I have so far considered the exhaustion of the soil by plants, with a view to the restoration of the deficient ingredients through the agency of manures. There is, however, another mode of restoring fertility which is of practical importance, as it has led to the greatest of all improvements in husbandry, the rotation of crops. A soil which has been exhausted becomes restored by lying at rest for a certain time, particularly if it be well broken up and fresh surfaces be exposed to the action of the atmosphere, in fact then by the decomposition of the mineral masses which the soil contains, a fresh soil is produced. The organic remains of the former crops become also rotted
p.281and assume a form suited for the nutrition of young plants, and thus after a season's fallowing, still more after lying out of cultivation for some years, the soil resumes a very considerable degree of fertility. But it is evident that this process entails considerable loss by the land being so long idle, and it becomes of great importance to the farmer to make some use of the land, whilst this process of regeneration is going on. This is actually done by changing from one kind of culture to another; whilst the land is recovering from the effects of one plant it is capable of sustaining a plant which does not act upon it in the same way, and after this a third differently exhausting from either of the others will give a course or rotation of three years, during any two of which the ground is recovering from the exhausting action of the plant grown during the third. I take this only as an example, for it is found that three years is too short a term to be of much practical utility.
In selecting the plants adapted for such a rotation, we must be guided by their chemical composition, and by their mode of growth. The results of both, however, lead to the same conclusion. In addition to those elements which are common to all plants used as food, certain plants are remarkable for the great quantity of silica they take from the soil, such are the grasses and corn plants; certain others for the potash they take up, such are turnips, the beet, the potato; others again for the quantity of lime, as the pea, vetch, clover, tobacco, &c. Such are the kinds of plants that should succeed each other in a rotation, and the proportionate action of each class may be judged from the following table derived from Liebig's investigations. From a space of land of 2.47 acres, he found there were taken up by
|Alkaline Salts||Salts of Lime and Magnesia||Silica|
|A crop of wheat||120½lb||78½lb||260lb|
|A crop of peas||198½lb||371½lb||46lb|
|A crop of beet without the leaves||361lb||37 3/4lb||0|
The quantity of phosphates taken up by these crops are
|A crop of wheat||117lb||112lb||37 3/4lb|
The reason of the beet taking so little phosphoric acid is, that it is not allowed to form its seed, and in all plants it is in the seed that the phosphates are principally deposited.
From these numbers it is evident, that on such a field, if by the gradual decomposition of its soil it could furnish but 200lb of alkaline salts, and 200lb of lime and magnesian salts each year, we could grow upon it but half the proper crop of beet, for a full crop would require 360lb of alkaline salts, and also only a half crop of peas, for the full crops would require 371lb of lime and magnesia salts. The continuous culture of either plant would, therefore, be most unprofitable and injurious, but if we cultivated beet one year and peas the other, the soil would have two years to prepare the materials which each crop would require to take up in one. There would be available 400lb of each kind of salts, and thus so far from exhaustion, there should be a surplus steadily increasing the fertility and augmenting the produce of the soil.
As it is seen in the above table that the quantity of alkaline and earthy salts taken up by the corn crop (wheat) is so much less than that required for the other kinds of plants, and that the principal demand of the corn crop on the soil is for silica, of which we may consider it certain that no soil is in danger of being exhausted, it might appear natural to conclude that the corn crop should be that least detrimental to the ground, whilst it is well known to practical agriculturists, that white or corn crops are amongst the most exhausting. Their injurious action on the soil is, however, not so much due to the inorganic materials they take up as to the nitrogen, for which element they are altogether dependent on the soil, whilst other kinds of plants act upon the atmosphere, absorbing nitrogen and actually serving rather to enrich the soil upon which they grow, than in any degree to impoverish it. This is in fact what constitutes the remarkable relation between the white crops and green crops as members of a rotation. The former exhausting the soil of nitrogen, the other fixing in the soil
p.283nitrogen derived from the air, and thus preparing for the nutrition of the corn crops that may succeed it.
The complete illustration of this principle is due to Boussingault, who has established it as well by experiments on individual plants in the laboratory as by the operations of an extensive farm. Thus growing corn in artificial soil deprived of nitrogen, it was found that the plant, when arrived at its full maturity, contained only the nitrogen that had originally existed in the seed. On the other hand, on growing peas in the same way, the quantity of nitrogen in the mature plant was found to be much greater than had been in the seed, and for this there was no other source than the atmosphere. The following tables will shew how fully this result is borne out on the large scale.
In a three years' cultivation of two successive crops of wheat manured and then a year of fallow, the produce was 3318 kilogrammes of wheat, and 7500 kilos straw per hectare, from 20,000 kilos of manure. Now taking these dry, the following table shews their composition and the relation of their constituents.
It is here quite evident that the crop contained only the nitrogen of the manure, as the difference 4.6 is so slight as to be within the unavoidable errors of experiment in such cases. On the other hand the carbon of the crop is nearly treble that of the manure, verifying, in an admirable manner, the atmospheric origin of the carbon of plants, to which I have already alluded. Hydrogen and oxygen were also gained abundantly, and almost exactly in the proportions to form water.
In contra-distinction to this corn culture may be placed the results of the continued growth of lucern for five years, followed by a crop of wheat, all at the expense of 44,000 kilos of farm-yard manure per hectare, put out on the land at the commencement of the period. These results were published by M. Crud, an eminent agriculturist.
|Cultures||Produce per Hectare||Contents in Nitrogen|
|Lucern dry, 1st year||3,360 kilos||79 kilos|
|Lucern dry, 2nd year||10,080 kilos||237 kilos|
|Lucern dry, 3d year||12,500 kilos||294 kilos|
|Lucern dry, 4th year||10,080 kilos||237 kilos|
|Lucern dry, 5th year||8,000 kilos||188 kilos|
|Wheat, 6th year||1,580 kilos||31 kilos|
|Straw, 6th year||3,976 kilos||12 kilos|
Or for the five years of lucern, 171 kilos per year, as the wheat of the last year did not take any from the atmosphere.
Now as the residues of these green crops which remain in the soil, contain a corresponding quantity of nitrogen, they are the means of transferring to it such portions of that element as serve, if not fully to sustain its fertility, at least prevent the exhausting action of the white crops from being so soon or so severely felt. This is still more fully carried into effect when these crops, or the last growth of them, in place of being consumed, are ploughed into the soil, where they act as the best form of manure, their fresh and juicy structure facilitating their decomposition, and their composition being such as to provide almost every element subsequently required.
The substitution of these plants as sources of food for the animals of the farm, for the common, or as they are called, the natural grasses, has been one of the most important improvements
p.285in husbandry. The following table, which is collected from the best authorities, exhibits the quantity of actual nutritious material which is usually derived from an acre of land.
|Crop||Weight||Starch and Sugar||Gluten||Oil||Total|
|Meadow hay||1½ tons||1360||240||120||1720|
|Clover hay||2 tons||1800||420||180||2400|
It is here seen that turnips and carrots yield from five to seven times the actual quantity of food that the corn crops give, also that potatoes and clover yield twice as much, and as it should be always the object of the farmer to do as much as possible in a given time, on a given space of ground, he should fix his attention on those systems of culture which thus produce the greatest quantity of food, and by the least exhaustion of the soil.
Practical experience bears out fully the principles I have here endeavoured to explain. The Board of Agriculture in England directed special inquiries as to this point, and the result led to the general conclusion, that one year of tares, rape, potatoes, turnips, or cabbage, gives thrice as much food as one year of medium pasture grass. In his very useful Lectures on Agricultural Chemistry, Professor Johnstone adopts the same general proposition, but he couples it with some money estimates which I consider it important to notice. He says: With the exception of rich pastures, it is said that land under clover or turnips will produce three times as much food for cattle as when under grass. If such a green crop then alternates with one of corn, the land should every two years produce as much food for stock as if it had been three years lying in grass,
p.286besides the crop of corn as food for man, and of straw for the production of manure. Professor Johnstone then proceeds to discuss the money value of the produce of similar pieces of ground under such crops, and concludes, that although more food is raised by converting the land to arable purposes, and more people may be sustained by it, yet more money would be made by meadowing the land, where a ready market exists for the hay, where it is allowed to be sold off the farm, and where abundance of manure can be obtained for the purpose of topdressing the land every year. In order to arrive at this result he takes the prices of produce as follows:
Such a price for the hay could certainly be obtained only in exceptional cases: the other circumstances he mentions could only be realized in some few localities, and there is no doubt, but that, as a general principle in agriculture, the cultivation of green crops and artificial grasses is not only that by which the largest quantity of food is raised, but also that by which the greatest money return is afforded to the farmer.
The natural moisture of the climate of Ireland, coupled with the general fertility of the soil, and especially that of the central district, where the subsoil is limestone-gravel, produces a tendency to rapid growth of a sweet and luxuriant grass, in consequence of which the lands of these localities are almost exclusively devoted to grazing. It is certain that on the western coast the humidity of the atmosphere is such, as on an average of years may present a serious obstacle to the ripening of corn crops and the safe completion of the harvest, but it is also certain that the tendency to adopt grazing in preference to tillageagriculture, as a pursuit, is much more connected with the habits of the agricultural classes than with the nature of the soil, or the character of the climate. Mere industry has been in Ireland for many generations connected with the idea of a vulgar and depressed caste. The possession of the land with perfect idleness constituted in itself the criterion of respectability. The working of a tillage farm, even if
p.287more profitable, was thus fatal to the social position of the occupier, whilst if he kept only a herd to mind some cattle and spent his time and money in hunting and in drinking, trusting to protection for high prices, and to Providence to pay his debts, he mixed with the notables of the land and looked down with scorn ineffable on all that savoured of occupations vile, of industry or intelligence.
Those ideas have been already very considerably disturbed. Prior to the introduction of turnip husbandry, and to the cultivation of the artificial grasses, it might be a question between the relative profits of grazing and of a very imperfect tillage, which gradually reduced the land to a condition of almost perfect barrenness; especially where the advantage of capital was altogether in favour of the former: but grazing is in reality but the production of food as well as tillage. An animal makes no food, it only assimilates that which is produced by the plants on which it feeds. A crop which produces three times as much food will therefore feed three times as many cattle, and it is hence unavoidable that as agriculture progresses the ordinary grass crops will be replaced by the more nutritious carrots, turnips, clover, &c.; the animals, in place of roving over extensive grounds which recall the idea of the prairie existence of a half civilized hunting population, shall be suitably confined, that their food may not be wasted in muscular efforts inconsistent with their ultimate perfection as food for man. The rearing of cattle will thus, in itself, become a branch, as it is really one most important, of tillage husbandry, and the manure thus rendered available will serve most efficiently to the production of corn and other exhausting crops. It is in such form that agriculture should finally be carried on in Ireland, and as it actually is in other countries, where industrial intelligence has been more active. There are however many difficulties to overcome and prejudices to remove before that point can be arrived at, but in the mean time every even trivial effort will lessen the obstacles on the way.
The greater amount of food produced by the system of turnip and potato husbandry, is noticed by M. De Jonnes, in relation
p.288to its influence on the social circumstances of the people of this country in words which are worthy of quotation.
On seeing what immense riches are obtained in England by the cultivation of the various species of green food, as supplementary to corn crops, and which are obtained, like them, by plough husbandry on a great scale, we are astonished at how recently this agricultural improvement, which has nearly doubled the means of subsistence, has been carried into effect. It was only in the middle of the seventeenth century that turnips have been cultivated in England, and that the use of clover had been introduced. Scotland, more backward in every respect, obtained the potato culture only in 1739, and these precious vegetables were first cultivated in the Highlands in 1743. But it is particularly in Ireland, where the soil is fresh and fertile, that these new kinds of crops have prospered. In that island the potato gives an annual produce of 42,000 to 52,000lb per hectare. (2.47 acres S.) On dividing that number by four to reduce it to the standard of nourishment which wheat affords, the hectare thus cultivated affords 10,000 to 13,000lb weight of subsistence. Newenham even considers three pounds of potatoes as equivalent to one pound of wheat, and if so the 10,000lb of nutriment given by the hectare, as a minimum, when it is cultivated with potatoes, represent 45 hectolitres of wheat and the 13,000lb are equal to 58. This is the double and treble of the best crops of wheat. This vast productiveness has multiplied potatoes in Ireland, so that they form the basis of the subsistence of the entire country. That is an evil, for a social condition where each family, or nearly each individual has his field, which furnishes his immediate nutriment, without any necessity for marketing, without the assistance of the miller or the baker, without occasion to demand assistance from his neighbours, that society is deficient in the elements most necessary to the progress of its civilization. From the great produce of its corn crops it would be easy to establish a mixed system of nutriment in Ireland.
There are few questions regarding agriculture which have been more keenly discussed, and there is certainly none more vitally important to this country, than the circumstances as regards
p.289the magnitude of farms, and the mode of applying labour under which the greatest amount of produce can be obtained from the land and the greatest quantity of employment given to the people. It is well known that in Ireland the sub-division of farms has been carried on to an extent which has been productive of most serious evils, moral and industrial. It is not within the objects of this work to discuss either the causes or the effects of the existing state of things, but first exhibiting the mere statistical facts of the number and size of farms, and some connected circumstances that will hereafter require comment, I shall proceed to consider the general principle of how the greatest quantity of produce can be obtained from the soil.
By the returns of the census of 1841, the number of farms in Ireland, and their magnitude, was
|Provinces||Farms from 1 to 5 acres||Farms from 5 to 15 acres||Farms from 15 to 30 acres||Farms above 30 acres||Total|
The following table exhibits the number and the average size of farms, compared with the total area and area of arable land of each province.
|Province||Number of farms||Total area in acres||Area of arable land||Average size of farms|
It is thus seen that in every province the great majority of the farms are under fifteen acres, and the average magnitude of the
p.290farms in the north and west appears to be but one-half that of the southern and eastern provinces. This geographical association is very much at variance with other social circumstances, and it will form just now an interesting object of inquiry.
The wonderful revolution effected in the mechanical arts by the invention of spinning and weaving machinery, and the application of steam power, by means of which these operations were concentrated within the walls of factories, and carried out on an immense scale by the application of enormous capital, had fixed the attention of agriculturists, especially in Scotland, where the very generally sound education of the people had rendered them active in the utilization of new ideas. It hence became the leading principle with agriculturists, that in the cultivation of the land the same methods were to be followed as had been so successful in the cotton manufacture, that small and individual holdings should be concentrated into one vast agricultural establishment, that human labour should be dispensed with as much as possible, and replaced by mechanical power: and the activity of head and hand which accompanied the introduction of this system had certainly the effect of so efficiently improving the modes of cultivation, and increasing the amount of produce, as to have gained almost universal approbation for the principles upon which the proceedings of its advocates were based.
Yet it is not difficult to trace between the conditions of manufacturing and agricultural industry, differences so essential and so great as to render very doubtful whether any methods can be really common and successful with both. The raw material of a manufacture is subjected to a series of processes which are carried on under the same roof, or at least within a small space, and which occupy but little time. Every thing in the mechanism is constructed for rapidity of work, its superiority to human labour consisting not in greater excellence, but in greater velocity of action. The materials are brought to the seat of power, which is fixed, and all its parts being made solid, are little liable to injury, and the cost of the exertion of power is reduced to a minimum. If we compare with this the condition of a farm, we shall find almost entire discrepancy.
p.291The operations are not confined to a house, but are spread over, perhaps, several hundred acres. The processes require for their completion many months, from seed time unto harvest, and do not admit of any important interference. The power necessary must be exerted at different times, in different places, and, therefore, cannot be fixed; it must be locomotive, and as such, the power of animals is cheaper, under the circumstances, than the power of steam. Thus the fundamental conditions of a farm are quite different from those of a factory, and the question of the relative advantages of small or of large farms must be considered upon other grounds.
This comparison is, however, independent of certain subsidiary operations of agriculture, which are really mechanical in their nature, and which are more economically accomplished by machinery, such as threshing and winnowing, certain modes of preparing food, &c.; these are, however, no more agricultural than the grinding of corn to meal and flour. They need not be accomplished on the farm. If we suppose a farm of 1000 acres, which requires the aid of threshing machines and other instruments for the preparation of its produce, it is evidently the same as if there were 100 farms of 10 acres, from which the produce was sent to a central point, where a mill and machinery were erected, for the use of which they paid as much as should reasonably remunerate the proprietor. The question, as to whether the large farm or the many small farms should give the greatest amount of benefit in produce and employment, is evidently not thereby affected.
The question is, in fact, one almost incapable of perfect solution, from the very different aspects which it presents in different localities, and under different conditions of proprietorship. But I certainly consider that if there be a final advantage in favour of farming on a great scale, and by all mechanical advantages, it cannot be of any considerable amount. If the question be put to a farmer of Scotland, or of the north of England, he will answer, decidedly and at once, invest great capital, throw aside manual labour, and introduce machinery, cultivate several hundred acres: but has this method led to great results in the hands of these very men? In the mechanical arts we
p.292know that the corresponding system has organized a new social power, that colossal fortunes have been on every side created, that large cities have sprung into existence, and employment has been given to the majority of the inhabitants of Great Britain. The wholesale system of agriculture has nothing whatever of such results to show, on the contrary, every day new demands are made for amelioration in its condition. The assistance of science is on the one hand invoked, the protection of the legislature is on the other hand demanded; the agricultural labourer is thrown for existence on the workhouse, or for employment on the manufacturing town, where, even under existing circumstances, he obtains a rate of wages which the agricultural capitalist cannot afford to pay.
Although the general question is thus so difficult to decide, yet if we proceed to the application of it to the actual state of Ireland, it becomes essentially simplified. Large farm cultivation is possible only in countries possessing a thin and scattered population, or else in countries where the existence of extensive manufacturing employment removes the inhabitants of the agricultural districts to other places. Thus certain Scotch counties had actually a smaller population in 1841 than in 1831, owing to the migration of the labourers to the manufacturing districts. In such counties the tendency must be to increase the size of farms, and to introduce, as far as possible, mechanical substitutes for human labour. Also in the north of England, where there is a constant drain of population from the country districts to Newcastle, to Leeds, to Manchester, and Liverpool, it is evident that the tendency being to take the agricultural labourers from their farming occupations, the farmer must endeavour, as best he can, to make himself independent of them. In Ireland, however, the circumstances are widely different, a large population is totally dependant on the land for their subsistence. As shown in page 237, two-thirds of the inhabitants are exclusively devoted to agriculture, and if the agricultural operations of the country, that is to say, the production of food from the soil, and its exportation to feed the inhabitants of another country, be carried on with a system of cultivation which does not afford employment, the great majority
p.293of the people of Ireland must either die of starvation, or be supported in idleness, by a money tax on the earnings of the industrious classes, or finally be removed from the country, at an expense which, if judiciously applied at home, would enable them to support themselves and families in positive comfort and independence.
Voluntary emigration carries off in fact just the class of persons whom it is most important to keep at home; persons of both foresight and enterprize, and possessed of some small capital. The expatriation of the very poorest classes, whether at the public expense or at the cost of individuals desirous of removing them, has been found, from the expense, impossible, in any degree sufficient to affect the rate of increase of the population. The other alternatives are not likely to meet with approval, either upon moral or on prudential grounds, and hence as the great fact, the existence of the people, still remains, the question of what can be done with them must one time or another be fairly met. The only answer is, enable them to support themselves. Give them employment, and as, especially in this country, any manufacturing system, to be healthy, must be slow in growth, the employment must be agricultural, and I am convinced that such employment may be given, without any injury to the interests of the landowner or farmer, nay with a positive amelioration of their condition, provided the proper means be taken to ascertain the true conditions of the problem.
Destitute of personal agricultural experience as I have no hesitation to own myself, and consequently feeling competent to interpose my own opinion only in such physical and chemical portions of these subjects as stand in immediate connexion with my special professional pursuits, I should not have entered upon this subject, but that I have found the evidence of the most eminent and intelligent persons connected with Irish agriculture to completely agree with the views I have expressed. Thus, as to the comparative profit of small and large farms, Mr. Blacker, by whose exertions so much benefit has accrued to Armagh, in his Essay on the Management of Landed Property in Ireland, which was honoured with a gold medal by
p.294the Royal Dublin Society, says: Supposing, then, an extensive estate to have recently fallen out of lease (under which circumstances alone such a consolidation as I have recommended would be at all practicable), and that such a division had been actually made, by which it may very generally happen that two-thirds of the farms will be found not to exceed five to eight acres, it may be asked, how can these tenants live upon such small portions, and still more, how can they pay rent? I answer without hesitation, they can live comfortably, and pay as high a rent as any large farmer whatever, if the plan is pursued with them which I have recommended, and have characterized as one in which was involved the happiness and comfort of thousands. And again, he remarks in a note: I am firmly persuaded, that the small farmer who holds his own plough or digs his own ground, if he follows a proper rotation of crops and feeds his cattle in the house, can undersell the large farmer, or in other words, can pay a rent which the other cannot afford; and in this I am confirmed by the opinion of many practical men who have well considered the subject, and I think it will not appear extraordinary, that such should be the case, to any one who reflects that the English farmer of 700 to 800 acres, is a kind of man approaching to what is known by the name of a gentleman farmer in this country. He must have his horse to ride, and his gig, and perhaps an overseer to attend to his labourers; he certainly cannot superintend himself the labour going on in a farm of 800 acres. Add to this, he must appear himself, and have his family also to appear in a superior rank, and his farm must not only enable him to pay his rent, and yield him the support he requires, but it must also be chargeable with the interest of the large capital which is necessary to its cultivation; besides all these drawbacks, which the small farmer knows little about, there is the great expense of carting out the manure from the homestead to such a great distance, and again carting home the crop. A single horse will consume the produce of more land than would feed a small farmer and his wife, and two children; and what is more than all, the large farmer says to his labourers go to your work, but when the small farmer has occasion to hire them, he says come;
p.295the intelligent reader will, I dare say, understand the difference perfectly. Now if it is really the case that the small farmer has the advantage over the larger, it will be easy accounting for what Mr. Paulet Scroupe observes, in his letter to the agriculturists of the west of England, of the Irish farmers being able to undersell the English in their own markets, because the Irish farmers are, generally speaking, small farmers, and the English are large farmers.
I am indebted for some numerical statements regarding this question to a gentleman, upon whose judgment I would place the fullest reliance, from his being at once practically acquainted with the system of large farms of North Britain, and minutely conversant with the relations of science to agriculture, Mr. Butler of Ballyconra. In answer to some queries which I sent to him upon this head, he says:
In the first place, what number of persons might be taken as deriving steady employment from the labour of such farms through the year, and in each case, besides men, what employment may be afforded to women and children? In reply, I shall take two farms, one of 200 acres, the other 20 acres, in preference to 100 and 10.
Farm of 200 acres.
16 men constantly.
1 boy constantly.
12 women about one-half the year.
20 men, 3 weeks in Spring.
40 men, 3 weeks in Harvest.
20 women, 3 weeks in Harvest.
20 men, 3 weeks potato digging.
20 women, 3 weeks potato digging.
Reduced to cash value . . . £300 0 0
7 horses constantly . . . £185 0 0
Occasional horses . . . £15 0 0
£500 0 0
Farm of 20 acres.
In constant employment one average family, say a man and wife and six children,
p.296varying from 1 to 16 years, and one servant maid. This, I think, should not be estimated at less than . . .£50 0 0
Extra labourers, chiefly men, at intervals, to the amount of about . . .£10 0 0
Horse work . . .£17 0 0
£77 0 0
Second. Supposing in each case rent regularly paid, and that in the larger farm the produce be charged with all interest of capital invested, and wear of machinery and horses, and that the sum allocated to the support of the farmer's family, be such as should be derived from any other kind of industry by a man of the same capital and intelligence, should there be any difference in the amount of rent per acre which the large and small farm could pay, and what would you consider that difference to be, and on which side?
According to a comparative calculation I have made, it appears to me, that a farm of 20 acres would bear a higher rent than a farm of 200 acres, and such has been my experience as an agent in this country; at the same time it is stoutly asserted in some of the best cultivated districts in England and Scotland, the larger the farm the higher the rent it is able to bear, and they have experience on their side. But I do not think that the small farm system ever got a fair trial there. I dare say that where the landlord builds and keeps up the tenants' houses, it might be cheaper to him to build and keep up one house and steading suitable to a 200 acre farm, than to build and keep up ten cottages, &c, on ten farms of 20 acres each, and it would certainly save him trouble. So perhaps in proportion to the outlay, he might get a higher rent for 200 acres, than he would get from 20 acres. I should say that where 40s. per acre was fair for 200 acres, 50s. would be fair for 20 acres.Thomas Butler.
Without proceeding to further quotation on a subject which has already far exceeded the limits originally designed, I shall only remark, that the fact of small farms being able to pay at
p.297least as high a rent as large farms appears well-established, and the greater amount of employment that is given is beyond any question. This latter circumstance it will he useful to consider a little further, in connexion with the population and the quantity of cultivatable land in Ireland.
In his valuable work on agriculture, Professor Low gives some estimates, from which it results that he considers a 500 acre farm to give an amount of occupation equivalent to the employment of twenty persons throughout the entire year. Now it has been already shewn that the area of land available for cultivation is about 18,000,000 of acres, made up of:
Land actually cultivated . . . 13,464,300
Land capable of cultivation . . . 4,600,000
Now if this be divided into 36,000 farms, of 500 acres, there will be given by their cultivation employment for 720,000 individuals, but as the actual agricultural population amounts to 5,406,743, the difference, or four millions and a half of human beings will be thrown on the world without any moans of subsistence. They may be considered as forming 850,000 families, and as it is found that the emigration of a family costs at least £50, the removal of these multitudes, whether paid for by themselves or by the State, should cost the enormous sum of forty-two millions and a half of money.
On the other hand, as the total number of existing agricultural families is 974,188, it results that from the available land there could be allocated to each a farm of seventeen statute acres. That this quantity is sufficient to support a family, paying full rent, is a matter of which there is no doubt, and it is thus evident that the finding means of employment for the population is not so difficult, nor requiring such hidden resources as is often thought. It does require, however, one condition, at present unfortunately scarcely obtainable, and on which attention is not yet sufficiently fixed, an amount of general industrial and agricultural education, that may enable the landlord to set an example to his tenantry in the disposition to improve the agriculture of his district, and may enable the tenantry to follow that example, and to apply his precepts
p.298each to his individual case. The landlord should be, in fact, not merely the proprietor of his peasantry; he should be their preceptor and their friend.
That the greater or less magnitude of farms is not in any way necessarily connected with the condition of agriculture, or with any other elements of social comfort of the population, becomes fully evident on reference to the table of the sizes of farms given in page 289. It is there seen that in Connaught the average size of farms is almost exactly the same as in Ulster, and yet these two provinces are the extremes of ignorance and of intelligence, of activity and of industrial indolence, which this island presents. The difference has certainly nothing to do with the smallness of the farms, and that such farms are sufficient, when properly managed, for the support of even more than the average number of individuals in a family, is shewn by Mr. Blacker, in a passage which disposes so perfectly of the redundant population question, that I shall not again allude to it. In his valuable Essay, Mr. Blacker says:
I cannot conclude without endeavouring to answer one objection, which may be made to the opinions I have supported in the foregoing; I allude to my objecting to the expulsion of small holders for the purpose of consolidating farms, in regard to which it may be asked, if this is not done, the population is increasing so rapidly, that as families grow up, subdivision must go on, until at length the whole community will become paupers? I might fairly ask in return, how the plan of turning out these families will prevent pauperism? It seems to me that the latter plan is by much the surest way to produce such a result. But the most satisfactory answer to the question will perhaps be arrived at, by endeavouring to ascertain how far the apprehensions of a superabundant population, at present so generally entertained, may or may not be justified by facts; for if it should appear there was land enough in the kingdom for all its inhabitants, now existing, and for as many more as could be anticipated in any reasonable time, and that nothing more was wanting but proper regulations to make it available for their wants, then the objection may be fairly considered to be set aside. In a late publication entitled Ireland
p.299as it was, is, and ought to be, a table is given of the acreable contents and population of each county in Ireland, which may be supposed, at least, so far relatively accurate, as to afford data for the following calculations. From this table it appears that the county of Armagh contains 212,755 acres, and a population of 220,653 souls, and that the entire kingdom contains 17,190,726 acres, and 7,839,469 souls; now, in the county of Armagh, by a recent survey, more than one-seventh of the surface is taken up by lakes and unprofitable land, and the remainder is, for the greater part, but indifferently cultivated, and yet the peasantry are better clothed, lodged, and fed than they are in most other counties in Ireland. I cannot, therefore be accused of taking away from the comforts of the rest of the kingdom, by taking the county of Armagh as a standard, and its proportion of unprofitable surface is not very remote, I believe, from the average of the others; if, then, 212,755, the number of acres in Armagh, give a population of 220,653 souls, 17,190,726 acres, the entire contents of the kingdom, ought to give a population of 17,828,888, in place of 7,839,469, the population at present. It therefore appears, that supposing the other parts of Ireland to be as well cultivated as Armagh, it would support about two and a half times the number of its present inhabitants, and be able to export provisions largely besides; for Armagh, notwithstanding its population, exports pork, butter, and grain in great quantities. But before deciding finally upon the population which the kingdom could support, it ought to be examined how far the county of Armagh (the standard taken) has arrived at its full complement; and in regard to this, I would say, from a pretty general knowledge of it, that under an improved system of agriculture, and a regular rotation of crops, the produce would be treble of what it yields at present, and I think this may be considered as practically proved, if I can shew farmers possessing land of average quality, who being induced to change their manner of cultivation in the way already described, are now receiving fully treble produce from the identical same farm to what it formerly yielded; but supposing it only to yield double as much, it would follow, that the population of
p.300Armagh, if that beneficial change became general, might be doubled also, without in any degree lessening the comforts of the inhabitants; which increase being taken as the basis of the calculation, and applying it to the whole of Ireland, would make it adequate to the support of better than thirty-five millions of souls. When, therefore, it is considered what unexhausted, I might say unexplored, resources remain for the maintenance of any increase of inhabitants that can be expected in any definite period, it must, I think, be evident to every reflecting person, that all fears as to a surplus population are perfectly ideal, and that it is its unequal distribution, and not its aggregate amount, which is to be deplored.
The primary object of agriculture, as hitherto discussed, is the production of food, which process necessarily requires the numerous elements essential for animal subsistence, and causes the exhausting action upon the soil which has given occasion to the great diversity of crops, of manures, and of rotations, of which I have endeavoured to explain the principles. There are, however, certain kinds of crops, and those of great practical value, which, when their culture is considered in a proper point of view, become almost free from exhausting action, and as some of these are actually of the highest importance to industry in Ireland, I shall pass to the description of their leading features.
I have mentioned as being well established by experience, that after the first stage of growth of a plant, the assimilation of its carbon is carried on by the decomposition of the atmosphere, as may be exemplified in the case of the corn crop and fallow, of which the numerical conditions are given in page 283. The mere woody portion of the stem is thus formed almost exclusively from the air and water, as the ligneous fibre, independent of some minutiae of its structure not affecting the present question, is composed of carbon united to oxygen and hydrogen in the proportions which form water; its formulae being C18 H12 O12. This composition of woody fibre, as affecting the cultivation of fibre crops, leads to important agricultural results, which will require full examination. Ligneous fibre is, however, but one of a class of bodies having
p.301the same character. The different varieties of starch and sugar are of precisely similar constitution, all being composed of carbon and of the elements of water; thus in chemical formulae they are expressed by
None of these bodies contain nitrogen, or, when pure, any inorganic matter. The plants which contain these bodies require for their healthy growth, nitrogen and mineral elements, and consequently exhaust the soil; but when we take out of a potato its starch, or when we extract from the sugar-cane or beet-root its sugar, the residual portions of the plant contain all the materials that had rendered the plant exhausting, and are capable, if restored to the soil, of acting as a most valuable manure, and in fact enabling the land to produce successive crops of starch or sugar without any sensible diminution of its fertility.
Of all the starch-bearing plants the potato is that which affords the greatest quantity of produce from a given surface of land. The different varieties of potato differ, however, very much, and the following table will indicate exactly the circumstances of the most important kinds. The plants were grown all on the same quality of land, and the analyses are by Payen, the eminent French agricultural chemist.
|Varieties||1 cwt. seed Produced||1 stat. acre produced||100 parts cont. water||100 parts cont. starch||100 parts cont. gluten and fibre|
|Rohan||58 cwt.||14½ tons||75.2||16.6||8.2|
|Large yellow||37 cwt.||91/3 tons||68.7||23.3||8.0|
|Scotch||32 cwt.||8 tons||69.8||22.0||8.2|
|Slow island||56 cwt.||14 tons||79.4||12.3||8.3|
|Legonzac||32 cwt.||8 tons||71.2||20.5||8.3|
|Siberian||40 cwt.||10 tons||77.8||14.0||8.2|
|Duvillers||40 cwt.||10 tons||78.3||13.6||8.1|
These results show that the quantity of starch is not largest necessarily in those varieties which yield the greatest weight
p.302of tubers. Thus an acre of large yellow potatoes, which gives but 9½ tons of tubers, produces two tons three cwt. of starch, whilst the acre of Slow Island potatoes, which produce fourteen tons of tubers, gives only one ton fifteen cwt. of starch. In cultivating the plant for the purpose of extracting this material, it is, therefore, of the greatest importance to attend to the existence of these varieties.
The preparation of starch from the potato is an operation of very simple kind, and well adapted for the industry of the smaller towns, where potatoes would be usually cheap. It requires only the most ordinary skill, and involves little machinery, the greatest nicety in it being perfect cleanliness, and care that the washings be well finished and with pure water. The operations of the manufacture are
1st. Washing the tubers.
2nd. Rasping them to a pulp.
3rd. Pressing the pulp.
4th. Washing the rough starch.
5th. Draining and drying the produce.
6th. Bolting and storing.
Of these operations it is only necessary to notice one or two in detail.
The breaking up of the tubers into a pulp is accomplished by means of cutting cylinders, to which the potatoes are supplied from a hopper, nearly as grain is to a mill. The more rapidly the cutters move the finer is the pulp produced, and the more perfect the subsequent extraction of the starch, and hence they generally make 600 to 900 turns in the minute, and as these cylinders are usually about twenty inches in diameter, their periphery moves with a velocity of from 1000 to 1500 yards in a minute. A single cylinder of the above dimensions and of sixteen inches long, making 800 revolutions in a minute, will reduce to pulp about fifty bushels of potatoes per hour. This for the twelve working hours is about ten tons.
The object of pressing or sifting the pulp is to separate the fecula from all foreign substances, especially from the cellular tissue, which, being coarser, rests on the sieve through which the fine starch passes. A great variety of mechanical arrangements
p.303have been constructed for this purpose, which fulfil their object, but there remains always with the residual pulp 2 or 3 per cent. of the fecula which it is impossible to obtain.
The starch diffused in the current of water by which it has been washed out from the pulp, is run into vats, where it gradually settles. When the water has become quite clear, it is poured off, and fresh water put on: finally the starch is taken out and dried on floors. As it consolidates into very firm masses, it requires finally to be broken down by a kind of bolting machine, before being put up for sale.
It is necessary to add some valuation of the money circumstances of this manufacture. An acre of potatoes, very well manured, and on good land, may be considered to produce nine tons of potatoes, which may be taken as worth £15. From such potatoes, it may be expected, that, with proper care, 15 per cent. of pure starch may be extracted, and hence, from the 9 tons, 27 cwt. The market price of the potato starch is variable; it has been 30s. per cwt., but it only on rare occasions falls below 20s. Taking it at 20s. the value of the produce of the acre becomes £27, leaving for cost of manufacture and profit £12, and of this certainly a large proportion should be profit. I do not think I value the potatoes too low, as, of course, the manufacturer, if not himself the grower, would purchase for store at proper seasons, and avail himself of the lowest terms.
But this calculation of advantage supposes the starch to be the only valuable matter extracted from the potato, which is far from being the case. The residual pulp, which, when perfectly dry, amounts to about 5 per cent. of the entire weight of the tubers, has been found a most nourishing food; in fact, it contains most of the nutritious part of the root, the mere starch which was removed being comparatively much less important in nutrition. This pulp, if moist, putrefies rapidly, it is rich in nitrogen, and in fact analogous to animal substances in composition, and consequently, if not required for food, would form, by being made with lime and clay into a compost, a manure of great value, and especially suitable for restoring to the potato ground. the substances which the crop in growing
p.304had removed. The waters, with which the pulp is first washed, dissolve a quantity of the soluble constituents of the potato. They rapidly putrefy, and exhale an odour so rotten as to have rendered the starch factories near Paris a nuisance to the neighbourhood, until it was suggested to employ this water as a manure, which has been perfectly successful, and at once removed an important draw-back to this branch of industry, and materially increased the fertility of the surrounding farms.
If these residues be properly economized, it is evident that the cost of growing the potatoes may be materially diminished. The atmosphere, in itself, furnishes in fact the carbonic acid and water from which the starch is formed, and if the matters taken from the soil in each crop, be returned to it in the residues of the manufacture, the cost of manure, so heavy for this particular plant, may be almost entirely obviated.
In this country, where the extensive use and culture of the potato have become almost a national characteristic; where labour not requiring considerable skill is to be had so cheap; where potatoes are at their minimum price; it is not merely to be regretted but absolutely disgraceful to ourselves, that we import from Scotland and from France, a large quantity of the potato starch to be consumed in Ireland.
The starch is not the only material extracted from potatoes, and extensively available in the arts. The potato itself, reduced to flour, is at present extensively employed upon the Continent in the preparation of a very wholesome quality of bread, and the starch itself is consumed in making confectionary, jellies, sago, tapioca, in thickening paper, and in a variety of uses, by which such quantities of it are employed as to render its manufacture a really important and extensive department of industry. The most remarkable of all the applications of potato starch is, however, one to which the excise laws of this country would probably present invincible impediments. It is the preparation of sugar and of spirits. Under the influence of certain chemical agents, simple, yet peculiar in their action, and to which it would not be my province here to refer in detail, starch is converted into sugar, and this sugar, by
p.305fermentation yields spirits. On the Continent the manufacture of sugar from corn is almost abandoned. Potato spirit is almost universally used; and in flavour it so resembles brandy that it is well known that a large quantity of the French brandy brought into London, is potato spirit from Hamburg coloured with burned sugar.
A branch of industry which has acquired considerable development upon the continent of Europe, is that of preparing sugar from the root of the red and yellow beet. The circumstances of this country do not appear to favour its introduction, but as it is immediately connected with the starch manufacture already noticed, and that very exaggerated ideas regarding it are often conceived, I shall briefly notice the general conditions of its preparation. For this purpose the documents recently published, during the inquiry instituted by the French Government, afford satisfactory data. In order to render the results more immediately intelligible, I shall reduce the weights, values, and measures, from the French to the English standard.
The crop of beet roots which is usually obtained in France, varies from ten to sixteen tons per statute acre. The mean produce may be taken at twelve tons. For the cultivation of the acre, it appears that the labour required is, forty-six days of a man's work, and fourteen days of a horse's. The total cost of the crop to the farmer appears to be, in average, £7 11s. 6d., made up of
Rent and Taxes . . . £2 0 0
Manure . . . £2 3 6
Labour . . . £1 13 0
Seed, &c . . . £1 2 0
Pulling and carriage . . . £0 13 0
£7 11 6
The average crop, of twelve tons per acre, stands the farmer, therefore, in 12s. 6d. per ton.
A disadvantage of the crop is usually considered to be, that it occupies the ground so long, as often to interfere with the wheat-sowing in autumn. The seed of the beet is placed in the ground as early as it can be considered at all safe from frost,
p.306and it continues growing very decidedly to September, and hence the pulling of it is retarded to the latest moment. Now it is, at that season, peculiarly liable to injury from frost, or from wet. A fact discovered by Peligot will, however, if borne out by practical experience, remarkably simplify the cultivation. He found that the juice of the young beet root is so much richer in sugar than that of the mature plant, that the total quantity of sugar in the plant may be considered to be the same at all ages, and hence, if the roots be pulled up in summer, although the weight of the crop is much less, yet, as the quantity of sugar is not smaller, the market value of the crop is the same. Thus the ground becomes available much earlier, for other agricultural operations, and the plants being pulled in a drier and steadier season, are much less liable to injury from exposure to the weather.
The mode of treatment of the roots, in order to prepare the sugar, is not complex. The roots are broken up, by suitable machines, into a soft pulp, and this is submitted to excessive pressure, between folds of cloth, in hydrostatic presses. The juice which flows out is clarified by lime, and evaporated down, first in ordinary boilers, but subsequently in pans heated by steam, sometimes by evaporation in vacuo, precisely as is adopted for the clarifying and refining of ordinary cane sugar, with which the product, when obtained pure, is identical in properties and composition.
The following estimate of the cost of production of the beet-root sugar, in a factory working up thirty-six tons of roots daily, is taken from the summary of the official results given by M. Dumas. The numbers are reduced to the British standards, and the price of coal in Ireland substituted for the French value. The daily expenses of the factory are
36 tons of beet-root, at 16s. 8d. . . . £30 0 0
5½ tons of coals, at 12s. 8d. . . . £3 6 0
Bone-black . . . £3 6 0
Lime . . . £0 8 0
Labour, 52 persons . . . £ 5 19 0
Cloths, for pressing . . . £0 1 6
£43 15 0
Brought forward . . . £43 15 0
Repairs, lighting, insurance, rent, taxes,
and sundries . . . £6 13 0
Interest on the capital invested, which
is shewn to be, by other estimates,
£12,500 . . . £4 3 0
Total daily expense . . . £54 11 0
The quantity of sugar actually contained in the beet-root varies from 7 to 10 per cent. in its weight, and, from good materials, and the employment of the best methods, 7 per cent. is available as pure product, after all waste of manufacture; but the ordinary produce to be calculated on is 5 per cent., which, from the thirty-six tons of beet-root amounts to thirty-six cwt. of refined sugar, delivered daily from such a factory, which, on the above outlay, would cost the manufacturer 30s. 4d. per cwt.: but there are some important deductions to be made from this.
It will be recollected, that the sugar is a material which, like starch, contains no nitrogen, and, when pure, no inorganic matters. It hence is formed, during the growth of the plants, by the mere concurrence of air and water, and the other materials of the beet-root which remain behind after the sugar is extracted contain the nitrogen and salts which render the beet useful as food, or available as manure if returned to the soil. Hence the waste pulp of the sugar works is greedily purchased up by the farmers, and also the skimmings of the boilers, which are found to be a powerful manure, and sold at a certain price. As it is impossible to obtain all the sugar crystalline, a certain quantity is converted into molasses, or treacle, and this is sold to the distillers for the manufacture of spirits. The expenses must, therefore, be credited by the values of these products, which are daily as follows:
18 cwt. of pulp, at 6s. 3d. . . . £5 12 6
12 cwt. of treacle, at 1s. 8d. . . . £1 0 0
6 cwt. of skimmings, at 1s. . . . £ 0 6 0
£6 18 6
The nett expenditure is, therefore, for each day, £47 12s. 6d. and at 5 per cent. of produce, the sugar costs per cwt. 26s. 6d., or, 27/8 per lb. As by suitable culture and manipulation the produce may be increased to 7 per cent. without any notable increase of outlay, I may add,
At 6 per cent. the sugar costs 22s. 2d. per cwt., or 21/3d. per lb.
At 7 per cent. the sugar costs 19s. per cwt., or 2d. per lb.
It, however, is not to be supposed that the Government would allow of a manufacture, which, although giving extensive employment to the population of this country, and opening out a new field for agricultural enterprize, might seriously diminish the revenue now derived from duties on sugar imported from abroad. Beet-root sugar, if manufactured here, should be, of course, submitted to the same duties as are levied on sugar of colonial origin, and as this amounts to 27s. per cwt., or 3d. per lb, the final cost to the manufacturer, of sugar made in this way, should be therefore so far increased. This may not allow, at present prices, a profit sufficiently large to tempt capital and enterprize into so novel a track.
It will be remarked, that the factory estimate supposes the beet-root bought at 16s. 8d. per ton. It cost the farmer, as shewn above, 12s. 6d.; he has, therefore, 4s. 2d. per ton nett profit, or, for the twelve tons, £2 10s. per statute acre. In estimates which I have seen of the beet root sugar manufacture, the produce per acre is often taken at twenty or forty tons, as may really be obtained; but in such case there is little or no sugar; it has been used in forming the woody matter of the roots, and hence the light crop described above is that finally most productive.
In relation to the actual agricultural and manufacturing industry of Ireland, it is still more important to describe the circumstances of those crops which have for their ultimate and valuable product, the vegetable fibre. of these fibre crops, those of most interest are flax and hemp, especially the former, on which so large a proportion of the population of the north of Ireland may be considered to depend for subsistence.
The flax plant, to which I shall first direct attention, may be cultivated on any soil of moderate fertility, but, of course, will
p.309grow in greatest luxuriance, and yield its largest produce, where the land is most fertile. It is, however, indispensable, that the soil be rendered thoroughly open, and perfectly clean. The order of rotation with other crops varies in different countries, but on the Continent, as in Belgium, where its cultivation is best understood, the ordinary custom is, to bring it in after a corn crop, and not to introduce it into the course more frequently than once in seven years. The flax is a very exhausting crop, and hence requires abundance of manure, which is supplied to it in Belgium, in the most effective form, as liquid manure. It will be shewn, immediately, that the flax contains but little lime, the presence of which, in a caustic form, in the soil, appears to be injurious to the plant, hence it is proper, where lime has been necessary to the soil, to intermit the culture of flax for a certain season.
A point which may be noticed in relation to the growth of flax is, that its quality is essentially improved by thick sowing. This arises, not from there being more flax grown, but from the closeness of the plants forcing them to grow upwards with a single stem to gain access to the air, and thus to prevent their branching, by which the fibre is shortened, and rendered irregular. Every thing in the cultivation of this plant is subservient to the formation of a long and delicate woody fibre, and it is owing to this fact in the practical history of the flax, that certain sources of economy in its agriculture, which I shall point out, become practicable.
The ligneous or woody fibre, which finally is converted into the linen thread, is composed of the same elements as starch and sugar, and in nearly the same proportions. Omitting certain minute differences between the true fibre and the matter which occupies its cells, its composition may be expressed by the formula C18 H12 O12 and, when pure, it contains no inorganic matter. Its elements are, in 100 parts:
Carbon . . . 50.00
Hydrogen . . . 5.55
Oxygen . . . 44.45
Hence this fibre, which constitutes the entire money value of the flax crop, is produced during the life of the plant, by
p.310the elements of the atmosphere, and the materials taken from the manure and from the soil are, in reality, employed by the plant in organizing substances which do not make any return to the farmer, but which are, on the contrary, under certain circumstances, considered to be positively a disadvantage. It is, therefore, of importance, that it should be understood, that by a proper system, the growth of flax and similar fibre crops should be destitute of all exhausting influence. That the materials drawn from the soil by such a crop should be found in the waste products of its manufacture, and should be available by being returned to the soil, to restore it to its original condition of fertility. In order to render this principle fully intelligible, I shall enter into some detail regarding the processes to which the flax is subjected, and the nature of the products obtained from it.
The flax, when it has grown to suitable maturity, according as the design is to allow it to ripen its seed or not, is pulled, and either immediately, or in the next spare season, according to the circumstances of the locality, it is subjected to the process termed rotting or watering. In the stem of the flax there may be recognized three structures, the outer skin or epidermis, covering a close network of fibres which incloses the plant as in a sheath, and in the centre a stem of dense pithy material. The fibrous network is connected together by a glutinous matter which must be decomposed before the fibres can be separated from the stem, and it is to soften and rot this substance that the plant is steeped. If the steeping be continued too long, the fibre itself may rot, and be weakened and injured in quality; if the steeping be not continued long enough, the fibres are not thoroughly separated from each other, and the quality of the flax is coarser than it might be. The general tendency is not to rot the flax enough, but it is a process requiring very careful management and attention, to conduct it with the greatest advantage.
In order to ascertain what occurs during the steeping of the flax I instituted chemical examinations of the substances and process. I have already given the composition of the pure ligneous fibre, and in the following tables are shewn the results of my analyses of the composition of the flax stem as it grows,
p.311and of the ashes which it yields. These are in fact its organic and its inorganic elements.
Carbon . . . 38.72
Hydrogen . . . 7.33
Nitrogen . . . .56
Oxygen . . . 48.39
Ashes . . . 5.00
Ashes of Flax Plant.
Potash . . . 9.78
Soda . . . 9.82
Lime . . . 12.33
Magnesia . . . 7.79
Alumina . . . 6.08
Silica . . . 21.35
Sulphuric acid . . . 2.65
Chlorine . . . 2.41
Carbonic acid . . . 16.95
Phosphoric acid . . . 10.84
When the flax is steeped, the water acquires a darker colour, a disagreeable odour, and, it is well known, becomes poisonous to fish. This arises from the solution of the glutinous material which had cemented together the pure fibres. To examine this material, I employed it as it is produced when the steeping water is dried down, and the following tables shew its organic composition, and the composition of the ashes which it yields. I term this substance, for brevity sake, flax-steep extract.
|Flax steep extract||Flax steep extract w/o ashes|
It is thus seen, that the steep-water dissolves out a great quantity of nitrogen, and of the inorganic materials of the stem; in fact, that it removes from the plant almost every thing that the plant removes from the soil. This is confirmed by looking to the composition of its ashes, which are shewn by the following analytical results. There are found 42 parts of ashes, in every 100 parts of flax steep extract, consisting of
Chloride of potassium . . . 3.8
Sulphate of potash . . . 4.4
Carbonate of potash . . . 3.8
Carbonate of soda . . . 13.2
Silica . . . 5.5
Phosphate of alumina . . . 3.2
Phosphate of lime . . . 2.1
Carbonate of lime . . . 4.0
Carbonate of magnesia . . . 2.0
Total quantity. . . . . .42 per cent.
The steep-water thus dissolves, especially, the alcaline ingredients, and the phosphates of the plant, and hence leaves the rotted stems in a condition of almost pure ligneous matter.
The stems of the plant, after having been thus steeped, undergo a rough bleaching and drying by being grassed for some days. They are then broken by the hackle, and finally, the fibre separated from the residual woody pith or chaff, by the operation of scutching. These operations may be carried on either by hand or by machinery, and the relative value of the systems may hereafter require attention. The fibre, after these processes, is sent to market, passes into the hands of the linen manufacturers, and becomes the element of mechanical industry, such as has been treated of in the earlier chapters of this work.
Now the agriculturist should steadily bear in mind, that the fibre which he sells to the flax spinner has taken nothing from the soil: all that the crop took out of the soil he has still in the steep-water, and in the chaff of the scutched flax, and if, after suitable decomposition, these be returned to the land, the fertility of the latter will be restored, and thus materials,
p.313at present utterly neglected, and even a source of inconvenience, may be converted into most valuable manure.
That the water in which flax has been steeped possesses powerful influence as a manure, has been observed by various persons; thus round the edges of bog holes used for steeping, a luxuriant and tender herbage often arises in vivid contrast to the surrounding barren peat. Various agricultural authorities have noticed its beneficial effects when experimentally used, but I shall only quote, in order to show the attention it deserves, the following notice by Mr. Wakefield: The water in which flax has been immersed is, in Ireland, entirely neglected, but Mr. Billingsby mentions it as an excellent manure, and no country in the world, perhaps, affords better opportunities of employing it than Ireland. I made frequent inquiries about it, but could never hear of a single instance of its being used. The author of the Survey of Somersetshire (Mr. Billingsby) says: it is observable that land on which retted flax is spread to prepare it for heckling, is greatly improved thereby, and if it be spread on a coarse sour pasture, the herbage will be totally changed, and the best sorts of grasses will make their appearance. Having myself cultivated flax on a large scale, and observing the almost instantaneous effect produced by the water in which the flax was immersed, I was induced, some years ago, to apply it to some pasture land, by means of watering carts similar to those used near London for watering the roads. The effect was astonishing, and advanced the land in value ten shillings per acre.
The chaff remaining after the scutching might also be formed into manure, and has actually been found of as much value as its composition would indicate: it appears also fitted to be used as food for cattle. This has been fully verified by Mr. Nevin and Mr. Charley in the north of Ireland, and thus, in fact, the farmer sending to market only the fibre of the flax, which derives nothing from the soil, has the opportunity of economizing in other and highly remunerating modes all the residual materials.
This chaff was found to consist of
p.314Carbon . . . 50.34
Its nutritive quality cannot be material, but mixed with the water of the flax-steep, it should complete the restoration to the soil of the constituents of the growing flax.
The average produce of scutched flax, as given by Wakefield, reduced to the statute acre, is 543lb from nineteen gallons of seed. This is thirty-four stones of sixteen pounds. The usual produce of Scotland is stated by Low to be forty stones, and at present by the Reports of the Flax Improvement Society, the produce in the north of Ireland may be taken as averaging forty-two stones. The weight of the flax straw, when quite dry, may be taken as approximating to about two tons.
Mr. Crosthwaite, whose intimate acquaintance with all branches of this industry renders his authority highly valuable, considers that there are about 100,000 acres under flax in Ireland, and that the produce is about 30,000 tons, of an average value of £50 per ton. This is 6s. 3d. per stone, and should give about £12 10s. for the usual produce of the statute acre. The quantity of flax grown appears to be on the increase, and its quality also to be improving, as by the Report of the Flax Society it appears, that the amount of the crop in 1841 was 25,000 tons, averaging £45 per ton, whilst in 1843 it was 36,465 tons, and the average value was considered to be at least £55. This increase of value being, if not totally, certainly in great part, attributable to the exertions of that very useful Society.
The value of the flax crop depends in a very material degree, indeed it might be said entirely, on the care taken in the preparation of the fibre. The value which it may assume under careful management, and the final amount of employment which it gives, is shewn by the following fact:
p.315Mr. William Blakely, a tenant of the Dean of Dromore, on the townland of Corcelany, near Waringstown, grew, last season, three statute acres (about 1a. 3r. 16p., Irish measure) of flax, which he managed strictly according to the directions of the Society for the Promotion and Improvement of the Growth of Flax in Ireland. The produce of this field has been recently purchased for 15s. per stone, by Messrs. M'Murray and Hening, of Waringstown, the eminent cambric manufacturers, who say, it is equal, if not superior, to any flax they ever saw before, and that they have given 36s. per stone for foreign flax, of an inferior quality.
A large portion of this flax has been delivered to Messrs. M'Murray and Co.; but some still remains to be dressed by the celebrated machinery of Mr. Henry, of Keady. Should this part be as productive as that already furnished, the entire produce of the three acres will be 120 stones; which, at 15s., will give to the farmer £90; but he has a certainty of 100 stones, which will realize him £75.
This flax is now in process of conversion into cambric pocket-handkerchiefs; it is capable of being spun to thirty hanks to the pound, and is to be spun by hand. Mark, now, the employment this will give.
It will give constant employment, for twelve months, to 158 women to spin it; eighteen weavers will be occupied a like period in weaving; and it will employ forty women for a year to hemstitch (or vein) the handkerchiefs, thus giving constant employment, for twelve months, to 210 persons.
It is curious to trace the result of the process which this flax is now undergoing:It will produce 210 webs of cambric, each web containing five dozen handkerchiefs; each dozen will be worth 50s., and the entire, when finished, will be worth £2,600.
If arguments in favour of the Flax Improvement Society were needed, the case specified in the above letter would furnish them. The farmer alluded to was induced to try what he could do in the way of growing flax, by reading a small tract issued by this Society, which accidentally fell into his
p.316hands. The land on which he sowed the seed was the most barren part of his farm.
Where so much depends on the mechanical and chemical treatment of the plant after the crop has been pulled, it is easily conceivable that under the ordinary circumstances of the Irish farmer, it is difficult to carry out the preparation of the fibre, so as to give it the best quality, and in fact in Belgium and Holland, where the flax cultivation and manufacture are in their most advanced state, the growth of the plant and the fabrication of the fibre are totally distinct occupations. The crop is purchased by a factor, who takes the dressing into his own hands, and, being devoted to that one department, is acquainted with all mechanical arrangements and details necessary to success, and it frequently happens that the farmer actually obtains for the crop as grown, more money than he should have obtained for the imperfectly dressed produce of it, and is spared the loss of time, of labour, and interference with other business, which, retaining the mechanical treatment of the flax in his own hands should necessarily entail upon him. In the present state of industry, I conceive the general adoption of the system of factors as indispensable to progress. Without improvement in quality of product, the manufacture cannot extend, and without the preparation of the fibre being taken up, and cultivated as a distinct profession, no important amelioration in it can be expected.
From the importance of the flax culture, as well to the farmer as to the manufacturer, it might be supposed that it should be at least cultivated to such an extent, as to supply our own industrial wants. Such, however, is far from being the case, every year a large quantity of flax is imported into Great Britain and into Ireland from the Baltic ports, and from Belgium; the total quantities for three late years are shewn in the following table:
|From whence imported||1840 tons||1841 tons||1842 tons|
It is worth observing, that the diminished importation of 12,000 tons of 1842, is almost exactly the quantity by which, owing to the exertions of the Flax Improvement Society, the home crop had been increased at the same period.
The agricultural employment which the flax crop gives, may be estimated from a statement by Mr. Blacker, whose ability as a judge is so well known; he says: After the most minute calculation by practical men engaged in the growth of flax, the labour necessary for every acre of flax is computed to be seven days of a man, fifty-four days of women, and four and a quarter days of a horse. Now 55,610 tons weight [which was the import in 1833, when Mr. Blacker wrote], supposing each statute acre to produce four cwt., which is a full average crop, would be the produce of 278,050 acres, which, according to the above estimate, would require in labour equal to the employment of 6,488 men for 300 days in the year, 50,015 women for the same number of days, and 3,939 horses for ditto.
It appears thus, that there is twice as much flax imported into Great Britain from foreign ports, as there is grown in this country, and yet there is no actual impediment to its cultivation, for it appears to be uniformly a remunerating crop, where attended to with ordinary care, and may, by the proper application of scientific principles to its culture, be rendered one of the least expensive or exhausting crops that the agriculturist can have to do with.
There is finally to be noticed, in relation to the secondary
p.318advantages of the flax crop, the utilization of the seed, either as food or for sowing. It appears now well established, that the fibre is not injured by allowing the plant to form the seed, and that the seed may be saved in good condition under the ordinary circumstances of our climate. This is a very important addition to the value of the crop; the seed being employed for preparing oil: the residual linseed cake being a very valuable food for cattle, or for manure: or the unripened seed in the capsules, or bowes, as they are termed, may be at once given to cattle. In fact, it would appear that there is no part of this very remarkable plant that is not directly or indirectly capable of being applied to useful purposes.
The great value of it to this country is, however, that its cultivation supplies not merely a source of agricultural, but also of manufacturing employment. In this respect, it is far more beneficial than a food crop of the same money value, or occupying the same ground. The flax, as it leaves the hand of the farmer, gives a livelihood to the dresser, from him it passes to the spinner, to the weaver, the bleacher, and perhaps to the embroiderer, according to its destination. Mr. Andrews illustrates the actual profit and employment given by the crop described page 315, in a calculation which, after correction of a few typographical errors, stands thus:
100 stones at 15s.£75; each stone calculated to produce 5½lb. of dressed flaxin all 550lb.spun to 30 hanks to the lb, will produce 16,500 hanks. About 158 females will be employed twelve months in spinning, at the rate of two hanks per week (six working days); wages for spinning each hank, about 1s. 8d., or nearly 7d. per diem for each spinner. This quantity of yarn would make 210 webs of cambric pocket-handchiefs, each web containing five dozen. About 18 weavers would be twelve months weaving this quantity, allowing each man a month for each web (17½ weavers exactly); wages per web, £2; or from 9s. 6d. to 10s. per man per week. About 40 females would be employed twelve months in needlework (hemstitch or veining); each could do one handkerchief on each working day; wages, 8s. per dozen, or 8d. per day. The goods, when finished, would be worth £2 10s. per dozen.
158 spinners 12 months, or 52 weeks, at about 3s. 4d. per week . . . £1,369 6 8
18 weavers 12 months, at £24 per annum . . . £432 0 0
40 needlewomen 52 weeks, at 4s. each per week . . . £416 0 0
216 persons employed.
Amount of wages . . . £2,217 6 8
Cost of flax . . . £75
£2,292 6 8
Value of 1 ,050 dozen handkerchiefs, at £2 10s. per dozen . . . £2,625 0 0
Profit . . . £332 13 4
The realizing of this great amount of value depends on the delicacy given to the fibre, and it is hence that so much is due to the leading members of the Flax Society, for their exertions by example and by publications, for the introduction of the most approved Belgian methods. While thus recognizing the benefits which are likely to accrue to Irish industry from this modern institution, it is important not to forget how much we owe to others. The Royal Dublin Society, almost immediately on its foundation, applied itself anxiously to promote the culture of flax, and to improve the methods of its preparation. They obtained the assistance of persons well experienced in the Belgian processes, and so early as 1739 published a volume of papers, principally occupied with directions for the growth and treatment of flax, and which contained intelligibly laid down almost every detail of the processes now being introduced as the newest and most advantageous. Owing to the disastrous social condition of the country, which has so kept it back in every branch of peaceful enterprize, the beneficent intentions of the Dublin Society were not carried out, but now that with renewed energy, it labours to awaken Irish industry, that it possesses in numerous junior societies so many active co-operators, and that the people, by education and steadiness of habits, are become more fitted for
p.320the pursuits of peaceful industry, it is to be hoped that the seed shall no longer be scattered upon an unfruitful soil, but spring forth with a sound and vigorous vegetation, which may bring peace, abundance, and contentment to the land.
It only remains to indicate, in a general manner, the extent to which the mechanical manufacture of flax is prosecuted in this country. In the work on Ireland, published by Mr. and Mrs. Hall, some statistical results are given, which they obtained by personal inquiry in Belfast, and which, though probably above the truth, are not more exaggerated than is usual with such general estimates. They consider that there are in Belfast, now at work, 155,000 spindles, consuming 210 tons of flax per week, and that there are employed in the manufacture of flax, 170,000 hands. They estimate the total number of persons supported by the linen trade as not less than half a million: that the annual value of the linen cloth manufactured in Ulster is not less than £4,000,000: the capital involved in its production not less than £5,000,000, and that the annual amount of wages paid to those engaged in the manufacture amounts to £1,200,000. This sum, for the 170,000 above mentioned, would make the average wages to be only 2s. 9d. per week.
The extent of this manufacture stands in such relief from the usual absence of all manufacturing industry in Ireland, that we frequently attach to it a degree of importance and an idea of absolute magnitude that it does not really possess. Thus we often hear the linen manufacture spoken of as being the staple of this country, whilst wool and cotton are in return the natural manufactures of the sister kingdom. In reality, however, Ireland is almost as much behind in this as in every other branch of industry. The town of Dundee alone is considered to manufacture as much linen as all Ireland, and the relation which the manufacture of flax bears in the three kingdoms, is exactly shewn in the following table, which is extracted from the Report of the Factory Inspectors for 1839, since which period no sensible alteration has taken place.
In England there were 169 mills, worked by 4,260 horse power, and employing 16,573 persons.
In Scotland 183 mills, worked by 4,845 horse power, and employing 17,897 persons.
In Ireland forty mills, worked by 1,980 horse power, and employing 9,017 persons.
It is difficult to reconcile this official return with the estimate of Mr. Hall, just before quoted; as the proportion of home-spun and woven linen goods can scarcely be so considerable as to account for the discrepancy.
Finally, the following extracts from official tables, will shew, as far as documents allow, the actual, or, at least, recent, extent of the export trade in linen products.
Export of woven Linen Goods, in yards.
|Years||To Great Britain||To foreign Parts||Total|
Re-export of Irish Linen and Sail-cloth, from Great Britain to foreign parts, in yards.
|Year||Irish Linen||Irish Sail-cloth|
Latterly an extensive trade with the Continent has sprung up, in the exportation of linen yarns, replacing, to a certain extent, the export of woven linens. The money values exported were
Such are the general conditions of this important branch of manufacture. It is needless for me to point out how strenuously our efforts should be directed to the extension of a branch of industry, which, in its various departments, affords, from a given surface of land, employment to a greater number, and a greater variety of individuals, than any other branch of human occupation. The agriculturist, the mechanist, and the chemist, are all equally occupied with its preparation; and, certainly, the natural circumstances of the country are such as to adapt it, in a singularly perfect manner, for the development of the flax and linen manufacture, to an indefinite extent.
The linen manufacture has been, hitherto, almost exclusively confined to the north of Ireland. This does not arise from any physical circumstances of soil or climate, or from the greater facilities of access to mechanical power: on the contrary, the soil of Ulster, if we except the valley of the Lagan, and some scattered districts, is not, by any means, equal to the soils of the south and centre. The growth of this department of industry in Ulster, is owing rather to moral causes. Its population was, essentially, of a class devoted to industrial pursuits, and eager after the independence and power which pecuniary success confers, and which was within their reach: whilst in the south, the wretched remnants of feudal barbarism paralysed all tendency to improve. The lord was above industry; the slave was below it; and hence, although the circumstances of a fertile soil, easy access to markets, and abundance of motive power, were, in themselves, favourable, the blessings which nature presented were left unutilized, by the ignorance and inertness of the people.
In fact, if we consider the situation of those countries in which the manufacture of linen and other flax products has become the characteristic fact of their industrial history, we
p.323shall find the soil and geographical condition quite different from those of the north of Ireland. In Egypt, whose dignitaries were clothed in purple and fine linen, and from which the culture of flax has spread oyer the civilized world, the soil was formed by the mud carried down in the overflowings of the Nile, and spread over the surface of the lower country along its banks. The soils of Belgium and Holland, the countries now most remarkable for the excellence and abundance of their flax industry, have been produced by the accumulated mud deposited by the vast rivers, which, draining the greater part of Europe, discharge their waters into the German Ocean, by numerous channels. The rivers which flow into the Baltic afford, also, on the low grounds along their banks, the seats of the flax agriculture of Russia, and Northern Prussia; and, guided by these analogies, may we not ask, where are the similar soils, or districts, in our own country? They are abundant, and available along the line of our principal river. The lands hitherto liable to flood, by the irregular risings of the Shannon, but, by the improvement of its channel, about to be permanently rendered available to agriculture, amount to not less than 32,500 acres above Limerick, whilst below that city, the caucasses, or marshy grounds, of the extraordinary fertility mentioned by Wakefield, are to be found. Such soils afford the most complete parallel to those districts of Egypt and of Belgium, which have been for ages the seats of the growth of flax. The water power at Killaloe, fully described at page 75, places at the hands of the manufacturer the means of every mechanical preparation of the crop. The river furnishes for 200 miles the most convenient access to domestic markets, and the port places him under equally favourable circumstances for the foreign trade. So remarkable a combination of facilities for industrial success is rarely to be met with.
The flax had formerly been actually cultivated to some extent in certain parts of the south and centre of Ireland, and the quantity of produce obtained, was found decidedly greater than the average of the crops given in the north of Ireland. I am informed by experienced persons, also, that the quality of the fibre was of a delicacy but seldom met with in the ordinary
p.324flax of Ulster. Neither the cultivation nor the manufacture was adopted by the people with the energy and patience which alone can lead to success. The encouragement to industry was, unhappily, associated with other objects, which deprived it of all power of really bettering the condition of the people; which interposed between those who might have served as efficient teachers, and those who were to derive instruction, a barrier which, it is to be hoped, the experience of centuries has at last shewn cannot be removed by measures of cruelty or menace.
Connected with the cultivation of flax, as a department of agriculture, and of subsequent mechanical industry, is that of hemp, which, in all its stages, indeed, bears an almost perfect analogy to the growth and preparation of flax. During the war, when access to the Baltic, from whence the great supply of hemp is drawn, was difficult, this plant was cultivated in this country with some success. The crop appears to require a good soil, and in its preparation a degree of care, which the general run of farmers were not capable of applying to it, and hence, since that period, the attention of agriculturists having been exclusively fixed on corn and other food crops, its cultivation has been totally abandoned.
The constitution of the hemp plant is almost exactly like that of flax. It is pulled, with suitable care in regard to the ripening of the seed, which its dioecious structure requires. The plants are steeped, until the gummy material which connects the fibres is softened, and rotted off, and then, after drying, and a certain amount of bleaching on green land, the fibrous skin is peeled from the stems, and the fibre obtained clean by scutching with appropriate instruments. The hemp fibre, like the flax fibre, consists of purely woody matter, having the chemical composition of C18 H12 O12, and contains neither nitrogen nor saline matters. It is hence formed in the plant by the agency of the atmosphere alone, and the materials which the plant extracts from the soil, or from the manure used in its cultivation, are found, not in the fibre, but in the waste of the processes of its preparation. The water in which it had been steeped, the chaff which remains when the fibre is cleaned off, contain various substances, which, when properly returned to
p.325the soil, give it back all that the plant in growing had removed from it, and hence would restore its original condition of fertility. In this way the hemp may, like flax, be rendered one of the least exhausting crops, and the profit on its cultivation increased, of course, in the same proportion.
In order to establish these principles by chemical analysis, I instituted an examination of the hemp plant and its products, analogous to that which has been already noticed regarding flax. The following were the results. The hemp plant consists of:
|The Stem||The Leaves|
The ashes of the plant (stem and leaves,) consisted of
Potash . . . 7.48
Soda . . . 0.72
Lime . . . 42.05
Magnesia . . . 4.88
Alumina . . . 0.37
Silica . . . 6.75
Phosphoric acid . . . 3.22
Sulphuric acid . . . 1.10
Chlorine . . . 1.53
Carbonic acid . . . 31.90
When the hemp is steeped, the water acquires very strongly narcotic properties and a disagreeable odour. On drying it down a brown extract is obtained, which was composed of
Carbon . . . 28.25 or 55.66
Hydrogen . . . 4.16 or 8.21
Nitrogen . . . 3.28 or 6.45
Oxygen . . . 15.08 or 29.68
Ashes . . . 49.20 Without the ashes
This material contains so large a quantity of nitrogen, as well as of saline matters, as to shew that when it had decomposed it should become a most valuable fertilizer.
The steeped hemp stem, as it remains after pulling off the loose fibrous coat, is little more than ordinary wood. It contained,
Carbon . . . 56.80
Hydrogen . . . 6.48
Nitrogen . . . 0.43
Oxygen . . . 34.52
Ashes . . . 1.77
The cultivation of the hemp is not likely to be in future as important as hitherto it has been. The substitution of iron for hemp in the standing rigging of ships, and the introduction of coarse Egyptian flax in the manufacture of various fabrics where previously hemp had been used, will probably limit very much its consumption. It is only from its close analogy to the flax, and the identity of principle by which so much economy may, as I believe, be introduced into the cultivation of both, that I have here noticed it, even thus briefly.
I have endeavoured, in the foregoing observations, to notice briefly the questions regarding Irish agriculture, which appeared to me most intimately connected with its position as an important branch of industry. It has been shewn that the amelioration of the processes of cultivation requires a very extended knowledge of chemical and mechanical science. That husbandry as an art, so far from presenting the monotonous and almost passive routine in which rustic existence has been dreamed away, requires to be placed parallel with the other great departments of human occupation, in the amount of intelligence which its successful practice calls into play.
Until, by suitable education, the minds of the agricultural population of all classes are awakened to a knowledge of what their art really depends upon, all secondary exertions for its improvement must be completely futile.
There exist in Ireland millions of acres of land, perfectly
p.327well adapted for cultivation, but which have never yet supplied a morsel of food for man.
It is well established that on the lands actually cultivated there might be raised three times the amount of food that is now produced, were a suitably improved system of agriculture brought into general use.
And yet there exists in Ireland a population, starving and unemployed, wearing out a miserable existence on the charity of those only a degree less wretched than themselves, or supported by a tax levied on the industry of the more energetic and more instructed classes.
Were the true conditions of agricultural success generally understood such could not be the case. The cultivation of those wastes, which, as evidence of the most decisive and practical character has shown, can be easily and economically reclaimed, would give remunerative occupation to hordes of those who now are among the weightiest burthens of the land. The productiveness of the soil being augmented by proper drainage and deep working, and the pastoral system replaced by the turnip and green crop husbandry, by which so much more food is raised and so much more employment given, it would be found that, so far from the existing numbers of the people being too great to be supported by the soil, the new conditions of agricultural activity would provide means of profitable occupation to much more than the proportion of our population, that can, even now, be considered as dependent on it for the means of life.