CROPS FOR DRY-FARMING
THE work of the dry-farmer is only half donewhen the soil has been properly prepared, by deep plowing, cultivation, fallowing,for the planting of the crop. The choice of the crop, its proper seeding, and itscorrect care and harvesting are as important as rational soil treatment in the successfulpursuit of dry-farming. It is true that in general the kinds of crops ordinarilycultivated in humid regions are grown also on arid lands, but varieties especiallyadapted to the prevailing dry-farm conditions must be used if any certainty of harvestis desired. Plants possess a marvelous power of adaptation to environment, and thispower becomes stronger as successive generations of plants are grown under the givenconditions. Thus, plants which have been grown for long periods of time in countriesof abundant rainfall and characteristic humid climate and soil yield well under suchconditions, but usually suffer and die or at best yield scantily if planted in hotrainless countries with deep soils. Yet, such plants, if grown year after year underarid conditions, become accustomed to warmth and dryness and in time will yield perhapsnearly as well or it may be better in their new surroundings. The dry-farmer wholooks for large harvests must use every care to secure varieties of crops that throughgenerations of breeding have become adapted to the conditions prevailing on his farm.Home-grown seeds, if grown properly, are therefore of the highest value. In fact,in the districts where dry-farming has been practiced longest the best yielding varietiesare, with very few exceptions, those that have been grown for many successive yearson the same lands. The comparative newness of the attempts to produce profitablecrops in the present dry-farming territory and the consequent absence of home-grownseed has rendered it wise to explore other regions of the world, with similar climaticconditions, but long inhabited, for suitable crop varieties. The United States Departmentof Agriculture has accomplished much good work in this direction. The breeding ofnew varieties by scientific methods is also important, though really valuable resultscannot be expected for many years to come. When results do come from breeding experiments,they will probably be of the greatest value to the dry-farmer. Meanwhile, it mustbe acknowledged that at the present, our knowledge of dry-farm crops is extremelylimited. Every year will probably bring new additions to the list and great improvementsof the crops and varieties now recommended. The progressive dry-farmer should thereforekeep in close touch with state and government workers concerning the best varietiesto use.
Moreover, while the various sections of the dry-farmingterritory are alike in receiving a small amount of rainfall, they are widely differentin other conditions affecting plant growth, such as soils, winds, average temperature,and character and severity of the winters. Until trials have been made in all thesevarying localities, it is not safe to make unqualified recommendations of any cropor crop variety. At the present we can only say that for dry-farm purposes we musthave plants that will produce the maximum quantity of dry matter with the minimumquantity of water; and that their periods of growth must be the shortest possible.However, enough work has been done to establish some general rules for the guidanceof the dry-farmer in the selection of crops. Undoubtedly, we have as yet had onlya glimpse of the vast crop possibilities of the dry-farming territory in the UnitedStates, as well as in other countries.
Wheat is the leading dry-farm crop. Every prospectindicates that it will retain its preëminence. Not only is it the most generallyused cereal, but the world is rapidly learning to depend more and more upon the dry-farmingareas of the world for wheat production. In the arid and semiarid regions it is nowa commonly accepted doctrine that upon the expensive irrigated lands should be grownfruits, vegetables, sugar beets, and other intensive crops, while wheat, corn, andother grains and even much of the forage should be grown as extensive crops uponthe non-irrigated or dry-farm lands. It is to be hoped that the time is near at handwhen it will be a rarity to see grain grown upon irrigated soil, providing the climaticconditions permit the raising of more extensive crops.
In view of the present and future greatness ofthe wheat crop on semiarid lands, it is very important to secure the varieties thatwill best meet the varying dry-farm conditions. Much has been done to this end, butmore needs to be done. Our know]edge of the best wheats is still fragmentary. Thisis even more true of other dry-farm crops. According to Jardine, the dry-farm wheatsgrown at present in the United States may be classificd as follows:--
I. Hard spring wheats:
II. Winter wheats:
(a) Hard wheats (Crimean)
(b) Semihard wheats (Intermountain)
(c) Soft wheats (Pactfic)
The common varieties of hard spring wheatsare grown principally in districts where winter wheats have not as yet been successful;that is, in the Dakotas, northwestern Nebraska, and other localities with long wintersand periods of alternate thawing and severe freezing. The superior value of winterwheat has been so clearly demonstrated that attempts are being made to develop inevery locality winter wheats that can endure the prevailing climatic conditions.Spring wheats are also grown in a scattering way and in small quantities over thewhole dry-farm territory. The two most valuable varieties of the common hard springwheat are Blue Stem and Red Fife, both well-established varieties of excellent millingqualities, grown in immense quantities in the Northeastern corner of the dry-farmterritory of the United States and commanding the best prices on the markets of theworld. It is notable that Red Fife originated in Russia, the country which has givenus so many good dry-farm crops.
The durum wheats or macaroni wheats, as theyare often called, are also spring wheats which promise to displace all other springvarieties because of their excellent yields under extreme dry-farm conditions. Thesewheats, though known for more than a generation through occasional shipments fromRussia, Algeria, and Chile, were introduced to the farmers of the United States onlyin 1900, through the explorations and enthusiastic advocacy of Carleton of the UnitedStates Department of Agriculture. Since that time they have been grown in nearlyall the dryfarm states and especially in the Great Plains area. Wherever tried theyhave yielded well, in some cases as much as the old established winter varieties.The extreme hardness of these wheats made it difficult to induce the millers operatingmills fitted for grinding softer wheats to accept them for flourmaking purposes.This prejudice has, however, gradually vanished, and to-day the durum wheats arein great demand, especially for blending with the softer wheats and for the makingof macaroni. Recently the popularity of the durum wheats among the farmers has beenenhanced, owing to the discovery that they are strongly rust resistant.
The winter wheats, as has been repeatedlysuggested in preceding chapters, are most desirable for dry-farm purposes, whereverthey can be grown, and especially in localities where a fair precipitation occursin the winter and spring. The hard winter wheats are represented mainly by the Crimeangroup, the chief members of which are Turkey, Kharkow, and Crimean. These wheatsalso originated in Russia and are said to have been brought to the United Statesa generation ago by Mennonite colonists. At present these wheats are grown chieflyin the central and southern parts of the Great Plains area and in Canada, thoughthey are rapidly spreading over the intermountain country. These are good millingwheats of high gluten content and yielding abundantly under dry-farm conditions.It is quite clear that these wheats will soon displace the older winter wheats formerlygrown on dry-farms. Turkey wheat promises to become the leading dry-farm wheat. Thesemisoft winter wheats are grown chiefly in the intermountain country. They are representedby a very large number of varieties, all tending toward softness and starchiness.This may in part be due to climatic, soil, and irrigation conditions, but is morelikely a result of inherent qualities in the varieties used. They are rapidly beingdisplaced by hard varieties.
The group of soft winter wheats includes numerousvarieties grown extensively in the famous wheat districts of California, Oregon,Washington, and northern Idaho. The main varieties are Red Russian and Palouse BlueStem, in Washington and Idaho, Red Chaff and Foise in Oregon, and Defiance, LittleClub, Sonora, and White Australian in California. These are all soft, white, andrather poor in gluten. It is believed that under given climatic, soil, and culturalconditions, all wheat varieties will approach one type, distinctive of the conditionsin question, and that the California wheat type is a result of prevailing unchangeableconditions. More researeh is needed, however, before definite principles can be laiddown concerning the formation of distinctive wheat types in the various dry-farmsections. Under any condition, a change of seed, keeping improvement always in view,should be baneficial.
Jardine has reminded the dry-farmers of the UnitedStates that before the production of wheat on the dry-farms can reach its full possibilitiesunder any acreage, sufficient quantities must be grown of a few varieties to affectthe large markets. This is especially important in the intermountain country whereno uniformity exists, but the warning should be heeded also by the Pacific coastand Great Plains wheat areas. As soon as the best varieties are found they shoulddisplace the miscellaneous collection of wheat varieties now grown. The individualfarmer can be a law unto himself no more in wheat growing than in fruit growing,if he desires to reap the largest reward of his efforts. Only by uniformity of kindand quality and large production will any one locality impress itself upon the marketsand create a demand. The changes now in progress by the dry-farmers of the UnitedStates indicate that this lesson has been taken to heart. The principle is equallyimportant for all countries where dry-farming is practiced.
Other small grains
Oats is undoubtedly a coming dry-farmcrop. Several varieties have been found which yield well on lands that receive anaverage annual rainfall of less than fifteen inches. Others will no doubt be discoveredor developed as special attention is given to dry-farm oats. Oats occurs as springand winter varieties, but only one winter variety has as yet found place in the listof dry-farm crops. The leading; spring varieties of oats are the Sixty-Day, Kherson,Burt, and Swedish Select. The one winter variety, which is grown chiefly in Utah,is the Boswell, a black variety originally brought from England about 1901.
Barley, like the other common grains,occurs in varieties that grow well on dry-farms. In comparison with wheat very littleseareh has been made for dry-farm barleys, and, naturally, the list of tested varietiesis very small. Like wheat and oats, barley occurs in spring and winter varieties,but as in the case of oats only one winter variety has as yet found its way intothe approved list of dry-farm crops. The best dry-farm spring barleys are those belongingto the beardless and hull-less types, though the more common varieties also yieldwell, especially the six-rowed beardless barley. The winter variety is the TennesseeWinter, which is already well distributed over the Great Plains district.
Rye is one of the surest dry-farm crops.It yields good crops of straw and grain, both of which are valuable stock foods.In fact, the great power of rye to survive and grow luxuriantly under the most tryingdry-farm conditions is the chief objection to it. Once started, it is hard to eradicate.Properly cultivated and used either as a stock feed or as green manure, it is veryvaluable. Rye occurs as both spring and winter varieties. The winter varieties areusually most satisfactory.
Carleton has recommended emmer as a croppeculiarly adapted to semiarid conditions. Emmer is a species of wheat to the berriesof which the chaff adheres very closely. It is highly prized as a stock feed. InRussia and Germany it is grown in very large quantities. It is especially adaptedto arid and semiarid conditions, but will probably thrive best where the wintersare dry and summers wet. It exists as spring and winter varieties. is with the othersmall grains, the success of emmer will depend largely upon the satisfactory developmentof winter varieties.
Of all crops yet tried on dry-farms, corn isperhaps the most uniformly successful under extreme dry conditions. If the soil treatmentand planting have been right, the failures that have been reported may invariablybe traced to the use of seed which had not been acclimated. The American Indiansgrow corn which is excellent for dry-farm purposes; many of the western farmers havelikewise produced strains that use the minimum of moisture, and, moreover, corn broughtfrom humid sections adapts itself to arid conditions in a very few years. Escobarreports a native corn grown in Mexico with low stalks and small ears that well enduresdesert conditions. In extremely dry years corn does not always produce a profitablecrop of seed, but the crop as a whole, for forage purposes, seldom fails to pay expensesand leave a margin for profit. In wetter years there is a corresponding increaseof the corn crop. The dryfarming territory does not yet realize the value of cornas a dry-farm crop. The known facts concerning corn make it safe to predict, however,that its dry farm acreage will increase rapidly, and that in time it will crowd thewheat crop for preëminence.
Among dry-farm crops not popularly known arethe sorghums, which promise to become excellent yielders under arid conditions. Thesorghums are supposed to have come grown the tropical sections of the globe, butthey are now scattered over the earth in all climes. The sorghums have been knownin the United States for over half a century, but it was only when dry-farming beganto develop so tremendously that the drouth-resisting power of the sorghums was recalled.According to Ball, the sorghums fall into the following classes:--
1. Broom corns
2. Sorgas or sweet sorghums
The broom corns are grown only for their brush,and are not considered in dry-farming; the sorgas for forage and sirups, and areespecially adapted for irrigation or humid conditions, though they are said to enduredry-farm conditions better than corn. The Kafirs are dry-farm crops and are grownfor grain and forage. This group includes Red Kafir, White Kafir, Black-hulled WhiteKafir, and White Milo, all of which are valuable for dry-farming. The Durras aregrown almost exclusively for seed and include Jerusalem corn, Brown Durra, and Milo.The work of Ball has made Milo one of the most important dry-farm crops. As improved,the crop is from four to four and a half feet high, with mostly erect heads, carryinga large quantity of seeds. Milo is already a staple crop in parts of Texas, Oklahoma,Kansas, and New Mexico. It has further been shown to be adapted to conditions inthe Dakotas, Nebraska, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Idaho. It will probably be found,in some varietal form, valuable over the whole dry-farm territory where the altitudeis not too high and the average temperature not too low.
It has yielded an average of forty bushels ofseed to the acre.
Lucern or alfalfa
Next to human intelligence and industry, alfalfahas probably been the chief factor in the development of the irrigated West. It hasmade possible a rational system of agriculture, with the live-stock industry andthe maintenance of soil fertility as the central considerations. Alfalfa is now beingrecognized as a desirable crop in humid as well as in irrigated sections, and itis probable that alfalfa will soon become the chief hay crop of the United States.Originally, lucern came from the hot dry countries of Asia, where it supplied feedto the animals of the first historical peoples. Moreover, its long; tap roots, penetratingsometimes forty or fifty feet into the ground, suggest that lucern may make readyuse of deeply stored soil-moisture. On these considerations, alone, lucern shouldprove itself a crop well suited for dry-farming. In fact, it has been demonstratedthat where conditions are favorable, lucern may be made to yield profitable cropsunder a rainfall between twelve and fifteen inches. Alfalfa prefers calcareous loamysoils; sandy and heavy clay soils are not so well adapted for successful alfalfaproduction. Under dry-farm conditions the utmost care must be used to prevent toothick seeding. The vast majority of alfalfa failures on dry-farms have resulted froman insufficient supply of moisture for the thickly planted crop. The alfalfa fielddoes not attain its maturity until after the second year, and a crop which looksjust right the second year will probably be much too thick the third and fourth years.From four to six pounds of seed per acre are usually ample. Another main cause offailure is the common idea that the lucern field needs little or no cultivation,when, in fact, the alfalfa field should receive as careful soil treatment as thewheat field. Heavy, thorough disking in spring or fall, or both, is advisable, forit leaves the topsoil in a condition to prevent evaporation and admit air. In Asiaticand North African countries, lucern is frequently cultivated between rows throughoutthe hot season. This has been tried by Brand in this country and with very good results.Since the crop should always be sown with a drill, it is comparatively easy to regulatethe distance between the rows so that cultivating implements may be used. If thinseeding and thorough soil stirring are practiced, lucern usually grows well, andwith such treatment should become one of the great dry-farm crops. The yield of hayis not large, but sufficient to leave a comfortable margin of profit. Many farmersfind it more profitable to grow dry-farm lucern for seed. In good years from fiftyto one hundred and fifty dollars may be taken from an acre of lucern seed. However,at the present, the principles of lucern seed production are not well established,and the seed crop is uncertain.
Alfalfa is a leguminous crop and gathers nitrogenfrom the air. It is therefore a good fertilizer. The question of soil fertility willbecome more important with the passing of the years, and the value of lucern as aland improver will then be more evident than it is to-day.
Other leguminous crops
The group of leguminous or pod-bearing cropsis of great importance; first, because it is rich in nitrogenous substances whichare valuable animal foods, and, secondly, because it has the power of gathering nitrogenfrom the air, which can be used for maintaining the fertility of the soil. Dry-farmingwill not be a wholly safe practice of agriculture until suitable leguminous cropsare found and made part of the crop system. It is notable that over the whole ofthe dry-farm territory of this and other countries wild leguminous plants flourish.That is, nitrogen- gathering plants are at work on the deserts. The farmer upsetsthis natural order of things by cropping the land with wheat and wheat only, so longas the land will produce profitably. The leguminous plants native to dry-farm areashave not as yet been subjected to extensive economic study, and in truth very littleis known concerning leguminous plants adapted to dry-farming.
In California, Colorado, and other dry-farm statesthe field pea has been grown with great profit. Indeed it has been found much moreprofitable than wheat production. The field bean, likewise, has been grown successfullyunder dry-farm conditions, under a great variety of climates. In Mexico and othersouthern climates, the native population produce large quantities of beans upon theirdry lands.
Shaw suggests that sanfoin, long famous for itsservice to European agriculture, may be found to be a profitable dry-farm crop, andthat sand vetch promises to become an excellent dry-farm crop. It is very likely,however, that many of the leguminous crops which have been developed under conditionsof abundant rainfall will be valueless on dry-farm lands. Every year will furnishnew and more complete information on this subject. Leguminous plants will surelybecome important members of the association of dry-farm crops.
Trees and shrubs
So far, trees cannot be said to be dry-farm crops,though facts are on record that indicate that by the application of correct dry-farmprinciples trees may be made to grow and yield profitably on dry-farm lands. Of course,it is a well-known fact that native trees of various kinds are occasionally foundgrowing on the deserts, where the rainfall is very light and the soil has been givenno care. Examples of such vegetation are the native cedars found throughout the GreatBasin region and the mesquite tree in Arizona and the Southwest. Few farmers in thearid region have as yet undertaken tree culture without the aid of irrigation.
At least one peach orchard is known in Utah whichgrows under a rainfall of about fifteen inches without irrigation and produces regularlya small crop of most delicious fruit. Parsons describes his Colorado dry-farm orchardin which, under a rainfall of almost fourteen inches, he grows, with great profit,cherries, plums, and apples. A number of prospering young orchards are growing withoutirrigation in the Great Plains area. Mason discovered a few years ago two olive orchardsin Arizona and the Colorado desert which, planted about fourteen years previously,were thriving under an annual rainfall of eight and a half and four and a half inches,respectively. These olive orchards had been set out under canals which later failed.Such attested facts lead to the thought that trees may yet take their place as dry-farmcrops. This hope is strengthened when it is recalled that the great nations of antiquity,living in countries of low rainfall, grew profitably and without irrigation manyvaluable trees, some of which are still cultivated in those countries. The oliveindustry, for example, is even now being successfully developed by modern methodsin Asiatic and African sections, where the average annual rainfall is under ten inches.Since 1881, under French management, the dry-farm olive trees around Tunis have increasedfrom 45,000 to 400,000 individuals. Mason and also Aaronsohn suggest as trees thatdo well in the arid parts of the old world the so-called "Chinese date"or JuJube tree, the sycamore fig, and the Carob tree, which yields the "St.John's Bread" so dear to childhood.
Of this last tree, Aaronsolm says that twentytrees to the acre, under a rainfall of twelve inches, will produce 8000 pounds offruit containing 40 per cent of sugar and 7 to 8 per cent of protein. This surpassesthe best harvest of alfalfa. Kearnley, who has made a special study of dry-land oliveculture in northern Africa, states that in his belief a large variety of fruit treesmay be found which will do well under arid and semiarid conditions, and may evenyield more profit than the grains.
It is also said that many shade and ornamentaland other useful plants can be grown on dry-farms; as, for instance, locust, elm,black walnut, silverpoplar, catalpa, live oak, black oak, yellow pine, red spruce,Douglas fir, and cedar.
The secret of success in tree growing on dry-farmsseems to lie, first, in planting a few trees per acre,--the distance apart shouldbe twice the ordinary distance,--and, secondly, in applying vigorously and unceasinglythe established principles of soil cultivation. In a soil stored deeply with moistureand properly cultivated, most plants will grow. If the soil has not been carefullyfallowed before planting, it may be necessary to water the young trees slightly duringthe first two seasons.
Small fruits have been tried on many farms withgreat success. Plums, currants, and gooseberries have all been successful. Grapesgrow and yield well in many dry-farm districts, especially along the warm foothillsof the Great Basin. Tree growing on dry-farm lands is not yet well established and,therefore, should be undertaken with great care. Varieties accustomed to the climaticenvironment should be chosen, and the principles outlined in the preceding pagesshould be carefully used.
In recent years, potatoes have become one ofthe best dry-farm crops. Almost wherever tried on lands under a rainfall of twelveinches or more potatoes have given comparatively large yields. To-day, the growingof dry-farm potatoes is becoming an important industry. The principles of light seedingand thorough cultivation are indispensable for success. Potatoes are well adaptedfor use in rotations, where summer fallowing is not thought desirable. Macdonaldenumerates the following as the best varieties at present used on dry-farms: Ohio,Mammoth, Pearl, Rural New Yorker, and Burbank.
A further list of dry-farm crops would includerepresentatives of nearly all economic plants, most of them tried in small quantityin various localities. Sugar beets, vegetables, bulbous plants, etc., have all beengrown without irrigation under dry-farm conditions. Some of these will no doubt befound to be profitable and will then be brought into the commercial scheme of dry-farming.
Meanwhile, the crop problems of dry-farming demandthat much careful work be done in the immediate future by the agencies having suchwork in charge. The best varieties of crops already in profitable use need to bedetermined. More new plants from all parts of the world need to be brought to thisnew dry-farm territory and tried out. Many of the native plants need examinationwith a view to their economic use. For instance, the sego lily bulbs, upon whichthe Utah pioneers subsisted for several seasons of famine, may possibly be made acultivated crop. Finally, it remains to be said that it is doubtful wisdom to attemptto grow the more intensive crops on dry-farms. Irrigation and dry-farming will alwaysgo together. They are supplementary systems of agriculture in arid and semiarid regions.On the irrigated lands should be grown the crops that require much labor per acreand that in return yield largely per acre. New crops and varieties should besoughtfor the irrigated farms. On the dry-farms should be grown the crops that can be handledin a large way and at a small cost per acre, and that yield only moderate acre returns.By such cooperation between irrigation and dry-farming will the regions of the worldwith a scanty rainfall become the healthiest, wealthiest, happiest, and most populouson earth.