IMPLEMENTS FOR DRY-FARMING
CHEAP land and relatively small acre yields characterizedry-farming. Consequently Iarger areas must be farmed for a given return than inhumid farming, and the successful pursuit of dry-farming compels the adoption ofmethods that enable a man to do the largest amount of effective work with the smallestexpenditure of energy. The careful observations made by Grace, in Utah, lead to thebelief that, under the conditions prevailing in the intermountain country, one manwith four horses and a sufficient supply of machinery can farm 160 acres, half ofwhich is summer-fallowed every year; and one man may, in favorable seasons undera carefully planned system, farm as much as 200 acres. If one man attempts to handlea larger farm, the work is likely to be done in so slipshod a manner that the cropyield decreases and the total returns are no larger than if 200 acres had been welltilled.
One man with four horses would be unable to handleeven 160 acres were it not for the possession of modern machinery; and dry-farming,more than any other system of agriculture, is dependent for its success upon theuse of proper implements of tillage. In fact, it is very doubtful if the reclamationof the great arid and semiarid regions of the world would have been possible a fewdecades ago, before the invention and introduction of labor-saving farm machinery.It is undoubtedly further a fact that the future of dry-farming is closely boundup with the improvements that may be made in farm machinery. Few of the agriculturalimplements on the market to-day have been made primarily for dry-farm conditions.The best that the dry-farmer can do is to adapt the implements on the market to hisspecial needs. Possibly the best field of investigation for the experiment stationsand inventive minds in the arid region is farm mechanics as applied to the specialneeds of dry-farming.
Clearing and breaking
A large portion of the dry-farm territory ofthe United States is covered with sagebrush and related plants. It is always a difficultand usually an expensive problem to clear sagebrush land, for the shrubs are frequentlyfrom two to six feet high, correspondingly deep-rooted, with very tough wood. Whenthe soil is dry, it is extremely difficult to pull out sagebrush, and of necessitymuch of the clearing must be done during the dry season. Numerous devices have beensuggested and tried for the purpose of clearing sagebrush land. One of the oldestand also one of the most effective devices is two parallel railroad rails connectedwith heavy iron chains and used as a drag over the sagebrush land. The sage is caughtby the two rails and torn out of the ground. The clearing is fairly complete, thoughit is generally necessary to go over the ground two or three times before the workis completed. Even after such treatment a large number of sagebrush clumps, foundstanding over the field, must be grubbed up with the hoe. Another and effective deviceis the so-called "mankiller." This implement pulls up the sage very successfullyand drops it at certain definite intervals. It is, however, a very dangerous implementand frequently results in injury to the men who work it. Of recent years anotherdevice has been tried with a great deal of success. It is made like a snow plow ofheavy railroad irons to which a number of large steel knives have been bolted. Neitherof these implements is wholly satisfactory, and an acceptable machine for grubbingsagebrush is yet to be devised. In view of the large expense attached to the clearingof sagebrush land such a machine would be of great help in the advancement of dry-farming.
Away from the sagebrush country the virgin dry-farmland is usually covered with a more or less dense growth of grass, though true sodis seldom found under dry-farm conditions. The ordinary breaking plow, characterizedby a long sloping moldboard, is the best known implement for breaking all kinds ofsod. (See Fig. 7a a.) Where the sod is very light, as on the far western prairies,the more ordinary forms of plows may be used. In still other sections, the dry-farmland is covered with a scattered growth of trees, frequently pinion pine and cedars,and in Arizona and New Mexico the mesquite tree and cacti are to be removed. Suchclearing has to be done in accordance with the special needs of the locality.
Plowing, or the turning over of the soil to adepth of from seven to ten inches for every crop, is a fundamental operation of dry-farming.The plow, therefore, becomes one of the most important implements on the dry-farm.Though the plow as an agricultural implement is of great antiquity, it is only withinthe last one hundred years that it has attained its present perfection. It is a questioneven to-day, in the minds of a great many students, whether the modern plow shouldnot be replaced by some machine even more suitable for the proper turning and stirringof the soil. The moldboard plow is, everything considered, the most satisfactoryplow for dry-farm purposes. A plow with a moldboard possessing a short abrupt curvatureis generally held to be the most valuable for dry-farm purposes, since it pulverizesthe soil most thoroughly, and in dry-farming it is not so important to turn the soilover as to crumble and loosen it thoroughly. Naturally, since the areas of dry-farmsare very large, the sulky or riding plow is the only kind to be used. The same maybe said of all other dry-farm implements. As far as possible, they should be of theriding kind since in the end it means economy from the resulting saving of energy.
The disk plow has recently come into prominentuse throughout the land. It consists, as is well known, of one or more large diskswhich are believed to cause a smaller draft, as they cut into the ground, than thedraft due to the sliding friction upon the moldboard. Davidson and Chase say, however,that the draft of a disk plow is often heavier in proportion to the work done andthe plow itself is more clumsy than the moldboard plow. For ordinary dry-farm purposesthe disk plow has no advantage over the modern moldboard plow. Many of the dry-farmsoils are of a heavy clay and become very sticky during certain seasons of the year.In such soils the disk plow is very useful. It is also true that dry-farm soils,subjected to the intense heat of the western sun become very hard. In the handlingof such soils the disk plow has been found to be most useful. The common experienceof dry-farmers is that when sagebrush lands have been the first plowing can be mostsuccessfully done with the disk plow, but that after. the first crop has been harvested,the stubble land can be best handled with the moldboard plow. All this, however,is yet to be subjected to further tests.
While subsoiling results in a better storagereservoir for water and consequently makes dry-farming more secure, yet the highcost of the practice will probably never make it popular. Subsoiling is accomplishedin two ways: either by an ordinary moldboard plow which follows the plow in the plowfurrow and thus turns the soil to a greater depth, or by some form of the ordinarysubsoil plow. In general, the subsoil plow is simply a vertical piece of cuttingiron, down to a depth of ten to eighteen inches, at the bottom of which is fasteneda triangular piece of iron like a shovel, which, when pulled through the ground,tends to loosen the soil to the full depth of the plow.
The subsoil plow does not turn the soil; it simplyloosens the soil so that the air and plant roots can penetrate to greater depths.
In the choice of plows and their proper use thedryfarmer must be guided wholly by the conditions under which he is working. It isimpossible at the present time to lay down definite laws stating what plows are bestfor certain soils. The soils of the arid region are not well enough known, nor hasthe relationship between the plow and the soil been sufficiently well established.As above remarked, here is one of the great fields for investigation for both scientificand practical men for years to come.
Making and maintaining a soil-mulch
After the land has been so well plowed that therains can enter easily, the next operation of importance in dry-farming is the makingand maintaining of a soil-mulch over the ground to prevent the evaporation of waterfrom the soil. For this purpose some form of harrow is most commonly used. The oldestand best-known harrow is the ordinary smoothing harrow, which is composed of ironor steel teeth of various shapes set in a suitable frame. (See Fig. 79.) For dry-farmpurposes the implement must be so made as to enable the farmer to set the harrowteeth to slant backward or forward. It frequently happens that in the spring thegrain is too thick for the moisture in the soil, and it then becomes necessary totear out some of the young plants. For this purpose the harrow teeth are set straightor forward and the crop can then be thinned effectively. At other times it may beobserved in the spring that the rains and winds have led to the formation of a crustover the soil, which must be broken to let the plants have full freedom of growthand development. This is accomplished by slanting the harrow teeth backward, andthe crust may then be broken without serious injury to the plants. The smoothingharrow is a very useful implement on the dry-farm. For following the plow, however,a more useful implement is the disk harrow, which is a comparatively recent invention.It consists of a series of disks which may be set at various angles with the lineof traction and thus be made to turn over the soil while at the same time pulverizingit. The best dry-farm practice is to plow in the fall and let the soil lie in therough during the winter months. In the spring the land is thoroughly disked and reducedto a fine condition. Following this the smoothing harrow is occasionally used toform a more perfect mulch. When seeding is to be done immediately after plowing,the plow is followed by the disk harrow, and that in turn is followed by the smoothingharrow. The ground is then ready for seeding. The disk harrow is also used extensivelythroughout the summer in maintaining a proper mulch. It does its work more effectivelythan the ordinary smoothing harrow and is, therefore, rapidly displacing all otherforms of harrows for the purpose of maintaining a layer of loose soil over the dry-farm.There are several kinds of disk harrows used by dry-farmers. The full disk is, everythingconsidered, the most useful. The cutaway harrow is often used in cultivating oldalfalfa land; the spade disk harrow has a very limited application in dry-farming;and the orchard disk harrow is simply a modlfication of the full disk harrow wherebythe farmer is able to travel between the rows of trees and so to cultivate the soilunder the branches of the trees without injuring the leaves or fruit.
One of the great difficulties in dry-farmingconcerns itself with the prevention of the growth of weeds or volunteer crops. Ashas been explained in previous chapters, weeds require as much water for their growthas wheat or other useful crops. During the fallow season, the farmer is likely tobe overtaken by the weeds and lose much of the value of the fallow by losing soil-moisturethrough the growth of weeds. Under the most favorable conditions weeds are difficultto handle. The disk harrow itself is not effective. The smoothing harrow is of lessvalue. There is at the present time great need for some implement that will effectivelydestroy young weeds and prevent their further growth. Attempts are being made toinvent such implements, but up to the present without great success. Hogenson reportsthe finding of an implement on a western dry-farm constructed by the farmer himselfwhich for a number of years has shown itself of high efficiency in keeping the dry-farmfree from weeds. Several improved modifications of this implement have been madeand tried out on the famous dry-farm district at Nephi, Utah, and with the greatestsuccess. Hunter reports a similar implement in common use on the dry-farms of theColumbia Basin. Spring tooth harrows are also used in a small way on the dry-farms.
They have no special advantage over the smoothingharrow or the disk harrow, except in places where the attempt is made to cultivatethe soil between the rows of wheat. The curved knife tooth harrow is scareely everused on dry-farms. It has some value as a pulverizer, but does not seem to have anyreal advantage over the ordinary disk harrow.
Cultivators for stirring the land on which cropsare growing are not used extensively on dry-farms. Usually the spring tooth harrowis employed for this work. In dry-farm sections, where corn is grown, the cultivatoris frequently used throughout the season. Potatoes grown on dry-farms should be cultivatedthroughout the season, and as the potato industry grows in the dry-farm territorythere will be a greater demand for suitable cultivators. The cultivators to be usedon dry-farms are all of the riding kind. They should be so arranged that the horsewalking between two rows carries a cultivator that straddles several rows of plantsand cultivates the soil between. Disks, shovels, or spring teeth may be used on cultivators.There is a great variety on the market, and each farmer will have to choose suchas meet most definitely his needs.
The various forms of harrows and cultivatorsare of the greatest importance in the development of dry-farming. Unless a propermulch can be kept over the soil during the fallow season, and as far as possibleduring the growing season, first-class crops cannot be fully respected.
The roller is occasionally used in dry-farming,especially in the uplands of the Columbia Basin. It is a somewhat dangerous implementto use where water conservation is important, since the packing resulting from theroller tends to draw water upward from the lower soil layers to be evaporated intothe air. Wherever the roller is used, therefore, it should be followed immediatelyby a harrow. It is valuable chiefly in the localities where the soil is very looseand light and needs packing around the seeds to permit perfect germination.
The subsurface packer invented by Campbell is[shown in Figure 83--not shown--ed.]. The wheels of this machine eighteen inchesin diameter, with rims one inch thick at the inner part, beveled two and a half inchesto a sharp outer edge, are placed on a shaft, five inches apart. In practice aboutfive hundred pounds of weight are added.
This machine, according to Campbell, crowds aone-inch wedge into every five inches of soil with a lateral and a downward pressureand thus packs firmly the soil near the bottom of the plow-furrow. Subsurface packingaims to establish full capillary connection between the plowed upper soil and theundisturbed lower soil-layer; to bring the moist soil in close contact with the strawor organic litter plowed under and thus to hasten decomposition, and to provide afirm seed bed.
The subsurface packer probably has some valuewhere the plowed soil containing the stubble is somewhat loose; or on soils whichdo not permit of a rapid decay of stubble and other organic matter that may be plowedunder from season to season. On such soils the packing tendency of the subsurfacepacker may help prevent loss of soil water, and may also assist in furnishing a moreuniform medium through which plant roots may force their way. For all these purposes,the disk is usually equally efficient.
It has already been indicated in previous chaptersthat proper sowing is one of the most important operations of the dry-farm, quitecomparable in importance with plowing or the maintaining of a mulch for retainingsoil-moisture. The old-fashioned method of broadcasting has absolutely no place ona dry-farm. The success of dry-farming depends entirely upon the control that thefarmer has of all the operations of the farm. By broadcasting, neither the quantityof seed used nor the manner of placing the seed in the ground can be regulated. Drillculture, therefore, introduced by Jethro Tull two hundred years ago, which givesthe farmer full control over the process of seeding, is the only system to be used.The numerous seed drills on the market all employ the same principles. Their variationsare few and simple. In all seed drills the seed is forced into tubes so placed asto enable the seed to fall into the furrows in the ground. The drills themselvesare distinguished almost wholly by the type of the furrow opener and the coveringdevices which are used. The seed furrow is opened either by a small hoe or a so-calledshoe or disk. At the present time it appears that the single disk is the coming methodof opening the seed furrow and that the other methods will gradually disappear. Asthe seed is dropped into the furrow thus made it is covered by some device at therear of the machine. One of the oldest methods as well as one of the most satisfactoryis a series of chains dragging behind the drill and covering the furrow quite completely.It is, however, very desirable that the soil should be pressed carefully around theseed so that germination may begin with the least difficulty whenever the temperatureconditions are right. Most of the drills of the day are, therefore, provided withlarge light wheels, one for each furrow, which press lightly upon the soil and forcethe soil into intimate contact with the seed The weakness of such an arrangementis that the soil along the drill furrows is left somewhat packed, which leads toa ready escape of the soil-moisture. Many of the drills are so arranged that presswheels may be used at the pleasure of the farmer. The seed drill is already a veryuseful implement and is rapidly being made to meet the special requirements of thedry-farmer. Corn planters are used almost exclusively on dry-farms where corn isthe leading crop. In principle they are very much the same as the press drills. Potatoesare also generally planted by machinery. Wherever seeding machinery has been constructedbased upon the principles of dry-farming, it is a very advantageous adjunct to thedry-farm.
The immense areas of dry-farms are harvestedalmost wholly by the most modern machinery. For grain, the harvester is used almostexclusively in the districts where the header cannot be used, but wherever conditionspermit, the header is and should be used. It has been explained in previous chaptershow valuable the tall header stubble is when plowed under as a means of maintainingthe fertility of the soil. Besides, there is an ease in handling the header whichis not known with the harvester. There are times when the header leads to some wasteas, for instance, when the wheat is very low and heads are missed as the machinepasses over the ground. In many sections of the dry-farm territory the climatic conditionsare such that the wheat cures perfectly while still standing. In such places thecombined harvester and thresher is used. The header cuts off the heads of the grain,which are passed up into the thresher, and bags filled with threshed grain are droppedalong the path of the machine, while the straw is scattered over the ground. Whereversuch a machine can be used, it has been found to be economical and satisfactory.Of recent years corn stalks have been used to better advantage than in the past,for not far from one half of the feeding value of the corn crop is in the stalks,which up to a few years ago were very largely wasted. Corn harvesters are likewiseon the market and are quite generally used. It was manifestly impossible on largeplaces to harvest corn by hand and large corn harvesters have, therefore, been madefor this purpose.
Steam and other motive power
Recently numerous persons have suggested thatthe expense of running a dry-farm could be materially reduced by using some motivepower other than horses. Steam, gasoline, and electricity have all been suggested.The steam traction engine is already a fairly well-developed machine and it has beenused for plowing purposes on many dry-farms in nearly all the sections of the dry-farmterritory. Unfortunately, up to the present it has not shown itself to be very satisfactory.First of all it is to be remembered that the principles of dry-farming require thatthe topsoil be kept very loose and spongy. The great traction engines have very widewheels of such tremendous weight that they press down the soil very compactly alongtheir path and in that way defeat one of the important purposes of tillage. Anotherobjection to them is that at present their construction is such as to result in continualbreakages. While these breakages in themselves are small and inexpensive, they meanthe cessation of all farming operations during the hour or day required for repairs.A large crew of men is thus left more or less idle, to the serious injury of thework and to the great expense of the owner. Undoubtedly, the traction engine hasa place in dry-farming, but it has not yet been perfected to such a degree as tomake it satisfactory. On heavy soils it is much more useful than on light soils.When the traction engine works satisfactorily, plowing may be done at a cost considerablylower than when horses are employed.
In England, Germany, and other European countriessome of the difficulties connected with plowing have been overcome by using two engineson the two opposite sides of a field. These engines move synchronously together and,by means of large cables, plows, harrows, or seeders, are pulled back and forth overthe field. This method seems to give good satisfaction on many large estates of theold world. Macdonald reports that such a system is in successful operation in theTransvaal in South Africa and is doing work there at a very knew cost. The largeinitial cost of such a system will, of course, prohibit its use except on the verylarge farms that are being established in the dry-farm territory.
Gasoline engines are also being tried out, butup to date they have not shown themselves as possessing superior advantages overthe steam engines. The two objections to them are the same as to the steam engine:first, their great weight, which compresses in a dangerous degree the topsoil and,secondly, the frequent breakages, which make the operation slow and expensive.
Over a great part of the West, water power isvery abundant and the suggestion has been made that the electric energy which canbe developed by means of water power could be used in the cultural operations ofthe dry-farm. With the development of the trolley car which does not run on railsit would not seem impossible that in favorable localities electricity could be madeto serve the farmer in the mechanical tillage of the dry-farm.
The substitution of steam and other energy forhorse power is yet in the future. Undoubtedly, it will come, but only as improvementsare made in the machines. There is here also a great field for being of high serviceto the farmers who are attempting to reclaim the great deserts of the world. As statedat the beginning of this chapter, dry-farming would probably have been an impossibilityfiftyor a hundred years ago because of the absence of suitable machinery. The future ofdry-farming rests almost wholly, so far as its profits are concerned, upon the developmentof new and more suitable machinery for the tillage of the soil in accordance withthe established principles of dry-farming.
Finally, the recommendations made by Merrillmay here be inserted. A dry-farmer for best work should be supplied with the followingimplements in addition to the necessary wagons and hand tools:--
One Smoothing Harrow.
One Drill Seeder.
One Harvester or Header.
One Mowing Machine.