Appendix 8
Suggested Changes of Farming System

Read at a Meeting of the Border Union Agricultural Society at Kelso, 31st October 1902 -- The Right Hon. The Earl of Dalkeith, M.P., in the Chair

Before beginning my lecture this afternoon I will, with your permission, make a few remarks on part of the speech which Mr. C. J. Cunningham, made the other day at the Yetholm Show Dinner. The gist of his remarks on agriculture in Scotland was that it is deteriorating, and I have heard the same remark made by many others -- two of them farmers of great experience. At first sight their opinions would appear to be ill-founded, for in these days we have much better agricultural machines of all kinds, better horses, and certainly better stock than we had, say, fifty years ago, and all the operations of agriculture are carried on as well, or better than they were. Where, then, does the alleged deterioration come in? It comes in, I am sorry to say, from a most serious cause -- the gradual deterioration of the soil in all these cases where the land cannot be fed with such large supplies of farmyard manure that the humus can be adequately maintained. What proportion of the soils of Scotland have been thus harried out owing to the decline of their vegetable matter it is impossible to say, but that the proportion of land that either cannot be supplied at all with farmyard manure, or is only supplied with very insufficient quantities, is very large, there can be no doubt. It is in order to endeavour to remedy this serious defect in our agriculture that I have asked you to listen to the following remarks; but, before proceeding, it may be as well to note exactly how it was that so much of the land has thus been run out. It was so owing to the introduction and injudicious use of artificial manures. Previous to their introduction the farmer relied on farmyard manures and the accumulation of humus by leaving the land long in grass; but, when artificial manures came in, he could give the plants a sufficient stimulus to grow a large root system, which could not otherwise have been grown, and this root growth enabled the plant to exhaust the land. Artificial manures, if backed by farmyard manure or turf, may often be of the greatest value, by affording a stimulus at a critical period of the plant's growth. Without these aids , or ample supplies of humus, in some form, the stimulated plants must deplete the soil.

As we are living in changing times, the members of this Society will probably agree with me in thinking that it is very desirable that we should occasionally meet in order to interchange opinions and mutually communicate our experiences. You will observe that I have proposed for our consideration the changes necessary in our farming system, and I have done so because it is becoming every day more clear that farming on the old lines is unsuited to the times, and because circumstances are gradually becoming more and more unfavourable to it. Here, for instance, is one important difficulty to which, so far as I am aware, no attention has as yet been called -- the fact that, as compared with twenty years ago, we have a shortage of no less than one and a half millions of children in Great Britain. This indicates a movement of great importance to farmers, and if the people of these islands are showing such an active desire not to propagate their species, it is high time that we should propagate our ideas as to the best way of working our farms with a smaller number of hands. For the present the anti-child producing movement seems to be confined to the towns and manufacturing centres, but it is sure to spread to the country; in the meanwhile there will, of course, be a much larger draft of population from the country districts, and consequently we must look forward to scarcer and dearer labour. With the other adverse conditions you are all familiar, and I need only say that all of them are, from whatever point of view we may regard the subject, unfavourable to the present farming system. What that is we all know -- expensive tillage, the use of purchased foods and manures, and a rapid rotation of crops, calling for much expense and labour, and entailing much exhaustion of the soil. When prices were high they could cover the cost of production and leave a good profit, but not so, of course, when prices fell; and we must recognize the fact that high farming on the present lines is no remedy for low prices, and the further fact that the only remedy available is to lower the cost of production. This may be effected, as I shall show, by an alteration of system, which will lead not only to the utmost economy of production, but render all production more free from risk than it is at present. The whole of my experiments at Clifton-on-Bowmont have been devoted to these ends, and I am now satisfied that whereas the old farming system gave us good crops at a high cost, we can, with the aid of improved farming, produce as good, and often much better, crops at less cost, and certainly with far less risk from adverse seasons. With it we can not only repair the exhaustion of the soil, caused by our farming system, but continually increase its fertility, and while this can be done our expenditure can be largely reduced. These views are fully set out in my Agricultural Changes and Laying Down Land to Grass. I am told that many farmers would adopt my system, either wholly or in part, but that they are deterred from doing so by the cost of the mixtures I have most recently used. One of my objects in addressing you to-day is to show how a farmer may most cheaply, and at the same time effectively, modify his farming system so as to bring it into line with the conditions of these times.

If the farmer has his land in fine physical condition, and, from applications of farmyard manure, well supplied with humus, there is no reason why he should not at once use the expensive Bank field mixture; but if his land is in poor condition he should, I think, use the appended mixture for the first rotation, as he would then avoid the risk of putting down an expensive mixture with the soil in poor condition. I began my farming at Clifton-on-Bowmont in 1887 with the following mixture:

Perennial Ryegrass
Hard Fescue
Perennial Red Clover
White Clover
At a cost of £l 2s. 5d. per acre

my object being to fill the land with vegetable matter at the smallest expense. This was used for the Front and Bowmontside fields, and the results have proved very satisfactory. In consequence of the steep stony nature of the land four acres of the latter field were left in permanent pasture, and, as such, have always done well. Where timothy suits the soil and climate it maybe added to the mixture, and the cocksfoot may be lessened. The quantity of clover now seems to me to be excessive, and in recent years I have never used more than alsike 1 lb., white clover 2 lb., and late-flowering red clover 2 lb., a quantity which may still further be reduced, as I have obtained excellent results with a total of 3 lb. of clovers per acre. The mixture I would now recommend as the cheapest to be advised, and which is suitable for two or a greater number of years, and is also fairly well suited to permanbnt pasture, is as follows:

Hard Fescue*
Rough-stalked Meadow Grass
Late-flowering Red Clover
White Clover
Alsike Clover
*It has been suggested to me by Mr. Hunter of Chester, that up to 700 feet meadow fescue would be more suitable than hard fescue, but it should be remembered that the latter is a much more drought-resisting grass.

Where the land is suitable for timothy 3 lb. of it may be added, and the cocksfoot reduced to 12 lb. I may add that in recent years, in consequence of the greatly increased use of the grasses and plants recommended by me, they have much gone up in price, the Bank field mixture in 1890 costing £l 19s. 5d., while it cost last year £2 2s. 6d., and this year £2 9s. 10d.; but I am informed, on good authority, that prices will again fall when the attention of seed growers is directed to the subject.

When the natural grasses are used alone, or with but a very small quantity of ryegrass, it is important to note that the clover never fails, even though there may be an almost universal failure of clover in cases where ryegrass alone is used, or with only a small quantity of natural grasses; and though the Clifton farm was in poor condition when I took it in hand, we have never had anything but complete success is growing clover, and have had excellent results in the case of land that was only limed once, when it was taken out of the hill about forty-two years ago, and has never been manured or limed since. It is important to dwell carefully on the great value of clover and its only too common failure, which is by far the weakest point in our farming, while it ought to be, and can be, made the strongest point of all, from a manurial and physical point of view.

The principle of the rotation of crops is the alternation of crops which take nitrogen from the air with those which can only derive it from the soil -- speaking generally, the alternation of the Leguminosae (of which beans, vetches, and clover are commonly used here) and cereals. If this can be carried out annually, land may be cropped for thousands of years with the addition of hardly any manure. In Mysore six drills of a cereal crop are sown with a seventh of beans (Dolichos svicatus). After harvest the spaces between the drills of beans are ploughed up, and the crop (somewhat like a French bean) soon almost covers the ground, and is harvested in due course. The straw of the crops is eaten by cattle, and their manure is used as fuel, the ashes only being returned to the land, the decaying roots of the beans, and the atmospheric nitrogen collected by them, being the sole manures besides the scanty supply of ashes; and yet, with the aid of these resources, every year you will see a crop of corn and a crop of beans more or less good, according to the season. In our agriculture clover is, generally speaking, the nitrogen-collecting crop, but it only occurs once in four or five years, and, should the crop fail, the land must wait four or five years for another. Now the failure, or partial failure, of the clover crop means much more than the loss of most valuable food, for it means as well the loss of vegetable matter, and the atmospheric nitrogen which would otherwise have been collected through the agency of the nodules on the clover roots. The loss from the latter alone may often be estimated at about 10s. an acre. By the farming system adopted at Clifton-on-Bowmont, and the rejection of ryegrass, these losses can with certainty be averted.

The next weak point in the present system lies in the fact that from the use of the shallow-rooting ryegrass, and the absence of deep-rooting plants which can not only aerate, but deeply till and manure the soil, the farmer not only fails to take advantage of the natural. resources at his disposal, but fails to take advantage of the stores of plant food which lie at depths below the reach of the plants he now uses. In consequence of the downward filtration of manure, it has been found that the unused subsoil is often richer than the upper soil, which alone is used by the farmer.

The third weak point in the present farming system is that when a serious drought occurs the farmer is completely at the mercy of the season. In the case of last year's drought, when there was such a general failure of grass, and especially of clover, the Bank field on my farm had a most luxuriant appearance all the season through, and the results clearly prove that, with the aid of the new farming system, the farmer may regard the worst drought with absolute indifference. The facts are of such importance that I may quote the following passage from my letter published in the Scotsman, November 1901:

'The Bank field consists of twenty-seven acres, rather more than half of which is poor, stony, and exposed, and in some parts very steep land. The remainder consists of fair medium soil for that part of the country. For the last nineteen years twenty-four acres of the field have never been manured, excepting with the artificials used with the turnips. The remaining three acres have once -- some years ago -- had some farmyard manure, and the seed mixture used, and the reasons for using it, are given on page 95 (2nd edition) of my Agricultural Changes. It was sown last year with a crop of barley. From 1st October 1900 to 1st October 1901 the value of grazing and hay obtained was estimated by us at £7 3s. an acre. Our estimate has been referred to a tenant farmer, who is employed as a valuator, and his estimate comes to rather more -- £7 7s. 6d. an acre.'

From 2nd October 1901 to 1st October 1902 the field has been stocked as follows, and I purposely allowed it to be so much later in the autumn and winter than was judicious in order to see how the new mixture would stand the roughest treatment; and the effect of this, as might have been anticipated, has been a decline of the clover, though this seems to be recovering, and there is now an abundant feed of grass in the field, which is still stocked with sixty ewes. The list of the stock is as follows:

    From 1st October 1901 to 31st December 1901 four ewes per acre, with the assistance of one cart load of either cabbages or turnips per day for the field.

    From March 15th to 24th May 1902 three ewes and single lambs per acre, with the assistance of two cart loads of turnips per day for the field.

    From May 24th to 28th iuly 1902 two and a half ewes and single lambs per acre.

    From July 28th to 1st October 1902 three ewes per acre.

    From May lst to 10th June 1902 five cattle.

    From June 13th to 4th September two horses.

The fourth weak point of the existing system is that the farmer is put to considerable expense in weeding his fields. I found from an estimate made for me by one of my tenants that he was spending 11s. 4d. per acre in cleaning a field preparatory to sowing turnips. With our system of farming we practically have no weeds, or so few that they are not worth removing. In two instances we abandoned our usual system, and took oats instead of turnips out of grass, when, of course, weeds naturally followed. It may be mentioned here that our system is turnips out of grass, then oats, then turnips, when the land is laid down to grass, with oats or barley, and kept in grass not less than four years.

The fifth weak point of the present farming system, is the great cost of handling and rehandling farmyard manure. With the new farming system you grow your manure on the spot in the shape of a deeply rooted turf, which most fully supplies that humus which is the most valuable part of farmyard manure. This may now be carted direct from the steading, and scattered on the nearest grass field. By the careful investigation of the late Dr. Voelcker, it has been proved that this would involve no loss of manure (much of which is liable to loss on the existing system), though if left in small heaps on the land there would be a loss.

The sixth weak point in the present farming system consists of growing the most innutritious grass. I this year sent a sample of the Bank field hay to, a friend, who obtained a practical opinion for me from a farmer who grows hay for the Liverpool market, and the sample, I may add, was by no means a favourable one, as all the best part of the hay had been used. The farmer writes as follows: 'I only regret I have not a thousand tons of such fodder, as I should then fear neither rent day nor pay day, nor, for the matter of that, scarcely any other days; such hay as I have before me would sell like wildfire in Liverpool, even in'the face of severe home and foreign competition.' It is interesting to observe how the opinion of the practical hay grower coincides with the analyses in Sinclair's work. The nutritive value of perennial ryegrass stands at 70, that of cocksfoot 80, tall oat grass 120, tall fescue 94, rough-stalked meadow grass 80, burnet 100, yarrow 98 -- all of these being grown in the Bank field mixture. Chicory stands at 60, or nearly the same nutritive value as white clover. Sinclair gives no analysis of the kidney vetch. According to Dr. Stebler, in his The Best Forage Plants, the proportion of nutritive matter contained in kidney vetch is greater than in red clover hay of medium quality. After enumerating thirteen grasses as being those which contain the most nutritive matter, Sinclair observes that 'Perennial ryegrass ranks with those that contain the least'. It is not uninteresting to note that the opinions of the practical hay farmer, the analyst, and the horses all agree -- the last so decidedly that they prefer the Bank field hay to oats -- i.e. they will leave the latter to eat the former.

The seventh weak point of the present farming system is that, in sequence of the absence of vegetable matter in the soil, the waste on all slopes is serious, and the downward waste of manurial matters is also very considerable. When the land is well stored with decaying turf the waste is entirely averted, and the downward percolation of the water is attended with no loss, or only a trifling one of nitrogen, as it is retained by the humus.

The eighth weak point in the present farming system is the exhaustion it entails on the soil, and of this I have heard frequent mention for many years past, besides having a large personal experience in the matter. Perhaps the most decisive evidence on the point is contained in the resolutions passed at the first great meeting of 400 Aberdeenshire farmers at the beginning of the bad times, when they attributed their difficulties to dear labour, bad seasons, and the exhaustion of the soil. The last statement proves what must now be evident to everyone, and that is that the present farming is a system not for maintaining and improving, but for continuously lessening, the fertility of the soil. But though the soil has been thus exhausted from a practical point of view, it has not been so from a chemical point of view. It has only been exhausted of its vegetable matter. Speaking generally of most soils, a sufficiency of mineral constituents are still there to last for the crops of a great many years, but these remain inert in consequence of the exhaugtion of the humus; and perhaps the most valuable and encouraging point connected with my experiments at Clifton-on-Bowmont lies in the fact that it has been clearly proved that old worn-out lands that have been cropped for sixty or seventy years, and never manured, will produce as good, and even better crops than they ever did if only you replace the vegetable matter which these soils contained when first enclosed from the hill. Misfortunes are proverbially said never to come singly, and I may here notice that just as prices fell the Scotch farmer found himself tilling soils more exhausted than they ever had been, owing, as I have shown, to a system of agriculture which certainly tends to a yearly increasing decline of fertility, unless, of course, in those cases where a full supply of humus is kept up.

It may be useful to sum up some of the results you will certainly obtain from the new proposed system of farming. While your seedsman's bill per annum need not be increased, and may even be lessened, your gains from atmospheric nitrogen will be large and certain. The land will be more easily, and therefore more cheaply, ploughed and worked, while your tillage (by the agency of roots) will be deepened and improved; your weeding bills will be abolished, the success of your clover and grass will be certain, your artificial manure bills may be largely reduced; the supply of humus -- in other words, the fertility of the land -- instead of decreasing as it has hitherto done, will steadily increase (in some instances, we have trebled the value of the land); the expense of handling and rehandling farmyard manure will be saved. All crops will be healthier and better. The health of the stock will be much improved, and, as grass is the cheapest food for stock, more luxuriant pastures will entail less cost in feeding. Lastly, by rejecting ryegrass, you will be discarding a comparatively innutritious grass, and one that suffers much from drought, and leaves little vegetable matter, in favour of the grasses used in the Bank field mixture. Such, then, are the certain results you will obtain from the proposed farming system. As regards finger-and-toe, I cannot speak so confidently. I will only go so far as to say that I have reason to think that, with the aid of healthy conditions of soil, and especially an abundant supply of humus, and interposing, as we do at Clifton-on-Bowmont, a longer period between the last turnip crop of one rotation and the first of another, the risk from diseased turnips will certainly be largely diminished. Though we had some turnip disease in part of a field eight or nine years ago, we have had none since, even though last year there were many complaints of it in the neighbourhood; and in that year we had a good crop of turnips on land which had only been limed once, about forty-two years ago, and it had never been manured since, excepting with the artificials put down with the turnips; but the land was well supplied with humus, and had lain in grass for a number of years. Should, then, my surmises be correct, we should be able, with the aid of the new farming system, to save the great expense that is often incurred in liming as a temporary preventive or cure for finger-and-toe.

I now propose to remark on the various values to be derived from humus, or decaying vegetable matter, in the soil, in order to show the great advantage of the proposed system of farming in providing, through the agency of a solid and deeply rooting turf, the largest quantity of this valuable agent. Humus is that substance which gives value to forest soils, or newly broken-up pasture lands. It is at once a manurial agent, and a maintainer of the physical condition of the soil; but perhaps most valuable of all for its effect in conserving that moisture which is often of more importance to the plant than the presence of any quantity of chemical manurial constituents. It is, indeed, the very life and soul of the soil, and that is why the farmer, the planter, or the gardener attaches so much importance to farmyard manure, forest topsoil, turf, or any substance which will supply this indispensable ingredient of fertile soils. These humus-supplying agents all have this immediate advantage -- the fact that the results from them are certain, while the results from all purchased manures are uncertain. For the latter may be washed away, or enter into insoluble compounds in the soils, and in the event of a drought the anticipated results might not be gained. The experience in the United States seems to be that it never can certainly be predicted whether profit or loss will result from the purchase and the application of nitrogen, potash, or phosphoric acid in any form. One thing is certain, says Roberts, in his The Fertility of the Land (Macmillan & Co., price 5s.), and that is that the application of farmyard manure, in almost any form, will result in improved fertility and increased profits. But this arises not from its, strictly speaking, chemical constituents, which could, of course, be supplied by chemical manures, but from the fertility which the decaying vegetable matter of the straw imparts to the soil, the most important feature of which is probably owing to the power of humus for conserving moisture, seeing that plants more often fail from lack of moisture, at a critical period of their growth, than from dearth of chemical constituents of plant food; and it is of equal importance to note that as all the moisture in the soil may be needed, and often is needed in the growing season, it is most advisable to store, through humus, all that can be kept in the land. In three years' experiments with farmyard manure (Roberts, p. 148), it was found that the first surface foot contained 181 tons more water per acre than adjacent and similar but unmanured land, the second 9.28 tons, and the third 6.38, or a total difference in the first three feet of soil of 34.41 tons per acre. If, then, the Bank field was quite unaffected by last year's drought, it was mainly because the land was well stored with ploughed-down turf, and was therefore capable of retaining a full supply of moisture, though the land had not been manured with farmyard manure for the last nineteen years. But there was another important reason to which I would desire to draw particular attention -- the fact that the land was thickly shaded with plants, as it is from the want of this complete shading that the land suffers so much more in a drought than it need. For every vacant patch of soil is really a pump, as the moisture, rising from below, is rapidly evaporated and carried away by the wind, and water is also drawn into each patch by lateral attraction, to be, of course, at once evaporated. Each patch, then, though only, as big as half a crown, starves all the adjacent plants, and as these plants are commonly thinly planted in the land, and consist of the shallow-rooting ryegrass, it can easily be understood why my field, well supplied with humus, and thickly shaded with plants, many of them of deep-rooting character, remained luxuriantly green while those of my neighbours were dried up.

Let me now briefly enumerate the other effects of humus. It not only supplies nitrogen, but, as it decomposes, renders available some of the phosphoric acid and potash of the soil. By keeping the soil more open it aerates the land, and so sets free more plant food. It enables the soil to retain manurial matter which would otherwise leach away. This is particularly the case with ammonia, and it has been found that a soil destitute of humus will contain scarcely any nitrogen. The importance of humus to light soils is enormous, as they are much less retentive of manure than heavy soils. By keeping the land open humus enables superfluous water to drain through the soil, and by keeping it more open prevents it being soured. Air, moisture and warmth, which are all so necessary for the germination of seeds and the growth of plants, are but little influenced by the chemical constituents of the soil, being all more dependent on its physical condition, which can only be effectively influenced by large quantities of humus, which, I may observe, can, by us, be most cheaply supplied by deeply rooted turf. It is important to notice that, as a consequence of growing a deeply rooted turf, you can deepen the soil above and add to it below. In the case of the Inner Kaimrig field, enclosed from the hill about seventy years ago and never manured since, the ploughing depth had sunk, to about six inches. It is now about nine inches, two inches being gained above from the admixture of turf with the soil, and one below from the action of the deep-rooting plants, and this depth can certainly be added to as time advances. When growing a good deeply rooted turf, then, you will not only be supplying much more and much better food for stock, but you will derive from it, when ploughing up, a long train of most valuable consequential results, which will at once favourably influence anything you may subsequently grow, and ensure that the utmost economy of production is arrived at. Perhaps one of the most important results is that, through the agency of deeply-rooted plants, and those with a large root system, you can, and at no additional cost, most minutely and deeply till the soil. The amelioration of the soil from root action is indeed most marked, and our attention has been frequently called to it, and more especially in the case of the Outer Kaimrig. When we ploughed our first turf the work was of such difficulty that, in my Agricultural Changes, I suggested that it might be better to begin the rotation with rape, in order that time might be given for the decay of the turf; but the amelioration of the soil is now so great that there was no difficulty experienced in breaking up the turf for the second rotation. It is only, I may repeat, with the first turf that there is any difficulty in taking turnips out of grass. Such, then, are some of the results to be obtained from humus, and the use and action of deeply rooted plants and grasses, and I think I have said enough to recommend the subject to your earnest attention, for it is only through the adoption of agencies like these that we can hope to place our agriculture on a satisfactory footing.

My lecture is ended now. I am confident that the general principles I have recommended are sound, and I say so after the perusal of much public criticism, on my work and opinions, and hearing many private opinions of value, and after having, since my Agricultural Changes was published, carefully studied the works of the American agricultural writers. But though I am confident that the general principles I have recommended are sound, it by no means follows that any cut and dried particular method of carrying them out can possibly be laid down. Each man must be left to carry them out in whatever way is suitable to the climate, and general condition of his farm and circumstances; and I will go so far as to say that not only does every farm require the principles to be worked out in a different way, but that every field on the same farm may require variations in the method of carrying out the principles of the proposed farming system.

One word more. Insist on your seed being guaranteed as to purity, germination, and weight per bushel. See personally to the mixing and sowing of the seed, and that it is sown as soon as possible after being mixed. In the spring take a rake, and re-seed with your own hands, as I have done, every vacant patch in the field, and you will then see how well, or how ill, your work has been done. In this connection I should advise farmers never to cease urging the Government to establish a central seed-testing station, where farmers could, for a small fee, get their seeds tested. This was recommended in the report of the Committee of 1900 appointed by the Board of Agriculture, but no steps appear to have been taken in the matter. This neglect of the interest of the farmers seems the more astonishing, seeing that the advantages of such an establishment have been amply proved by the Swiss Government. There is much need also for an Act to enforce that seedsmen should guarantee the purity and weight per bushel of their seeds and that the guarantee should be stated on each invoice, as in the case when fertilizers and feeding stuffs are sold.

Next: Appendix 9

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