THE dawn of civilization is closely associated with primitive agriculture. If we try to unveil the history of a race we often find it hidden in myths and legends. When it is accessible, we see that a people, after slumbering for centuries in the night of barbarism, advances slowly to the realization of higher ideals. The awakening is always connected with the cultivation of the soil, and agriculture is therefore the foundation upon which the progress of humanity rests. Its development depends upon the climate and the natural possibilities of a people. Climate is largely responsible for the fact that some tribes still follow the migrating life of the nomad, while others have settled down in fixed dwellings. In the warmer parts of the world, where it is easy to grow cereals and other plants, agriculture is much older than far north, where climatic conditions are less favourable.
At first only such plants were grown as would serve for human food; natural meadows and pastures provided for domestic animals. Even now there are large areas where no special efforts are made to secure food for stock. With increasing population, however, more ground must be devoted to cereals for human food, and the value of land rises. Natural pastures largely disappear and the farmer must grow other crops as food for stock during different seasons. The cultivation of fodder and pasture plants has reached its greatest perfection in temperate regions, where the animals cannot graze during the winter.
Compared with the cultivation of cereals, the introduction of artificial meadows is very recent. The oldest known were those of the Romans. Clovers, which form their most essential part, came into general use as late as the sixteenth century, since which time the importance of forage plants has been more and more realized.
Two groups of plants are used for fodder and pasture, viz., the grasses and the leguminous plants, representing two large families botanically known as Graminece and Leguminosae. All the plant-dealt with in this book, except Rape, belong to one of these families. Rape belongs to the Mustard family, Cruciferce.