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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

The Advantage of Scientific Knowledge to the Farmer

The Advantage of Scientific Knowledge to the Farmer.

Omega thus writes to an Australian contemporary:—"And I, too, would be a painter." So said the uneducated boor when contemplating a beautiful painting, the masterpiece of one of the greatest painters the world ever produced, and he thought he had nothing more to do in order to become a painter than to purchase colours, page 209 brushes, and a few yards of canvas. In like manner mistakes are daily-made in the various callings of life. In no instance is this truth more frequently verified, than in the case of our so-called farmers, who think to be able to plough, sow, and work a reaping-machine, is all the knowledge that is required to enable them to compete successfully with all the world in the cultivation of the soil.

This is a great mistake, and one which, in a very few years, will lead to most disastrous consequences in this Colony, where, owing to the nature of the climate, science is more especially required to enable the cultivator to keep the soil in good heart.

To be able to carry on farming for a series of years on the same land, as is done in old countries, and must eventually be done here, the farmer must acquaint himself with the principles of his art. Its foundation is laid in knowledge, and its successful practice depends on individual skill and industry. It is no longer sufficient for a man to quote his father as the best authority. The sciences of botany, geology, and chemistry, have made extraordinary strides, and have laid open stores of knowledge, which have revolutionised to a great extent the practice of agriculture in the old countries of the world, and the farmer must go higher now, and study and follow the laws of nature. I do not mean to say that every farmer must become a chemist in the strict sense of the word, although to a certain extent he must be one; but he should be able to see the cause when a certain effect is produced, and understand why the various processes he follows are necessary, and why some are wrong and some are right. This does not involve necessarily an acquaintance with all the technical terms of chemical science, so much the dread of all uneducated men, but he should know the name, nature, and action of the things he uses, and ought to be able to understand the relative value of different manures, and the reason of their adaptedness to particular soils and crops, the preparation, management, and improvement of manures, in order to secure their highest effect; the composition of soils, and plants, and the effect produced by the latter growing in the former, to exhaust them, and render them unproductive. In fact, to farm with any degree of certainty, and not be entirely dependent on the seasons, he must know the whole relation between the vegetable, mineral, and animal kingdom. The farm should be regarded as an out-door laboratory, where every process is regulated by rule, as strictly carried out as by the chemist in his. I am well aware of the prejudices that are entertained against book knowledge, which are the children of ignorance. It cannot be possible, however, that our agriculturist should fuse to be benefitted by science, when they look around them and see how much all other industrial occupations have been advanced by it. There is no sufficient reason why any farmer in this Colony should be ignorant of all the improvements made in the science of agriculture; and equally true it is, that, knowing them, there is no reason why he should not put them in practice, so far as they are adapted to the conditions of our soil and climate.

We are a reading people, and if our agriculturists would devote more time to acquiring scientific information, and the circulation of useful page 210 books through our Mechanics' Institutes were promoted, much good would result. The means as they at present exist, however, of acquiring knowledge are cheap and abundant, and in every man's power to obtain, and there is no valid reason why any man should remain in ignorance, if he is only willing and anxious to gain knowledge. But with regard to the farmer, before he can hope to see much advance made by him in the scientific knowledge of his art, old prejudices must be broken down, and he must be convinced and willing to admit that science is equal, if not superior, to brute force. It is quite true that the farmer does not hesitate to avail himself of the aid of science in the production of labour-saving machinery, but he may go too far in that direction. It is not so much an object to save labour as to apply plenty of it, if a profit can be made by so doing.

No country can—and this Colony especially cannot—foster too fondly its agricultural interest. It is now, and must continue to be, our national source of wealth, and I have no doubt if they will only listen to her teachings, science will ere long show our farmers that they can produce with her aid many articles not yet thought of. It is not, however, the farmer alone who must carefully study what is passing in the world of science; the shepherd, wine-grower, and in fact all classes of the community, if they would hold their own in the markets of the world.

The most useful knowledge for a farmer to possess is the ability to make a rough analysis of the soil he has to work, so that he may know positively what are its constituent parts, what is deficient, and what in excess of the requirements of the plants he wishes to grow. "Without this knowledge all is haphazard, as the eye cannot be depended upon in judging of the nature of a soil any more than it can in judging ore or minerals. Before commencing operations the smelter carefully ascertains by scientific analysis the constituent parts of the ore he is about to work upon. If this care be necessary for the smelter, who can detect and correct an error in a few hours, how much more necessary is it for the farmer, whose operation once began cannot, if wrong, be rectified for months?

I will conclude this paper by the following description of the simple apparatus necessary to enable a man of ordinary intelligence to obtain an approximate knowledge of the component parts of any soil he may require to work:—A pair of scales, capable of weighing 4 ozs., that will turn when loaded with one grain; a set of troy weights from 4 ozs. to 1 gr.; a small sieve about 225 holes to the square inch; some glass stoppered bottles, half-dozen crucibles, half-dozen small saucers, a porcelain funnel, some blotting paper to make filters, a bone knife, and a wedgewood pestle and mortar. The chemicals required for separating the constituent parts of the soil are, muriatic acid, sulphuric acid, ammonia, solution of prussiate of potash and iron, succiuate of ammonia, solution of potassa, carbonate of ammonia, muriate of ammonia, carbonate of potash, and nitrate of ammonia.