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Wisconsin Dairymen's Association / Fortieth annual report of the Wisconsin Dairymen's Association : held at Beloit, Wis., November, 1911. Report of the proceedings, annual address of the president, and interesting essays and discussions relating to the dairy interests

McDowell, J. C.
Soil management,   pp. 45-59 PDF (3.5 MB)

Page 45

Wisconsin Dairymen's Association.
Representing United States Dept. of Agriculture, Washington, D. C.
The soil is not a dead, cold mass of matter that can profitably be
studied only in the chemical laboratory, or by consulting the dry pages
of the numerous textbooks that have been written on the subject.
No, our fertile soils are full of life and energy and they demand the
constant, thoughtful care of the intelligent farmer as much as does
the spirited horse, or the best cow in the barn. To be careless in
our treatment of the soil is as fatal to profitable agriculture as to be
indifferent in the treatment of our live stock. No one would expect
much work from the shivering horse that is too thin to cast a re-
spectable shadow, then why should anybody expect to harvest thirty
bushels of wheat per acre, or expect his soil to yield eighty bushels
of corn, when the land has been poorly plowed, carelessly cultivated,
and when it is literally starving for lack of plant food and for want
of humus?
The roots of corn wheat, oats, and barley may penetrate the soil to
a depth of three or four feet, and clover and alfalfa roots may extend
much deeper, yet the fact remains that nearly all the food of plants
is gathered in by the great network of roots that forage in the sur-
face six inches, or at most in the surface foot of soil. Remove from
this old earth its outer twelve inch layer, or destroy this foot of sur-
face soil in any way, and all the riches of the world would be for-
gotten in the cry for bread. Knowing that the natural process of
soil building is very slow, and that it has required many thousands
of years to make this thin soil blanket for the earth, knowing also
that our soils are already badly worn in places, and that they are the
final source of all our food and clothing, is it not worth while to pause
a little in our rush for wealth and consider how best the fertility of
these soils may be preserved?
Should our gold mines ever become exhausted, some other metal
would doubtless take the place of gold; long before the coal mines
yield up their last ton of coal our scientists and inventors will have
harnessed the river, the tides, and the heat rays of the sun, and from
these sources we will receive power, heat, and light; but when the
law of diminishing returns causes our soils to respond feebly to the
labor of the farmer, and the cost of living becomes unendurable, we
must learn how to manage our farms so as to increase production
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