THE HISTORY OF DRY-FARMING
THE great nations of antiquity lived and prosperedin arid and semiarid countries. In the more or less rainless regions of China, Mesopotamia,Palestine, Egypt, Mexico, and Peru, the greatest cities and the mightiest peoplesflourished in ancient days. Of the great civilizations of history only that of Europehas rooted in a humid climate. As Hilgard has suggested, history teaches that a highcivilization goes hand in hand with a soil that thirsts for water. To-day, currentevents point to the arid and semiarid regions as the chief dependence of our moderncivilization.
In view of these facts it may be inferred thatdry-farming is an ancient practice. It is improbable that intelligent men and womencould live in Mesopotamia, for example, for thousands of years without discoveringmethods whereby the fertile soils could be made to produce crops in a small degreeat least without irrigation. True, the low development of implements for soil culturemakes it fairly certain that dry-farming in those days was practiced only with infinitelabor and patience; and that the great ancient nations found it much easier to constructgreat irrigation systems which would make crops certain with a minimum of soil tillage,than so thoroughly to till the soil with imperfect implements as to produce certainyields without irrigation. Thus is explained the fact that the historians of antiquityspeak at length of the wonderful irrigation systems, but refer to other forms ofagriculture in a most casual manner. While the absence of agricultural machinerymakes it very doubtful whether dry-farming was practiced extensively in olden days,yet there can be little doubt of the high antiquity of the practice.
Kearney quotes Tunis as an example of the possibleextent of dry-farming in early historical days. Tunis is under an average rainfallof about nine inches, and there are no evidences of irrigation having been practicedthere, yet at El Djem are the ruins of an amphitheater large enough to accommodatesixty thousand persons, and in an area of one hundred square miles there were fifteentowns and forty-five villages. The country, therefore, must have been densely populated.In the seventh century, according to the Roman records, there were two million fivehundred thousand acres of olive trees growing in Tunis and cultivated without irrigation.That these stupendous groves yielded well is indicated by the statement that, underthe Caesar's Tunis was taxed three hundred thousand gallons of olive oil annually.The production of oil was so great that from one town it was piped to the nearestshipping port. This historical fact is borne out by the present revival of oliveculture in Tunis, mentioned in Chapter XII.
Moreover, many of the primitive peoples of to-day,the Chinese, Hindus, Mexicans, and the American Indians, are cultivating large areasof land by dry-farm methods, often highly perfected, which have been developed generationsago, and have been handed down to the present day. Martin relates that the TarahumariIndians of northern Chihuahua, who are among the most thriving aboriginal tribesof northern Mexico, till the soil by dry-farm methods and succeed in raising annuallylarge quantities of corn and other crops. A crop failure among them is very uncommon.The early American explorers, especially the Catholic fathers, found occasional tribesin various parts of America cultivating the soil successfully without irrigation.All this points to the high antiquity of agriculture without irrigation in arid andsemiarid countries.
Modern dry-farming in the United States
The honor of having originated modern dry-farmingbelongs to the people of Utah. On July 24th, 1847, Brigham Young with his band ofpioneers entered Great Salt Lake Valley, and on that day ground was plowed, potatoesplanted, and a tiny stream of water led from City Creek to cover this first farm.The early endeavors of the Utah pioneers were devoted almost wholly to the constructionof irrigation systems. The parched desert ground appeared so different from the moistsoils of Illinois and Iowa, which the pioneers had cultivated, as to make it seemimpossible to produce crops without irrigation. Still, as time wore on, inquiringminds considered the possibility of growing crops without irrigation; and occasionallywhen a farmer was deprived of his supply of irrigation water through the breakingof a canal or reservoir it was noticed by the community that in spite of the intenseheat the plants grew and produced small yields.
Gradually the conviction grew upon the Utah pioneersthat farming without irrigation was not an impossibility; but the small populationwere kept so busy with their small irrigated farms that no serious attempts at dry-farmingwere made during the first seven or eight years. The publications of those days indicatethat dry-farming must have been practiced occasionally as early as 1854 or 1855.
About 1863 the first dry-farm experiment of anyconsequence occurred in Utah. A number of emigrants of Scandinavian descent had settledin what is now known as Bear River City, and had turned upon their farms the alkaliwater of Malad Creek, and naturally the crops failed. In desperation the starvingsettlers plowed up the sagebrush land, planted grain, and awaited results. To theirsurprise, fair yields of grain were obtained, and since that day dry-farming hasbeen an established practice in that portion of the Great Salt Lake Valley. A yearor two later, Christopher Layton, a pioneer who helped to build both Utah and Arizona,plowed up land on the famous Sand Ridge between Salt Lake City and Ogden and demonstratedthat dry-farm wheat could be grown successfully on the deep sandy soil which thepioneers had held to be worthless for agricultural purposes. Since that day the SandRidge has been famous as a dry-farm district, and Major J. W. Powell, who saw theripened fields of grain in the hot dry sand, was moved upon to make special mentionof them in his volume on the "Arid Lands of Utah," published in 1879.
About this time, perhaps a year or two later,Joshua Salisbury and George L. Farrell began dry-farm experiments in the famous CacheValley, one hundred miles north of Salt Lake City. After some years of experimentation,with numerous failures these and other pioneers established the practice of dry-farmingin Cache Valley, which at present is one of the most famous dry-farm sections inthe United States. In Tooele County, Just south of Salt Lake City, dry-farming waspracticed in 1877--how much earlier is not known. In the northern Utah counties dry-farmingassumed proportions of consequence only in the later '70's and early '80's. Duringthe '80's it became a thoroughly established and extensive business practice in thenorthern part of the state.
California, which was settled soon after Utah,began dry-farm experiments a little later than Utah. The available information indicatesthat the first farming without irrigation in California began in the districts ofsomewhat high precipitation. As the population increased, the practice was pushedaway from the mountains towards the regions of more limited rainfall. According toHilgard, successful dry-farming on an extensive scale has been practiced in Californiasince about 1868. Olin reports that moisture-saving methods were used on the Californianfarms as early as 1861. Certainly, California was a close second in originating dry-farming.
The Columbia Basin was settled by Mareus Whitmannear Walla Walla in 1836, but farming did not gain much headway until the railroadpushed through the great Northwest about 1880. Those familiar with the history ofthe state of Washington declare that dry-farming was in successful operation in isolateddistricts in the late '70's. By 1890 it was a well-established practice, but receiveda serious setback by the financial panic of 1892-1893. Really successful and extensivedry-farming in the Columbia Basin began about 1897. The practice of summer fallowhad begun a year or two before. It is interesting to note that both in Californiaand Washington there are districts in which dry-farming has been practiced successfullyunder a precipitation of about ten inches whereas in Utah the limit has been morenearly twelve inches.
In the Great Plains area the history of dry-farmingIs hopelessly lost in the greater history of the development of the eastern and morehumid parts of that section of the country. The great influx of settlers on the westernslope of the Great Plains area occurred in the early '80's and overflowed into easternColorado and Wyoming a few years later. The settlers of this region brought withthem the methods of humid agriculture and because of the relatively high precipitationwere not forced into the careful methods of moisture conservation that had been forcedupon Utah, California, and the Columbia Basin. Consequently, more failures in dry-farmingare reported from those early days in the Great Plains area than from the drier sectionsof the far West Dry-farming was practiced very successfully in the Great Plains areaduring the later '80's. According to Payne, the crops of 1889 were very good; in1890, less so; in 1891, better; in 1892 such immense crops were raised that the settlersspoke of the section as God's country; in 1893, there was a partial failure, andin 1894 the famous complete failure, which was followed in 1895 by a partial failure.Since that time fair crops have been produced annually. The dry years of 1893-1895drove most of the discouraged settlers back to humid sections and delayed, by manyyears, the settlement and development of the western side of the Great Plains area.That these failures and discouragements were due almost entirely to improper methodsof soil culture is very evident to the present day student of dry-farming. In fact,from the very heart of the section which was abandoned in 1893-1895 come reliablerecords, dating back to 1886, which show successful crop production every year. Thefamous Indian Head experimental farm of Saskatchewan, at the north end of the GreatPlains area, has an unbroken record of good crop yields from 1888, and the early'90's were quite as dry there as farther south. However, in spite of the vicissitudesof the section, dry-farming has taken a firm hold upon the Great Plains area andis now a well- established practice.
The curious thing about the development of dry-farmingin Utah, California, Washington, and the Great Plains is that these four sectionsappear to have originated dry-farming independently of each other. True, there wasconsiderable communication from 1849 onward between Utah and California, and thereis a possibility that some of the many Utah settlers who located in California broughtwith them accounts of the methods of dry-farming as practiced in Utah. This, however,cannot be authenticated. It is very unlikely that the farmers of Washington learneddry-farming from their California or Utah neighbors, for until 1880 communicationbetween Washington and the colonies in California and Utah was very difficult, though,of course, there was always the possibility of accounts of agricultural methods beingcarried from place to place by the moving emigrants. It is fairly certain that theGreat Plains area did not draw upon the far West for dry-farm methods. The climaticconditions are considerably different and the Great Plains people always consideredthemselves as living in a very humid country as compared with the states of the farWest. It may be concluded, therefore, that there were four independent pioneers indry-farming in United States. Moreover, hundreds, probably thousands, of individualfarmers over the semiarid region have practiced dry-farming thirty to fifty yearswith methods by themselves.
Although these different dry-farm sections weredeveloped independently, yet the methods which they have finally adopted are practicallyidentical and include deep plowing, unless the subsoil is very lifeless; fall plowing;the planting of fall grain wherever fall plowing is possible; and clean summer fallowing.About 1895 the word began to pass from mouth to mouth that probably nearly all thelands in the great arid and semiarid sections of the United States could be madeto produce profitable crops without irrigation. At first it was merely a whisper;then it was talked aloud, and before long became the great topic of conversationamong the thousands who love the West and wish for its development. Soon it becamea National subject of discussion. Immediately after the close of the nineteenth centurythe new awakening had been accomplished and dry-farming was moving onward to conquerthe waste places of the earth.
H. W. Campbell
The history of the new awakening in dry-farmingcannot well be written without a brief account of the work of H. W. Campbell who,in the public mind, has become intimately identified with the dry-farm movement.H. W. Campbell came from Vermont to northern South Dakota in 1879, where in 1882he harvested a banner crop,--twelve thousand bushels of wheat from three hundredacres. In 1883, on the same farm he failed completely. This experience led him toa study of the conditions under which wheat and other crops may be produced in theGreat Plains area. A natural love for investigation and a dogged persistence haveled him to give his life to a study of the agricultural problems of the Great Plainsarea. He admits that his direct inspiration came from the work of Jethro Tull, wholabored two hundred years ago, and his disciples. He conceived early the idea thatif the soil were packed near the bottom of the plow furrow, the moisture would beretained better and greater crop certainty would result. For this purpose the firstsubsurface packer was invented in 1885. Later, about 1895, when his ideas had crystallizedinto theories, he appeared as the publisher of Campbell's " Soil Culture andFarm Journal." One page of each issue was devoted to a succinct statement ofthe "Campbell Method." It was in 1898 that the doctrine of summer tillagewas begun to be investigated by him.
In view of the crop failures of the early '90'sand the gradual dry-farm awakening of the later '90's, Campbell's work was receivedwith much interest. He soon became identified with the efforts of the railroads tomaintain demonstration farms for the benefit of intending settlers. While Campbellhas long been in the service of the railroads of the semiarid region, yet it shouldbe said in all fairness that the railroads and Mr. Campbell have had for their primaryobject the determination of methods whereby the farmers could be made sure of successfulcrops.
Mr. Campbell's doctrines of soil culture, basedon his accumulated experience, are presented in Campbell's "Soil Culture Manual,"the first edition of which appeared about 1904 and the latest edition, considerablyextended, was published in 1907. The 1907 manual is the latest official word by Mr.Campbell on the principles and methods of the " Campbell system." The essentialfeatures of the system may be summarized as follows: The storage of water in thesoil is imperative for the production of crops in dry years. This may be accomplishedby proper tillage. Disk the land immediately after harvest; follow as soon as possiblewith the plow; follow the plow with the subsurface packer; and follow the packerwith the smoothing harrow. Disk the land again as early as possible in the springand stir the soil deeply and carefully after every rain. Sow thinly in the fall witha drill. If the grain is too thick in the spring, harrow it out. To make sure ofa crop, the land should be "summer tilled," which means that clean summerfallow should be practiced every other year, or as often as may be necessary.
These methods, with the exception of the subsurfacepacking, are sound and in harmony with the experience of the great dry-farm sectionsand with the principles that are being developed by scientific investigation. The"Campbell system" as it stands to-day is not the system first advocatedby him. For instance, in the beginning of his work he advocated sowing grain in Apriland in rows so far apart that spring tooth harrows could be used for cultivatingbetween the rows. This method, though successful in conserving moisture, is too expensiveand is therefore superseded by the present methods. Moreover, his farm paper of 1896,containing a full statement of the "Campbell method," makes absolutelyno mention of "summer tillage," which is now the very keystone of the system.These and other facts make it evident that Mr. Campbell has very properly modifiedhis methods to harmonize with the best experience, but also invalidate the claimthat he is the author of the dry-farm system. A weakness of the "Campbell system"is the continual insistence upon the use of the subsurface packer. As has alreadybeen shown, subsurface packing is of questionable value for successful crop production,and if valuable, the results may be much more easily and successfully obtained bythe use of the disk and harrow and other similar implements now on the market. Perhapsthe one great weakness in the work of Campbell is that he has not explained the principlesunderlying his practices. His publications only hint at the reasons. H. W. Campbell,however, has done much to popularize the subject of dry-farming and to prepare theway for others. His persistence in his work of gathering facts, writing, and speakinghas done much to awaken interest in dry-farming. He has been as "a voice inthe wilderness" who has done much to make possible the later and more systematicstudy of dry-farming. High honor should be shown him for his faith in the semiaridregion, for his keen observation, and his persistence in the face of difficulties.He is justly entitled to be ranked as one of the great workers in behalf of the reclamation,without irrigation, of the rainless sections of the world.
The experiment stations
The brave pioneers who fought the relentlessdryness of the Great American Desert from the memorable entrance of the Mormon pioneersinto the valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847 were not the only ones engaged inpreparing the way for the present day of great agricultural endeavor. Other, thoughperhaps more indirect, forces were also at work for the future development of thesemiarid section. The Morrill Bill of 1862, making it possible for agricultural collegesto be created in the various states and territories, indicated the beginning of apublic feeling that modern methods should be applied to the work of the farm. Thepassage in 1887 of the Hatch Act, creating agricultural experiment stations in allof the states and territories, finally initiated a new agricultural era in the UnitedStates. With the passage of this bill, stations for the application of modern scienceto crop production were for the first time authorized in the regions of limited rainfall,with the exception of the station connected with the University of California, whereHilgard from 1872 had been laboring in the face of great difficulties upon the agriculturalproblems of the state of California. During the first few years of their existence,the stations were busy finding men and problems. The problems nearest at hand werethose that had been attacked by the older stations founded under an abundant rainfalland which could not be of vital interest to arid countries. The western stationssoon began to attack their more immediate problems, and it was not long before thequestion of producing crops without irrigation on the great unirrigated stretchesof the West was discussed among the station staffs and plans were projected for astudy of the methods of conquering the desert.
The Colorado Station was the first to declareits good intentions in the matter of dry-farming, by inaugurating definite experiments.By the action of the State Legislature of 1893, during the time of the great drouth,a substation was established at Cheyenne Wells, near the west border of the stateand within the foothills of the Great Plains area. From the summer of 1894 until1900 experiments were conducted on this farm. The experiments were not based uponany definite theory of reclamation, and consequently the work consisted largely ofthe comparison of varieties, when soil treatment was the all-important problem tobe investigated. True in 1898, a trial of the "Campbell method" was undertaken.By the time this Station had passed its pioneer period and was ready to enter uponmore systematic investigation, it was closed. Bulletin 59 of the Colorado Station,published in 1900 by J. E. Payne, gives a summary of observations made on the CheyenneWells substation during seven years. This bulletin is the first to deal primarilywith the experimental work relating to dry-farming in the Great Plains area. It doesnot propose or outline any system of reclamation. Several later publications of theColorado Station deal with the problems peculiar to the Great Plains.
At the Utah Station the possible conquest ofthe sagebrush deserts of the Great Basin without irrigation was a topic of commonconversation during the years 1894 and 1895. In 1896 plans were presented for experimentson the principles of dry-farming. Four years later these plans were carried intoeffect. In the summer of 1901, the author and L. A. Merrill investigated carefullythe practices of the dry-farms of the state. On the basis of these observations andby the use of the established principles of the relation of water to soils and plants,a theory of dry-farming was worked out which was published in Bulletin 75 of theUtah Station in January, 1902. This is probably the first systematic presentationof the principles of dry-farming. A year later the Legislature of the state of Utahmade provision for the establishment and maintenance of six experimental dry-farmsto investigate in different parts of the state the possibility of dry-farming andthe principles underlying the art. These stations, which are still maintained, havedone much to stimulate the growth of dry-farming in Utah. The credit of first undertakingand maintaining systematic experimental work in behalf of dry-farming should be assignedto the state of Utah. Since dry-farm experiments began in Utah in 1901, the subjecthas been a leading one in the Station and the College. A large number of men trainedat the Utah Station and College have gone out as investigators of dry-farming understate and Federal direction.
The other experiment stations in the arid andsemi-arid region were not slow to take up the work for their respective states. Fortierand Linfield, who had spent a number of years in Utah and had become somewhat familiarwith the dry-farm practices of that state, initiated dry-farm investigations in Montana,which have been prosecuted with great vigor since that time. Vernon, under the directionof Foster, who had spent four years in Utah as Director of the Utah Station, initiatedthe work in New Mexico. In Wyoming the experimental study of dry-farm lands beganby the private enterprise of H. B. Henderson and his associates. Later V. T. Cookewas placed in charge of the work under state auspices, and the demonstration of thefeasibility of dry-farming in Wyoming has been going on since about 1907. Idaho hasalso recently undertaken dry-farm investigations. Nevada, once looked upon as theonly state in the Union incapable of producing crops without irrigation, is demonstratingby means of state appropriations that large areas there are suitable for dry-farming.In Arizona, small tracts in this sun-baked state are shown to be suitable for dry-farmlands. The Washington Station is investigating the problems of dry-farming peculiarto the Columbia Basin, and the staff of the Oregon Station is carrying on similarwork. In Nebraska, some very important experiments dry-farming are being conducted.In North Dakota there were in 1910 twenty-one dry-farm demonstration farms. In SouthDakota, Kansas, and Texas, provisions are similarly made for dry-farm investigations.In fact, up and down the Great Plains area there are stations maintained by the stateor Federal government for the purpose of determining the methods under which cropscan be produced without irrigation.
At the head of the Great Plains area at Saskatchewanone of the oldest dry-farm stations in America is located (since 1888). In Russiaseveral stations are devoted very largely to the problems of dry land agriculture.To be especially mentioned for the excellence of the work done are the stations atOdessa, Cherson, and Poltava. This last-named Station has been established since1886.
In connection with the work done by the experimentstations should be mentioned the assistance given by the railroads. Many of the railroadsowning land along their respective lines are greatly benefited in the selling ofthese lands by a knowledge of the methods whereby the lands may be made productive.However, the railroads depend chiefly for their success upon the increased prosperityof the population along their lines and for the purpose of assisting the settlersin the arid West considerable sums have been expended by the railroads in cooperationwith the stations for the gathering of information of value in the reclamation ofarid lands without irrigation.
It is through the efforts of the experiment stationsthat the knowledge of the day has been reduced to a science of dry-farming. Everystudent of the subject admits that much is yet to be learned before the last wordhas been said concerning the methods of dry-farming in reclaiming the waste placesof the earth. The future of dry-farming rests almost wholly upon the energy and intelligencewith which the experiment stations in this and other countries of the world shallattack the special problems connected with this branch of agriculture.
The United States Department of Agriculture
The Commissioner of Agriculture of the UnitedStates was given a secretaryship in the President's Cabinet in 1889. With this addeddignity, new life was given to the department. Under the direction of J. SterlingMorton preliminary work of great importance was done. Upon the appointment of JamesWilson as Secretary of Agriculture, the department fairly leaped into a fullnessof organization for the investigation of the agricultural problems of the country.From the beginning of its new growth the United States Department of Agriculturehas given some thought to the special problems of the semiarid region, especiallythat part within the Great Plains. Little consideration was at first given to thefar West. The first method adopted to assist the farmers of the plains was to findplants with drouth resistant properties. For that purpose explorers were sent overthe earth, who returned with great numbers of new plants or varieties of old plants,some of which, such as the durum wheats, have shown themselves of great value inAmerican agriculture. The Bureaus of Plant Industry, Soils, Weather, and Chemistryhave all from the first given considerable attention to the problems of the aridregion. The Weather Bureau, long established and with perfected methods, has beeninvaluable in guiding investigators into regions where experiments could be undertakenwith some hope of success. The Department of Agriculture was somewhat slow, however,in recognizing dry-farming as a system of agriculture requiring special investigation.The final recognition of the subject came with the appointment, in 1905, of Chilcottas expert in charge of dry-land investigations. At the present time an office ofdry-land investigations has been established under the Bureau of Plant Industry,which cooperates with a number of other divisions of the Bureau in the investigationof the conditions and methods of dry-farming. A large number of stations are maintainedby the Department over the arid and semiarid area for the purpose of studying specialproblems, many of which are maintained in connection with the state experiment stations.Nearly all the departmental experts engaged in dry-farm investigation have been drawnfrom the service of the state stations and in these stations had received their specialtraining for their work. The United States Department of Agriculture has chosen toadopt a strong conservatism in the matter of dry-farming. It may be wise for theDepartment, as the official head of the agricultural interests of the country, touse extreme care in advocating the settlement of a region in which, in the past,farmers had failed to make a living, yet this conservatism has tended to hinder theadvancement of dry-farming and has placed the departmental investigations of dry-farmingin point of time behind the pioneer investigations of the subject.
The Dry-farming Congress
As the great dry-farm wave swept over the country,the need was felt on the part of experts and laymen of some means whereby dry-farmideas from all parts of the country could be exchanged. Private individuals by thethousands and numerous state and governmental stations were working separately andseldom had a chance of comparing notes and discussing problems. A need was felt forsome central dry-farm organization. An attempt to fill this need was made by thepeople of Denver, Colorado, when Governor Jesse F. McDonald of Colorado issued acall for the first Dry-farming Congress to be held in Denver, January 24, 25, and26, 1907. These dates were those of the annual stock show which had become a permanentinstitution of Denver and, in fact, some of those who were instrumental in the callingof the Dry-farming Congress thought that it was a good scheme to bring more peopleto the stock show. To the surprise of many the Dry-farming Congress became the leadingfeature of the week. Representatives were present from practically all the statesinterested in dry-farming and from some of the humid states. Utah, the pioneer dry-farmstate, was represented by a delegation second in size only to that of Colorado, wherethe Congress was held. The call for this Congress was inspired, in part at least,by real estate men, who saw in the dry-farm movement an opportunity to relieve themselvesof large areas of cheap land at fairly good prices. The Congress proved, however,to be a businesslike meeting which took hold of the questions in earnest, and fromthe very first made it clear that the real estate agent was not a welcome memberunless he came with perfectly honest methods.
The second Dry-farming Congress was held January22 to 25, 1908, in Salt Lake City, Utah, under the presidency of Fisher Harris. Itwas even better attended than the first. The proceedings show that it was a Congressat which the dry-farm experts of the country stated their findings. A large exhibitof dry-farm products was held in connection with this Congress, where ocular demonstrationsof the possibility of dry-farming were given any doubting Thomas.
The third Dry-farming Congress was held February23 to 25, 1909, at Cheyenne, Wyoming, under the presidency of Governor W. W. Brooksof Wyoming. An unusually severe snowstorm preceded the Congress, which preventedmany from attending, yet the number present exceeded that at any of the precedingCongresses. This Congress was made notable by the number of foreign delegates whohad been sent by their respective countries to investigate the methods pursued inAmerica for the reclamation of the arid districts. Among these delegates were representativesfrom Canada, Australia, The Transvaal, Brazil, and Russia.
The fourth Congress was held October 26 to 28,1909, in Billings, Montana, under the presidency of Governor Edwin L. Morris of Montana.The uncertain weather of the winter months had led the previous Congress to adopta time in the autumn as the date of the annual meeting. This Congress became a sessionat which many of the principles discussed during the three preceding Congresses werecrystallized into definite statements and agreed upon by workers from various partsof the country. A number of foreign representatives were present again. The problemsof the Northwest and Canada were given special attention. The attendance was largerthan at any of the preceding Congresses.
The fifth Congress will be held under the presidencyof Hon. F. W. Mondell of Wyoming at Spokane, Washington, during October, 1910. Itpromises to exceed any preceding Congress in attendance and interest.
The Dry-farming Congress has made itself oneof the most important factors in the development of methods for the reclamation ofthe desert. Its published reports are the most valuable publications dealing withdry-land agriculture. Only simple justice is done when it is stated that the successof the Dry-farming Congress is due in a large measure to the untiring and intelligentefforts of John T. Burns, who is the permanent secretary of the Congress, and whowas a member of the first executive committee.
Nearly all the arid and semiarid states haveorganized state dry-farming congresses. The first of these was the Utah Dry-farmingCongress, organized about two months after the first Congress held in Denver. Thepresident is L. A. Merrill, one of the pioneer dry-farm investigators of the Rockies.
Jethro Tull (see frontispiece)
A sketch of the history of dry-farming wouldbe incomplete without a mention of the life and work of Jethro Tull. The agriculturaldoctrines of this man, interpreted in the light of modern science, are those whichunderlie modern dry-farming. Jethro Tull was born in Berkshire, England, 1674, anddied in 1741. He was a lawyer by profession, but his health was so poor that he couldnot practice his profession and therefore spent most of his life in the seclusionof a quiet farm. His life work was done in the face of great physical sufferings.In spite of physical infirmities, he produced a system of agriculture which, viewedin the light of our modern knowledge, is little short of marvelous. The chief inspirationof his system came from a visit paid to south of France, where he observed "nearFrontignan and Setts, Languedoc" that the vineyards were carefully plowed andtilled in order to produce the largest crops of the best grapes. Upon the basis ofthis observation he instituted experiments upon his own farm and finally developedhis system, which may be summarized as follows: The amount of seed to be used shouldbe proportional to the condition of the land, especially to the moisture that isin it. To make the germination certain, the seed should be sown by drill methods.Tull, as has already been observed, was the inventor of the seed drill which is nowa feature of all modern agriculture. Plowing should be done deeply and frequently;two plowings for one crop would do no injury and frequently would result in an increasedyield. Finally, as the most important principle of the system, the soil should becultivated continually, the argument being that by continuous cultivation the fertilityof the soil would be increased, the water would be conserved, and as the soil becamemore fertile less water would be used. To accomplish such cultivation, all cropsshould be placed in rows rather far apart, so far indeed that a horse carrying acultivator could walk between them. The horse-hoeing idea of the system became fundamentaland gave the name to his famous book, "The Horse Hoeing Husbandry," byJethro Tull, published in parts from 1731 to 1741. Tull held that the soil betweenthe rows was essentially being fallowed and that the next year the seed could beplanted between the rows of the preceding year and in that way the fertility couldbe maintained almost indefinitely. If this method were not followed, half of thesoil could lie fallow every other year and be subjected to continuous cultivation.Weeds consume water and fertility and, therefore, fallowing and all the culture mustbe perfectly clean. To maintain fertility a rotation of crops should be practiced.Wheat should be the main grain crop; turnips the root crop; and alfalfa a very desirablecrop.
It may be observed that these teachings are soundand in harmony with the best knowledge of to-day and that they are the very practiceswhich are now being advocated in all dry-farm sections. This is doubly curious becauseTull lived in a humid country. However, it may be mentioned that his farm consistedof a very poor chalk soil, so that the conditions under which he labored were morenearly those of an arid country than could ordinarily be found in a country of abundantrainfall. While the practices of Jethro Tull were in themselves very good and ingeneral can be adopted to-day, yet his interpretation of the principles involvedwas wrong. In view of the limited knowledge of his day, this was only to be expected.For instance, he believed so thoroughly in the value of cultivation of the soil,that he thought it would take the place of all other methods of maintaining soil-fertility.In fact, he declared distinctly that "tillage is manure," which we arevery certain at this time is fallacious. Jethro Tull is one of the great investigatorsof the world. In recognition of the fact that, though living two hundred years agoin a humid country, he was able to develop the fundamental practices of soil culturenow used in dry-farming, the honor has been done his memory of placing his portraitas the frontispiece of this volume.