( Originally Published 1918 )
Agriculture. In telling about the various ways in which the population of this country has dealt with its natural environment to make a living, we shall begin with the agricultural industries. This is because farming was in colonial times, and is now, the foundation of all industry. All the needs of man for food, clothing, and shelter are supplied by products of the soil ; for all animal products would disappear along with all the animals were it not for the food supplied by plant life and derived from the earth. Agriculture is, as Napoleon is reported to have said, " the foundation of commerce and manufacture." Many of the raw materials important and indispensable for manufacture are derived from agriculture, to say nothing of the farmer being the producer of food to support human life in general. Agriculture is an industry that cannot die or lapse unless the race is to pass away. Other industries may be temporary — mines may become exhausted — but agriculture must persist. It goes without the saying that agriculture is always a powerful bulwark of national strength.
Agriculture and the physical factors. As compared with other industries agriculture is more intimately dependent upon the physical factors of natural environment reviewed in our first chapter ; indeed, these factors are the really determining ones in the production of crops. And this is said in full realization of the powerful influence upon those other industries which is exercised by climate, weather, water supply, and the other factors mentioned above.
Agriculture in the United States. Agriculture has always been the foundation of American industries and trade ; it has been the principal source of our wealth. Throughout the whole colonial period it was the main industry ; in fact, it was the only really dominant employment of the country until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Even in sections which derived consider-able income from fishing and commerce, such as New England, agriculture was nevertheless the foundation of things. Up to 188o fifteen out of twenty-one presidents of the United States were farmers or the sons of farmers. Not until 1880 did the combined value of all the manufactures of our country surpass the value of the agricultural products ; and, in spite of the tremendous advances made in our manufactures during the last few decades, there are still more of our population engaged in agriculture than in manufacturing. So that it is fair to say that agriculture still continues to be the dominant factor in our national wealth.
Our preeminence in agriculture. We have also surpassed all other countries in agricultural development; we lead in the annual value of farm crops produced. This preeminence is due to a combination of favoring factors, some of which have been mentioned above : diversity of fertile soils ; diversity of climatic conditions, so that numerous crops can be raised (in the wheat belt, corn belt, cotton belt, tobacco belt, etc.); an energetic and resourceful population ; cooperative state and Federal departments of agriculture, which further the interests of scientific methods ; and a highly developed transportation system, allowing of the ready marketing of crops. The following are representative types of agricultural industries.
Cereals. Cereals hold the leading place among the great variety of foodstuffs raised by man for himself and for his domestic animals. The most important cereals are maize (Indian corn), wheat, oats, barley, rye, rice, and sorghum (including the millets). Buckwheat may be added to this list, though it is not strictly a cereal. The cereal crop has always occupied the larger part of our cultivated land, and there are produced in this country, in an average year, upwards of 5,000,000,000 bushels of cereals, having a value of $3,000,000,000 or more.
Maize. Maize was the only cereal of importance native to the Americas. It was probably not native to the United States. However, when Europeans first opened up the New World, this plant was being raised from Canada to southern Chile, and was a staple vegetable food of the Indians. In colonial times it formed the principal food crop; and it held its position until wheat was brought in from Europe and became common. Maize was the great gift of the Indians to the white man ; the colonists quickly adopted its cultivation from the natives, and it was lucky for them that such a resource existed. Maize comes to maturity speedily and its yield is large, although it requires less cultivation than almost any other food crop ; it was thus wonderfully adapted to crude pioneer farming. In colonial times the amount produced in New England was comparatively small ; but other colonies — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, the two Carolinas, and Georgia—were exporting corn extensively; and Virginia exported, more than once, over 575,000 bushels. This grain surplus was exchanged for necessary European products.
Corn in the West. It was the opening up of the West that paved the way for an unheard-of development of corn production, for the real cereal belt of the country lies west of the Alleghenies. The completion of the Erie Canal, in 1825, and the later construction of railroads insured cheap transportation for the crops; and the fact that corn turned out to be an excellent food for cattle and hogs stimulated production. In some years there was so much corn in the West that it was used for fuel. About 1870, in certain districts, corn was considered a cheaper fuel than coal at nine dollars a ton — and this does not refer to the cobs alone, but includes the grain on the cob. Perhaps we could not find a better illustration of the natural productiveness of the Western farms than this case of burning up as fuel a food now in great demand in the world.
The corn crop. In 1870 our corn crop for the first time exceeded 1,000,000,000 bushels, and in only three years since (1871, 1873, and 1874) has the yield been under that figure. No country has ever surpassed ours in corn production, nor have we any serious rivals in this line. We raise about four fifths of the world's corn ; and this crop easily leads our others in money value, as well as in acreage and quantity produced. About one half of the corn is raised in the " corn belt," which includes the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri. The average yield is close to 30 bushels per acre.
Corn exports. Our exports of corn are small. Corn meal does not keep well enough for exportation ; and Europe lacks facilities for milling the kernels. As a matter of fact, the people of Europe do not prize corn as a food for man to anything like the degree it deserves ; some of them seem to think it a hardship to be obliged to use it, even in war times, instead of wheat. This astonishes an American when he first learns of the fact. Most of the world's maize, is used to feed stock, and this is especially true since, despite our own use of corn meal as a food for man, we, the greatest producers of corn, are ,also leading producers of meat products. We really export our corn " on the hoof " ; that is, in the form of beef and pork. We cause the corn to be transformed into meat before we send much of it abroad. But thus transformed it becomes, as we shall see later on, one of our most important export materials. This explains the rather surprising statement with which this paragraph begins.
Wheat. The use of wheat bread as a staple article of diet is now regarded as a mark of higher civilization ; wheat is a sort of aristocratic food. This is a kind of tradition, though there is some sense in it, for it is not so much the superior value of wheat for sustaining life that makes it desirable as it is its greater attractiveness, both in the matter of taste and in the great variety of forms in which it may appear upon the table. There is a good deal of fashion in foods, as well as in dress, and wheat is the fashion among civilized nations of the Occident ; it is preferred to corn, as we have seen, for corn is regarded much as Dr. Johnson regarded oatmeal — as horse food for the ivilized Englishman, although Scotchmen, whom he hated, were low down enough to eat it. This nonsense of fashion extends even farther; for it is the fashion to insist upon using wheat flour which is almost perfectly white, but whose whiteness results from getting rid of what is the most nutritious part of the wheat grain. However, the use of "whole wheat" is becoming, with the extension of real knowledge about the constituents of the grain, somewhat more the mode, and is insisted upon by some people who wish to be considered scientific in the matter of their eating.
Wheat in the colonies. Wheat was not known in America before Columbus ; but in the Old World its cultivation reaches back to very ancient times — in fact into prehistoric ages, for wheat grains have been found in the ruins of Swiss lake dwellings. We cannot be sure about the exact circumstances of its introduction into America. There is a story of a Spaniard who found a few grains mixed in with his rice, and who carefully picked them out and planted them, thus introducing the cereal into the Spanish-American colonies. Wheat was probably brought over by early English colonists and sown by them. For a time Virginia gave considerable attention to its culture, several hundred acres having been sown to wheat as early as 1648 ; but the tobacco crop proved to be so much more profitable in Virginia, despite the demand for wheat, that the latter was allowed to decline. Wheat was early grown in New England, but there seems to have been trouble in raising the crop, so that the colonists fell back on corn and potatoes. Wheat almost passed out of cultivation with the opening of new lands in the central colonies, just as the wheat production of the Atlantic states declined in the face of the superior productivity of the Mississippi Valley in the middle of the nineteenth century. But at the time of the Revolution wheat was one of the leading exports of the Northern colonies, and the prominent wheat producer of 1750 was New Jersey.
Wheat in the West. About the middle of the next century the center of wheat-raising began to move rapidly westward. In 1849 only a little over 5 per cent of the total wheat crop was produced in states west of the Mississippi, while the Atlantic coastal states were responsible for over half. Pennsylvania was then the chief wheat state in the Union. But by 1869 the Atlantic states were raising only a fifth of this crop, and the center of production was swiftly moving into the real " wheat belt." This was due to several causes, such as the rapid settlement of the prairie lands of the Ohio and upper Mississippi valleys, the suitability of the climate and soil in those sections, the development of railroads toward the west, the improvement in agricultural implements, the invention of the threshing machine, and other such preparations for culture on the grand scale.
The wheat crop. Our country contains the greatest wheat fields in the world. The largest yield of wheat which we have ever had, in a single year, was 1,025,801,000 bushels, in 1915. The center of its production is some distance west of Des Moines, Iowa, having moved, since 185o, nearly seven hundred miles west and one hundred north. Our crop amounts to about one quarter of the world's product. The average yield per acre in the United States is about 15 bushels ; if much care is given to the crop, where it is not raised on a large scale, the yield is considerably greater than this figure.
Industries connected with corn and wheat. Connected with wheat and corn production are many manufacturing industries, such as milling and bolting the flour, and a number of storing and transportation industries. Grain elevators and transportation agencies give employment to much capital and many men. Of an average annual crop of about 700,000,000 bushels of wheat, we now need five sixths or more for our own use ; the remainder is exported either in the raw state or in the form of flour. The Great War called into use in America a great variety of wheat substitutes, so that unusually large shipments of wheat might be released to be sent to the Allies.
Oats. This is one of the grains which has been in some countries unpopular as a human food, but in northern Europe it is much used for that purpose. Said a Scotchman who was joked by an Englishman because men ate in Scotland what horses ate in England, " That is why you have good horses in England and we have good men in Scotland." In this country oats are used chiefly as stock food, and by man in the form of oatmeal, rolled oats, etc. There was a sort of wild oat, called pin-grass, native to this country, but the variety we use was introduced from the Old World, where it was used in very early times.
The oats crop. The cultivated variety of oats was introduced into America near the beginning of the seventeenth century, and in colonial times oats formed an important crop in New England and the middle colonies. The plant thrives best in a fairly cool and moist climate ; the leading oats-producing states have always been the northern ones ; at the present time 80 to 90 per cent of our crop is raised in the North Atlantic and North Central states. As early as 1840 the annual crop amounted to 123,000,000 bushels, and development has been so rapid that we now raise over 1,000,000,000 bushels a year—the largest yield of any country, although European Russia is a close second. The aver-age yield per acre is not far from 30 bushels—much larger than that of wheat, and slightly above that of corn.
Barley. This is one of the earliest of cultivated cereals. The plant is very hardy and will stand considerable cold, but it can be grown successfully in a comparatively warm climate ; thus it is adapted to a wide range of conditions. Until rather recent times barley has been used extensively as human food, and barley bread is still a common article of diet, especially for the poor, in certain regions ; but as wealth and civilization have extended, wheat has supplanted barley as human food, and barley has been used almost solely for animal food and for malt. The world's barley is produced chiefly by Russia, Germany, Austria, and Hungary.
The barley crop. This grain was introduced into the colonies early in the seventeenth century, being sown in Massachusetts in 162o, and in Virginia in 161 ; in the latter region it soon declined before the dominant tobacco production, but it remained an important crop in the middle colonies and New England. Barley never got a real foothold in this country, however, until recent years. In 184o we raised a little over 4,000,000 bushels, and as late as 1870 less than 30,000,000. But at present the barley production is on the rapid increase ; in 1900 the area sown to barley was still less than 3,000,000 acres and the harvest was 59,000,000 bushels, but since that time both the acreage and the production have greatly expanded. The crop is raised chiefly in Minnesota, the Dakotas, California, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
Rye. Rye is a close relative of wheat, but its cultivation began much later than that of wheat and barley ; it was not cultivated in the Roman Empire much before the time of Christ. It is an extremely hardy cereal, will grow on poor soil, and will stand a severe climate. Once rye was much used for human food, and is so used now in Europe, notably in Scandinavia, North Germany, and parts of Russia, where " black bread " is a staple food of the peasants. Elsewhere it is mainly a cattle food, or it is used in making intoxicants, such as whisky in America and vodka in Russia.
The rye crop. Rye was to be found under cultivation in this country in 1648. By 1801 the country exported nearly 400,000 bushels, and rye production spread pretty generally over the Northern states. In colonial times it was commonly used as human food, being mixed with Indian meal in bread-making ; and this sort of bread for a long time remained popular in rural New England.
But rye has not shared to any great extent in the agricultural expansion of the country ; its march westward has lagged far behind that of other cereals. The acreage of rye is today about three times that of thirty or more years ago, and since the yield per acre has increased to about 16 or 17 bushels, the annual crop has grown considerably ; however, it is still under 95,000,000 bushels, out of a world crop of 175 3000,000 bushels. The states raising the most rye are Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, the Dakotas, and Nebraska.
Rice. Wild rice is found over wide areas in the United States and is rather common in the north central part of the country. It was parched by the Indians. But the rice of commerce is an imported product, probably native in southern Asia, where it was cultivated ages ago ; it was brought comparatively recently to Europe, supposably by the Moors into Spain. White rice is the variety originally introduced into this country.