E. M. RODEBAUGH.
[Paper read at Farmers' Institute, held at Coolville, December 14-15, 1908.]
It does a dead man no good to put flowers on his grave. I want to say that the remarks last evening suited me perfectly, and I want to thank the speakers here and now for what they did for me. I leave the rest of you to show your appreciation each in your own way; and you who missed it—well, I am sorry for you.
What the farming profession needs is a charge of spiritual dynamite under it; something to shake it out of its inertia; something to bring it to a realization of its opportunities, to awaken it to action. Individual members of this fraternity are awake, and Old Mother Nature is opening her great golden horn of plenty and pouring lavishly of her store into their laps.
There is a rut, none will deny. Grandfather's way: "Wall, I don't believe I'd try that; it's a lot of bother, and anyway, I don't believe it would work," and "I knew his father." The same sort of argument that keeps lots of people poor. "I tried it once, it won't work." What is it the poet says: "If at first you don't succeed," what? Sit down and fold your hands? Well, not in the old McGuffey reader. It said get out and hustle and make it work; put on another man, another horse, get out the whole force, call in the neighbors, make it work; or, if it won't work, find out the reason. And when you make it work, find out the reason for that.
Times have changed some. Not so very many years ago, in "merrie England," the farmer was the property of the landlord, his wife was also the property of the landlord, and his children. Times have changed—some. Times are changing now. Times will continue to change, and it behooves every individual farmer, cropper, robber, tenant and day laborer to change with the times, or go under. I don't say so; evolution says so. You wouldn't mind it if I said it, but all the history of all the ages defines the trend of events, and it is now a case of "shoot, Luke, or give dad the gun." What are you going to do about it? Swim or go under? Make your farm pay decent wages and a good living? Send the kids to a better school than the parent had, and give them better advantages in every way, or let them play about like a bunch of goats, and for lack of opportunity keep back the development of this great era by that amount?
The world is mighty big. It will take a lot of work to make it beautiful and really pleasant all over. It will keep us all pretty tolerable busy to make a happy home for the generations that are treading on our heels, crowding to the fore, struggling with the obstructions that generations of lazy minds have placed in the way and nailed down so fast with the spikes of conventionality, dad's way, grandfather's way, Uncle Luke's way. Ignorance of the law excuseth no man. The law exists; it is the business of every man to know the laws that govern his business. The banker either knows the laws or hires a lawyer skilled in the laws of commerce. The doctor takes a course of study in the laws governing health and disease. The farmer has the advantage of all the rest. He can earn his living while earning his degree, and every new law he learns and applies adds to his wealth, to his income.
What makes the rut? Too many wheels of the same-sized tire, usually a narrow tire. Need some new wheels; need wider tires. Can't go through the mud? No, not necessary; but sometimes the roads are open, free from obstructions, and there may be a helping hand, a word of encouragement to help along the way. How about the road improvement? What did he say—improvement? It never was improved; couldn't be. Get out your hammer, now, all together, one, two, three, the anvil chorus. Break away, brother. If you must use a hammer let it be to crush stone. If you will use your strength, put it to the wheels of progress and push real hard, push your best. Try to wipe out your past neglect and overcome some of the inertia, the do-nothingness of the man whose great-grandfather's wraith still rules and ruins. How sorry I am for some people's grandfathers and their grandchildren.
Anybody can raise corn, some kind of corn. Is it not truly remarkable what yields of corn we can produce on the hills of Meigs county? Fifty bushels, common; 75 bushels, nothing remarkable; 100 bushels, not infrequently; 150, and even more—usually husked and cribbed—behind the stove in the store. Store corn.
Corn is a broad subject. I love good corn, corn that shows generations of character in every ear, whose every grain is evidence of careful breeding, of attention to the little things that are the big things, the careful selection of the seed, the culling of the mutations or sports; the careful handling of the seed; the labor of hand and head and heart that go to make a crop. Only that patient investigator who has made repeated trials of breeding and who has, like Hiawatha, taken a fall or two out of the king of cereals, realizes the immensity of the subject. Did you ever make a two years' trial of a variety? Care with the seed, care with the ground, patient cultivating, detasseling, eliminating barren stalks, pulling the reversions; have the corn just to the glazing stage and then—have the hay-baler come along (the man I mean) and, in your absence, go through your patch of seed and pull the best for horse feed?
There are a great many men who know more than I do about corn, but some of them didn't have time to come today. The jury is sitting and they have to try my case: Resolved, that Rodebaugh is wasting too much time attending the Farmers' Institutes. My knowledge of corn compares to the great subject about as this nubbin compares to a big bottom ear, running two pounds; but what I do know has been the result of my own investigations and hard practical work with the subject, added to the best literature extant, all put to the only sure test: tried out in the field. After all is said, this is the only common sense way to know. Many beautiful theories come along from time to time, say, for instance, grain covering the end, like this. A perfect nubbin? Yes. Never anything but a nubbin. Not a chance nubbin, with another chance for growth, but a nubbin bred; no more cob, no more chance to develop seed germs; every germ produced its grain of corn, not only worthless but a positive menace to the succeeding crops; a throw-back to a century ago when corn did not weigh two pounds to the ear, as some does now after careful breeding.
Of course, none of the Athens county farmers raise such small corn as this, which was grown in Meigs, the county adjoining; but do you know, that for the last ten years, according to the statistics, with corn 3 feet 6 each way, with the acreage given by the crop report at three stalks to the hill, and exact and careful figures, this is the size of the ear on each stalk raised in Meigs— for ten years.
Athens county does rather better, something like this being her crop. The state, as a whole, is redeemed by the better yields in the central and western part, where they are awakening to the possibilities of seed selection and care; but our troubles are here. Too many go to the crib and shovel up their seed and run it through the sheller. To be sure they have as good seed as anybody and they raise big yields. One man I know never has less than 50 bushels to the acre, and he raises 15 or 16 acres per year. Let us see. He keeps a team and a cow and feeds his horses five ears at a meal; they run in pasture part of the time, but we won't count that. Fifteen times 50 bushels is 750 bushels; 375 bushels for the team, 375 bushels for cow and calves. Five ears of his corn will average four pounds; in a day will be twelve pounds, a bushel in five days; 73 in a year; two horses, 150 bushels. He doesn't sell any. I reckon the rats must eat the rest of it.
Now let us be reasonable. Our hill land will not average much better than ten bushels; to get a crop of 26 bushels requires care and good seed; to make it 30 requires manure and care and seed—and by seed I mean that which has been selected, dried and kept dry and warm. Of course, crib seed will grow. I have tried it, too; tried it side by side with kiln-dried and house-dried seed, and I know it grows; but I know, too, that the other two ways beat the corn crib variety all hollow in germination and vigor, and in yield. Now don't take my word for it; it is something you can try for yourself. Try it, say, five times, and come back here and testify, and you will do yourself and the community a lasting favor and add to your bank account.
Not every man can be a breeder of seed corn; it requires adaptation, combined with a certain inherent quality which, for want of a better name, is called temperament. But every farmer can raise his own seed, and by using good judgment in selecting the good ears and caring for them, he can improve his yield five per cent. per year to an indefinite amount. Don't understand me as saying that your first year's yield will be 200 bushels. It won't; nor 100, if your present crop is seventy-five; but in time you will find it pays better dividends than any investment you ever made.
Neither do I recommend the purchase of seed from some seedsman off in another state or even from another community. It may work fine. It is as apt as not to be a dismal failure, for the conditions of soil may be entirely different, and it may prove a loss of money and a loss of time—of more value. Practically every farmer here has at home in his crib strains of as good corn as can be raised and adapted to his own conditions; strains he likes and admires. Nothing is gained by importing a strain that for two years will make more nubbins than corn, for the test of the corn is the scales, not the best guesser. The number of bushels to the acre, the per cent. of shelled corn a bushel will produce, 23 pounds of cobs or six. Which? One good ear of corn will raise 1,000 ears of good corn, 10 per cent. of which will do for seed. This bushel the second year will plant, at least calculations, five acres. In three years, from one grain to a crop of five acres.
The quality should improve in a similar manner, but does it? Is it not a lamentable fact that we as a class are too careless and indifferent in regard to where we keep our seed corn and the conditions under which it is handled? Meigs county has been hard run for a long time; her soils are deficient in potash, more deficient in available potash than either of the other elements. Corn shows a shortage in potash quicker than the lack of either of the other elements as determined by yield; because 56 per cent. of the ash of the cob is potash, and a lack in this element determines the yield.
Character of corn is a new idea to some. They admire a good character in a man; how about it in corn? Oh, yes, my brother, there is such a thing, and just as sure as character can be transmitted from parent to child, just so sure can it be passed on from one ear to the next. All ears won't produce show ears; the probabilities are that none of the sons of Roosevelt will be presidents—the law of averages is against them, and the peculiar, double-jointed, back-action laws of heredity don't work that way—but out of the progeny or yield of a show ear you will find five per cent. of ears that will not make you ashamed.
Hill lands are not adapted to bottom corn, because of the great difference in altitude and the variation in soil due to the washing away of the soil on the hill and its deposit on the bottom below. The one is enriched, the other is made poorer. This soil impoverishment is not due to the one crop, probably not to this one generation; but is the result of continuously growing a crop without replacing in the soil the elements removed by the crops. Fertilizers, as commonly used, seem to me to be almost a waste of money. A hundred pounds of food to an acre of crop that, when harvested and thoroughly dried, weighs 4,000 pounds of stover and 1,400 pounds of grain, more or less. Looks to me as though that hundred pounds might get lost and forget what it was put in the ground for, and we know the corn plant is not a legume to draw its nitrogen from the air. Let us take a pound of ammonia and spread it over an acre of ground—mighty thin in spots. Can you even smell it?
Now, what is corn? The small city boy in the country for the first time, undergoing his initiation into the roasting-ear degree, asked them to "please pass him some more beans on a stick." Are we raising that kind—the beans on a stick kind? Is that corn? Let us have a new slogan, and let it be "the test of the crop is the scales." Bushels per acre over the scales; ears for seed from stalks that are right in height, conformation, and that don't grow one stalk to the square yard and hog all the nourishment for the entire hill. Ears from the stalk that has its ear low enough that you can reach it without using a ladder, and high enough to be above the corn cutter and out of the wet in the shock; and 10 per cent. cob and no more.
Where am I to find my seed? Each man at home, in his own field, at cutting time. Too much trouble? God's work is improvement. He works through evolution, and this old world of ours, majestic in its hills, awesome in its mountains, beautiful in its changing lights and shadows, reflecting heaven's image, is given us to work upon, with Him who doeth all things well. We are here to work with him—to do our part. Do we do it? He gives us every day a new scene of labors if we have but the eyes to see it, and our co-laborers are legion. Birds and beasts, the blossoms of the fields and wayside, the grand old forest trees nodding to the breezes, whispering each to each of God's mercy and goodness, of His wondrous love. The trouble with us is our physical attitude and spiritual atrophe. We are drying up inside. We need to get our feet deep into the soil, our hands to the work, our hearts away from the "almighty dollar" long enough to grasp some of the beauties all about us.
If we but mix more brains with our soil, the new fertilizer, let us say, brains one part, ammonia three parts, phosphoric acid 22 parts and potash 15 parts, and apply the dose liberally, we will not have to worry over the dollar; that will come, and we have the promise it will be "abundant." If you would be successful in any creed you must devote a full allegiance to that creed. The religion of farming demands a full devotion of head and hand and heart. You will have a grind to make it produce the dollar if you neglect or omit any one of these three essentials.
Ever try to love a crop to fruition? Ever try to love a crop of corn? Ever try to love anything; your neighbors or your family or your wife? Wonderful experience. Be careful about loving the other man's wife; we are enjoined against that. Try it some time; it is possible. Love your work; try to make it beautiful. Drudgery in the daily work, drudgery for the wife. Tell her about the saccharamycosis [Saccharomyces], and ever after bread-making will hold for her an added interest. Tell your husband about the difference between aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, and how desirable one is, and how it helps so wonderfully in the growth of plants, and where it comes from and how to increase them. I'll not tell you what they are. I know, but I have given you the box of matches; go light your own torches.
Any farm chemistry will tell you all about things that are taking place on your farms every day. Bacteria are being produced in multiplied millions, creating conditions of acidity and forming new chemical combinations through their excreta; the results they produce.
Do you know what is going on at your farm? Better find out. It might be something you don't want—probably is. When you find out, or anyway, try that new fertilizer; the formula is free: brains, one part, head, hand, heart each one part. I have tried it; it works.