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Crops and Methods for Soil Improvement

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In Lieu of Preface.—This book is not a technical treatise and is designed only to point out the plain, every-day facts in the natural scheme of making and keeping soils productive. It is concerned with the crops, methods, and fertilizers that favor the soil. The viewpoint, all the time, is that of the practical man who wants cash compensation for the intelligent care he gives to his land. The farming that leads into debt, and not in the opposite direction, is poor farming, no matter how well the soil may prosper under such treatment. The maintenance and increase of soil fertility go hand in hand with permanent income for the owner when the science that relates to farming is rightly used. Experiment stations and practical farmers have developed a dependable science within recent years, and there is no jarring of observed facts when we get hold of the simple philosophy of it all.

Natural Strength of Land.—Nearly all profitable farming in this country is based upon the fundamental fact that our lands are storehouses of fertility, and that this reserve of power is essential to a successful agriculture. Most soils, no matter how unproductive their condition to-day, have natural strength that we take into account, either consciously or unconsciously. Some good farm methods came into use thousands of years ago. Experience led to their acceptance. They were adequate only because there was natural strength in the land. Nature stored plant-food in more or less inert form and, as availability has been gained, plants have grown. Our dependence continues.

Plant Constituents.—There are a few technical terms whose use cannot be evaded in the few chapters on the use of lime and fertilizers. A plant will not come to maturity unless it can obtain for its use combinations of ten chemical elements. Agricultural land and the air provide all these elements. If they were in abundance in available forms, there would be no serious soil fertility problem. Some of their names may not interest us. Six or seven of these elements are in such abundance that we do not consider them. A farmer may say that when a dairy cow has luxuriant blue-grass in June, and an abundance of pure water, her wants are fully met. He omits mention of the air because it is never lacking in the field. In the same way the land-owner may forget the necessity of any kind of plant-food in the soil except nitrogen, phosphoric acid, potash, and lime. Probably the lime is very rarely deficient as a food for plants, and will be considered later only as a means of making soils friendly to plant life.

Nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash are the three substances that may not be in available form in sufficient amount for a growing crop. The lack may be in all three, or in any two, or in any one, of these plant constituents. The natural strength of the soil includes the small percentage of these materials that may be available, and the relatively large stores that nature has placed in the land in inert form as a provision against waste....