Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/46

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36
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

How great a revolution in the business of agriculture is yet to be effected by the cultivation of land in large tracts, with the full use of machinery and under the factory system, is matter for the future to reveal; but it can not be doubted that the shiftless, wasteful methods of agriculture, now in practice over enormous areas of the earth's surface, are altogether too barbarous to be much longer tolerated; and, as the result of such progress, the return of the prices of meats and cereals to their former higher rates, which many are anticipating on account of the increasing number of the world's consumers, may be delayed indefinitely. Possibly in the not very remote future, the world — as its population shows no signs of abatement in its increase — may be confronted with a full occupation of all farming land and a great comparative diminution of product through an exhaustion of its elements of fertility; but, before that time arrives, improvements may possibly be made in agriculture which will have practically the same effect as an increase in the quantity of land; or possibly chemistry may be able to produce food by the direct combination of its inorganic elements.

Finally, a comprehensive review of the economic changes of the last quarter of a century, and a careful balancing of what seems to have been good and what seems to have been evil in respect to results, would seem to warrant the following conclusions: That the immense material progress that these changes have entailed has been for mankind in general, movement upward, and not downward; for the better and not for the worse; and that the epoch of time under consideration will hereafter rank in history as one that has had no parallel, but which corresponds in importance with the periods that successively followed the Crusades, the invention of gunpowder, the emancipation of thought through the Reformation, and the invention of the steam-engine; when the whole plane of civilization and

the animals themselves (I do not mean now on the wild-stock ranges, but even on the trans-Missouri farms) have no roof over their heads, except the canopy of heaven, with the mercury going occasionally twenty and even thirty degrees below zero. These wasteful methods in farming are in part promoted by the United States homestead law, and the occupation of the hitherto inexhaustible expanse of cheap lands. When the ignorant, degraded, and impecunious can no longer acquire a hundred and sixty acres upon which to employ their barbarous methods, and when the land already taken up shall have risen from the low prices at which it now stands to fifty dollars or more per acre, a new dispensation will arrive. Neither the cattle, nor the food which the cattle consume, will then be raised by any such methods as now prevail; neither will they be exposed to the elements in winter. True enough, the opening up of other virgin fields in Australia, South America, Africa, and elsewhere, may retard this rise in the value of the land in the western part of our continent, and thus to a certain extent delay the passing of the land exclusively into the hands of larger capitalists and better managers; but it must be considered that not all climates are suitable for energetic, capable farming populations, and likewise that the best forage plants are restricted to temperate latitudes."