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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

French Agriculture

French Agriculture.

The following admirable letter is contributed to the South Australian Chronicle of a recent date from a Paris correspondent:—

The Department of the Nièvre is celebrated for the rearing and fattening of cattle and agriculture there, once so backward, is now the most flourishing in the realm. The farmers have become wealthy by abandoning expensive systems of culture, and confining their attention to live stock. The enlightened agriculturists of France recognise two truths—that they cannot compete with America and other countries in the profitable raising of wheat, nor with Australia in the growth of wool. It is on the production of meat, then, that attention is fixed, and for which the demand is unlimited and the competition nil. Wool is regarded but as an accessory. The question of improved breeds of cattle and the precocious production of meat are two subjects that occupy very seriously the attention of Continental agriculturists. Belgium seems to have taken a strange step to advance these ends. The Provincial Council of Hainaut has decided that henceforth no pure Durham blood shall be imported for ameliorating local races; the latter must be amended by a careful selection of the best local types. Thus reliable purity of descent, and aptitude for the butcher, are secondary considerations. The discussion continues to be interesting between Professor Sanson and his opponents on the question of precocity. According to the Professor, it is the maturity of the bones that limits and stops the development of the flesh, &c.; while the contrary view is, that it is the complete development of the soft parts that arrests the growth of the skeleton. Food acts in two manners—nitrogen tends to the production of flesh; phosphoric acid to that of the bones. M. Sanson lays down that the acid pushes maturity by hardening the extremities of the bones, and thus checking the growth of tissue; not a few maintain that the solidification of the bone is the natural consequence of the animal's fleshy structure having been completed, and, requiring no more phosphoric acid to form new tissue, the acid concentrates itself in the tissue of the bones; the latter contain 30 per cent, of organic matter. The phosphoric acid accumulates in the extremities of the bones, as it collects in the seeds of plants, and the laws in both cases would appear to be similar—to grow at first, and when growth is over to ripen. Maturity is thus the consequence and crowning of growth.

Roquefort is the Stilton cheese of France, and is prepared from sheep's milk. The race of milk sheep is very hardy, and is known by the name of Larzac. Originally limited to wooded heights, the breed has been improved by crossings and richer pasturages. The animal measures about four feet in length; its live weight is from 88 to 1121bs., and yields 44lbs. net of meat and two of fat; its fleece weighs from 4 to 61bs., and the wool, very much in request by the cloth markets of the south of France, sells for 12 sous per lb. However, the chief object of the sheep is for the production of milk, to be converted into cheese. About 601bs. of the latter is the page 205 quantity prepared per each animal, which sells at the wholesale price of half-a-franc per lb. If to this sum be added 5f. for the wool, and 6f. for the lamb sold to the butcher a few days after its birth, sheep milk-farming is not a bad speculation in France.

Much attention continues to be devoted to the subject of forage. Wheaten straw is largely consumed, but then it must be of a golden yellow, possessing a mild odour and a saccharine taste. The stems should be thin, flexible, and shining, and the ear garnished with its chaff. Straw that has been a long time threshed is only fit for litter. The best hay in this country—and perhaps the observation holds good elsewhere—is that which is produced on light, moist, but not wet, mountain soils; next, such as is yielded by land more sandy than clayey. To be nutritive, hay ought to preserve its green colour, to possess an odour agreeable and aromatic; the stems should be thin, supple, and difficult to break, possessing as much as possible their flowers and leaves, and, in addition to a fragrant odour, to have a slightly sweet taste. Respecting bran, it is essential that it be fresh, floury, and agreeable to taste. It undergoes serious alterations in the course of three months; becomes bitter and heating; the fermentation is soon succeeded by putridity, and the bran quickly becomes a home for insects.

Lucerne is a plant much calumniated of late on the Continent; it is reproached with being short-lived and unremunerative. Much of the culpability rests at the doors of those who do not bestow upon its culture much attention; it is liable to be attacked by dodder, but this weed is the offspring of slovenly farming; to grow your own seed is the remedy. M. Beaucamp recommends that lucerne ought only to be cut twice in a season, the second aftermath to be grazed; this latter plan does not lay bare the crown of the plant so much as the scythe does, and thus prevents the cold rains and snow from killing the root by festering it. He reaps 2½ tons per acre the first cutting, and half that quantity the second, and which sells for a total sum of 350 francs per acre. The success that has followed the employment of preserved green maize in trenches for winter and spring feeding has naturally concentrated attention on the propriety of conserving red clover, rye, and other precocious forage plants, to be placed in trenches during the close of May and early days of June, and thus become armed against the effects of a dry summer. The plan has been tried on several farms with success. Where rye is sown as an intercalary crop for spring green feed, the custom in the north of France is to chop it and mix it with beet pulp; the cattle eat the mixture greedily.

France has at last her Agricultural Institute, where the most advanced form of agricultural instruction will be imparted to those students already educated in various branches of human knowledge. The new institute is on the eve of opening, and foreigners will experience no difficulty in obtaining permission to join the classes, under stated conditions. It is not so much a new as an old institution revived, having been founded in 1848 at Versailles, and suppressed in 1852 by the Empire. Agricultural education is given in France in the farm schools, which is the primary stage, and where only the children of the peasants and artizans are expected to attend; then follows the "regional" establishments, of which there are two—perhaps three would be a more correct classification, for the Grignon school fulfils all the conditions of one, as well as being more practical. The Montpellier and Grand Jauan Colleges represent the regional type—that is a school where the agricultural processes in the different zones or regions of France would be specially studied. The new Institute will be very scientific in its aims, and will have an experimental farm of 120 acres in the vicinity of Paris at its disposal. It will not teach general sciences; it will take mechanics, chemistry, physics, and physiology in their technical relations with modern agriculture. The German Empire has, perhaps, a monopoly of this superior agricultural knowledge, and it is to her 10 agronomical institutes and 174 secondary farm schools that she owes much of her rapid progress in rural economy. Austria possesses two of these superior institutes. Hungary has four, but not of so advanced a page 206 character, and Sweden possesses five. Agriculture is undergoing to-day what is common to every other science—a revolution; it is becoming more an industry where affairs must be conducted with promptitude, activity, and intensity; it must invent, transform, renew itself; adopt scientific methods, powerful and rapid processes. The strength of agriculture does not resemble that of the ancient Egyptians in sitting still.

The sugar beet industry, like the plant's physiology, is in a confused state. Owing to the strange summer, and our stranger autumn, this year's beet harvest is compromised; the culture of the plant has diminished, in its special districts, by 30 and 50 per cent., so that one-half the factories are closed, or only working half-time; not more than one-fourth of the total quantity of sugar will be produced this year, as compared with the preceding ones. Fiscal difficulties have not a little to do with the result, but a short yield—10 tons per acre of roots—has also its influence. While sonic are advocating the cultivation of small roots for sugar purposes as being most suitable, the Eure Farming Society encourages the contrary by prizes. Again, high manuring has hitherto been accepted as lessening the percentage of sugar and affecting the chrystalisation of the juice. Messrs. Chapman and Pellet, from their careful experiments, conclude the opposite. Finally, two celebrities, Claude Bernard and Coreninnder, are of contrary opinions as to how the sugar and the salts localise themselves in the cells of the roots. Another but too open question is the best means to destroy the vine bug; the phylloxera are extending their ravages; there is no cure, but a multitude of proposed remedies. The point now is, to ascertain where the bug cannot be found; winged, it has been discovered lately on the cobwebs that are so plentiful in vineyards, and even on the fruit itself—a hint for the exportation of grapes. Having failed to poison and to starve the insect, efforts are made to induce it to feed on red maize, planted between the vines, and new legislative measure are threatened against the plague. The vintage has been completed in excellent condition—dry warm weather. The wine will be of excellent quality, but the quantity, owing to spring frosts, will be sensibly reduced. Some proprietors have thus lost four-fifths of their annual yield. In France the law prohibits the establishment of a pigsty in a village of 150 inhabitants, and of a cowhouse where there is a population of 5,000; perhaps in point of salubrity there is no difference.

In Belgium, flax is often visited by a disease which destroys the plant within 48 hours after being attacked; growth is suddenly checked, the flax etiolates and dies; and the crop has to be ploughed down. M. Ladureau attributes the cause to a deficiency of potash in the soil, and finds vegetable ashes an excellent preventive. M. Lapérière cures the lung disease, or stops the contagion, by fumigating the cattle, burning 30 grains of sulphur per cubic yard of air in the sheds.