« AnteriorContinuar »
COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE.
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE,
Washington, D. C., December 1, 1869. SIR: I have the honor to submit the eighth annual report of the Commissioner of Agriculture.
The year has been one of vicissitude; of mingled constancy and change; of general fruitfulness and local blight; of genial sun and fructifying rains, with periods of drought and inflictions of destroying tempest and deluging flood. The meteorology of the year has been marked and peculiar, threatening disasters which have been partially averted, and attended with various compensations. He that “causeth the grass to grow for the cattle and herb for the service of man,” has overruled the strife of the elements, and crowned another year with goodness and blessing, so that “the pastures are clothed with flocks, and the valleys are covered over with corn.”
The effect of these meteorological changes has been more or less injurious, in proportion to the degree of negligence in culture and crudity in condition of heavy or moist lands. In some instances soils which are naturally of superior excellence, but in inferior mechanical condition, have yielded unprofitable returns. The production of the country might be increased hundreds of millions of dollars by more thorough comminution of soils, by their proper modification and amelioration, and by the draining of saturated or tenacious lands. The loss from want of these agricultural improvements, serious in any season, is exceptionally large the present year. As another result, a wider range is seen in the rate of production per acre, extending from decided success to utter failure.
The monetary returns of the harvest have been equally varied with the degree of natural production. The general financial tendency toward a shrinking of values has reduced the prices of abundant crops, and caused a depression which has not been exceeded in the same quarters for years. The wheat farmer, with a full garner, is not joyous over his market returns; while the corn-grower, if blest with a full crop,'has no cause for despondency. The cotton producer, who has not yet glutted the markets of the world with over-production, is jubilant over his golden gains. This difference in values and resulting profits, always varying, yet ever observed in some degree, is more strikingly prominent than usual, and teaches the necessity of accurate calculation of the changing proportions of supply and demand, and the importance of variety in farm production, with due regard to a careful equilibrium between the multiform branches of rural industry.
The tendency of present prices of farm products indicates the necessity of increased attention to the propagation, growing, and fattening of farm animals, and to the production of meats, poultry, butter, cheese, milk, and various other animal products; while the prevalence of special cropping, upon a depletive and exhaustive system, enforces urgently the appeal for a mixed husbandry based upon stock-growing.
The activity and business energy of our countrymen naturally lead to great enterprises, in which much capital is employed, and labor is economized and made effective by means of machinery. While a mixed agriculture is recommended for farmers of limited means and moderate ambition, large ventures in special culture, by men of ample capital and great executive ability, should not be discouraged, unless their increased production is obtained at the expense of deterioration of the soil. Examples of large products and great profits act as a spur to the enterprise of the average farmer, but may work a serious injury to those in whom energy and zeal are not sufficiently supported by capital and ability to manage large affairs.
The American farmer is cultivating not soil alone, but brains. The most potent agricultural educator is the agricultural press. It wields a power a tithe of which it did not possess twenty years ago. Its improvement within that period has been wonderful, and its progress was never so apparent as at the present time. The most practical, earnest, and scientific workers in agriculture are the editors and writers of our rural literature. The mass of farmers are advancing in intelligence, and no longer stigmatize as “book-farming” the written experience of the most scientific and the most successful of their own class.
The industrial colleges, from which co-operation in this direction is confidently expected, are yet in process of organization. The Cornell University, with a munificent endowment, has been opened under gratifying auspices; a new faculty has been assigned to the Pennsylvania College; the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts has just finished its initiatory course; the Massachusetts Agricultural College is fully organized and working successfully; the State Agricultural College of Michigan has enjoyed a year of prosperity; and the institutions of Maine, Connecticut, Maryland, Kentucky, Mlinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Kansas have reported a reasonable degree of progress. Other institutions are on the eve of organization for active effort. It is desirable that all the States shall employ in the wisest manner this agency for advancing the intellectual status of the industrial classes.
RENEWAL OF CANADIAN RECIPROCITY,
The farming interest is unalterably opposed to the proposition for the renewal of the reciprocity treaty with the Dominion of Canada, a measure fraught with dangerous competition, with few compensating advantages; a measure by which surplus crops grown with cheaper labor, bearing no part of the burden of our national taxation, would find convenient market in our seaboard cities, while our own surplus, produced at greater distance from our principal market, is subject to expensive transportation and heavy taxation. A limited number of merchants and forwarders in northeastern cities might realize a small advantage, but no class of American farmers would derive the least benefit from the arrangement. There is no good reason why the duties levied upon imports should not be operative alike, without favor or invidious distinction, upon all foreign powers and nationalities. If Canada, on one side, may be exempt from commercial restrictions, Mexico, on the other, may claim a similar advantage, and any foreign nation may demand exemption from restrictions which are equivalent only to the excise burdens placed necessarily upon our own people.
THE WOOL INDUSTRY.
A period of depression has been realized by our wool-growers during the past four years, which has been shared by all other wool-growing countries, but which has been greatly modified and relieved by the operation of the present tariff, which has prevented the utter prostration of this necessary branch of industry in the present, and assured its rapid recuperation in the future. A sufficient quantity of carpet wools, not produced in this country, has been admitted from abroad at low rates of duty; a sufficiency of most grades of clothing wools has been produced at home and sold at lower prices than when foreign wools were admitted at nominal rates; and an impetus has been given to the production of combing wools, which will not only greatly benefit the textile interest, but iinprove the quality and quantity of mutton in the markets of the land.
Dissatisfied with present receipts and gloomy over future prospects, many farmers have sacrificed a portion of their flocks during the past year. It is estimated that four millions of culls were killed for pelts and tallow. American agriculture, in all its branches, is peculiarly subject to periods of elevation and depression from the impulsive action which stimulates over-production at one time, followed by panic and abandonment of the temporarily unprofitable pursuit. The wool interest has often suffered, not merely from ordinary causes of fluctuation, but more disastrously still from tariff charges, frequent and extreme as well as unexpected. It is essential to the welfare of this important industry that the present moderate schedule of duties should be continued without modification.
THE CENSUS OF 1870.
The importance of full and accurate statistics of production has never been sufficiently realized. In no country within the pale of civilization is the necessity of such means of information so imperative. Until 1850 no schedules of agricultural production were incorporated into the decennial census, and then only a few of the leading features were included. In 1860 the list was enlarged, while the anomalous omission of acreage of crops still marred the value of the work. This feature, the first in the economy of every foreign census of production, furnishes, in connection with that of quantities, invaluable means of comparison and analysis. The enlightened judgment of Congress will doubtless remedy this defect in former enumerations in legislating for the census of 1870; and it is of equal importance that the vague and meaningless distinctions of " improved” and “unimproved” land should be replaced by more natural and useful divisions, showing the acreage of actual tillage, of permanent pasture, fallows or commons, and wood lands. While the schedules should be judiciously enlarged, care should be exercised to prevent burdening them with excessive fullness, complexity, or obscurity, which would militate against the accuracy and diminish the value of the returns. The question of taking the census every five years by the national government is worthy of deliberate consideration in a country so rapidly progressive in population and settlement; and it is to be hoped that the provision for annual returns of the principal farm products by local officers of certain States will be extended till it embraces all the States.
The continued high price of cotton has made its culture more profitable than at any former period, and the crop of 1868 has yielded a larger amount of money than that of 1859. The yield of the past year exceeded very slightly the estimate of this Department, which was 2,380,000 bales. The present season has witnessed great activity in this culture, an increase of area cultivated, and more general and generous fertilization, and has also been characterized by drought in the seaboard States, and other causes of diminished production, which have modified the expectations of planters; yet the crop will exceed that of last year, and may reach 2,700,000 bales.
I regret to observe, from official correspondence and during a brief tour through the cotton States, the tendency to neglect other crops and concentrate all available labor and capital upon a single product, however profitable. The inevitable result will be more cotton and smaller net returns in money after the purchase of needed supplies, and, as a further result, a slower improvement of neglected lands. This bane of southern agriculture is still operative, and may cease to exist only when low prices, disaster, and despondency shall again arrest the impolitic and irrational course of production. I would not advise an attempt to keep up prices by limiting the yield; a somewhat larger supply of the staple is needed in the markets of the world; the present rates cannot be sustained indefinitely; but I would not foster the suicidal mania for cheapening the money-producing crop while rendering dearer every other that must be purchased as an auxiliary of its production.
It is gratifying, however, to note the increase of cotton manufactures in the cotton region, their flourishing condition, their large dividends, and the quality of their yarns and fabrics. Operatives are easily obtained, at reasonable wages, becoming readily inured to habits of systematic industry, and rapidly acquiring the requisite skill. At the commencement of the present year there were eighty-six cotton mills reported from southern States to the National Association of Cotton Manufacturers and Planters, running 225,063 spindles, consuming 31,415,750 pounds. The following are details of returns from the cotton States :
The cotton manufactured in the United States in 1860 was 422,704,975 pounds; in 1868, by these returns, 450,000,000 pounds. At the former date the home consumption was twenty per cent. of the crop; it is now forty per cent. As the ratio of consumption shall be further increased, the prosperity of the country and of the cotton section will advance.
The sugar interest is rapidly attaining its former proportions. A disposition is indicated to extend its culture beyond the cane plantations of the Mississippi River to Florida, Southern Georgia, and Texas. Fruit culture is gaining a prominence which it never before enjoyed; vineyards of hundreds of acres in extent have been established, and orchards of thousands of acres, with groves of oranges and other tropical fruits. There is evidence of progress also in the use of improved agricultural implements, the employment of fertilizers, and in the mental activity and spirit of inquiry which are moving the rural mind of this section.
THE WHEAT CULTURE.
The wheat interest is at present suffering from one of the periodical seasons of depression which are the inevitable result of exclusive reliance upon a single crop. A good yield was obtained last year, and a