Outline of Crop Management

Cyclopedia of American Agriculture
Volume II -- Crops. Part I -- The Plant and Its Relations
Chapter V, Crop Management

 II_Overview_1.jpg    HOW TO ORGANIZE A FARM BUSINESS so that it shall be profitable and otherwise satisfactory is the fundamental problem in agriculture.  It is to be feared that in the past generation we have placed relatively too much emphasis on information; and, in fact, this danger has not yet passed.  This is a consequence of the remarkable discoveries of recent years and the rapid diffusion of facts.  The best farmer is not the one who knows the most "science," but the one who is best able to organize the facts and the business into a harmonious system or plan.  The principles that underlie such organization are now beginning to be apprehended, and we think we see the possibilities of a sound farm philosophy, with wise generalizations from the mass of rapidly accumulating facts and practices.  Farm management will be a fertile subject for writers in the years to come.

     The basis of farm organization is the cropping plan or the crop management.  On this project or scheme rests the maintenance of fertility and consequently of productiveness, the subsistence of livestock, the economy of labor, the type of business.  The crop management must be considered in reference to the entire layout and design of the farm enterprise.  In the article following this Editorial it is so discussed in the approximate proportion that the author

[Illustration:  Fig. 104.  Crop labor, as often performed in Europe.  Drawn from life, in Bavaria.]

thinks it should hold.  The article covers some of the ground that is specialized in Vol. I, but what repetition there is will distinguish the points that probably need special emphasis.

The rotation of crops.

     Crop management is a scheme, not a lot of practices.  An important part of it is the rotating or alternating of crops on given areas.  This phase of the subject may now be given a general treatment, inasmuch as it is not fully treated as to underlying reasons in other articles.

     All crop management, and crop rotation in particular, has been greatly changed by the introduction of machinery.  Larger areas of cereal crops can now be grown because of the use of the self-binder as compared with the cradle and sickle.  Larger areas can also be handled in intertilled crops, and those that require much heavy labor in the harvesting.  Pictures of some of the old American tools will contrast this fact (Figs. 104 to 119) by suggesting some of the kinds of devices that were formerly in use and the former state of invention in farm machinery.

     On the other hand, the present scarcity of acceptable farm labor is tending to reduce the area of crops that require much care.  Wherever grass is a foundation crop, the tendency is to grow less of the tilled crops.

[Illustration:  Fig. 105.  Grain sickle, once used in New England.  The sickle from which this illustration is made was purchased in 1835 by a man, who is still on the farm, when he was 15 years old.  with it he reaped many acres of rye.  When he was 17, he was reaping rye on a mountain side and laid the sickle down by a fire; the handle was burned off.  The length of the blade from top of shank to tip, following the curve, is 26 1/2 inches, greatest width 3/4-inch.  A cross-section is shown at c.  The owner of this sickle has lived in three eras of harvesting devices:  The hand sickle; the grain cradle; the reaper and binder.  In this period, crop management has undergone a complete change.


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     The term "rotation of crops" is used to designate a system of recurring succession of plants covering a regular period of years, and maintained on alternating fields of the farm.  Its purpose is primeraily to increase the productiveness of the verious crops by conserving the fertility of the soil and eliminating weeds, pests and crop diseases.  All farmers practice rotation to some extent, but usually it is imperfect and unplanned.  In most parts of the northern states it is common practice to have oats follow corn, and wheat follow oats.  Such indefinite practices are perhaps to be called modes or systems of cropping rather than crop rotations.  The real rotation of crops is a more purposeful and orderly procedure; in grass-growing and cereal-growing countries it assumes alternations of grain crops, grass crops, intertilled crops.  It would be better if all writers used the term rotation of crops to designate only well-laid systems or courses.

     Definite rotation is usually a practice of old and well-settled countries, where the virgin fertaility of the soil has been somewhat depleted and crop enemies are numerous.  In most new countries the husbandry is at first haphazard and unscientific.  The land is exploited.  Fertility is seemingly exhaustless and little attention is given to conserving it.  The land is robbed, and the robber moves on.  But when the land must be used over

[Fig. 106.  Rake and cradle still used in parts of Germany.]

and over again, century by century, the farmer looks to the future and lays out a plan that will cause his land to increase in value.  The rotation and diversification of crops are subjects of increasing importance in North America.

     These remarks are well illustrated in the depletion of lands once devoted to tobacco and cotton.  Wheat production constantly moves westward.  George Washington wrote to Arthur Young, in England, as follows, in 1787:  "Before I undertake to give the information you request, respecting the arrangements of farms in this neighbourhood, &c, I must observe that there is, perhaps, scarcely any part of America,

[Illustration:  Fig. 107.  The present-day grain cradle, used for small areas and rough lands.]

where farming has been less attended to than in this State [Virginia].  The cultivation of tobacco has been almost the sole object with men of landed property, and consequently a regular course of crops have never been in view.  The general custom has been, first to raise a crop of Indian corn (maize) which, according to the mode of cultivation, is a good preparation for wheat; then a crop of wheat; after which the ground is respited (except from weeds, and every trash that can contirbute to its foulness) for about eighteen months; and so on, alternately, without any dressing, till the land is exhausted; when it is turned out, without being sown with grass-seeds, or reeds, or any method taken to restore it; and another piece is ruined in the same manner.  No more cattle is raised than can be supported by lowland meadows, swamps, &c. and the tops and blades of Indian corn; as very few persons have attended to sowing grasses, and connecting cattle with their crops.  The Indian corn is the chief support of the labourers and horses.  Our lands, as I mentioned in my first letter to you, were originally very good; but use, and abuse, have made them quite otherwise.

     "The above is the mode of cultivation which has been generally pursued here, but the system of husbandry which has been found so

[Illustration:  Fig. 108.  "The improved horse-rake," 1821.]

beneficial in England, and which must be greatly promoted by your valuable Annals, is now gaining ground.  There are several (among which I may class myself), who are endeavouring to get into your regular and systematic course of cropping, as fast as the nature of the business will admit; so that

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I hope in the course of a few years, we shall make a more respectable figure as farmers than we have hitherto done."


     A significant part of Washington's letter is the statement that land was "respited" for eighteen months.  He meant that the land was allowed to lie idle or fallow.  It is an old notion that land "rests" when allowed to go wholly uncropped; and, in fact, it is true that the succeeding crops may be better for the fallow, but in most instances equally good results can be secured by other means and without the loss of a year's crop.  The fallow was a regular part

[Illustration:  Fig. 109.  "The mowing machine."  1823.  Invented and patented by Jeremiah Bailey, Chester county, Pa.  "It has been extensively used and approved of during the last season....  It is understood that it will mow ten acres per day."  The cutting is done by a horizontal revolving circular scythe, working against a whetstone.]

of early rotation practices.  Fallowing was employed by the Jews, Greeks and Romans.  It is common in many large parts of Russia and other countries to-day.

     In special cases and in regions of insufficient rainfall, fallowing is still an allowable practice; but in general it belongs to a rude and unresourceful type of agriculture.  In most of the humid regions of this country the practice, if employed at all, is diminished to "summer fallowing," whereby the period of idleness is reduced to a minimum.  The summer fallow was formerly often employed in order to fit the land for wheat.  The land was kept in more or less clean and free tillage from spring till fall, without crop, for the purpose of destroying weeds and of putting it in good condition of preparation.  With improved tillage implements and well-planned rotations, these special results usually can be secured without resort to fallow.

Why rotations are useful.

     There is no dispute as to the value of rotation of crops.  The only differences of opinion are in respect

[Illustration:  Fig. 110.  Revolving hay-rake as pictured in 1846.  "This implement, with a horse, man and a boy, will rake from fifteen to twenty-five acres per day.  It can be used to good advantage even on quite rough ground."  Price, $7.50 to $9.00.]

to its feasibility in particular cases and the merits and demerits of the different courses.  Many experiments have reenforced common experience as to the importance of rotation, particularly in recuperating old lands.  Experiments made at Rothamsted are perhaps the most conclusive, because of the long period.  Wheat has been grown without rotation for sixty-six years and other crops for varying periods.  No method of fertilizing potatoes or clover kept up the yield without rotation.  Rotation alone did not fully maintain the yield of any crop, but the combination of manure or fertilizers with rotation increased it.  At the Louisiana Experiment Station (to cite only one more illustration), it was found, as a result of eleven years' work with a three-course rotation (first year corn, second year oats followed by cowpeas, third year cotton), that the yield increased from 12 to 25 per cent even without the application of manure.  In another part of the same experiment, manure was applied and the

[Illustration:  Fig. 111.  Hussey's reaping-machine; from a print of 1852.]

84     Outline of Crop Management

[Illustration:  Fig. 112.  A threshing device as pictured in 1845 (Warren's horse-power and thresher).  "The machines may be placed as follows, viz.:  The horse-power, Fig. 1, and the pulley-box, Fig. 3, outside the barn, and the threshing machine, Fig. 2, inside any convenient distance, say about 4 feet."]

general increase in yield was 400 to 500 percent.  This shows that a plain rotation is itself capable of increasing yield, but that a greater increase is to be expected by a combination of rotation and manuring.

     The first rotation-farming to gain wide attention in North America seems to have been the so-called Norfolk system.  This was chiefly a four-crop rotation employed on the light lands of Norfolk, England, and which had grown up during a long course of years.  A century and more ago this system was explained by writers and thereby became widely known, the more so because at that time the American agricultural literature was drawn chiefly from English sources.  An account of "the Improvements made in the County of Norfolk" comprised the larger part of Jared Eliot's "Fourth Essay upon Field Husbandry," published at Killingworth, Connecticut, in 1753.  The exact rotation itself--comprising roots, barley, clover, wheat, in various combinations--was of less importance to the American colonies than the fact that attention was called to the value of rotation-farming in general.  At the same epoch another system of

[Illustration:  Fig. 113.  The double-shovel plow in 1820, used until very recently.]

farming practice was also coming in from English sources.  This was the clean-tillage system introduced by the epoch-making experiments of Jethro Tull.  Between the discussions of the Tull "new husbandry" and the Norfolk rotations, agricultural practices were challenged and overhauled in the new country.

     One of the early explanations of the good results of rotation of crops was the doctrine that some plants exhaust the soil of certain materials which are not needed by other plants; therefore the value of rotation depended on securing such a combination of crops as would in time utilitze all the elements of the soil.  There is, of course, some truth in this teaching, but we now know that the question is by no means one of so-called exhaustion alone.

     Another explanation was found in the theory that roots excrete certain substances

[Illustration:  Fig. 114.  Picture of a cultivator attending an advertisement in "American Farmer," 1821.  The advertisement also says that "persons transmitting the cash for any of the following articles, will be carefully put up and shipped to any part of the United States:  Clover, Timothy and other grasses and garden seeds warranted of good quality."]

that are noxious to the plants excreting them and innocuous or even beneficial to other plants.  The excretory theory was taught early in the past century by the renowned Swiss botanist, Pyramus de Candolle.  It was no doubt a suggestion from the animal kingdom.  This theory was practically given up before the middle of the past century.  Yet it is most interesting to find recent experiments in England on the growing of grass in orchards leading to the suggestion that one plant may exert some influence on the soil deleterious to another plant.  It is suggested that this influence, however, is biological rather than chemical--in some way, perhaps, concerned with the little-understood germ life of the soil.  Recent publications by the United States Department of Agriculture (Bureau of Soils) state that root excretions are probably very intimately associated with soil productivity, that much of the value of manurial substances lies in the cleansing of the soil of these toxic excreta, and that the value of

[Illustration:  Fig. 115.  The Geddes harrow, 1845.  Price $12.]

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rotation of plants is determined largely by the presence or absence of such excreta.

     Some of the reasons why rotation-farming is considered to be advantageous (under present teaching) may now be mentioned.

     (1)  One crop tends to correct the faults of another crop.  The continuous growing of one crop usually results in the injuring of the soil in some respect; a rotation tends to overcome and eliminate such effects.  It evens up and works out the inequalities.  The general average of many or several kinds of treatment is better than the effects of one treatment.

     (2)  Plants differ considerably in the proportions of the kinds of foods that they take from the soil.  In rotations, the different plants make the maximum of their draft on the soil at different times in the year, thereby allowing the progress of the seasons to even up the inequalities.

     (3)  By a judicious choice of crops, different plant-food materials may be incorporated in the soil in available condition, through the decay of the parts plowed under or left in the ground.  The most marked benefit of this kind probably comes from incorporation of nitrogen com-

[Illustration:  Fig. 116.  "the irrigator," pictured in 1823.  "This machine is calculated to water meadow-grounds, cotton and provision land, and with a boy and horse, ought to water one or two acres per day, according to the distance of the river from the filed."  "No. 1, The Cask; 2, The Axle; 3, Felloes; 4, Bung; 5, Plug holes at both ends; 6, Seat for the boy."]

pounds through the use of leguminous plants.  These plants have the power, by means of their root nodules, of fixing the free atmospheric nitrogen of the soil; and the new compounds are turned back to the soil in condition to be utilized by plants that do not have the power to appropriate the nitrogent of the air.  Since nitro-

[Illustration:  Fig. 117.  Woodside's machine for harrowing, sowing and rolling, 1833.  The seeder or sieve is at H; harrow at B; roller at I.  "From the above it will be perceived that I can of a truth affirm, that I can sit in the front of my cart, under a canvas covering, sow the grain, harrow and roll it in, whithout exposure to the sun, leaving the ground without any impression fo the horses feet, my own feet, or the cart wheels."]

gen is the most expensive and usually the most easily lost of the plant-food elements that the farmer has to buy, this role of the leguminous plants is most important.  It is significant that most of the early rotations, developing before rational explanations of them could be given, comprised some legume.

     (4)  Some plants have the power, more than others, to utilize the content of the subsoil.  Such plants may not only make less proportionate draft on the upper soil, but by their decay may add to the richness of such soil.  It has been determined, for example, that lupines are able to take more food from the subsoil than oats.  Most of the

[Illustration:  Fig. 118.  Bachelder's corn-planter, as illustrated in 1846.  "The seed is put into the hopper above the beam, and as the planter moves along, the share below opens the furrow; the corn is then dropped by arms moved by a crank."]

legumes have similar power, largely because of their deep-rooting habit; and this affords additional explanation of the good results accruing from the use of such plants in the rotation.

     (5)  A rotation of crops can be so planned as to maintain the supply of humus in the soil.  This humus, coming from the decay of organic matter, adds to the plant-food content of the soil and, what is usually more important, exerts a great influence in securing a proper physical texture of the land.  The Bureau of Soils recently asserts that the chief value of humus is to cleanse the soil of toxic excreta.  The humus is chiefly supplied by the grass crops and clover crops in rotation.  The practice of "green-manuring" rests chiefly on the need of supplying humus.  Green-manure crops are those that

[Illustration:  Fig. 119.  Pennock's seed and grain planter, from a picture of 1846.  "This machine will plant wheat, rye, Indian corn, oats, peas, beans, rutabagas and turnips; and can be regulated to drop any required quantity on an acre."]

86     Outline of Crop Management

are grown for the special purpose of being turned under, root and top, and are not usually a difinite part of the rotation; but, so far as it goes, the root-and-stubble part of similar crops employed in the rotation answers the same purpose.

     (6)  Well-considered rotation schemes reduce the necessity of excessive use of concentrated or chemical fertilizers.  On the other hand, they may utilize such fertilizers to greater advantage than do the continuous-cropping schemes, as has been shown by the Ohio Experiment Station.

     (7)  A good rotation provides for the making of farm manures, because it grows crops for the feeding of live-stock.  As a general practice, it is better to market the hay and straw crops in the form of animals or animal products than to put them on the mar-

[Illustration:  Fig. 120.  Four-row beet cultivator of today.]

ket directly; for the farmer not only has the opportunity to make an extra profit by an extra process, but he gains the manure with which to maintain the fertility of his lands.  He raises the crop to feed his stock to secure manure to raise a better crop.  In the maintaining of fertility, the livestock farmer has the great advantage of the horticulturist or other special farmer, for the latter must resort to special practices or special purchases in order to maintain the producing power of his land.

     (8)  Rotation is a cleaning process.  Certain weeds follow certain crops.  Chess and cockle are common weeds in old wheat-lands.  The life-cycle of these plants is so similar to that of wheat that they thrive with the wheat; and the seeds may not be removed from wheat-seed in the ordinary cleaning process.  These weeds are soon eliminated by the grass-course in the rotation, or by some clean-tillage course.  Most weeds are eradicated in the course of a good rotation; in fact, a rotation cannot be considered to be good unless is holds the weeds in check.  With crops which are not grown as a part of a rotation, as rice, it is sometimes necessary to

[Illustration:  Fig. 121.  Stubble digger, to fit land for a succeeding crop, 1906.]

interject another crop for a year or two in order to clean the land.

     Insects and plant diseases follow certain crops.  There are no insects or diseases that follow all crops.  Therefore a rotation cleans the fields of many of these troubles and pests.  Nearly all continuous-cropping schemes run into these difficulties sooner or later.  A short and sharp rotation, for example, is the best means of contending with wire-worms.  It is not uncommon sometimes to find onions failing year after year in the best onion regions.  The trouble is likely to be due to pests or diseases.  Two or three years of celery or other crop may clean up the difficulty.  The horticulturist is particularly liable to suffer from insects and plant diseases, especially if he is an orchardist, because he cannot well practice a definite rotation.  The larger part of the spraying devices and materials are devised to meet the necessities of the horticulturist.

     (9)  A rotation allows the farmer to meet the needs of the staple markets by providing a continuous and predictable output.

[Illustration:  Fig. 122.  Modern riding cotton- and corn-planter.]

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     (10)  Rotation-farming develops a continuous and consecutive plan of business.  It maintains the continuity of farm labor, and reduces the economic and social difficulties that arise from the employing of many men at one time and few men at another time.

Rotation practices.

     Just what rotation scheme shall be adopted in any case must depend on many local and special considerations.  What some of these considerations are may be briefly discussed. 

[Illustration:  Fig. 123.  A modern 11-foot seeder.]

     (a)  The rotation must adapt itself to the farmer's business--to the support of live-stock if he is a dairyman or stock-farmer, to the demands of the grain trade if he is a grain-farmer, to the cotton market if he is in a cotton region.

     (b)  It must adapt itself to the soil and the fertility problem.  Often the chief purpose of a rotation is to recuperate worn and depleted lands.  In such case, the frequent recurrence of leguminous humous crops is preeminently desirable.

     (c)  The fertilizer question often modifies the rotation--whether manure can be purchased cheaply and in abundance or whether it must be made on the place.

     (d)  The kind of soil and the climate may dictate the rotation.

     (e)  The labor supply has an important bearing on the character of the rotation-course.  The farmer must be careful to plan to keep the number of plowings and the amount of cultivating within the limits of his capabilities.

     (f)  The size of the farm, and whether land can be rented for pasturage, are also determinants.  It is not

[Illustration:  Fig. 124.  A present-day side-cut mowing machine.]

profitable to grow the cereals and some other crops on small areas; in fact, rotation-farming is chiefly successful with large-area crops.

     (g)  In the future more than in the past, the rotation must be planned with reference to the species of plants that will best serve one another, or produce the best interrelationship results.

     (h)  The rotation must consider in what condition one crop will leave the soil for the succeeding crop, and how one crop can be seeded with another crop.  One reason why wheat is still so generally grown in the East is because it is a good "seeding crop"; grass and clover are seeded with it, and it therefore often makes a rotation practicable.  In some parts of the East, rye takes the place of winter-wheat in the rotation course.  Every careful farmer soon comes to know that a certain tilth or condition of soil may be expected to result from certain crops.  Thus buckwheat has a marked effect on hard-pan soils, leaving them mellow and ash-like.  The explanation of this action of buckwheat is unknown.  Potato-growers who have hard land like to grow buckwheat as a preparation for potatoes, although buckwheat is rarely a regular part of a rotation.  Winter-wheat commonly follows oats, for the reason that the oats are harvested

[Illustration:  Fig. 125.  A present-day center-cut mowing machine.]

88     Outline of Crop Management

early enough to allow the sowing of wheat in the fall.  However, barley is considered to be a better preparation crop for wheat, as it comes off the land earlier and does not deplete the moisture content of the soil so much; it therefore usually allows the making of a better seed-bed for the wheat.

     It must be remembered that the rotation is not confined to a single field.  If a perfect system is practiced, there must be as many equal fields concerned in the rotation as there are years in the course, so that every crop is grown on some part of the farm every year.   The farm is therefore laid off into shifts or blocks.  It is unusual, however, that a farm is sufficiently uniform in surface and soil to allow of such a perfect

[Illustration:  Fig. 126.  The common form of spring-tooth hay-rake.]

arrangement, and consequently the output of the various crops varies from year to year.  Of course, it is not expected that the entire farm is to be laid under a rotation system.  Parts of it will be needed for gardens, orchards, woods, permanent pasture, and for special crops.

     Not all the crops of the farm are adapted to rotation.  The cereal and hay crops are most adaptable.  Cotton ordinarily is not a part of a rotation scheme; and this is one reason why cotton-lands so soon become "exhausted."  The adopting of a short and good rotation, in which cotton would be the pivot crop, would no doubt add immeasurably to the wealth of the southern states.  Some crops occupy the land for a series of years and therefore do not often become parts in a rotation.  Of such is alfalfa, now largely grown in the West and rapidly working its way into the East.  But even this crop will probably tend more and more to occupy a place in rotation courses; and in the South (and even in other regions) this may be enforced in order to overcome disease affecting the plant.

     Usually a rotation contains at least one "money crop," that finds

[Illustration:  Fig. 127.  Side-delivery rake of recent make.]

a direct and ready market; one clean-tilled crop; one hay or straw crop; one leguminous crop.  Formerly the manure was applied mostly to one crop in the rotation, but the tendency now seems to be to distribute the application of some kind of fertilizer throughout the various years of the course.  Some crops, however, may receive the coarse manure, others the fine or rotted manure, and others the chemical fertilizer.  It is now thought that there is advantage in rotation of fertilizers.  In the Norfolk system, manure is usually applied heavily with the root-course.  Grass crops follow clean-tilled or "exhaustion crops."  Pasturing eliminates the weeds of tillage, compacts the land following tillage-practice, and provides manure in the droppings of the animals.

     The leguminous rota-

[Illustration:  Fig. 128.  A truss-frame sweep hay-rake.]

tion crops most used in North America are red clover and cowpeas.  The clover is adapted to the humid North, cowpeas to the South.  The use of the cowpea supplies the missing link in the rotation for the South and makes humus; it adds nitrogen, obviating the necessity of depending on chemical fertilizers

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alone, which has been such an undesirable practice in the South.  Velvet bean and beggar-weed are special leguminous crops sometimes employed in the extreme South.

     Nearly all special crops can be grown without rotation, because the market value of their products is so high that the grower can afford to resort to extra manuring and other expensive practices in order to keep the land in good heart.  This is the chief reason for the excessive use of stable-manure in market-gardening, a use which usually far exceeds the needs of the corps in mere plant-food.  When the land is not too high-priced, it is a practice with gardeners to "rest" part of the land now and then in clover.  Orchards do not lend themselves readily to rotation, although peaches generally do not follow peaches directly nor apples follow apples.  In order to supply the humus to these lands and at the same time to secure the benefits of tillage, the practice of cover-cropping has lately come into practice.  This is

[Illustration:  Fig. 129.  The modern reaper and binder.]

the use of some quick-growing crop that can be sown in midsummer or later, after tillage is completed;  usually this is plowed under early the following spring.  Acceptable cover-crops are crimson clover, vetches, peas, rye and sometimes buckwheat, rape or cereals.

[Rotation Chart]

     A contrast of rotations (to be compared with those on succeeding pages).  Tabular view of "a regular Succession of Crops in Rotation," as proposed by Varlo in "A New System of Husbandry," Philadelphia, 1785.  This is part of a farm scheme for a property of 150 acres, to be stocked with horses, cattle, hogs and sheep.  Counting all labor and other outlay, Varlo estimates an annual expense for the six years of £265 16s, and an annual profit of £402 4s.