This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
The most important problem in the world to-day is the future food supply - and in this the potato is an important factor. President W. C. Brown of the New York Central Lines has made a very careful study of the agricultural situation all over the world, both as it concerns the producer and consumer. So valuable are his ideas considered that the following very copious extracts are made from his address at the annual banquet of the Rochester (New York) Chamber of Commerce, March 18, 1910:
We hear much of the subject of the conservation of our natural resources, and it is well that this most important subject should have the most careful consideration.
I have thought, however, that about 90 per cent. of the discussion of this important question has been directed to about 10 per cent. of our natural resources.
Husband our coal as we will, economize in its use to the last limit, but the day will come when the last ton will be mined and nothing will remain but the empty holes in the ground.
The same is true of all the products of our mines; but the fertility of the soil cannot only be maintained, but constantly augmented, and it must be, if this nation or any other nation on the face of the earth is to continue to exist.
Broadly stated, the great increase in the cost of living is caused by the simple economic fact that consumption is rapidly overtaking production, and a careful analysis of the increased price of farm products, as compared with the increase in price of the products of manufacture, will suggest the wondering inquiry how it has been possible to make the reductions, or to maintain the unchanged or slightly increased prices of the latter, while the prices of the former have been moving upward so rapidly.
These figures show conclusively that, in spite of the fact that the great increase in cost of these prime necessaries of life has increased the cost of labor more on the average than 33 per cent., these great manufacturing companies have been able, by economics in administration, operation and cost of distribution, to keep their prices down substantially to the level of ten years ago.
Furthermore, by these same economics, these concerns are year by year increasing their sales in foreign lands, offsetting in great measure the loss in our exports of foodstuffs, which are rapidly diminishing to the vanishing point.
No more accurate measure of fundamental prosperity can be found than that an individual or a nation produces and sells more than he or it buys - that the aggregate of all transactions results in bringing money in, rather than paying money out; and here occurs another sharp and significant contrast between the products of agriculture and those of mining and manufacture.
In 1899 we produced more than three and one half billion bushels of corn, wheat, rye, oats and barley, and, including flour and cornmeal, we exported something more than four hundred and seventy millions bushel.
In 1909 we produced more than four and one half billion bushels of these cereals, but our exports had dropped to less than one hundred and thirty-four million bushels.
In other words, our exports of these products of the farm in 1899 exceeded those of 1909 by 251 per cent.
Our exports of beef and its products for 1899 exceeded those of 1909 by 72 per cent., and the exports of the products of pork in 1899 exceeded those of 1909 by 89 per cent.
Coincident with this falling off in our agricultural exports we imported in 1909 no less than 8,384,000 bushels of potatoes, 3,355,000 bushels of beans and dried peas, and 6,667,000 bushels of oats; and during the latter part of January of this year, notwithstanding a duty of 25 cents a bushel, we came within one half of 1 cent per bushel of importing wheat from England.
The increase in corn, wheat, oats, rye, barley, potatoes, hay, buckwheat, flaxseed, rice, and cotton for 1909, over 1899, is as follows:
Acreage...........23 per cent.
Production..........36 per cent.
Consumption..........60 per cent.
In this economic evolution we are not following an untrodden path. Other nations have been confronted with the same great question, 'How shall we be fed and wherewithal shall we be clothed?' and upon the wisdom with which the question has been solved has hung the fate of those nations.
More than a century ago the production of wheat in Great Britain had gone down to about the average of this country to-day - viz., a fraction less than fourteen bushels per acre.
A royal commission was appointed, which has been in continual active existence ever since. The yield of wheat was gradually brought up to thirty-two bushels per acre, and at that figure it is maintained year after year.
The story of this campaign for improved agriculture in England is exceedingly interesting, and, in the present juncture, of profound importance to this country.
The islands of the sea have been swept clean of their rich stores of guano, the accumulation of ages. Phosphates have been imported by the millions of dollars' worth from the United States. The battlefields of Europe were combed, the catacombs of Egypt rifled, and for years the bones of three million men were ground up annually and used to bring the soil of England back to its present fertility.
Approximately five million dollars' worth of our phosphates are being exported each year. In some way this should be stopped. In the years to come this master fertilizer will be worth more than gold.
I believe it is well within the bounds of conservatism to say that long before the middle of the present century the phosphates which we export annually, and for which we receive five million dollars, will be worth five hundred million dollars for fertilizing our own land.
It is safe to say that no country in the world excels the United States in natural fertility of soil, or has a more favorable general climate.
Notwithstanding these natural advantages, with our careless, uninformed methods - our utter want of method - our farms produce an annual yield of less than fourteen bushels of wheat per acre, as compared with thirty-two in England, twenty-eight in Germany, thirty-four in the Netherlands, and twenty in France.
We produce an average of less than twenty-three bushels of oats per acre, while England produces forty-two, Germany forty-six, and the Netherlands fifty-three.
Germany, with an arable area of less than some of our largest states, produces more than seven times the number of bushels of potatoes that are produced in all the states.
Experimental farms should be established in every county of every state, where the most modern methods of fertilization and cultivation and the result of such methods can be demonstrated, and where every farmer in the county can see exactly how it is done, instead of being told in books or lectures how it can be done.
The marvelous extension and development of railroads through the Middle West during the ten years following the close of the Civil War, opening up and making easily accessible empires of this rich land, marvelously stimulated emigration; and each new railroad, each extension of existing railroads, was followed by the location of thousands of settlers and the opening up and cultivation of millions of acres of new land.
The result that followed was inevitable. The products of the nation's farms soon so far exceeded the demand for them that prices fell far below the bare cost of production.
I have seen as good corn as the states of Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska ever grew sell for ten to twelve cents per bushel, and it was a drug on the market at that price. I have seen this corn burned for fuel on the farm, because it was cheaper than wood or coal.
Is it strange that such conditions resulted in a ruinous collapse in farm values in Pennsylvania, New York, and New England, or that they begot methods or habits of unthrift and improvidence in the cultivation of the soil in the West?
These conditions prevailed not only in our own country but abroad. Railroads were being built in Russia, Australia, Argentina, India, and New Zealand, and cheap land with its cheap product competed in every market on the globe.
Fifty-one years ago, in an address delivered before the Wisconsin Agricultural Society, Abraham Lincoln said:
My first suggestion is an inquiry as to the effect of greater thoroughness in all departments of agriculture than now prevails in the Northwest; perhaps, I might say, in America.
What would be the effect upon the farming interests to push the soil up to something near its full capacity? Unquestionably, it will take more labor to produce fifty bushels from one acre than it will to produce ten bushels from the same acre; but will it take more labor to produce fifty bushels from one acre than from five?
Unquestionably, thorough cultivation will require more labor to the acre; but will it require more to the bushel?
If it should require just as much to the bushel, there are some probable, and several certain, advantages in favor of thorough practice.
It is probable it would develop those unknown causes which of late years have cut down our crops below their former averages.
The thought recurs that education, cultivated thought, can best be combined with agriculture labor, or any labor, on the principle of thorough work, and thorough work again renders sufficient the smallest quantity of ground to each man, and this again conforms to what must occur in a world less inclined to war, and more devoted to the arts of peace, than heretofore.
Population must increase rapidly, more rapidly than in former times, and ere long the most valuable of all arts will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil.
No community whose every member possesses this art can ever be the victim of oppression in any of its forms. Such community will be alike independent of crowned kings, money kings, and land kings.'
These words of Mr. Lincoln could not have appealed very strongly to the farmers of Wisconsin or the neighboring states when land and its products were about the cheapest thing in which men dealt.
Why expend money or especial effort to increase production when the most indifferent farming produced more than could be used and the surplus in many cases would not bring the bare cost of production? Why spend money in building up and enriching the soil when for two thousand miles, from the Mississippi to the Pacific, land as rich and fertile as the best on earth could be had for the asking.
Fifty years later this admonition, under the changed conditions, comes with the force and significance of prophecy, because it applies now to a vital, burning question in which lie the issues of national life or death.
When these words were spoken, and for thirty years following, production exceeded consumption, and there was a steady, continuous, heart-breaking decline in the values of the thing produced.
Now, and for ten years past, consumption is overtaking production with alarming rapidity, and values are rising by leaps and bounds.
Then, increased consumption could be provided for by increased acreage; now, this is impossible. Increased consumption can only be met by increased production on substantially our present acreage.
Then, the outlook for agriculture was dark and almost hopeless, the market was limited, prices low, and the tendency was always down. Now, the market is unlimited at liberal and steadily advancing prices."