« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
By S. HODDER, F.R.C.T.
It may perhaps afford some guarantee that more than a mere cursory attention has been devoted to the subject of these notes, if I am permitted to explain that for more than thirteen years I was intimately associated with the development of agriculture in Minnesota and Argentina ; moreover, it was mainly due to experience gained in the former country that I was entrusted with the organising of the first authorised system of cereal inspection, and the introducing of the most approved methods and appliances for transporting the cereal. crops of the River Plate. These facts are only mentioned here to show that any views hereafter submitted, whether right or wrong, are based on experience acquired under conditions not unfavourable to obtaining trustworthy information and forming careful judgments.
The great question to be determined in the development of the agricultural resources of new countries, lies in the judicious selection of crops to meet the special circumstances of the environment; and in modern times it has been generally recognised that where open prairies constitute the dominant feature in the topography of the country, the winning over of the soil from a state of wildness can be best and most profitably achieved by the cultivation of cereals on a large scale. There is no country in the world perhaps possessing so vast an area of rich lands of this description as the Argentine Republic. Of the three provinces of Buenos Aires, Córdoba, and Santa Fé, comprising in the aggregate an area of 234,000 square miles, or 150,000,000 English acres, more than half of each of the former, and almost the entire province of Santa Fé, present a surface so uniformly level that Darwin records his impressions of this phenomenon in the statement,“ Scarcely anything which travellers have written about its extreme fatness can be considered as exaggera
This particular region is popularly known as the “Great Pampa of South America, and at the commencement of this year presented the unparalleled feature of having 4,389,100 acres in which alfalfa was growing, unassisted by irrigation, stamping the country with the eminent purpose which Nature undoubtedly intended her to fulfil. Besides these three provinces, Argentina embraces a further area of 800,000 square miles, divided into twenty provinces and territories, which are for the most part mountainous, and enjoy a diversity of climates and geological formations.
For the purpose of illustrating from an economic as well as a practical point of view, how inseparably the growing of cereals and alfalfa are linked together, it is necessary here to make a slight digression, and as we proceed the vital importance of this combination will appear with increasing distinctness. In the early eighties, when the prairies of the Red River Valley and the Great North West came under notice as cereal-producing areas, farms of 5,000 acres sown with wheat were by no means uncommon. The “ Dalrymple Farm” at Fargo, boasted of as being the largest wheat farm in the world, had under cultivation about 56,000 acres. A decade later the pampas of Argentina furnished numerous examples of even still
larger tracts constituting a single wheat field; a reference to one of these will serve as a sample of the rest. In the year 1891 Mr. José Guazzone, of Azul, offered to sell on the Bolsa at Buenos Aires the produce of 80,000 acres which comprised his wheat farm.
But sooner or later a day will come to these regions when cereal growing can no longer be practised on the same gigantic scale: the huge farms that form epics in agricultural industry must cease, and the exhausted soil must be given an opportunity to regain its lost fertility. This means that a new stage of development becomes imperative, and extensive farming, in the broadest interpretation of the word, must give place to high farming on extensive lines, with all the problems associated with the selection of cultivated grasses and artificial fertilizers. In the United States and Canada agricultural investigators of the first rank are busying themselves to solve this intricate problem, which in those countries bristles with difficulties : meanwhile, by adopting a system of alternately cropping and summer-fallowing it is sought to prolong the wheat-yielding capabilities of the soil. On the other hand, in Argentina the farmer is confronted with no difficulty whatever ; right away he steps from the first stage of development to the climax, without curtailing his income by the smallest fraction, and there is no pause during the transition. The explanation is to be found in the circumstance that alfalfa, the greatest forage plant, and the greatest soil renovator the world has even known, flourishes with the maximum of luxuriance on every farm in the country that has previously produced cereals.
At the present time the area laid down under alfalfa exceeds 6,500,000 acres, many individual farmers possessing more than 15,000 acres sown with the plant. The full significance of these vast expanses, carpeted with bright green herbage of the highest nutritive value, baffles the comprehension of the ordinary observer ; it can, however, be accurately gauged by a perusal of the statistical abstracts periodically published by the Minister for Agriculture, who has described alfalfa as “the backbone of the country's prosperity." These pamphlets tell us that a hectare (2.47 acres) of land, which, under indigenous grasses, would support from } to head of breeding cattle, will, when laid down under alfalfa, maintain from 3 to 5 head of store cattle, or from 2 to 3 steers for fattening purposes. The cost of preparing the ground, seed, and sowing of alfalfa is given at 1419 to 1612 per English acre, where no cereal crop has been taken off, a system largely obtaining in Córdoba and the subAnadean provinces for reasons that will be explained later on, but unnecessary within the cereal belt, where the actual expense incurred may be reckoned by the value of the seed. The life of the plant is given at seven to eight years in the least favourable soils, a term sufficiently long in which to communicate to the land those nitrogenous substances essential to the growth of cereals; and under conditions more conducive to longevity no decay is yet apparent.
The question now arises, what constitutes the most desirable environment for the production of alfalfa ? As I have already pointed out, all soils suitable for the cultivation of wheat are found admirably adapted for the growing of alfalfa, though the life of the plant will vary with the depth of the surface soil, and more especially with the composition of the subsoil. In the province of Córdoba, where 1,111,500 acres of alfalfa are cultivated, two conditions diametrically at variance are observable. In the eastern part, as throughout the entire Central Pampa, the surface soil maintains an average depth of two to three feet, composed of heavy, black, alluvial loam, with a little admixture of fine sand, underlaid by a stratum of plastic yellow or blue clay of immense thickness : this formation is very favourable to wheat and maize, but limits the life of alfalfa to such time as is necessary for the tap-root to penetrate a few inches into the clay, when the plant loses its vigour and gradually dies back. In the neighbourhood of Villa Mercedes, and the whole south-western section of the province, the surface soil consists of an extremely sandy, alluvial loam, varying in depth from six inches to two feet, and, if judged by the appearance of the aboriginal grasses, which are sour and sparse, presents no attractions to the agriculturist. Nevertheless, it is in these lands so uninviting to the eye that the alfalfa plant has found a habitat. The illustration does not, however, end with this particular district. Further west the broad tract of country which intervenes between the meridian passing through the City of Córdoba and the Andes is principally composed of similar
lands, in much of which, notwithstanding the arid nature of the . climate, alfalfa is cultivated without irrigation, the province of
Mendoza accounting for 259,715 acres ; San Juan for 286,520 acres ; San Luis for 98,000 acres ; and the territory of Pampa for 232,100
As I am not an expert in the science of geology, the explanation I am able to give of this seeming anomaly, though accurate enough as to detail, will probably fall short of what an audience such as I have the privilege to address will expect.
Immediately below the surface soil, from which it differs little in composition, a stratum of saturated sand of an average depth of sixty-five feet is encountered followed by a hard seam five to ten inches thick of a calcareous deposit ; underlying this seam another stratum of super-saturated sand and gravel of greater depth is met with. As a rule, a plentiful supply of water for stok purposes is obtained by sinking a pit six to nine feet, and a bore hole into the lower stratum secures a semi-artesian well. The abundance of moisture, due to the proximity of the ground water level, promotes a rapid and healthy development of the alfalfa plant in its younger stages, and the profound depth of the water-carrying subsoils ensures an unknown length to the period of its existence ; many alfalfares," known to have been planted more than seventy years ago, still rank among the most prolific in the province. I will make only one other remark on the long life of these pasturages. Some experts on the culture of alfalfa, it seems to me, attach an exaggerated importance to the extreme depth to which the roots will penetrate in a loose, well-watered subsoil. The preservation of an even and bounteous stand of alfalfa depends far more on the conditions obtaining within a reasonable distance of the surface ; for when
the mechanical nature of the surface soil affords free aeration and uninterrupted capillary movement, the plant will to a large extent perpetuate itself by reseeding, always provided sufficient moisture is available in the subsoil. Irrigation in a great measure assists selfpropagation, and counteracts the prejudicial effects of a heavy surface soil, but it cannot altogether eliminate the disadvantages arising from a close, heavy subsoil and a remote ground water level. A study of the map throws considerable light on the peculiarity of these water-carrying strata, for we notice at once the phenomenon that characterises the rivers of what may be termed the Central River System.”
Commencing with the rivers flowing from the north, the Rio Dulce starts in the Sierra de Aconquija in the Andes chain, traverses the provinces of Tucuman and Santiago del Estero, and empties itself into Lake Porongos on the northern border of Córdoba. The Rios Catamarca and Fiambala cross Catamarca and disappear in the sands of the province of Rioja. The Bermejo, El Zanjon, Castano, and San Juan, the most important rivers of this system, are fed from the snow-clad Cordillera de los Andes, and, flowing south-east, are lost near Lake Huanacacho, in the province of San Juan. Further south, the Mendoza, Tunuyan, Diamante, Atuel, and Desaguadero, all of which take their rise in the Andes, flow east across Mendoza into Mar Chiquita del Sur, in the territory of Pampa. The system also includes the rivers Primero, Segundo, Tercero and Quarto, starting in the Sierras de Achales, and the Quinto, whose source is in the Sierra of San Luis, all of which disappear in the south-west of the province of Córdoba.
The regularity of the phenomenon is primarily owing to the surface configuration, which is singularly level even up to the foot of the Cordillera, and these, as is the case with the mountains already mentioned, rise precipitously from the plains. I will not attempt to formulate a precise definition of the relationship between these rivers and the subterranean water found in the plains, but it seems probable that from where they disappear, the water is conducted through porous strata to the sand-beds, in which gravitation and capillarity again bring it to the surface ; analogous facts on a smaller scale have been observed in other parts of the world.
It would not be possible in the time allowed me to enter at length into the vast and manifold resources of the Argentine Republic. A few items must therefore suffice to show the strides that have been made in population, enterprise, and wealth ; and of these the pastoral and agricultural statistics are for the purpose of this article particularly informing.
The division of “ Statistics and Rural Economies" has supplied the following particulars :--The population in 1878 totalled 1,850,000 ; this had risen in 1895 to 4,094,911, and in 1901 to 5,026,913. Immigration between 1870 and 1880 was made up of 260,613, which increased in 1891 to 1900 to 648,326. The length of railways open for traffic in the year 1880 was 1435 miles, a great
portion of which was the property of the State—always a suspicious feature in a new country. In 1901 there was in existence 11,000 miles, all owned by private companies. The imports advanced from £11,000,000 in 1878 to £20,607,850 in 1902 ; and the exports from £11,580,000 to £35,897,345 during the same period.
When trade advanced the shipping industry could not lag behind. In 1902 a grand total of 2,196 ocean-going vessels, with a tonnage of 3,973,782, left Argentine ports; while the local trade was represented by 46,735 coasters, with a tonnage of 8,954,650.
As regards cultivation, in 1872 the area under crops 1,430,000 acres, and the country was dependent on extraneous sources for its bread supplies. Alfalfa first appears as a separate item in 1883 with 351,975 acres. In 1890 and 1901 the number of acres under tillage and permanent pasture was as follows :
In January of this year a helpful little brochure issued by the Minister for Agriculture, gives the areas under alfalfa in 1903 at 4,829,521 acres, and in 1905 at 5,437,981 ; to which a foot-note is added explaining that the latter figures represent the area at the commencement of the year, and 6,422,000 acres can safely be taken as the acreage at the present time. The following table gives the amount of wealth invested in live stock since 1878:
12,000,000 21,961,657 30,000,000 Sheep
65,000,000 66,706,099 120,000,000 Horses, Mules, Asses 4,000,000 4,651,526 6,100,000 Goats
The magnificent item of £35,897,345, representing the export trade in 1902, rests wholly upon an agricultural basis, as the following table shows : Pastoral trade
143,690 Agricultural products
13,634,266 Timber and mining
These figures are more expressive than the most glowing rhetoric in illustrating the progress of Argentina which has taken place in a little less than a single generation.