The text is taken from my copy of FIELDS, FACTORIES AND WORKSHOPS: or Industry Combined with Agriculture and Brain Work with Manual Work, Thomas Nelson & Sons, London, Edinburgh, Dublin and New York, 1912.
CHAPTER THREE (Con't)
Moreover, they even export cattle and horses. Up to 1890 Belgium exported from 36,000 to 94,000 head of cattle, from 42,000 to 70,000 sheep, and from 60,000 to 108,600 swine. In 1890 these exports suddenly came to an end-- probably in consequence of a prohibition of such imports into Germany. Only horses continue to be exported to the amount of about 25,000 horses and foals every year.
Large portions of the land are given besides to the culture of industrial plants, potatoes for spirit, beet for sugar, and so on.
However, it must not be believed that the soil of Belgium is more fertile than the soil of this country. On the contrary, to use the words of Laveleye, "only one half, or less, of the territory offers natural conditions which are favourable for agriculture"; the other half consists of a gravelly soil, or sands, "the natural sterility of which could be overpowered only by heavy manuring." Man, not nature, has given to the Belgium soil its present productivity. With this soil and labour, Belgium succeeds in supplying nearly all the food of a population which is denser than that of England and Wales, and numbers 589 inhabitants to the square mile.
If the exports and imports of agricultural produce from and into Belgium be taken into account, we can ask ourselves whether Laveleye's conclusions are not still good, and whether only one inhabitant out of each ten to twenty requires imported food. In the years 1880-1886 the soil of Belgium supplied with home-grown food no less than 490 inhabitants per square mile, and there remained something for export--no less than £ 1,000,000 worth of agricultural produce being exported every year to Great Britain. But it is not possible to say with certitude whether the conditions are the same at the present time.
Since 1880, when the duties on imported cereals were abolished (they were before that sixpence for each 220 lb.), and corn could be imported free, "the importers were no more obliged to make special declarations for merchandise which had to be re-exported; they declared their imports as if they were destined to be used within the country."1 The result was, that while in the year 1870 the imports of cereals were 154 lb. per head of population, the same imports rose to 286 lb. in 1880. But no one can say how much of these 286 lb. is consumed in Belgium itself; and if we deduct from the total of the imports the quantities re-exported the same year, we obtain figures which cannot be relied upon.2 It is therefore safer to consider the figures of the annual production of cereals in Belgium, such as they are given in the official Annuaire.
Now, if we take the figures given in the Annuaire Stastique de la Belgique for the year 1911, we come to the following results. The annual agricultural census, which is being made since 1901, gives for the year 1909 that 2,290,300,000 lb. of wheat, rye, and wheat mixed with rye were obtained on all the farms of Belgium larger than two and a half acres (2,002,000,000 lb. in 1895). Besides, 219,200,000 lb. of barley, 1,393,000,000 lb. of oats, and a considerable quantity of oleaginous grains have been produced.
It is generally accepted that the average consumption of both winter and spring cereals attains 502 lb. per head of population; and as the population of Belgium was 7,000,000 on January 1, 1907, it appears that no less than 3,624,400,000 lb. of cereals would have been required to supply the annual food of the population. If we compare this figure with that of the annual production just mentioned, we see then that, notwithstanding the considerable decrease of the area given to wheat since the abolition of the entrance duties, Belgium still produces at least two-thirds of the cereal food required for its very dense population, which is nearly 600 persons per square mile (596 in 1907).
It must be noticed that we should have come to a still higher figure if we took into account the other cereals (to say nothing of the leguminous plants and vegetables grown and consumed in Belgium), and still more so if we took into account what is grown upon the small holdings less than two and a half acres each. The number of such small holdings was 554,041 in 1895, and the number of people living upon them reached nearly 2,000,000. They are not included in the official statistics and yet upon most of them some cereals are grown, in addition to vegetables and fodder for cattle.
If Belgium produces in cereals the food of more than two-thirds of its very dense population, this is already a quite respectable figure; but it must also be said that it exports every year considerable quantities of products of the soil. Thus, in the year 1910 she exported 254,730 tons of vegetables (as against 187,000 imported), 40,000 tons of fruit, 34,000 tons of plants and flowers (the whole nearly £ 3,000,000 worth), 256,000 of oleaginous grains, 18,500 tons of wool, nearly 60,000 tons of flax, and so on. I do not mention the exports of butter, rabbits, skins, an immense quantity of sugar (about 180,000 tons), the vegetable oils and the spirits, because considerable quantities of beet and potatoes are imported. In short, we have here an export of agricultural produce grown in the country itself attaining the figure of 48s. per head of population.
All taken, there is thus no possibility of contesting the fact, that if the soil of Great Britain were cultivated only as the unfertile soil of Belgium is cultivated--notwithstanding all the social obstacles which stand in the way of an intensive culture, in Belgium as elsewhere--a much greater part of the population of these islands would obtain its food from the soil of its own land than is the case nowadays.3
On the other side it must not be forgotten that Belgium is a manufacturing country which exports, moreover, manufactured home-made goods to the value of 198s. per head of population, and 150s. worth of crude or half-manufactured produce, while the total exports from the United Kingdom have only lately attained during the extraordinary year of 1911 the value of 201s. per inhabitant. As to separate parts of the Belgian territory, the small and naturally unfertile province of West Flanders not only grew in 1890 the food of its 580 inhabitants on the square mile, but exported agricultural produce to the value of 25s. per head of its population. And yet no one can read Laveleye's masterly work without coming to the conclusion that Flemish agriculture would have realised still better results, were it not hampered in its growth by the steady and heavy increase of rent. In the face of the rent being increased each nine years, many farmers have lately abstained from further improvements.
Another example of what could be achieved by means of an effort of the nation seconded by its educated classes is given by Denmark. After the war of 1864, which ended in the loss of one of their provinces, the Danes made an effort widely to spread education amongst their peasants, and to develop at the same time an intensive culture of the soil. The result of these efforts is now quite evident. The rural population of Denmark, instead of flocking to the towns, has been increasing: in five years, 1906-1911, it rose from 1,565,585 to 1,647,350. Out of a total population of 2,775,100, no less than 990,900 find their living in agriculture, dairy work, and forestry. With a very poor soil, they have a cultivated area a trifle below 7,000,000 acres, out of which 2,773,320 acres are under cereals. Their wheat crops are on the average 40.6 bushels per acre, and the value of the home-grown food-stuffs is estimated at £ 40,000,000, which makes a little less than £ 6 per acre. As to their exports of home-grown produce, they exceed the imports by £ 14,483,000. The chief cause of these successes are: A highly developed agricultural education, town markets accessible to all the growers, and, above all, co-operation, which again is a result of the effort that was made by the educated classes after the unfortunate war of 1864.
Everyone knows that it is now Danish butter which rules the prices in the London market, and that this butter is of a high quality, which can only be attained in co-operative creameries with cold storage and certain uniform methods in producing butter. But it is not generally known that the Siberian butter, which is now imported in immense quantities into this country, is also a creation of the Danish co-operators. When they began to export their butter in large quantities, they used to import butter for their own use from the southern parts of the West Siberian provinces of Tobolsk and Tomsk, which are covered with prairies very similar to those of Winnipeg in Canada. At the outset this butter was of a most inferior quality, as it was made by every peasant household separately. The Danes began therefore to teach co-operation to the Russian peasants, and they were rapidly understood by the intelligent population of this fertile region. The co-operative creameries began to spread with an astounding rapidity, without us knowing for some time wherefrom came this interesting movement. At the present time a steamer loaded with Siberian butter leaves every week one of the Baltic ports and brings to London many thousands of casks of Siberian butter. If I am not wrong, Finland has also joined lately in the same export.
Without going as far as China, I might quote similar examples from elsewhere, especially from Lombardy. But the above will be enough to caution the reader against hasty conclusions as to the impossibility of feeding 46,000,000 people from 78,000,000 acres. They also will enable me to draw the following conclusions: (1) If the soil of the United Kingdom were cultivated only as it was forty-five years ago, 24,000,000 people, instead of 17,000,000, could live on home-grown food; and this culture, while giving occupation to an additional 750,000 men, would give nearly 3,000,000 wealthy home customers to the British manufactures. (2) If the cultivable area of the United Kingdom were cultivated as the soil is cultivated on the average in Belgium, the United Kingdom would have food for at least 37,000,000 inhabitants; and it might export agricultural produce without ceasing to manufacture, so as freely to supply all the needs of a wealthy population. And finally (3), if the population of this country came to be doubled, all that would be required for producing the food for 90,000,000 inhabitants would be to cultivate the soil as it is cultivated in the best farms of this country, in Lombardy, and in Flanders, and to utilise some meadows, which at present lie almost unproductive, in the same way as the neighborhoods of the big cities in France are utilised for market-gardening. All these are not fancy dreams, but mere realities; nothing but the modest conclusions from what we see round about us, without any allusion to the agriculture of the future.
If we want, however, to know what agriculture can be, and what can be grown on a given amount of soil, we must apply for information to such regions as the district of Saffelare in East Flanders, the island of Jersey, or the irrigated meadows of Lombardy, which are mentioned in the next chapter. Or else we may apply to the market-gardeners in this country, or in the neighborhoods of Paris, or in Holland, or to the "truck farms" in America, and so on.
While science devotes its chief attention to industrial pursuits, a limited number of lovers of nature and a legion of workers whose very names will remain unknown to posterity have created of late a quite new agriculture, as superior to modern farming as modern farming is superior to the old three-fields system of our ancestors. Science seldom guided them, and sometimes misguided--as was the case with Liebig's theories, developed to the extreme by his followers, who induced us to treat plants as glass recipients of chemical drugs, and who forgot that the only science capable of dealing with life and growth is physiology, not chemistry. Science seldom has guided them: they proceeded in the empirical way; but, like the cattle-growers who opened new horizons to biology, they have opened a new field of experimental research for the physiology of plants. They have created a totally new agriculture. They smile when we boast about the rotation system, having permitted us to take from the field one crop every year, or four crops each three years, because their ambition is to have six and nine crops from the very same plot of land during the twelve months. They do not understand our talk about good and bad soils, because they make the soil themselves, and make it in such quantities as to be compelled yearly to sell some of it: otherwise it would raise up the level of their gardens by half an inch every year. They aim at cropping, not five or six tons of grass on the acre, as we do, but from 50 to 100 tons of various vegetables on the same space; not £ 5 worth of hay but £ 100 worth of vegetables, of the plainest description, cabbage and carrots, and more than £ 200 worth under intensive horticultural treatment. This is where agriculture is going now.
We know that the dearest of all varieties of our staple food is meat; and those who are not vegetarians, either by persuasion or by necessity, consume on the average 225 lb. of meat--that is, roughly speaking, a little less than the third part of an ox-every year. And we have seen that, even in this country, and Belgium, two to three acres are wanted for keeping one head of horned cattle; so that a community of, say, 1,000,000 inhabitants would have to reserve somewhere about 1,000,000 acres of land for supplying it with meat. But if we go to the farm of M. Goppart--one of the promoters of ensilage in France--we shall see him growing, on a drained and well-manured field, no less than an average of 120,000 lb. of corn-grass to the acre, which gives 30,000 lb. of dry hay--that is, the food of one horned beast per acre. The produce is thus trebled.
As to beetroot, which is used also for feeding cattle, Mr. Champion, at Whitby, succeeded, with the help of sewage, in growing 100,000 lb. of beet on each acre, and occasionally 160,000 and 200,000 lb. He thus grew on each acre the food of, at least, two or three head of cattle. And such crops are not isolated facts; thus, M. Gros, at Autun, succeeds in cropping 600,000 lb. of beet and carrots, which crop would permit him to keep four horned cattle on each acre. In fact, crops of 100,000 lb. of beet occur in numbers in the French competitions, and the success depends entirely upon good culture and appropriate manuring. It thus appears that while under ordinary high farming we need 2,000,000 acres, or more, to keep 1,000,000 horned cattle, double that amount could be kept on one-half of that area; and if the density of population required it, the amount of cattle could be doubled again, and the area required to keep it might still be one-half, or even one-third of what it is now.4
French Gardening.--The above examples are striking enough, and yet those afforded by the market-gardening culture are still more striking. I mean the culture carried on in the neighbourhood of big cities, and more especially the culture maraîchère round Paris. In this culture each plant is treated according to its age. The seeds germinate and the seedlings develop their first four leaflets in especially favourable conditions of soil and temperature; then the best seedlings are picked out and transplanted into a bed of fine loam, under a frame or in the open air, where they freely develop their rootlets, and, gathered on a limited space, receive more than the usual care. Only after this preliminary training are they bedded in the open ground, where they grow till ripe. In such a culture the primitive condition of the soil is of little account, because loam is made out of the old forcing beds. The seeds are carefully tried, the seedlings receive proper attention, and there is no fear of drought, because of the variety of crops, the liberal watering with the help of a steam engine, and the stock of plants always kept ready to replace the weakest individuals. Almost each plant is treated individually.
There prevails, however, with regard to market-gardening a misunderstanding which it would be well to remove. It is generally supposed that what chiefly attracts market-gardening to the great centres of population is the market. It must have been so; and so it may be still, but to some extent only. A great number of the Paris maraîchers , even of those who have their gardens within the walls of the city and whose main crop consists of vegetables in season, export the whole of their produce to England. What chiefly attracts the gardener to the great cities is stable manure; and this is not wanted so much for increasing the richness of the soil--one-tenth part of the manure used by the French gardeners would do for that purpose--but for keeping the soil at a certain temperature. Early vegetables pay best, and in order to obtain early produce not only the air but the soil as well must be warmed; and this is done by putting great quantities of properly mixed manure into the soil; its fermentation heats it. But it is evident that with the present development of industrial skill, the heating of the soil could be obtained more economically and more easily by hotwater pipes. Consequently, the French gardeners begin more and more to make use of portable pipes, or thermosiphons , provisionally established in the cool frames. This new improvement becomes of general use, and we have the authority of Barral's Dictionnaire d'Agriculture to affirm that it gives excellent results. Under this system stable manure is used mainly for producing loam.5
As to the different degrees of fertility of the soil--always the stumbling-block of those who write about agriculture--the fact is that in market-gardening the soil is always made, whatever it originally may have been. Consequently--we are told by Prof. Dybowski, in the article "Maraîchers" in Barral's Dictionnaire d'Agriculture--it is now a usual stipulation of the renting contracts of the Paris maraîchers that the gardener may carry away his soil, down to a certain depth, when he quits his tenancy. He himself makes it, and when he moves to another plot he carts his soil away, together with his frames, his water-pipes, and his other belongings.6
I could not relate here all the marvels achieved in market-gardening; so that I must refer the reader to works--most interesting works-- especially devoted to the subject, and give only a few illustrations.7 Let us take, for instance, the orchard--the marais--of M. Ponce, the author of a well-known work on the culture maraîchere. His orchard covered only two and seven-tenths acres. The outlay for the establishment, including a steam engine for watering purposes, reached £ 1,136. Eight persons, M. Ponce included, cultivated the orchard and carried the vegetables to the market, for which purpose one horse was kept; when returning from Paris they brought in manure, for which £ 100 was spent every year. Another £ 100 was spent in rent and taxes. But how to enumerate all that was gathered every year on this plot of less than three acres, without filling two pages or more with the most wonderful figures? One must read them in M. Ponce's work, but here are the chief items: More than 20,000 lb. of carrots; more than 20,000 lb. of onions, radishes and other vegetables sold by weight; 6,000 heads of cabbage; 3,000 of cauliflower; 5,000 baskets of tomatoes; 5,000 dozen of choice fruit; and 154,000 heads of salad; in short, a total of 250,000 lb. of vegetables. The soil was made to such an amount out of forcing beds that every year 250 cubic yards of loam had to be sold. Similar examples could be given by the dozen, and the best evidence against any possible exaggeration of the results is the very high rent paid by the gardeners, which reaches in the suburbs of London from £ 10 to £ 15 per acre, and in the suburbs of Paris attains as much as £ 32 per acre. No less than 2,125 acres are cultivated round Paris in that way by 5,000 persons, and thus not only the 2,000,000 Parisians are supplied with vegetables, but the surplus is also sent to London
The above results are obtained with the help of warm frames, thousands of glass bells, and so on. But even without such costly things, with only thirty-six yards of frames for seedlings, vegetables are grown in the open air to the value of £ 200 per acre.8 It is obvious, however, that in such cases the high selling prices of the crops are not due to the high prices fetched by early vegetables in winter; they are entirely due to the high crops of the plainest ones.
Let me add also that all this wonderful culture has entirely developed in the second half of the nineteenth century. Before that, it was quite primitive. But now the Paris gardener not only defies the soil--he would grow the same crops on an asphalt pavement-- he defies climate. His walls, which are built to reflect light and to protect the wall-trees from the northern winds, his wall-tree shades and glass protectors, his frames and pépinières have made a real garden, a rich Southern garden, out of the suburbs of Paris. He has given to Paris the "two degrees less of latitude" after which a French scientific writer was longing; he supplies his city with mountains of grapes and fruit at any season; and in the early spring he inundates and perfumes it with flowers. But he does not only grow articles of luxury. The culture of plain vegetables on a large scale is spreading every year; and the results are so good that there are now practical maraîchers who venture to maintain that if all the food, animal and vegetable, necessary for 4,500,000 inhabitants of the departments of Seine and Seine-et-Oise had to be grown on their own territory (3,250 square miles), it could be grown without resorting to any other methods of culture than those already in use-- methods already tested on a large scale and proved to be successful.
And yet the Paris gardener is not our ideal of an agriculturist. In the painful work of civilisation he has shown us the way to follow; but the ideal of modern civilisation is elsewhere. He toils, with but a short interruption, from three in the morning till late in the night. He knows no leisure; he has no time to live the life of a human being; the commonwealth does not exist for him; his world is his garden, more than his family. He cannot be our ideal; neither he nor his system of agriculture. Our ambition is, that he should produce even more than he does with less labour, and should enjoy all the joys of human life. And this is fully possible.
As a matter of fact, if we put aside those gardeners who chiefly cultivate the so-called primeurs--strawberries ripened in January, and the like--if we take only those who grow their crops in the open field, and resort to frames exclusively for the earlier days of the life of the plant, and if we analyse their system, we see that its very essence is, first, to create for the plant a nutritive and porous soil, which contains both the necessary decaying organic matter and the inorganic compounds; and then to keep that soil and the surrounding atmosphere at a temperature and moisture superior to those of the open air. The whole system is summed up in these few words. If the French maraîcher spends prodigies of labour, intelligence, and imagination in combining different kinds of manure, so as to make them ferment at a given speed, he does so for no purpose but the above: a nourishing soil, and a desired equal temperature and moisture of the air and the soil. All his empirical art is devoted to the achievement of these two aims. But both can also be achieved in another and much easier way. The soil can be improved by hand, but it need not be made by hand. Any soil, of any desired composition, can be made by machinery. We already have manufactures of manure, engines for pulverising the phosphorites, and even the granites of the Vosges; and we shall see manufactures of loam as soon as there is a demand for them.
It is obvious that at present, when fraud and adulteration are exercised on such an immense scale in the manufacture of artificial manure, and the manufacture of manure is considered as a chemical process, while it ought to be considered as a physiological one, the gardener prefers to spend an unimaginable amount of labour rather than risk his crop by the use of a pompously labelled and unworthy drug. But that is a social obstacle which depends upon a want of knowledge and a bad social organisation, not upon physical causes.9
Of course, the necessity of creating for the earlier life of the plant a warm soil and atmosphere will always remain, and sixty years ago Léonce de Lavergne foretold that the next step in culture would be to warm the soil. But heating pipes give the same results as the fermenting manures at a much smaller expense of human labour. And already the system works on a large scale, as will be seen from the next chapter. Through it the productive powers of a given area of land are increased more than a hundred times.
It is obvious that now, when the capitalist system makes us pay for everything three or four times its labour value, we often spend about £ 1 for each square yard of a heated conservatory. But how many middlemen are making fortunes on the wooden sashes imported from Drontheim? If we only could reckon our expenses in labour, we should discover to our amazement that, thanks to the use of machinery, the square yard of a conservatory does not cost more than half a day of human labour; and we will see presently that the Jersey and Guernsey average for cultivating one acre under glass is only three men working ten hours-a day. Therefore the conservatory, which formerly was a luxury, is rapidly entering into the domain of high culture. And we may foresee the day when the glass conservatory will be considered as a necessary appendix to the field, both for the growth of those fruits and vegetables which cannot succeed in the open air, and for the preliminary training of most cultural plants during the earlier stages of their life.
Home-grown fruit is always preferable to the half-ripe produce which is imported from abroad, and the additional work required for keeping a young plant under glass is largely repaid by the incomparable superiority of the crops. As to the question of labour, when we remember the incredible amount of labour which has been spent on the Rhine and in Switzerland for making the vineyards, their terraces, and stone walls, and for carrying the soil up the stony crags, as also the amount of labour which is spent every year for the culture of those vineyards and fruit gardens, we are inclined to ask, which of the two, all taken, requires less of human labour--a winery (I mean the cold vinery) in a London suburb, or a vineyard on the Rhine, or on Lake Leman? And when we compare the prices realised by the grower of grapes round London (not those which are paid in the West-end fruit shops, but those received by the grower for his grapes in September and October) with those current in Switzerland on the Rhine during the same months, we are inclined to maintain that nowhere in Europe, beyond the forty-fifth degree of latitude, are grapes grown at less expense of human labour, both for capital outlay and yearly work, than in the vineries of the London and Brussels suburbs.
At any rate, let us not overrate the productivity of the exporting countries, and let us remember that the vine-growers of Southern Europe drink themselves an abominable piquette; that Marseilles fabricates wine for home use out of dry raisins brought from Asia; and that the Normandy peasant who sends his apples to London, drinks real cider only on great festivities. Such a state of things will not last for ever; and the day is not far when we shall be compelled to look to our own resources to provide many of the things which we now import. And we shall not be the worse for that. The resources of science, both in enlarging the circle of our production and in new discoveries, are inexhaustible. And each new branch of activity calls into existence more and more new branches which steadily increase the power of man over the forces of nature.
If we take all into consideration; if we realise the progress made of late in the gardening culture, and the tendency towards spreading its methods to the open field; if we watch the cultural experiments which are being made now--experiments to-day and realities tomorrow--and ponder over the resources kept in store by science, we are bound to say that it is utterly impossible to foresee at the present moment the limits as to the maximum number of human beings who would draw their means of subsistence from a given area of land, or as to what a variety of produce they could advantageously grow in any latitude. Each day widens former limits, and opens new and wide horizons. All we can say now is, that, even now, 600 persons could easily live on a square mile; and that, with cultural methods already used on a large scale, 1,000 human beings--not idlers--living on 1,000 acres could easily, without any kind of overwork, obtain from that area a luxurious vegetable and animal food, as well as the flax, wool, silk, and hides necessary for their clothing. As to what may be obtained under still more perfect methods-- also known but not yet tested on a large scale --it is better to abstain from any forecast: so unexpected are the recent achievements of intensive culture.
We thus see that the over-population fallacy does not stand the very first attempt at submitting it to a closer examination. Those only can be horror-stricken at seeing the population of this country increase by one individual every 1,000 seconds who think of a human being as a mere claimant upon the stock of material wealth of mankind, without being at the same time a contributor to that stock. But we, who see in each new-born babe a future worker capable of producing much more than his own share of the common stock --we greet his appearance.
We know that a crowded population is a necessary condition for permitting man to increase the productive powers of his labour. We know that highly productive labour is impossible so long as men are scattered, few in numbers, over wide territories, and are thus unable to combine together for the higher achievements of civilisation. We know what an amount of labour must be spent to scratch the soil with a primitive plough, to spin and weave by hand; and we know also how much less labour it costs to grow the same amount of food and weave the same cloth with the help of modern machinery.
We also see that it is infinitely easier to grow 200,000 lb. of food on one acre than to grow them on ten acres. It is all very well to imagine that wheat grows by itself on the Russian steppes; but those who have seen how the peasant toils in the "fertile" black earth region will have one desire: that the increase of population may permit the use of the steam-digger and gardening culture in the steppes; that it may permit those who are now the beasts of burden of humanity to raise their backs and to become at last men.
We must, however, recognise that there are a few economists fully aware of the above truths. They gladly admit that Western Europe could grow much more food than it does; but they see no necessity nor advantage in doing so, as long as there are nations which can supply food in exchange for manufactured goods. Let us then examine how far this view is correct.
It is obvious that if we are satisfied with merely stating that it is cheaper to bring wheat from Riga than to grow it in Lincolnshire, the whole question is settled in a moment. But is it so in reality? Is it really cheaper to have food from abroad? And, supposing it is, are we not yet bound to analyse that compound result which we call price, rather than to accept it as a supreme and blind ruler of our actions?
We know, for instance, how French agriculture is burdened by taxation. And yet, if we compare the prices of articles of food in France, which herself grows most of them, with the prices in this country, which imports them, we find no difference in favour of the importing country. On the contrary, the balance is rather in favour of France, and it decidedly was so for wheat until the new protective tariff was introduced. As soon as one goes out of Paris, one finds that every home produce is cheaper in France than it is in England, and that the prices decrease further when we go farther East on the Continent.
There is another feature still more unfavourable for this country: namely, the enormous development of the class of middlemen who stand between the importer and the home producer on the one side and the consumer on the other. We have lately heard a good deal about the quite disproportionate part of the prices we pay which goes into the middleman's pockets. We have all heard of the East-end clergyman who was compelled to become butcher in order to save his parishioners from the greedy middleman. We read in the papers that many farmers of the midland counties do not realise more than 9d. for a pound of butter, while the customer pays from 1s. 6d. to 1s. 8d.; and that from 1.5d. to 2d. for the quart of milk is all that the Cheshire farmers can get, while we pay 4d. for the adulterated, and 5d. for the unadulterated milk. An analysis of the Covent Garden prices and a comparison of the same with retail prices, which is being made from time to time in the daily papers, proves that the customer pays for vegetables at the rate of 6d. to 1s., and sometimes more, for each penny realised by the grower. But in a country of imported food it must be so: the grower who himself sells his own produce disappears from its markets, and in his place appears the middleman.10 If we move, however, towards the East, and go to Belgium, Germany, and Russia, we find that the cost of living is more and more reduced, so that finally we find that in Russia, which remains still agricultural, wheat costs one-half or two-thirds of its London prices, and meat is sold throughout the provinces at about ten farthings (kopecks) the pound. And we may therefore hold that it is not yet proved at all that it is cheaper to live on imported food than to grow it ourselves.
But if we analyse price, and make a distinction between its different elements, the disadvantage becomes still more apparent. If we compare, for instance, the costs of growing wheat in this country and in Russia, we are told that in the United Kingdom the hundredweight of wheat cannot be grown at less than 8s. 7d.; while in Russia the costs of production of the same hundredweight are estimated at from 3s. 6d. to 4s. 9d.11 The difference is enormous, and it would still remain very great even if we admit that there is some exaggeration in the former figure. But why this difference? Are the Russian labourers paid so much less for their work? Their money wages surely are much lower, but the difference is equalised as soon as we reckon their wages in produce. The twelve shillings a week of the British agricultural labourer represents the same amount of wheat in Britain as the six shillings a week of the Russian labourer represents in Russia. As to the supposed prodigious fertility of the soil in the Russian prairies, it is a fallacy. Crops of from sixteen to twenty-three bushels per acre are considered good crops in Russia, while the average hardly reaches thirteen bushels, even in the corn-exporting parts of the empire. Besides, the amount of labour which is necessary to grow wheat in Russia with no thrashing-machines, with a plough dragged by a horse hardly worth the name, with no roads for transport, and so on, is certainly much greater than the amount of labour which is necessary to grow the same amount of wheat in Western Europe.
When brought to the London market, Russian wheat was sold in 1887 at 31s. the quarter, while it appeared from the same Mark Lane Express figures that the quarter of wheat could not be grown in this country at less than 36s. 8d., even if the straw be sold, which is not always the case. But the difference of the land rent in both countries would alone account for the difference of prices. In the wheat belt of Russia, where the average rent stood at about 12s. per acre, and the crop was from fifteen to twenty bushels, the rent amounted to from 3s. 6d. to 5s. 8d. in the costs of production of each quarter of Russian wheat; while in this country, where the rent and taxes are valued (in the Mark Lane Express figures) at no less than 40s. per each wheat-growing acre, and the crop is taken at thirty bushels, the rent amounts to 10s. in the costs of production of each quarter.12 But even if we take only 30s. per acre of rent and taxes, and an average crop of twenty-eight bushels, we still have 8s. 8d. out of the sale price of each quarter of wheat, which goes to the landlord and the State. If it costs so much more in money to grow wheat in this country, while the amount of labour is so much less in this country than in Russia, it is due to the very great height of the land rents attained during the years 1860-1880. But this growth itself was due to the facilities for realising large profits on the sale of manufactured goods abroad. The false condition of British rural economy, not the infertility of the soil, is thus the chief cause of the Russian competition.
Twenty-five years have passed since I wrote these lines--the agricultural crisis provoked by the competition of cheap American wheat being at that time at its climax, and, I am sorry to say, I must leave these lines such as they were written. I do not mean, of course, that no adaptation to the new conditions created by the fall in the prices of wheat should have taken place during the last quarter of a century, in the sense of a more intensive culture and a better utilisation of the land. On the contrary, I mention in different parts of this book the progress accomplished of late in the development of separate branches of intensive culture, such as fruit-culture, market-gardening, culture under glass, French gardening, and poultry farming, and I also indicate the different steps taken to promote further improvements, such as better conditions of transport, co-operation among the farmers, and especially the development of small holdings.
However, after having taken into account all these improvements, one cannot but see with regret that the same regressive movement in British agriculture, which began in the 'seventies, continues still; and while more and more of the land that was once under the plough goes out of culture, no corresponding increase in the quantities of live stock is to be seen. And if we consult the mass of books and review articles which have been dealing lately with this subject, we see that all the writers recognise that British agriculture must adapt itself to the new conditions by a thorough reform of its general character; and yet the same writers recognise that only a few steps were taken till now in the proper direction. and none of them was taken with a sufficient energy. Society at large remains indifferent to the needs of British agriculture.
It must not be forgotten that the competition of American wheat has made the same havoc in the agriculture of most European countries--especially in France and Belgium; but in the last two countries the adaptations which were necessary to resist the effects of the competition have already taken place to a great extent. Both in Belgium and in France the American imports gave a new impetus toward a more intensive utilisation of the soil, and this impetus was strongest in Belgium, where no attempt was made to protect agriculture by an increase of the import duties, as was the case in France. On the contrary, the duties upon imported wheat were abolished in Belgium precisely at the time when the American competition began to be felt--that is, between 1870 and 1880.
It was not only in England that the fall in the prices of wheat was felt acutely by the farmers. In France, the hectolitre of wheat (very nearly three bushels), which was sold at 18s. 10d. in 1871-1875, fell to 15s. 5d. in 1881-1885, and to 12s. 6d. in 1893; and the same must have been in Belgium, the more so as the protective duties were abolished. But here is what Mr. Seebohm Rowntree says about the effect of the prices in his admirable book on land and labour in Belgium:--
"For a time the Belgian agriculturist was hardly hit, but gradually he adjusted himself to the new conditions. His cultivation became more intensive, he made more and more use of co-operation in various directions, and he devoted himself to new branches of agriculture, especially the raising of live stock and garden produce. He began to realise the value of artificial manure, and to acknowledge that science could help him."--Land and Labour, p. 147.
These words by Mr. Rowntree are fully confirmed by the change in the general aspects of the Belgian agriculture, as they appear from the official statistical data. The same must be said of France. The above-mentioned fall in prices induced agriculturists to intensify their methods of culture. I have mentioned already the rapid spreading of agricultural machinery among the French peasants during the last twenty years; and I must mention also the equally remarkable increase in the amounts of chemical manure used by the peasants; the sudden development of agricultural syndicates since 1884; the extension taken by co-operation; the new organisation of transport with cool storage, or in heated cars, for the export of fruit and flowers; the development taken by special industrial cultures; and still more so the immense development of gardening in the South of France and market-gardening in the North. All these adaptations were introduced on such a scale that one is bound to recognise that the crisis has had the effect of giving quite a new aspect to French agriculture, taken as a whole.
Much more ought to be said with regard to the American competition, and therefore I must refer the reader to the remarkable series of articles dealing with the whole of the subject which Schaeffle published in 1886 in the Zeitschrift für die gesammte Staatswissenschaft, and to the most elaborate article on the costs of growing wheat all over the world which appeared in April, 1887, in the Quarterly Review. These articles were written at the time when American competition was something new and made much havoc in English agriculture, causing a fall of from 30 to 50 per cent. in the rents of land for agricultural purposes. But the conclusions of these two writers were fully corroborated by the yearly reports of the American Board of Agriculture, and Schaeffle's previsions were fully confirmed by the subsequent reports of Mr. J. R. Dodge. It appeared from these works that the fertility of the American soil had been grossly exaggerated, as the masses of wheat which America sent to Europe from its north-western farms were grown on a soil the natural fertility of which is not higher, and often lower, than the average fertility of the unmanured European soil. The Casselton farm in Dakota, with its twenty bushels per acre, was an exception; while the average crop of the chief wheat-growing States in the West was only eleven to twelve bushels. In order to find a fertile soil in America, and crops of from thirty to forty bushels, one must go to the old Eastern States, where the soil is made by man's hands.13
The same applies to the American supplies of meat. Schaeffle pointed out that the great mass of live stock which appeared in the census of cattle in the States was not reared in the prairies, but in the stables of the farms, in the same way as in Europe; as to the prairies, he found on them only one-eleventh part of the American horned cattle, one-fifth of the sheep and one-twenty-first of the pigs.14 "Natural fertility" being thus out of question, we must look for social causes; and we have them, for the Western States, in the cheapness of land and a proper organisation of production; and for the Eastern States in the rapid progress of intensive high farming.
It is evident that the methods of culture must vary according to different conditions. In the vast prairies of North America, where land could be bought from 8s. to 40s. the acre, and where spaces of from 100 to 160 square miles in one block could be given to wheat culture, special methods of culture were applied and the results were excellent. Land was bought--not rented. In the autumn, whole studs of horses were brought, and the tilling and sowing were done with the aid of formidable ploughs and sowing machines. Then the horses were sent to graze in the mountains; the men were dismissed, and one man, occasionally two or three, remained to winter on the farm. In the spring the owners' agents began to beat the inns for hundreds of miles round, and engaged labourers and tramps, both freely supplied by Europe, for the crop. Battalions of men were marched to the wheat fields, and were camped there; the horses were brought from the mountains, and in a week or two the crop was cut, thrashed, winnowed, put in sacks, by specially invented machines, and sent to the next elevator, or directly to the ships which carried it to Europe. Whereupon the men were disbanded again, the horses were sent back to the grazing grounds, or sold, and again only a couple of men remained on the farm.
The crop from each acre was small, but the machinery was so perfected that in this way 300 days of one man's labour produced from 200 to 300 quarters of wheat; in other words-- the area of land being of no account--every man produced in one day his yearly bread food (eight and a half bushels of wheat); and taking into account all subsequent labour, it was calculated that the work of 300 men in one single day delivered to the consumer at Chicago the flour that is required for the yearly food of 250 persons. Twelve hours and a half of work are thus required in Chicago to supply one man with his yearly provision of wheat-flour.
Under the special conditions offered in the Far West this certainly was an appropriate method for increasing all of a sudden the wheat supplies of mankind. It answered its purpose when large territories of unoccupied land were opened to enterprise. But it could not answer for ever. Under such a system of culture the soil was soon exhausted, the crop declined, and intensive agriculture (which aims at high crops on a limited area) had soon to be resorted to. Such was the case in Iowa in the year 1878. Up till then, Iowa was an emporium for wheat-growing on the lines just indicated. But the soil was already exhausted, and when a disease came the wheat plants had no force to resist it. In a few weeks nearly all the wheat crop, which was expected to beat all previous records, was lost; eight to ten bushels per acre of bad wheat were all that could be cropped. The result was that "mammoth farms" had to be broken up into small farms, and that the Iowa farmers (after a terrible crisis of short duration--everything is rapid in America) took to a more intensive culture. Now, they are not behind France in wheat culture, as they already grow an average of sixteen and a half bushels per acre on an area of more than 2,000,000 acres, and they will soon win ground. Somehow, with the aid of manure and improved methods of farming, they compete admirably with the mammoth farms of the Far West.
In fact, over and over again it was pointed out, by Schaeffle, Semler, Oetken, and many other writers, that the force of "American competition" is not in its mammoth farms, but in the countless small farms upon which wheat is grown in the same way as it is grown in Europe--that is, with manuring--but with a better organised production and facilities for sale, and without being compelled to pay to the landlord a toll of one-third part, or more, of the selling price of each quarter of wheat. However, it was only after I had myself made a tour in the prairies of Manitoba in 1897, and those of Ohio in 1901, that I could realise the full truth of the just-mentioned views. The 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 bushels of wheat, which are exported every year from Manitoba, are grown almost entirely in farms of one or two "quarter- sections"--that is, of 160 and 320 acres. The ploughing is made in the usual way, and in an immense majority of cases the farmers buy the reaping and binding machines (the "binders") by associating in groups of four. The thrashing machine is rented by the farmer for one or two days, and the farmer carts his wheat to the elevator with his own horses, either to sell it immediately, or to keep it at the elevator if he is in no immediate need of money and hopes to get a higher price in one month or two. In short, in Manitoba one is especially struck with the fact that, even under a system of keen competition, the middle-size farm has completely beaten the old mammoth farm, and that it is not manufacturing wheat on a grand scale which pays best. It is also most interesting to note that thousands and thousands of farmers produce mountains of wheat in the Canadian province of Toronto and in the Eastern States, although the land is not prairie-land at all, and the farms are, as a rule, small.
The force of "American competition" is thus not in the possibility of having hundreds of acres of wheat in one block. It lies in the ownership of the land, in a system of culture which is appropriate to the character of the country, in a widely developed spirit of association, and, finally, in a number of institutions and customs intended to lift the agriculturist and his profession to a high level which is unknown in Europe.
In Europe we do not realise at all what is done in the States and Canada in the interests of agriculture. In every American State, and in every distinct region of Canada, there is an experimental farm, and all the work of preliminary experiment upon new varieties of wheat, oats, barley, fodder and fruit, which the farmer has mostly to make himself in Europe, is made under the best scientific conditions at the experimental farms, on a small scale first and on a large scale next. The results of all these researches and experiments are not merely rendered accessible to the farmer who would like to know them, but they are brought to his knowledge, and, so to speak, are forced upon his attention by every possible means. The "Bulletins" of the experimental stations are distributed in hundreds of thousands of copies, visits to the farms are organised in such a way that thousands of farmers should inspect the stations every year, and be shown by specialists the results obtained, either with new varieties of plants or under various new methods of treatment. Correspondence is carried on with the farmers on such a scale that, for instance, at Ottawa, the experimental farm sends out every year a hundred thousand letters and packets. Every farmer can get, free of charge and postage, five pounds of seed of any variety of cereals, out of which he can get next year the necessary seed for sowing several acres. And, finally, in every small and remote township there are held farmers' meetings, at which special lecturers, who are sent out by the experimental farms or the local agricultural societies, discuss with the farmers in an informal way the results of last year's experiments and discoveries relative to every branch of agriculture, horticulture, cattle-breeding, dairying and agricultural co-operation.15
American agriculture really offers an imposing sight--not in the wheat fields of the Far West, which soon will become a thing of the past, but in the development of rational agriculture and the forces which promote it. Read the description of an agricultural exhibition, "the State's fair," in some small town of Iowa, with its 70,000 farmers camping with their families in tents during the fair's week, studying, learning, buying, and selling, and enjoying life. You see a national fête, and you feel that you deal with a nation in which agriculture is in respect. Or read the publications of the scores of experimental stations, whose reports are distributed broadcast over the country, and are read by the farmers and discussed at countless "farmers' meetings." Consult the "Transactions" and "Bulletins" of the countless agricultural societies, not royal but popular; study the grand enterprises for irrigation; and you will feel that American agriculture is a real force, imbued with life, which no longer fears mammoth farms, and needs not to cry like a child for protection.
"Intensive" agriculture and gardening are already by this time as much a feature of the treatment of the soil in America as they are in Belgium. As far back as the year 1880, nine States, among which were Georgia, Virginia and the two Carolinas, bought £ 5,750,000 worth of artificial manure; and we are told that by this time the use of artificial manure has immensely spread towards the West. In Iowa, where mammoth farms used to exist twenty years ago, sown grass is already in use, and it is highly recommended by both the Iowa Agricultural Institute and the numerous local agricultural papers; while at the agricultural competitions the highest rewards are given, not for extensive farming, but for high crops on small areas. Thus, at a recent competition in which hundreds of farmers took part, the first ten prizes were awarded to ten farmers who had grown, on three acres each, from 262 to 346.75 bushels of Indian corn, in other words from, 87 to 115 bushels to the acre. This shows where the ambition of the Iowa farmer goes. In Minnesota, prizes were given already for crops of 300 to 1,120 bushels of potatoes to the acre--that is, from eight and a quarter to thirty-one tons to the acre--while the average potato crop in Great Britain is only six tons.
At the same time market-gardening is immensely extending in America. In the market-gardens of Florida we see such crops as 445 to 600 bushels of onions per acre, 400 bushels of tomatoes, 700 bushels of sweet potatoes, which testify to a high development of culture. As to the "truck farms" (market-gardening for export by steamer and rail), they covered, in 1892, 400,000 acres, and the fruit farms in the suburbs of Norfolk, in Virginia, were described by Prof. Ch. Baltet16 as real models of that sort of culture--a very high testimony in the mouth of a French gardener who himself comes from the model marais of Troyes.
And while people in London continue to pay almost all the year round twopence for a lettuce (very often imported from Paris), they have at Chicago and Boston those unique establishments in the world where lettuces are grown in immense greenhouses with the aid of electric light; and we must not forget that although the discovery of "electric" growth is European (it is due to Siemens), it was at the Cornell University that it was proved by a series of experiments that electric light is an admirable aid for forwarding the growth of the green parts of the plant.
In short, America, which formerly took the lead in bringing "extensive" agriculture to perfection, now takes the lead in "intensive," or forced, agriculture as well. In this adaptability lies the real force of American competition.
1 I take these lines from a letter which the Rural Office of the Belgian Ministry of agriculture had been kind enough to write to me on January 28, 1910, in reply to some questions which I had addressed to that Office in order to explain the striking occillations of the Belgian exports between the years 1870 and 1880. A Belgian friend, having kindly taken new information upon this point, had the same opinion confirmed from another official source.
2 If we take the figures of imports and exports, which I also owe to the Belgian Rural Office, we find that the net imports of wheat, rye, and wheat mixed with rye (méteil) reached 3.01 million lb. in 1907 (3,374 million in 1910), which would give 429 lb. per capita for a population of 7,000,000 inhabitant But if this amount be added to the local production of the same cereals, which reached the same year 2,426 million lb., we arrive at the figure of 776 lb. per head of population. But such a figure is much too high, because the annual per capita consumption of both the winter and, the spring cereals is generally estimated to be 502 lb. There must be, therefore, either an error in the weight of the imports, which is improbable, or the figures of re-exported cereals are not complete. Let me add that in France the average annual consumption per capita of all cereals, including oats, has been in the course of twenty-nine years (1880-1908) 525 lb., which confirms the above- mentioned figure. And in France people eat as much bread as in Belgium.
3 See Appendix K.
4 Assuming that 9,000 lb. of dry hay are necessary for keeping one head of horned cattle every year, the following figures (taken from Toubeau's Répartition métrique de impôts) will show what we obtain now under usual and under intensive culture:--
|Crop per acre.
|Clover, cut twice
|Beet, high farming
|Indian corn, ensilage
5 I saw thermosiphons used by the market-gardeners at Worthing. They said that they found them quite satisfactory. As to the cost of heating the soil, let me mention the experiments of H. Mehner, described in Gartenflora , fascicules 16 and 17 of the year 1906. He considers the cost quite small, in comparison with the increased value of the crops. With £ 100 per Morgen, spent for the installation, and £ 10 every spring for heating, the author estimates the increase in the value of crops (earlier vegetables) at £ 100 every year. (Report to the German Landwirthschafts Gesellschaft, 1906.)
6 "Portable soil" is not the latest departure in agriculture. The last one is the watering of the soil with special liquids containing special microbes. It is a fact that chemical manures, without organic manure, seldom prove to be sufficient. On the other hand, it was discovered lately that certain microbes in the soil are a necessary condition for the growth of plants. Hence the idea of sowing the beneficent microbes, which rapidly develop in the soil and fertilise it. We certainly shall soon hear more of this new method, which is experimented upon on a large scale in Germany, in order to transform peat-bogs and heavy soils into rich meadows and fields.
7 Ponce, La culture maraîchère, 1869; Gressent, Le potager moderne , 7th edition in 1886; Courtois-Gérard, Manuel pratique de culture maraîchère, 1863, L. G. Gillekens, Cours pratique de culture maraîchère, Bruxelles, 1895; Vilmorin, Le bon jardinier (almanac). The general reader who cares to know about the productivity of the soil will find plenty of examples, well classified, in the most interesting work La Répartition métrique des impôts, by A. Toubeau, 2 vols., 1880. I do not quote many excellent English manuals, but I must remark that the market-gardening culture in this country has also obtained results very highly prized by the Continental gardeners, and that the chief reproach to be addressed to it is its relatively small extension. French market-gardening having been lately introduced into England, several manuals have been published for that purpose. The little work, French Gardening, by Thomas Smith London (Utopia Press), 1909, deserves special mention, as it contains the results of one year's observation of the work of a French gardener, specially invited to England by Mr. Joseph Fels, and gives (with illustrations a mass of practical indications and numerical data as to the cost and the value of the produce. A subsequent work of the same author The Profitable Culture of Vegetables for Market Gardeners, Small Holders, und Others, London (Longmans, Green), 1911, deals in detail with the ordinary culture of vegetables and the intensive culture of the French gardeners.
8 Manuel pratique de culture maraîchère, by Courtois-Gérard, 4th edit., 1868.
9 Already it is partly removed in France and Belgium, owing to the public laboratories where analyses of seeds and manure are made free. The falsification discovered by these laboratories exceed all that could have been imagined. Manures, containing only one-fifth part of the nutritious elements they were supposed to contain, were found to be quite common; while manures containing injurious matters, and no nutritious parts whatever, were not infrequently supplied by firms of "respectable" repute. With seeds, things stand even worse. Samples of grass seeds which contained 20 per cent. of unjurious grasses, or 20 per cent. of grains of sand, so ooloured as to deceive the buyer, or even 10 per cent. of a deadly poisonous grass, passed through the Ghent laboratory.
10 During the winter of 1890 a friend of mine, who lived in a London suburb, used to get his butter from Bavaria per parcel post. It cost him 10s. the eleven pounds in Bavaria, parcel post inclusive (2s. 2d.), 6d. for the money order, and 2.5d. the letter; total, less than 11s. Butter of an inferior quality (out of comparison), with 10 to 15 per cent. of water inclusive, was sold in London at 1s. 6d. the lb. at the same time.
11 The data for the calculation of the cost of production of wheat in this country are those given by the Mark Lane Express; they will be found in a digestible form in an article on wheat-growing in the Quarterly Review for April, 1887, and in W. E Bear's book, The British Farmer and his Competitors, London (Cassell), 1888. Although they are a little above the average, the crop taken for the calculations is also above the average. A similar inquiry has been made on a large scale by the Russian Provincial Assemblies, and the whole was summed up in an elaborate paper, in the Vyestnik Promyshlennosti, No. 49, 1887. To compare the paper kopecks with pence I took the rouble at .63 of its nominal value: such was its average quotation during the year 1886. I took 475 English Ib. in the quarter of wheat.
12 The rents have declined since 1887, but the prices of wheat also went down. It must not be forgotten that as the best acres only are selected for wheat-growing, the rent for each acre upon which wheat is grown must be taken higher than the average rent per acre in a farm of from 200 to 300 acres.
13 L. de Lavergne pointed out as far back as fifty years ago that the States were at that time the chief importers of guano. Already in 1854 they imported it almost to the same amount as this country, and they had, moreover, sixty-two manufactories of guano which supplied it to the amount of sixteen times the imports. Compare also Ronna's L'agriculture aux Etats Unis, 1881; Lecouteux, Le blé; and J. R. Dodge's Annual Report of the American Department of Agriculture for 1885 and 1886. Sohaeffle's work was also summed up in Schmoller's Jahrbuch.
14 See also J. R. Dodge's Farm and Factory, New York, 1884.
15 Some additional information on this subject will be found in the articles of mine: "Some Resources of Canada," and "Recent Science," in the Nineteenth Century, January, 1898, and October, 1897. I see from the Experimental Farms' Reports for 1909 that on the average 38,000 samples of seeds are sent in this way to the farmers every year; in 1909 more than 38,000 farmers united in experiments as to the relative merits of the different sorts of wheat, oats, and barley under trial. I think that my friend, Dr. William Saunders, is quite right in saying that this system of supplying a great number of farmers with small quantities of choice seeds has contributed notably to increase the yield of corn in Canada.
16 L'Horticulture dans les cinq Parties du Monde. Paris ,1895.
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