Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/December 1898/The Wheat-Growing Capacity of the United States
|THE WHEAT-GROWING CAPACITY OF THE UNITED STATES.|
IN 1880 it happened to fall to me to make a forecast of the very great reduction in the price of wheat in Great Britain, which could then be predicated on the lessening cost of transportation from Chicago to the seaboard, thence to British ports, which was then sure to be soon followed by a large reduction in the railway charges for bringing the wheat to Chicago from the other Western centers of distribution. I then alleged that the time was not far off when, even if the price of wheat in Mark Lane were reduced from the then existing rate of fifty-two shillings per quarter to thirty-four shillings, it would still yield as full a return to the Western farmer as it had yielded in previous years at fifty shillings and upward. This forecast attracted great attention, and has since been made the subject of very much bitter controversy, especially since the fall in prices was much more rapid than I then thought it could be, and was carried to a much lower point than any one could have then anticipated. It will be remarked that thirty-four shillings in Mark Lane is at the rate of one dollar and three cents per bushel of sixty pounds.
From time to time I have almost been forced to defend the position then taken, notably when asked to appear before the Royal Commission on Depression in Agriculture at one of their sessions, where I was kept upon the stand for two full days in the effort of the excellent English farmers and landowners to prove that the American farmer had been ruined by the reduction in the price of wheat, which the majority of that commission attributed to the demonetization of silver. The whole tone of that investigation and of a large part of the treatment of the wheat question in Great Britain has been one of complaint and of alleged wrong to British agriculture because the United States had succeeded in supplying the masses of the people of the United Kingdom with cheap bread, with sufficient profit to themselves to keep up the supply.
Now comes what may be called a cry of alarm from a scientist of highest repute lest England may be deprived even of an adequate supply of wheat, and lest the price should be forced to an exorbitant point. This view of the case was stated at great length by Sir William Crookes when assuming the presidency of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at the recent meeting in Bristol. This address is published in full in the Times of September 8th, the portion devoted to the wheat question filling three out of six columns of closely printed text; the other three are devoted to a complete review of the existing conditions of science. I venture to give a few extracts which will convey to the reader the aspect of the wheat' question from this essentially British point of view. Sir William Crookes begins with a sort of apology, which the writer can fully appreciate. He says:
"Statistics are rarely attractive to a listening audience, but they are necessary evils, and those of this evening are unusually doleful. . . . I am constrained to show that our wheat-producing soil is totally unequal to the strain put upon it. After wearying you with a survey of the universal dearth to be expected, I hope to point a way out of the colossal dilemma. It is the chemist who must come to the rescue of the threatened communities. It is through the laboratory that starvation may ultimately be turned into plenty."
One of the singular facts which becomes quickly apparent to any one who deals with this subject in Great Britain is the inability of the English farmer to think about agriculture except in terms of wheat. Now we have an example of our English scientist of the highest repute who seems to ignore all other grain and to predict future starvation on an expected deficiency in the supply of wheat. Sir William Crookes proceeds:
"The consumption of wheat per head of the population (unit consumption) is over six bushels per annum; and, taking the population at 40,000,000, we require no less than 240,000,000 bushels of wheat, increasing annually by 2,000,000 bushels to supply the increase of population. Of the total amount of wheat consumed in the United Kingdom we grow twenty-five and import seventy-five per cent."
He then deals with the impending scarcity, saying: "To arrest this impending danger it has been proposed that an amount of 64,000,000 bushels of wheat should be purchased by the state and stored in national granaries, not to be opened except to remedy deterioration of grain, or in view of national disaster rendering starvation imminent. This 64,000,000 bushels would add another fourteen weeks' life to the population."
After dealing with the fact that while it might be possible for the United Kingdom to supply itself with its own wheat at an average of twenty-nine and a half bushels to the acre, he goes on to say that this would require thirteen thousand square miles of British territory, increasing at the rate of one hundred square miles per annum; but he says it would be clearly impossible to assign so large a proportion of the area of the United Kingdom to a single crop without suffering in other matters, adding:
"In any case, owing to our cold, damp climate and capricious weather, the wheat crop is hazardous, and for the present our annual deficit of 180,000,000 bushels must be imported. A permanently higher price for wheat is, I fear, a calamity that ere long must be faced."
I can imagine with what a relish the Royal Commission on the Depression of Agriculture would have received this prophecy of a permanently higher price for wheat. Sir William Crookes goes on to say:
"Wheat is the most sustaining food grain of the great Caucasian race, which includes the peoples of Europe, United States, British America, the white inhabitants of South Africa, Australasia, parts of South America, and the white population of the European colonies."
He then points out how rapidly the consumers of wheat have increased, yet failing to attribute this increase in part to the rapid reduction in the cost. He says:
"In 1871 the bread-eaters of the world numbered 371,000,000; in 1881, 416,000,000; in 1891, 472,600,000; and at the present time they number 516,500,000. The augmentation of the world's bread-eating population in a geometrical ratio is evidenced by the fact that the yearly aggregates grow progressively larger. . . . To supply 516,500,000 bread-eaters, if each bread-eating unit is to have his usual ration, will require a total of 2,324,000,000 bushels for seed and food. According to the best authorities, the total supplies from the 1897-'98 harvest are 1,921,000,000."
It will be observed that while the English average consumption is said to be six bushels, the average employed in this computation is four and a half bushels per head. He then remarks upon the large harvests for seven years, saying: "Bread-eaters have almost eaten up the reserves of wheat, and the 1897 harvest being under average, the conditions become serious. . . . It is clear we are confronted with a colossal problem that must tax the wits of the wisest. Up to recent years the growth of wheat has kept pace with demands. As wheat-eaters increased, the acreage under wheat expanded. We forget that the wheat-growing area is of strictly limited extent, and that a few million acres regularly absorbed soon amount to a formidable number. The present position being so gloomy, let us consider future prospects."
He then deals successively with the United States, Russia, Canada, and other countries. In regard to the United States he remarks:
"Practically there remains no uncultivated prairie land in the United States suitable for wheat-growing. The virgin land has been rapidly absorbed, until at present there is no land left for wheat without reducing the area for maize, hay, and other necessary crops. It is almost certain that within a generation the ever-increasing population of the United States will consume all the wheat grown within its borders, and will be driven to import, and, like ourselves, will scramble for a lion's share of the wheat crop of the world."
It is difficult for a citizen of the United States who has given any attention to the potential of our land to conceive of such views being held by an Englishman of highest scientific intelligence. When I was in England last summer I had a long interview with the editor of one of the papers of widest influence in all Great Britain. I then remarked that there were forces in action in the United States in three or four different directions which would profoundly change all the conditions of British industry, and render the English-speaking people of the United Kingdom and the United States more and more interdependent. It is seldom that one finds more than an occasional half a column in any great English paper devoted to the subject of our economic relations and to the development either of the American iron industry, of its agriculture, or of the cotton production and manufacture. Yet, in all these branches of industry, profound changes of world-wide importance, and yet of greater importance to the people of Great Britain, are now in progress. I may venture to say that this address of Sir William Crookes marks even a more profound ignorance of the forces in action in this country than even I had ever comprehended. Sir William Crookes next submits the following computation:
"The rate of consumption for seed and food by the whole world of bread-eaters was 4.15 bushels per unit per annum for the eight years ending 1878, and at the present time is 4.5 bushels. . . . Should all the wheat-growing countries add to their area to the utmost capacity, on the most careful calculation the yield would give us only an addition of some 100,000,000 acres, supplying at the average world yield of 12.7 bushels to the acre, 1,270,000,000 bushels, just enough to supply the increase of population among bread-eaters till the year 1931. At the present time there exists a deficit in the wheat area of thirty-one thousand square miles. . . . When provision shall have been made if possible to feed 230,000,000 units likely to be added to the bread-eating populations by 1931, by the complete occupancy of the arable areas of the temperate zone now partially occupied, where can be grown the additional 330,000,000 bushels of wheat required ten years later by a hungry world? If bread fails—not only us, but all the bread-eaters of the world—what are we to do? We are born wheat-eaters. Other races, vastly superior to us in numbers, but differing widely in material and intellectual progress, are eaters of Indian corn, rice, millet, and other grains; but none of these grains have the food value, the concentrated health-sustaining power of wheat, and it is on this account that the accumulated experience of civilized mankind has set wheat apart as the fit and proper food for the development of muscle and brains."
Sir William then proceeds to deal with the salvation by chemistry. But before taking notes from that part of his address, is it not singular to remark this tendency of the scientist as well as of the English farmer to think only in terms of wheat, wholly ignoring other grains? It may be interesting to point out the exact difference in the nutrients.
|Wheat flour is analyzed in the following statement:|
|Potential energy in one pound||1,660||calories.|
|Corn or maize meal differs only as follows:|
|Potential energy in one pound 1,650 calories.|
|Potential energy in one pound||1,845||calories.|
|Potential energy in one pound||1,620||calories.|
It will be remarked that the difference between maize meal and wheat flour consists only in a slightly larger proportion of fats and a slightly less proportion of protein, a matter very easily balanced by giving consideration to the other kinds of food which may be used by the bread-eater. Again, it is hardly to be supposed that the Scotchmen who listened to Sir William Crookes admitted in their minds that wheat flour possessed any greater potential energy in the development either of muscle or of mind than the oatmeal to which they have been habituated for so many generations. I doubt if any New England Yankee who had been brought up on the diet of corn (maize) bread and baked beans, the latter supplying the protein element in abundance, would admit any greater development of the muscle or brain by exclusive dependence on wheat for the bread of life. It is not, however, my purpose to deal with the relative food values of wheat and other grains; it is simply to take up this extraordinary delusion of Sir William Crookes in respect to the potential of the wheat-producing area of this country. His theory is salvation by chemistry, and he rightfully calls attention to the necessity for obtaining a cheap and abundant supply of nitrogen. All the other elements for fertilizing the soil are relatively abundant at low cost, especially in this country. Our enormous supply of the phosphates of lime and potash gives assurance on this matter, and our one deficiency, or rather the one element heretofore of high cost, has been the necessary proportion of nitrogen required to maintain an even balance in the soil.
I am surprised that Sir William Crookes should attribute so little importance to the recent discovery of the influence of bacteria, which living and dying in nodules attached to the stalks of the leguminous plants dissociate the nitrogen of the atmosphere, where the supply is unlimited, converting it to the nutrition of the plant, and thence to the renovation of the soil. Sir William deals only with the renovating qualities of clover, having apparently no comprehension of the existence of the cow-pea vine, the soya bean, the alfalfa, and many other types of legumes by which the partially exhausted soil, especially of the South, is now being renovated with great rapidity at a low cost. Sir William's hopes of nitrogen seem to be based on some method being found to save the sewage of cities, but mainly on the conversion of the water power of Niagara and other great falls to the generation of electricity and thence to the dissociation of the nitrogen of the atmosphere.
The point to which I wish to direct attention and inquiry is this alleged nearly complete taking up of the land of the United States capable of producing wheat in paying quantities. The question which Sir William Crookes puts is this: He says there is a deficit in the wheat area of thirty-one thousand square miles which must be converted to wheat-growing in order to keep up with the increasing demand of the world to prevent wheat starvation in less than one generation. It will be observed that the present necessities of the world are computed by Sir William Crookes at 2,324,000,000 bushels, of which this country will supply 600,000,000 to 700,000,000 bushels from an area of land devoted to wheat of 71,000 square miles, a fraction over two per cent of the area of the United States, omitting Alaska.
The problem may then be stated in these terms: Given a demand of the wheat-consuming population of the world for this whole supply of 2,324,000,000 bushels, this country could supply it at the present average per acre by devoting two hundred and fifty thousand square miles to this crop, or less than ten per cent of the area, omitting Alaska. We could supply the world's present demand, but of course such computations are purely speculative.
I venture to say that if a contract could be entered into by the bread-eaters of the world with the farmers of the United States, giving them an assurance of a price equal to one dollar a bushel in London, or a fraction under thirty-three shillings per quarter of eight bushels of sixty pounds each, which would yield to the American farmer from sixty to eighty cents per bushel on the farm, the land now under cultivation in wheat and not required for any other crop or for pasture would be opened in the United States which would be devoted to this service year by year as fast as the consumption called for it. In fact, there are now fully one hundred thousand square miles of land, 64,000,000 acres, fully suitable to the production of wheat at fifteen bushels to the acre, practically unoccupied in any branch of agriculture, which would be devoted to wheat on an assured price of one dollar a bushel in Mark Lane, yielding 960,000,000 bushels. Or, to limit the question yet more: Sir William Crookes states the needs of the people of the United Kingdom at the present time to be 240,000,000 bushels, increasing at a rate of less than two per cent per annum, of which twenty-five per cent is derived from her own soil. If John Bull, in place of building granaries, could offer thirty-three shillings a quarter, or one dollar a bushel, in London as a permanent price for the next thirty years, would not Uncle Sam accept the offer? and if Uncle Sam should then ask for bids among the States, are there not several single States or Territories that would take the contract each for itself?
Having put that question, I now propose to submit an inquiry in due form in order to sustain my own belief that we can supply the whole present and the increasing demand of Great Britain for the next thirty years with six bushels of wheat per head at a dollar a bushel from land situated wholly in the Indian Territory, not yet open to private entry, but which may soon be open when the Indian titles have all been purchased. Or, again, I undertake to say that the State of Texas can meet this whole demand without impairing in the slightest degree its present products of grain, cotton, wool, and meats, and without appropriating the use of more than a small fraction of the area of that single State which has not yet been fenced in or subjected to the plow to the production of wheat.
Perhaps it would be better to put a more simple proposition in order to bring out what would be perfectly feasible. Let it be assumed that the British public should really become so alarmed as to be willing to put up the granaries which have been suggested for storing fourteen weeks' consumption, or 64,000,000 bushels. That would require a very large capital which would yield no income on which there would be a heavy loss of interest and a considerable risk of damage to the wheat during the period of storage. In place of this a feasible plan would be to put up the capital which would be required for building these granaries, invest it in consols, and pledge it as collateral security for the fulfillment of a contract running for thirty years for the annual purchase of 10,000,000 bushels of wheat per month, or say 128,000,000 bushels a year, or twice the quantity proposed to be stored.
There are several large dealers in grain and provisions in the United States who would be ready to take this contract and to put up a sufficient sum of capital invested in United States bonds to serve as security for prompt delivery.
An assured supply of 128,000,000 bushels in addition to the ordinary supply might allay the fear of scarcity and high price of bread. It may here be observed that the low average crop per acre of the United States has been due to the inclusion of wheat grown on land partially exhausted by cropping or not well adapted to this grain. The all-wheat as well as the all-cotton and all-tobacco methods of ignorant farming or cropping year after year are now very rapidly giving place to varied crops coupled with an increase of product per acre. No agency has been of such service in this matter as the Agricultural Experiment Stations, now established in almost every State under the supervision of men of the highest capacity. Under this system wheat, which requires a few days of machine work in the spring and autumn, occupying very little time of the farmer himself, is rapidly becoming the surplus or money crop of farms otherwise maintained on the alternate products. Under such cultivation an average crop of twenty bushels to the acre would be assured, in many sections much more. One hundred and twenty-eight million bushels at twenty bushels per acre would require 6,400,000 acres, or ten thousand square miles. As an alternate with other crops in a rotation of four, this would call for only forty thousand square miles in varied farming. In order to satisfy the anxieties of Sir William Crookes lest land should be taken from other necessary work, this area might be divided among several States and Territories, say five thousand square miles among eight. Oklahoma (38,719 square miles) was opened to settlement only seven years since, and has yet a great deal of unoccupied land. It will this year raise 13,000,000 bushels of wheat from 850 square miles devoted to the crop. Give Oklahoma five thousand square miles, the unoccupied Indian Territory (30,272 square miles) would take all the rest as soon as open; but we may only assign five thousand square miles to that area. Five thousand more might be assigned to the limestone section of Virginia, in the valley of the Shenandoah and its tributaries; five thousand each to Kentucky (40,400 square miles) and Tennessee (42,050 square miles), while the great wheat-growing States—Kansas (82,080 square miles), Nebraska (77,510 square miles), Minnesota (83,365 square miles), and the two Dakotas (148,445 square miles)—would compete for the contract each to open a little patch of five thousand square miles, not yet adjacent to railways. We should thus have exhausted the area called for without regard to the instant competition which would come from California (158,360 square miles), Oregon (96,030 square miles), and Washington (69,180 square miles), and probably from Pennsylvania (45,215 square miles) and other Eastern or Southern States. At a dollar per bushel in London no difficulty would be found in placing this contract even without resort to Texas (265,780 square miles), which could take the whole on but a small portion of its area not yet under the plow.
The only additional measure which would then be required would be one which must come in any event—namely, the neutralization of the ports of export and import of food in the United States and Great Britain and in such other countries as may choose to join, together with the neutralization of a ferry or sea way for the transportation of the food, wherein no hostile shot should be fired and no seizure of private property permitted on the part of any nation, the condition of this understanding being that if any other nation ventured to question or contest this dedication of a neutral way for the conveyance of food to the purposes of peace, the navies of Great Britain and of the United States would be united to force its acceptance, and to sweep from the ocean the fleet of every state or nation which ventured to contest this measure. That would be a suitable measure for beginning to make a right use of navies—for the protection of commerce and for the destruction of every fleet or vessel which did not accept the principle that private property not contraband of war should be exempt from seizure upon the high seas, coupled with a declaration limiting contraband of war so that it may never be made to include customary articles of commerce, especially food, not now contraband.
The foregoing text was set in type and one hundred advance proof sheets were supplied, which have been sent by the writer to the Secretaries of Agriculture and the chiefs of the Agricultural Experiment Stations in all the States to which we look for any considerable product of wheat. The replies are so complete and so numerous as to make it impossible to incorporate a full digest of the whole case within the limits of the present article. A supplement will be prepared for a later number of this journal, in which this information will be tabulated. For the present purpose I may avail myself only of a part of the data which have been sent to me.
1. The evidence suffices to prove that there is not a State named above which could not set apart five thousand square miles for the cultivation of wheat in a rotation of four without trenching in the slightest degree upon any other crop. 2. In previous essays, in which I have dealt with the potential of the agriculture of this country, I have very guardedly computed but one half our total area of three million square miles (omitting Alaska) as being arable land, suitable for the plow. The returns now in my hands would render it suitable to increase that area to two thirds, or two million square miles subject to cultivation. 3. The area now under the plow for the production of our principal crops for the year 1897 is given in the table below. If miscellaneous crops be added to these principal crops, the cultivated land of this country does not now exceed, and in fact does not reach, twenty per cent of the arable land, while from the cultivated portion a progressive increase in product may be expected under the impetus of improved methods of farming on lessening areas in each farm.
The area under wheat in 1897 was a fraction under forty million acres, or a little less than sixty-two thousand square miles. The high price secured for that crop has led to an increase in land under wheat in 1898 to a fraction under seventy-one thousand square miles (nine thousand square miles added), on which the largest crop ever known has doubtless been raised, variously computed at the present time from 620,000,000 to 700,000,000 bushels. The area now under wheat is therefore less-than four per cent of our arable land.
In order to develop our potential in wheat it will be best to limit our present consideration to three States only—namely, Minnesota, North and South Dakota—from which we derive the greater part of our spring wheat. The area of these three States is two hundred and thirty-two thousand square miles, disregarding fractions. The land which is deemed to be suitable for wheat growing is estimated by the officials from whom I have derived reports at one hundred and sixty thousand square miles. The crop of 1898 is computed at 190,000,000 bushels, a quantity sufficient to supply Great Britain with all that she needs in addition to her domestic production. It has been grown on an area of less than twenty thousand square miles, or upon one eighth part of the land of these three States only; the rest of the wheat land can be as surely and profitably devoted to the production of wheat as that part already under that crop. The fact may be recalled that the territory which now constitutes the two States of North and South Dakota began to be computed separately from other States only in 1880, when a little under 3,000,000 bushels were credited to that territory. The minimum product of these two States this year will be 100,000,000 bushels.
One of the authorities upon whom I rested for absolute information is Mr. L. G. Powers, chief of the Bureau of Labor of the State of Minnesota, in whose Annual Report for 1896 is the most exhaustive study of the grain production of the Mississippi Valley that has ever been made. I therefore do not hesitate to incorporate in this article his comments upon the proof sheets sent to him:
"The probable product of wheat in a State like Minnesota, at a fixed price, such as Mr. Atkinson mentions, can be estimated, even approximately, only by taking account of a number of such factors as the present actual and relative profit of the wheat farmer, and the probable changes that will be made in the next few years in the cost of cultivating wheat and of transporting it to London. A few of the leading well-known facts relating to these subjects may with profit be noted in this connection, and first a few words with reference to the profits of wheat raising in Minnesota.
"Whatever may be true of wheat raising in Europe, or in the Atlantic coast States of America, it can be positively asserted that the average profit of the Minnesota wheat grower has been steadily though irregularly increasing since the admission of this State to the Union in 1858. This is evidenced by the relative number and amount of farm-mortgage foreclosures in the State, as a whole, and in its several sections at the present time and in the past. Properly to use those foreclosures as a measure of the increasing prosperity of the Minnesota wheat farmer, two facts should be kept in mind. In 1880, and prior to that time, the industry of wheat growing was most fully developed in those counties which now constitute the First Congressional District. The farmers of those counties at that time depended for their income largely upon their wheat crops. Later they have adopted a highly diversified system of agriculture in which wheat is only an incidental cash crop. The exclusive cultivation of wheat now finds its seat in the counties composing the Seventh Congressional District. The lands of this district are situated about two hundred miles on an average farther from the markets of Europe than those of the First District. Notwithstanding this fact and all changes in the selling price of wheat, and all allied changes affecting the wheat industry of the State, the farm-mortgage foreclosures in the Seventh District in the five years ending with December, 1897, were relatively twenty per cent less than they were in the First District in the five years 1880 to 1884, and were forty per cent less than in the five years 1869 to 1873. To the extent represented by these figures has the average cultivation of wheat as an exclusive crop become more profitable in Minnesota than it was twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. A much greater increase of farm prosperity has taken place in those counties which have adopted a diversified system of agriculture, and made wheat an incidental cash crop.
"The growing farm prosperity in Minnesota above noted finds its highest development in the past five years, during which the selling price of wheat in London has averaged approximately one dollar per bushel, or the amount called for by the conditions stated by Mr. Atkinson. This increasing farm prosperity in Minnesota, which lessens the mortgage foreclosures of the exclusive wheat growers forty per cent in thirty years, has been the main factor in the settlement of Minnesota and the two Dakotas. It has caused the wheat grown in the territory of these three States to increase from 10,000,000 bushels in 1867 to 190,000,000 bushels in 1898. With no added profit in the business, the settlement of the vacant lands of these States and those of Montana and of the British Northwest will move on, and twenty-five years from now will find in the territory tributary to Minneapolis and Duluth not less than 400,000,000 bushels of wheat raised annually. Even then but a fraction of the possible wheat lands of the great Northwest will be under the plow. If a material increase should take place in the present average profits of the Northwestern wheat grower, the imagination of man could hardly picture the stimulus to wheat culture that would result.
"With a fixed price of one dollar per bushel in London, called for by Mr. Atkinson's conditions, the American farmers can find increased profit in two possible sources: decreased cost of transportation to London, and lessening cost of wheat production in Minnesota. A detailed analysis of the various charges that constitute the present cost of transporting wheat from the Red River Valley of Minnesota, the Dakotas, and of Manitoba to London gives reasonable assurance of a reduction in the next few years of at least five and possibly seven cents per bushel in such cost. Here is an almost certain addition, in the next few years, of from five to seven cents a bushel to the profit of American-grown wheat, providing only its average selling price in London remains practically unchanged.
"A careful study of farm methods among Minnesota farmers discloses this fact: Some wheat growers, with the best farm machinery, and employing the best methods of agriculture, make a profit in wheat raising of from ten to fifteen cents a bushel more than do their less intelligent and less progressive neighbors. Now, the tendency in the State and throughout the Northwest is to bring, by education and a general exchange of methods, the poorer farmers up to the level of the best. This change is rapidly taking place. It will not require fifteen years to realize its consummation. When the methods and facilities of the average farmer are brought up to the level of the best of the present time, this change, with the change above noted in transportation charges, will add to the average profit of Minnesota farmers in growing wheat a total of not less than fifteen and possibly of over twenty cents a bushel. Such a change would more than double the existing net profit of the wheat grower in the Northwest. Could it be maintained for a series of years, as is presupposed under Mr. Atkinson's supposition of London prices, it would furnish such an incentive to wheat growing in Minnesota and the surrounding territory as has as yet never been experienced. A million families of immigrants would pour into the great Northwest within the next twenty to twenty-five years. They would take up all the existing vacant lands of Minnesota and the Dakotas. The lands suitable for irrigation in these States and in Montana would beset to growing wheat. The wave of humanity anxious to raise wheat for a dollar a bushel in London would sweep past the boundaries of the four States mentioned, and carry the cultivation of that cereal all over Manitoba, Assiniboia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. In these four British provinces and in the four American States, dollar wheat in London would in twenty years open more acres of good land to wheat than are now subject to the plow within their borders. Even then the beginning only would have been made to the possibilities of wheat culture in the British Northwest. Settlements would not have extended as far north as St. Petersburg in Russia; neither would settlers have trenched upon the lands with a climate as severe as that of the Russian metropolis.
"The foregoing is a brief statement of what dollar wheat in London would do for one section of North America in stimulating wheat cultivation. If that statement is based upon a true conception, as the writer believes it is, of the possibilities of the American Northwest, it demonstrates how impossible it will be to maintain dollar wheat in London for any great length of time in the future. It also shows that Mr. Atkinson is wrong in not asserting a sure continuation of that decline in wheat prices which he so fully predicted in 1880."
Cost of Shipping Wheat per Bushel from Moorhead, an Inferior Point in Minnesota, to Liverpool.
|On May 27,
|On July 9,
ber 17, 1888.
|Cts. per bu.||Cts. per bu.||Cts. per bu.||Cts. per bu.|
|Rate, Moorhead to Duluth||9.30||9.30||8.70||8.70|
|Duluth elevator and inspection charges||0.80||0.80||0.80||0.80|
|Lake freight, Duluth to Buffalo||1.40||1.25||1.25||1.75|
|Elevator charges and commission at Buffalo||1.00||1.00||1.00||1.00|
|Canal freight, Buffalo to New York||3.00||3.00||2.75||2.50|
|Elevator charges, etc., in New York||2.00||2.00||2.00||2.00|
|Ocean freight, New York to Liverpool.||8.00||3.50||4.50||6.00|
|General average, 22.525 cents per bushel.|
It will be remarked that Mr. Powers says I am wrong in not asserting a sure continuation of the decline in the price of wheat which I predicted in 18 SO. In setting up one dollar a bushel in London as the standard of this inquiry, I had no thought that our farmers could be made happy for the next thirty years by any hope of securing so high a price. In my predictions in 1880 I said that the time was not then far off when the farmers of the Mississippi Valley would secure as large a remuneration from their wheat at thirty-four shillings per quarter in London as they had been gaining from a previous average of fifty-two shillings. I might then have fixed the lessened price at twenty-eight shillings, and at the present time I have a greater expectation of a reduction in the price of wheat in Mark Lane to less than twenty-eight shillings a quarter, or eighty-five cents a bushel, than I had in 1880 that it would so soon reach thirty-four shillings. I merely adopted a dollar a bushel as an arbitrary standard on which an abundant supply of bread at low cost would be absolutely assured to the people of England.
In fact, as I stated before the Royal Commission on Depression of Agriculture, it is not probable that a reduction in the price of wheat to forty cents a bushel on "Western farms or sixty-five to seventy cents a bushel in England would stop the growth of this grain, although it might check an increase. When the price went down to a very low point on the last excessive crop it is probable that 100,000,000 bushels of wheat were fed to swine and to cattle. It proved to make better pork and beef than maize or Indian corn, and, as the price of meat did not decline in anything like the proportion to the price of wheat, the farmers who thus fed their excess secured a profit which the sale of the crude grain might not have given.
In this comment Mr. Powers deals with the reduction in the number of foreclosures in Minnesota. Attention should be called to the fact that the United States census investigation for which a million dollars was appropriated, for the purpose of recording farm mortgages in 1890, disclosed the fact that in the ten great grain-growing States of the middle West two thirds of the farms were then free of any mortgage of any kind, and were well stocked; the incumbrance on the remaining third being less than forty per cent of the computed value of the mortgaged farms. Since that date several State investigations have been made, leading to the conclusion that not exceeding twenty per cent of the farms in these States are now under any incumbrance of any kind. In the more prosperous parts of Minnesota and other wheat sections since the substitution of intelligent and varied agriculture for the single wheat crop, foreclosures have almost ceased, such as do occur being attributed to special causes; while such is the abundance of capital accumulated in this section that the rates of interest on safe investments, which but a few years since were nearly double those prevailing in the seaboard commercial cities, are now about even. When certain causes lately produced a short stringency in the money markets of the East, remittances were made from these Western cities for investment in Eastern commercial paper.
In regard to wheat production at a fixed price in London, the Commissioner of Agriculture and Labor of North Dakota remarks: "Wheat at one dollar per bushel in London would net the North Dakota farmer on the average about seventy-five cents per bushel on the railroad track. At that price as a standard, every farmer in the State would utilize all the land he has, and buy up more of the land now lying idle and in the hands of speculators. It would increase immigration so that nearly all the vacant Government land would be taken up. We also have over one million acres of school and State land, of which at least eighty per cent is suitable for raising wheat. Such a price would give North Dakota a boom that never had its equal."
A few words may be given to the report from Texas. The Secretary of the Board of Agriculture states that "the area of arable land of fair quality, including pasture that might be put under the plow in this State, is two hundred thousand square miles; about one hundred thousand square miles suitable for wheat and other grains lying north of parallel 31°; about one hundred thousand square miles lying south of that line adapted to cotton, sugar, fruits, and vegetables of all kinds."
An unexpected reply comes from Idaho, as yet insignificant in wheat production, stating that the potential of that State under the conditions named might reach 400,000,000 bushels.
Again, from Arkansas, to which State we have looked more for excellent cotton than for grain, "there are fifteen million acres of good wheat land; wheat is fast becoming a cash crop, displacing cotton—the capacity of a considerable part of the land at the beginning being forty bushels to the acre, which, being much better than five-cent cotton, is leading the farmers to take advantage of existing prices."
Time has not sufficed since my questions were sent out for replies to reach me from Oregon, Washington, and Montana, where the potential in wheat production is probably equal to that of Minnesota, North and South Dakota combined.
Sir William Crookes makes reference to the future necessity of providing fertilizers, a matter to which the closest attention is now being given by the cultivation of renovating crops. But regard must be given to the fact that we have the most complete and adequate supply of phosphate of lime and phosphate of potash in the vast deposits of bone or mineral phosphates of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Florida, while again we may look to nitrate of soda as a very inexpensive source of nitrogen, of which the most adequate supply can be assured at very low cost. Known methods are also being applied to saving the enormous waste of nitrogen from our coke ovens and iron furnaces.
I almost feel it right to apologize to Sir William Crookes for the presentation of these facts. My function is that of the practical business man who deals with these economic problems wholly from that point of view, and not from the high standard of a complete mastery of the physical sciences.
As I have stated, I happen to have dealt with this question several times at meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and in other ways in Great Britain as. well as in this country. I deem it of the utmost importance at the present time that the interdependence of the English-speaking people should be brought into view in the mast conspicuous manner. In their relative production and conditions the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the United States are the complement of each other. Their mutual relation or interdependence is now being recognized, and it can not be long before many of the legal obstructions to mutual service will be removed. The people of this country are now passing through a stage in their economic education closely corresponding to that through which Great Britain passed between 1840 and 1856 under the wise leadership of Sir Robert Peel, Richard Cobden, and William E. Gladstone. We move more quickly, not only in acts but in ideas, than we did fifty years ago. The revolution of ideas which has followed the revolution of institutions in the Southern States has made the people of this country into one homogeneous nation. A revolution of ideas in regard to the conditions of international commerce will presently bring the English-speaking people of the world into one homogeneous body governed by the same common law, the same common principles of action, and the same policy in the collection of revenue. When thus united, there can be no competition in the commerce of the world on the part of the continental states of Europe under their present burdens—the blood tax of standing armies and navies and the money tax of debts that can never be paid. There have been within a few months two witnesses to the growing influence and power of the English-speaking people when united for the maintenance of commerce and for the conduct of the works of peace, order, and industry: one is the warning of the Chancellor of the Austrian Empire, calling upon the states of middle Europe to unite their forces in order to remain capable of maintaining government by privilege and taxation by force of arms; the other, the recent manifesto of the enlightened ruler of Russia, calling upon the states of continental Europe to disarm, lest they should hereafter be incapable of competition with the English-speaking people of the world when they become bound together by a union of mutual service and by community of interest which without any formal alliance will give to them the chief control in rendering service by the exchange of product for product to all other states and nations, to the mutual benefit of all who are thus joined in the bonds of peace.
On my visit to Russia last year, to meet the leading economists and statisticians of Europe, it was stated to me by well-informed men that a plan had been considered by several continental states in the event of war to change the present international custom by making food products contraband of war, the purpose being to cripple England. To such desperate conditions have some of the European states been brought under the burden of the policy of blood and iron. My comment upon this insane proposal was that I hoped it might become a matter of public discussion, since nothing could so surely and quickly bring about a commercial union of the English-speaking people, to the end that, even if no other alliance were made, their navies might at any moment be combined for the protection of their commerce, and for the total cessation of any interference by war vessels or privateers with their traffic.
The prime motive of this article is to remove from the minds of our English friends many false impressions which I have constantly met in my intercourse even among men who hold important positions, of which the address of Sir William Crookes is but an extreme expression, and to bring into common view a comprehension of the resources of this country and of the mutual dependence of the United Kingdom and the United States in the supply and consumption not only of wheat, but of all the other necessaries of life.