That land in Europe produces more, acre for acre, than in this country, whether under the plow or down to grass, is not to be attributed to the principles productiveness being there better understood than here, but chiefly to the want of capital and the dearness of agricultural labor in America. Is there any country proprietors possess so little means of improving land proportion to the land they own as in ours? Many the southern states, owners of hundreds of acres, have not money enough to buy a new saddle; resembling in their condition, that of a man who may be supposed to with cold in the midst of a forest, for want of a spark of fire, or a steel and flint to strike one. Hence the great value of labor saving machinery in our country; and necessity has been aptly called the mother of invention, no country has displayed so much ingenuity as ours in invention of contrivances to economize labor.
Far from being behind hand in the art of agricultural improvement, no people on the globe excel us agricultural knowledge; nor has any made greater improvement in comparison with the labor at the command of the farmer. Every one understands for example, the paramount importance of increasing his pile of manure; but in no one thing is the dearness of labor so much as in the quantity of it which is required to collect materials for manure, and to haul out and distribute it after it is made. Herein consists the great value of gypsum on lands to which it is congenial; for on some, as for instance on the eastern shore of Virginia and Maryland, owing perhaps to their alluvion soil or saline atmosphere, or to both, it is said to have but little effect; while in other parts of both these states, its effect is absolutely magical. The very small quantity required - a bushel to the acre - and the quickness with which it applied, has arrested the progress of exhaustion in some of the counties, which, before it was introduced, were on the high road to ruin. In some other respects its results have been remarkable. It has been the cause in Prince George's county for example, of increasing the possessions and fortune of land holders, and diminishing aggregate population. The rapidity with which large bodies of the poorest could be converted into tobacco land, yielding 1,000 weight to the acre, the high price of that article, and the improvements in the implements and modes of culture, by which planters have come to make four or five hogsheads "to the hand" enabled the enterprising land proprietor and slave owner, to make land purchased on time pay for itself. Thus small proprietors of land, owning few or no slaves were bought out, and moved away to the west. [l]arge estates have been accumulated by individuals, while the actual population of that county, perhaps the most productive in the state, and within striking of Baltimore, with its population of 100,000 inhabitants, and bordering on the cities of the District of Columbia, has diminished from 20,216 in 1820, to 19,539 in 1840.
The following are among many similar cases to show the operation of the influences to which I have referred; the facts are stated on indubitable authority. The Governor Robert Bowie, a man of singular energy of character and of the highest moral worth, at the time under the state of things already referred to, purchased two hundred acres of poor "broom sedge" land for $1400. He put half of it in corn, and probably gathered not more than 10 or 15 bushels to the acre, sowed it down to oats he next spring, and on them sowed clover and plaster of Paris or gypsum. Plastered the clover the succeeding spring, and the spring following planted in tobacco, and sold from it 100,000 weight at $10 per hundred; making $10,000 for half of the land, which three years before he had purchased probably "on time," for $1400! Many similar instances might be given of effects of plaster of Paris in producing all the results I have stated, but I am wandering from my subject.
Much and effectively as our ingenuity has been in the invention of every expedient to save labor, it seems to me that there is one means of augmenting our crops grass in a manner as wonderful or at least as great as the effect of plaster of Paris on cultivated crops - which is much practiced in some parts of Europe, but neglected in a country where of all others, circumstances invite the use of it - I mean Irrigation.
You, Mr. Editor, would render an essential service to American Husbandry, if you would yourself give, or prevail upon some one to give an essay on that subject; especially if you have at your command, so far, the offices of some correspondent who has seen the manner in which irrigation is conducted in Europe. I know a great man who could do it, but the game would hardly be worthy of the falcon. If I had time, I would collect the materials and digest such an essay, were it only for the benefit of a few friends who have all the resources for irrigation at command.
I. S. S.
Washington Jan 1 1844
transcribed by John Peter Thompson from:
Luther Tucker, ed. The Cultivator, A Monthly Journal to Agriculture, Horticulture, Floriculture and to Domestsic and Rural Economy. Vol. 1. New York. Luther Tucker, Publisher. p. 60.