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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

The New Zealand Country Journal

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The New Zealand Country Journal

Perhaps there is no information which our readers ought to ponder over, and make a more careful analysis of, than that contained in the statistical return of the yield of the agricultural crops in the various countries throughout the world. This information we considered right to publish, in the interests of our readers, but far beyond the bare facts as therein stated, the intelligent farmer, while proud of the position that New Zealand holds, should take into his serious consideration, whether it is possible to retain that position, or even to surpass it, and to do that, what course ought to be followed in the future when the virgin soil from which the great bulk of our agricultural produce is at present drawn, comes into the category of ordinary farm land. We possess no doubt great advantages over many other countries, in our splendid climate, which is enhanced by our insular position, whereby we escape on the one hand excessive droughts, and on the other a too heavy rainfall; but with even these advantages the time will come when our averages must decrease, unless we adopt what has been found an absolute necessity in other countries, i.e., a definite system of rotation of crops suited to the various classes of soils to be operated upon. We do not mean at this time to go into details of the systems that may with advantage be followed out, in such a rotation of cropping, as would suit the different soils, but rather to point out as tersely as possible, that Nature has laid down for herself fixed principles of rotation, which experience has fully demonstrated. Take for instance the clearing a piece of bush land; such land under ordinary circumstances is considered to page 144 be more rich than tussock soils, and it will be found that the families of plants first developed belong to Chenopodiaceac, Solanaceæ, and Polygonaceæ, these in their turn giving place to Malraceæ and Umbellifenæ, and finally species of Leguminosæ and Gramineæ. It is not asserted that other families are absent, but the above are so fully developed as to be characteristic of the vegetation. Of course this natural rotation differs with the latitude, soil, and degree of moisture; but whatever may be the families, it is sufficiently apparent that the plants of new rich soils give place in time to those that are found on soils less rich in organic matter. This natural rotation may be followed farther, and it will be found that when roots of the Gramineæ, or grasses, have produced a mat of vegetable fibre, it is now well known that the pastures become infested with several species of Ranunculi, Enici, and other weeds, which, if not exterminated, would soon over-whelm the grasses. Having thus shewn that Nature has laws of rotation, it naturally follows that whatever we do must be in the direction of providing that to the soils which the crops to be grown naturally require; and by following the object of all rotation, the production of the greatest profit in crops with the least exhaustion of the soil. Many practical men entertain views on this subject which are however by no means fixed. Some imagine that the only condition of a rotation is, that the same plant be not cultivated annually, and that a succession of wheat, oats, and barley, is as much a system of rotation as any other plan; it is indeed a rotation but not a system, and any farmer who follows such a rotation, varied as it is by sowing down to grasses to lie for four or five years, will find that at the end of that time the soil is not so rich in organic matters as it ought to be, if a more systematic rotation were followed.

There are spots of land we know, of extraordinary fertility, from which grain crops have been taken for years; but these are exceptions to the general rule, and it will often be found that such places receive renewal of organic matter from freshets, irrigation, or the washings of adjacent hillsides; but on soils receiving no such extraneous aids, it will be found that cropping will exhaust and reduce the soil to a state similar to the sub-soil, and that within the course of a very few years. To obviate such a state of things, and to minimise the expense atten- page 145 dant upon applying manures on an extensive scale, which in our present circumstances is absolutely unattainable, we must follow such a system as will be both prudent and profitable. To arrive at this position the following plain precepts may be laid down as safe, viz.—That each plant requires a particular food, and should therefore be repeated at as long intervals as possible. That seed crops being peculiarly exhausting should be interchanged with green or forage crops and roots. These positions, although imperfect from their very generalisation, are however, based upon practical experience, and it will be found by carrying out these precepts, according to soil and situation, that we shall be enabled to maintain the position we at present hold in the agricultural returns of the world.