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Grain-growing East And West

I disclaim all pretensions to ability to teach Western farmers how to

grow Indian Corn abundantly and profitably, while I cheerfully admit

that they have taught me somewhat thoroughly worth knowing. In my

boyhood, I hoed Corn diligently for weeks at a time, drawing the earth

from between the rows up about the stalks to a depth of three or four

inches; thus forming hills which the West has since taught me to be of

no us
, but rather a detriment, embarrassing the efforts of the growing,

hungry plants to throw out their roots extensively in every direction,

and subjecting them to needless injury from drouth. I am thoroughly

convinced that Corn, properly planted, will, like Wheat and all other

grains, root itself just deep enough in the ground, and that to keep

down all weeds and leave the surface of the corn-field open, mellow and

perfectly flat, is the best as well as the cheapest way to cultivate

Corn. And I do not believe that so much human food, with so little

labor, is produced elsewhere on earth as in the spacious fields of

Wheat and Corn in our grand Mississippi valley.

And yet I have seen in that valley many ample stretches covered with

Corn, whereof the tillage seemed susceptible of improvement. Riding

between these great corn-fields in October, after everything standing

thereon had been killed by frost, it seemed to my observation that,

while the corn-crop was fair, the weed-crop was far more luxuriant; so

that, if everything had been cut clean from the ground, and the corn and

the weeds placed in opposite scales, the latter would have weighed down

the former. I cannot doubt that the cultivation, or lack of cultivation,

which produces or permits such results, is not merely slovenly, but


The West is for the present, as for a generation she has been, the

granary of the East. In my judgment, she will not long be content to

remain so. Fifty years ago, the Genesee valley supplied most of the

wheat and flour imported into New-England; ten years later, Northern

Ohio was our principal resource; ten years later still, Michigan,

Indiana, northern Illinois, and eastern Wisconsin, had been added to our

grain-growing territory. Another decade, and our flour manufacturers had

crossed the Mississippi, laying Iowa and Minnesota under liberal

contributions, while western New-York had ceased to grow even her own

breadstuffs, and Ohio to produce one bushel more than she needed for

home consumption. Can we doubt that this steady recession of our Egypt,

our Hungary, is destined to continue? Twenty-three years ago, when I

first rode out from the then rising village of Chicago to see the

Illinois prairies, nearly every wagon I met was loaded with wheat, going

into Chicago, to be sold for about fifty cents per bushel, and the

proceeds loaded back in the form of lumber, groceries, and almost

everything else, grain excepted, needed by the pioneers, then dotting,

thinly and irregularly, that whole region with their cabins. Now, I

presume the district I then traversed produces hardly more grain than it

consumes; taking Illinois altogether, I doubt that she will grow her own

breadstuffs after 1880; not that she will be unable to produce a large

surplus, but that her farmers will have decided that they can use their

lands otherwise to greater advantage. Iowa and Minnesota will continue

to export grain for perhaps twenty years longer; but even their time

will come for saying, "New-York and New-England (not to speak of Old

England) are too far away to furnish profitable markets for such bulky

products; the cost of transportation absorbs the larger part of the

cargo. We must export instead Wool, Meat, Lard, Butter, Cheese, Hops,

and various Manufactures, whereof the freight will range from 2 up to

not more than 25 per cent. of the value." They thus save their soil from

the tremendous exaction made by taking grain-crop after grain-crop

persistently, which long ago exhausted most of New-England and eastern

New-York of wheat-forming material, and has since wrought the same

deplorable result in our rich Genesee valley; while eastern

Pennsylvania, though settled nearly two centuries ago, having pursued a

more rational and provident system of husbandry, grows excellent

wheat-crops to this day.

I insist that the States this side of the Delaware; though they will

draw much grain from the Canadas after the political change that cannot

be far distant, will be compelled to grow a very considerable share of

their own breadstuff; that the West will cease to supply them unless at

prices which they will deem exorbitant; and that grain-growing eastward

of a line drawn from Baltimore this north to the Lakes will have to be

very considerably extended. Let us see, then, whether this might not be

done with profit even now, and whether the East is not unwise in having

so generally abandoned grain-growing.

I leave out of the account most of New-England, as well as of Eastern

New-York, and the more rugged portions of New-Jersey and Pennsylvania,

where the rocky, hilly, swampy face of the country seems to forbid any

but that patchy cultivation, wherein machinery and mechanical power

can scarcely be made available, and which seem, therefore, permanently

fated to persevere in a system of agriculture and horticulture not

essentially unlike that they now exhibit. In the valleys of the

Penobscot, the Kennebec, the Hudson, and of our smaller rivers, there

are considerable tracts absolutely free from these natural impediments,

whereon a larger and more efficient husbandry is perfectly practicable,

even now; but these intervales are generally the property of many

owners; are cut up by roads and fences; and are held at high prices: so

that I will simply pass them by, and take for illustration the "Pine

Barrens" of Southern New-Jersey, merely observing that what I say of

them is equally applicable, with slight modifications, to large portions

of Long Island, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas.

The "Pine Barrens" of New-Jersey are a marine deposit of several hundred

feet in depth, mainly sand, with which more or less clay is generally

intermingled, while there are beds and even broader stretches of this

material nearly or quite pure; the clay sometimes underlying the sand at

a depth of 10 to 30 or 40 inches. Vast deposits of muck or leaf-mold,

often of many acres in extent and from two to twenty feet in depth, are

very common; so that hardly any portion of the dry or sandy land is two

miles distant from one or more of them, while some is usually much

nearer; and half the entire region is underlaid by at least one stratum

of the famous marl (formed of the decomposed bones of gigantic marine

monsters long ago extinct) which has already played so important and

beneficent a part in the renovation and fertilization of large districts

in Monmouth, Burlington, Salem, and other counties.

Let us suppose now that a farmer of ample means and generous capacity

should purchase four hundred acres of these "barrens," with intent to

produce therefrom, not sweet potatoes, melons, and the "truck" to which

Southern Jersey is so largely devoted, but substantial Grain and Meat;

and let us see whether the enterprise would probably pay.

Let us not stint the outlay, but, presuming the tract to be eligibly

located on a railroad not too distant from some good marl-bed, estimate

as follows:

Purchase-money of 400 acres at $25 per acre $10,000

Clearing, grubbing, fencing and breaking up ditto at $20

per acre, over and above the proceeds of the wood 8,000

One thousand bushels of best Marl per acre, at 6 cents per

bushel delivered 24,000

One hundred loads of Swamp Muck, per acre, at 50 cents

per load 20,000

Fifty bushels (unslaked) of Oyster-shell Lime (to compost

with the Muck), per acre, at 25 cents per bushel, delivered 5,000

One hundred tuns of Bone Flour at $50 per tun 5,000


[Net cost, $180 per acre.] Total $72,000

I believe that this tract, divided by light fences into four fields of

100 acres each, and seeded in rotation to Corn, Wheat, Clover and other

grasses, would produce fully 60 bushels of Corn and 30 of Wheat per

acre, with not less than 3 tuns of good Hay; and that by cutting,

steaming, and feeding the stalks and straw on the place, not pasturing,

but keeping up the stock, and feeding them, as indicated in a former

chapter of these essays, and selling their product in the form of Milk,

Butter, Cheese and Meat, a greater profit would be realized than could

be from a like investment in Iowa or Kansas. The soil is warm, readily

frees itself, or is freed, from surplus water; is not addicted to weeds;

may be plowed at least 200 days in a year; may be sowed or planted in

the Spring, when Minnesota is yet solidly frozen; while the crop, early

matured, is on hand to take advantage of any sudden advance in the

European or our own seaboard markets. Labor, also, is cheaper and more

rapidly procured in the neighborhood of this great focus of immigration

than it is or can be in the West; and our capable farmers may take their

pick of the workers thronging hither from Europe, at the moment of their

landing on our shore. Of course, the owner of such an estate as I have

roughly outlined, would be likely to keep a part of his purchase in

timber, proving the quality thereof by cutting out the less desirable

trees, trimming up the rest, and planting new ones among them; and he

would be almost certain to devote some part of his farm annually to the

growth of Roots, Vegetables, and Fruits. But I have aimed to show only

that he would grow grain here at a profit, and I think I have succeeded.

His 60 bushels of corn (shelled) per acre could be sold at his crib, one

year with another, for 60 silver dollars; and he need seldom wait a

month after husking it for customers who would gladly take his grain and

pay the money for it. This would be just about double what the Iowa or

Missouri farmer can expect to average for his Corn. The abundant

fodder would also be worth in New-Jersey at least double its value in

Iowa; and I judge that the farmer able to buy, prepare, fertilize, and

cultivate 1,200 acres of the Jersey "barrens," could make more than

thrice the profit to be realized by the owner of 400 acres. He would

plow and seed as well as thrash, shell, cut stalks and straw, and

prepare the food of his animals, wholly by steam-power, and would soon

learn to cultivate a square mile at no greater expense than is now

involved in the as perfect tillage of 200 acres.

This essay is not intended to prove that Grain is not or may not be

profitably cultivated at the West, nor that it is unadvisable for

Eastern farmers to migrate thither in order so to cultivate it. What I

maintain is, that Wheat, Indian Corn, and nearly all our great food

staples, may also be profitably produced on the seaboard, and that

thousands of square miles, now nearly or quite unproductive, may be

wisely and profitably devoted to such production. Let us regard,

therefore, without alarm, the prospect of such a development and

diversification of Western Industry as will render necessary a large and

permanent extension (or rather revival) of Eastern grain-growing.