Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 85.djvu/381

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377
CULTIVATION OF WASTE LAND

THE CULTIVATION OF WASTE LAND[1]
By A. D. HALL, M.A., F.R.S.

THE president of a Section of the British Association has two very distinct precedents before him for his address; he can either set about a general review of the whole subject to which his section is devoted or he can give an account of one of his own investigations which he judges to be of wider interest and application than usual. The special circumstances of this meeting in Australia have suggested to me another course. I have tried to find a topic which under one or other of its aspects may be equally interesting both to my colleagues from England and to my audience who are farming here in this great continent. My subject will be the winning of new land for agriculture, the bringing into cultivation of land that has hitherto been left to run to waste because it was regarded as unprofitable to farm. To some extent, of course, this may be regarded as the normal process by which new countries are settled; the bush is cleared and the plough follows, or under other conditions the rough native herbage gives way to pasture under the organized grazing of sheep or cattle. I wish, however, to deal exclusively with what are commonly termed the bad lands, inasmuch as in many parts of the world though recently settled, agriculture is being forced to attack these bad lands because the supply of natural farming land is running short. In a new country farming begins on the naturally fertile soils that only require a minimum of cultivation to yield profitable crops, and the newcomers wander further afield in order to find land which will in the light of their former experience be good. Before long the supply is exhausted, the second-class land is then taken up until the stage is reached of experimentation upon soils that require some special treatment or novel form of agriculture before they can be utilized at all. Perhaps North America affords the clearest illustration: its great agricultural development came with the opening up of the prairies of the Middle West, where the soil rich in the accumulated fertility of past cycles of vegetation was both easy to work and grateful for exploitation. But with the growth of population and the continued demand for land no soils of that class have been available for the last generation or so, and latterly we find the problem has been how to make use of the arid lands, either by irrigation or by dry-farming where the rainfall can still be made adequate for partial cropping, or, further, how to convert the soils that are absolutely poisoned by alkali salts into something

  1. Address of the president to the Agricultural Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Australia, 1914.