It is the recognition of the absolute necessity for this practical teaching for classes connected with land that has induced the United States to start its extensive system of experimental farms, and until we do so we can never expect to make rapid progress with the agricultural changes called for by the times. It must be considered, too, that as time advances calls may arise for further and further modifications as communications develop throughout the world, and its produce is therefore brought more and more cheaply to our doors.

That such farms would be appreciated by farmers I have had the fullest practical evidence from the number of agriculturists who have visited Clifton-on-Bowmont, many of whom have visited the farm again and again; and the immense correspondence we have had, and which, of course, has arisen out of the work on the farm. We have had a fair proportion of Professors of Agriculture as visitors, but few landlords and land agents: I suppose because the two last classes are not sufficiently aware of the influence they might bring to bear in pushing forward the agricultural changes called for by the times, or perhaps that any changes at all are requisite. (The visiting list shows an improvement as regards landlords this year (1904). It is as follows: Farmers, 60; landlords, 21; land agents, 6; agricultural professors, 8; seedsmen, 8; schoolmasters, 5; ministers of the gospel, 2; agricultural chemist, 1 ; farm manager, 1; baker, 1; butcher, 1; shepherd, 1; ploughmen, 7 (the last are members of an agricultural educational class in the neighbourhood). Clifton-on-Bowmont farm is always open to visitors. The steward will show them round the farm, and he can supply from his books, when requested, all information respecting the seeding and cropping of the different fields for the last twenty years.)

But the present 'what we know we know, and what we don't know we don't want to know' attitude of these classes would be gradually changed were experimental farms placed within easy reach of a railway. One for the east and another for the west of Scotland would suffice to begin with, and the number required for England and Wales would not be large. I say nothing of Ireland, as that part of the Empire is safely in the hands of Sir Horace Plunkett. In this connection I may take, the opportunity of thanking the Board of Agriculture for its action, though some might call it want of action, with reference to Clifton-on-Bowmont in declining to take the part that I suggested with reference to the farm. This was that the Board should print a leaflet on the work of the farm, and send one to each, County Council in order to make it known that the farm was open to visitors. The Department declined with thanks on the ground that to do so would be to identify itself with a system -- the system being as old as agriculture, though the method of carrying it out is on fresh lines. Judging by the number of visitors who have arrived without any aid from the Department, and who have, of course, taken up much of the time of my steward in showing them round the farm, it is evident that had the Department adopted my suggestion we should have been simply overpowered with visitors and correspondence, and I therefore take this opportunity, from a personal point of view, of thanking the Department, though it is not quite so clear that I have any grounds for doing so on behalf of the farming world. I may here add that I offered the Department, well knowing of what use my book would be in the Colonies, twelve copies, to be sent to the various Colonies, but they positively declined to move in the matter, which I partly mention because the reader may be interested to learn that Mr. Chamberlain, though in the midst of all his Cape troubles, at once responded most cordially to a letter I very reluctantly wrote to him on the subject of sending the books to the Colonies, and undertook to forward them at once to the Australian Governors. I have also to thank the Board for refusing to support my proposal that the farm should be leased by the Government for a term of years, and carried on till the new system of farming had sufficiently made its way, as I now clearly see that where you have Departments with hardly any business men in them, the handing over of the farm to the Government would probably have done more harm than good, unless, of course, the services of Sir Horace Plunkett could have been obtained, or Mr. Chamberlain put in charge of the Department until it should be started on a sound basis.

The experience I have gained since the second edition of this book was published clearly shows me that whatever good the Board of Agriculture may be doing in some directions is far outweighed by the pernicious effect it has in misleading the farmer, and involving him further and further with the manure merchant. The teaching it is directly or indirectly responsible for is not as it, of course, should be, in the direction of that agriculture which stands firmly on its own feet, and shows the farmer how to depend on his own efforts for all, or nearly all, he requires. On the contrary, the farmer is taught that if he wishes to grow heavier crops he must go to the manure merchant and that if he wants to produce more meat he must go to the manure merchant again. The Board may urge that it is not responsible for this teaching, and that it hands over the public funds to Colleges and other educational institutions; but is it not obvious that, on the qui facit per alium facit per se principle the Board is to blame for money being spent in a way that is really adverse to the agricultural interests of the country. This subject is of such importance to the national interests, and especially in connection with the maintenance of the numbers of our rural population, that I enter here into some details to show that the present policy of the Board of Agriculture, and the methods of agricultural teaching practically approved of by it, are calculated to deplete still further our largely exhausted soils, and therefore stiff further reduce the numbers of our rural population.

In my paper read at Cambridge, I said (vide Appendix 9) that the chemist must become more of a farmer, and the farmer more of a chemist, before either can work effectively in arresting the downward course of our British soils. And is it not obvious that if, when the blind lead the blind, the result is liable to be unsatisfactory, the leading of the semi-blind by the semi-blind is certain to end in much more serious disaster? In the former case both are proverbially liable to be abruptly aroused to the inadvisability of their proceedings, and that, too, before they have gone very far; but when a chemist who is agriculturally semi-blind leads a farmer who is chemically semi-blind, still more unsatisfactory results are, as we shall see, certain to ensue, for they are sure to be the means of doing much harm by the propagation of that most dangerous form of knowledge known by the name of half-truths. In order to prove this it is only necessary to look into the seventh annual report on experiments with crops and stock at the Northumberland County Demonstration, Cockle Farm Park, Morpeth. It is there evidently assumed that the British farmer has done all he can for himself by fully employing the natural resources within his reach, and that all that remains is for the chemist to step in and assist the farmer either to increase his crops or improve the condition of his animals by the aid of commercial fertilizers. But the chemist (though adding the name agricultural would lead people to suppose that he is an agriculturist as well as a chemist) really knows nothing of agriculture, and indeed it is obvious that he does not, for otherwise he would first of all inquire whether the farmer does make a full use of all the natural resources at his disposal before advising that various kinds of chemical manures should be used. But the chemist makes no such inquiries. He takes British soil in hand as he finds it exhausted more or less by long courses of limings and artificial manures, and tells the farmer that all he has to do is to replace what he has taken out of the soil, and that if he wants more produce from it he must at once apply an increased supply of the chemical ingredients that have been carried off the land. By this process the chemist manures the plant and not the soil, while the farmer puts down as little as he thinks will serve to grow the plant, which he could not otherwise effectually do, and the plant, grown through this aid, searches through the soil to absorb the remains of its natural fertility. Thus the decline of our soils proceeds till the humus of the soil becomes so thoroughly exhausted that the diseases of plants increase, and they are more and more at the mercy of the vicissitudes of unfavourable seasons. Then as the fertility of the soil declines, and natural sources of plant food diminish, and are not replaced, or only in most inadequate degrees, by natural agencies, the artificial manure bill must be increased, and it has been so increased that farmers now complain that it amounts to another rent. But such manures, even if they could be had for nothing, would not enable the plants of the farmer to contend successfully with climatic shortcomings which so frequently occur in these islands -- excessive drought, or excessive wet, or excessive cold. If the season is perfect the artificial manure will act fairly well. If it is too dry there may be too little water present to convey the plant food into the plant, and if very wet much of the manure may be washed away, and other parts of it, if not used at once, are liable to enter into insoluble compounds in the soil; while if the season is cold the artificial manure cannot raise the temperature of the soil as humus does. It is evident then that what the farmer requires is at once a chemical and a physical agent provided at the lowest cost, which will act with the greatest certainty, no matter what the season may be, and which will continuously increase the humus of the soil, and add to its depth. This he can provide, as I have abundantly shown, by growing a turf of deeply rooted, and powerfully rooted plants. The chemist with his artificial manures can only provide, of course, a costly chemical agent which must always be, as I have shown, at the mercy of the season, and not only cannot permanently ameliorate the fertility of the soil, even in the most favourable seasons, but, unless supported by dung or turf, must deplete the soil. To the agriculturist who has what Locke terms 'Large, sound, roundabout sense', the preceding statements are, of course, mere truisms; but as there are many of my readers who, to use Locke's words again, 'have not a full view of all that relates to the question, and may be of moment to decide it', it is advisable to refer them to the statements I have made as regards the crops grown without manure, and also to allude to some facts with reference to the experiments made at Cockle Park County Demonstration Farm. These, as we have seen, are made on the assumption that the British farmer has done, and continues to do, all he can for himself, and that it only remains for the chemist to show him how, by the application of artificial manures, he may derive increased crops from exhausted soil. If the assumption is correct then the results of the experiments are valuable to the farmer, but the assumption, as I have abundantly shown at Clifton-on-Bowmont, is not correct, and the experiments are really only of value to show the farmer how, with the present low price for agricultural produce, he may lose his money if, after having adopted my system and manured his land with turf, he chooses to add artificial manures. The experiments made at Cockle Park, in order to stimulate the seed hay crop with various manures from a cost of 13s. to 36s. per acre, show results which, as compared with my results from turf-manured land, are distinctly inferior, so that the farmer working on my system would have lost the value of the artificial manures had he used them. When I pass to the potato experiments at the College, as shown in its seventh annual report, the results are still more striking. As shown in my paper delivered at Cambridge, August 1904, I last year produced, without any manure other than turf, 13 tons 14 cwt. of potatoes per acre. With the aid of 12 tons dung and 61 cwt. artificials, costing 101s. ld., the College produced 13 tons 7-1/2 cwt, and the College estimates that this manurial application brought in a profit due to manure of £23 11s. 2d. But how was this profit estimated? By comparing the yield with that of the no-manure section, which only produced 2 tons 16 cwt. But if this section had been coated with a deeply rooted turf there is no reason to suppose, as mine is a poor land farm, that it would not have produced as much as the manured section, costing 101s. ld. per acre, and it must be remembered that, when growing the turf, no expense other than that of the seed would have been incurred, while the hay and grazing obtained when growing the turf would, at a small cost, have yielded a handsome profit -- the average cost of the seed divided over the years when the turf was being formed coming to about 10s. a year -- varying in occasional years with the goodness or badness of the grass seed crop, and the demand for seeds. (As it might be supposed that a good turf could not be grown at Cockle Park, as it is a poor clay soil, I would refer the reader to Appendix 3, giving results of experiments on the Abbotsley poor clay soil with one of my mixtures, which has there produced a fine turf in four years.)

From what I have shown it seems clear that the Board of Agriculture is really spending the national funds in teaching agriculturists how to farm at a loss. These conclusions are confirmed by an experiment I made in 1901 in the Big Haugh field (vide Appendix 3), by which I lost about the rent of the land by adding dung and kainit to my ploughed-in turf. The manured section gave 15 tons of potatoes an acre, at an estimated cost for manure of £2 10s.; the turf-manured section gave 14 tons 6 cwt., estimating the potatoes at £2 per ton, the result was that we lost £l 2s., or about the rent of the land, from having used manures in addition to turf. This year (1904), which I am told is an inferior potato year as compared with last year, the potatoes, grown on Hayhope Shank Field East, show a decline to 12 tons 18 cwt. 4 lb. on the manured section, and 12 tons 7 cwt. 1 lb. where the turf alone was relied on. It is interesting to note that these results had been obtained under much more unfavourable circumstances, as, from certain requirements on the farm, the rotation system in the case of this field was altered to oats out of grass, turnips, barley, and turnips, part of the field this year being allotted to potatoes so that they were preceded by a cereal crop, then a turnip crop, and then by another cereal crop. As neither of the two cereal crops had any manure, and the turnips some artificials only, the crop of potatoes, may be considered to be the most satisfactory evidence of the great value of turf as manure, and especially of its lasting effects. It will be interesting to observe how, on the potato section of Hayhope Shank field, the grass will compare with that on the section in turnips. As yet, no difference can be perceived in the Big Haugh field between the grass after potatoes and the grass after turnips. But it must be remembered that the Big Haugh potatoes were taken out of grass, while those of Hayhope Shank were the fourth crop of the series, which no doubt accounts partially for the shortness of the crop. A fifth crop, a cereal one, will be taken next year, when the grass seeds will be sown along with it, and this crop will be taken without manure so that the system will be put to a very severe test. (No difference could be perceived in the grass taken after potatoes, and the fifth crop (oats) was a satisfactory one, so that the lasting effect from land manured with turf has been proved beyond doubt.) The soil of the field is what is known as very light land.

I now turn to the sheep experiment at Cockle Park, as regards which the same misleading form of experiment has been repeated. The diagram illustrating the effect of the transforming hand of the chemist is really rather amusing. We start, as the advertisements of nourishing foods for the human animal do, at an extremely low standard, and the diagram shows first the figure of a small, melancholy, attenuated sheep, and no wonder, as he has been kept in the no-manure plot-poor worn-out land, growing no less than about 84 per cent of wiry bent. But this attenuated sample of what may be done by a dietary of this description has its use in magnifying immensely, by contrast, the sheep in the remaining eight compartments which have been stimulated by the use of artificial manures, at costs varying from 22s. to as high as 61s. an acre. The portly figures of these sheep, as shown in the diagram, with the various manures inscribed on their sides, are really most encouraging at first sight, and show the results that may be attained by practically starving one sheep by keeping it on the toughest and poorest fare, and feeding others highly through the agency of costly manures applied to the soil. But how would it have been had the experiment been made on the Inner Kaimrig, which has carried a large sheep stock fed on a field full of dark green clover and kidney vetch, and which still, on November 12th, presents a rich dark green appearance? I have no hesitation in saying that the attenuated sheep in Plot No. 1 of the Cockle Park experiments would have assumed a form as portly as his brethren on the manured plots, and yet on the Inner Kaimrig -- originally the poorest field on a poor to medium land farm -- no manure, excepting some artificials with the turnips, has ever been used since the field was enclosed from the hill about seventy years ago, nor has any cake been fed on the land excepting some very trivial amount given to some rams kept in the field, and a few of the ewes drafted for sale -- in fact, the amount of cake used on the whole farm is so small that the agriculturist quoted in my preface considered it to be practically none. But, for the benefit of the uninformed, I must add that it would convey an erroneous impression if I left him under the idea that my field had not been manured, and highly manured, and in a much more lasting form than the artificially manured land at Cockle Park, on which the sheep experiments were made. For the Inner Kaimrig, as testified by the dark green herbage, has been heavily manured with nitrogen, partly taken from the atmosphere, and partly from decaying turf; while the deep-rooting plants have deeply cultivated the land, bringing up food from depths hitherto untouched, and manufacturing, by the acids in their roots, inert into active plant food. The humus has played its part, too, by converting into active plant food the dormant mineral constituents of the soil.

From what I have previously shown, it is evident that every experimental farm should be divided into two compartments -- the one consisting of exhausted British soil, like that of Cockle Park, and the other of soil brought into a good state of fertility by natural agencies. It could then be ascertained whether it would pay the farmer best to carry on his exhausted soil on the present system, and aided by artificial manures, or whether it would pay better to alter the farming system in the direction of that adopted by me, and reduce his artificial bill to a low ebb, or perhaps abolish it altogether, as I have this year done in the case of one of my turnip crops. It seems obvious that if agricultural experiments such as I suggest are to be carried out, the present plan of employing what are called agricultural chemists must be abandoned. What we require are practical farmers* who have acquired that moderate amount of chemical, knowledge which constitutes the whole outfit of the existing so-called agricultural chemists, and which is all that is necessary on experimental farms of the kind I have suggested. (Often the need for practical farmers at the Board of Agriculture has been conspicuously shown by the advice given by the Board to farmers, and a striking instance of this is afforded by their Leaflet, No. 168, entitled 'Hints on the formation of Permanent Pastures'. When all the experimental mixtures (vide p. 3 of Leaflet) had failed on the poor clays, excepting, as shown by the writer of the Leaflet, the mixture advised by me (which contained no perennial ryegrass), what is the use of advising the farmer to sow on such soils the mixture advised on p. 4 of Leaflet, and if it has been proved up to the hilt for some 150 years back that perennial ryegrass is the worst of all grasses to put down in light soil, what can be the use of advising the farmer to sow on such soils a mixture containing a large proportion of this grass?)

Any intelligent farmer who has been farming on his own account for, say, about ten years, and of about thirty-five years of age, could learn the necessary amount of chemistry in six months, and the farms would then have agricultural chemists with a thorough practical knowledge of agriculture, instead of, as at present, chemists who have either none, or the merest smattering of it. It must be considered further -- and this is a most important point -- that farmers would be encouraged to visit such farms, and would thoroughly rely on what they saw there, were the operations conducted by a practical farmer.

I think it advisable, in conclusion, to give my reason for asking the Government to take a lease of my Clifton-on-Bowmont farm. It was partly to save time, and partly because of the poorness of the land, its originally exhausted condition, and the nature of the climate, which is both very dry, cold, and much exposed to severe winds. With my system of farming I have brought much of the land up to a good state of fertility -- good enough to produce good crops without manure, other than that partly grown in the shape of turf and partly acquired from the atmosphere by natural means; but there is still enough land left which might be cultivated on the old system so as to form a comparison with the new system adopted. The farm consists of 1,250 acres, and the high land portion of it would be valuable for experimenting as to the improvements that might be effected on such mountain grazings. The Government, it is true, might acquire similar land elsewhere, but before the required comparison between the old and the proposed system could be instituted many years would be required to pass by -- at least from ten to twelve -- before the farmer could be able to judge as to the respective merits of the two systems. The Board of Agriculture sent an experienced official to report on the project, and he did so favourably, and I know that, besides, it was approved of by a prominent member of the Department; but nothing was done in the matter, which I now think is fortunate, as unless the farm were managed by a practical and skilful agriculturist, who had acquired the moderate knowledge of chemistry sufficient for the purpose, it could never be of the value it might become to the agricultural interests of these islands. I must not, however, be surprised at this want of action on the part of the Government in matters relating to agriculture, as its general policy seems to be to report, and do nothing but report. A Committee, as I have elsewhere shown, advised that a central seed testing station should be established where farmers could, for a small fee, get their seeds tested. This is a point of the greatest importance, and, indeed, absolutely essential to the system of farming I have initiated. The recommendation of the Committee was made in 1900, but so far nothing seems to have been done to carry it into effect. Nor, I fear, will anything be done which will aid in at once saving the agricultural situation, and arresting the decline in the numbers of our rural population, till a statesman can be found patriotic enough to take charge of the Agricultural Department, and with enough energy and moral courage to compel the attention of the House of Commons to the requirements of British agriculture.

One word more. Any statesman can see for himself, by visiting Clifton-on-Bowmont, how great tracts of land now abandoned to pasture of a most worthless kind can be brought again under profitable cultivation with the aid of the system I have initiated; and how, therefore, the further abandonment of arable, with its consequent decline of our rural population, may be arrested. The more this subject is studied, the more clear does it become that the worst enemy of the rural population has been the British Government, and it will continue to be so until it follows the methods for the advancement of agriculture which have been adopted by all civilized Governments.

Next: Chapter 8: The Principles on which a Landlord Should Farm, Both for Himself and His Successors

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