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Agriculture in Missouri

Debow's Review

January 1868

Missouri presents to the farmer those conditions of climate which are most favorable to husbandry. The cold of the Northern latitudes restricts variety of production and blockades communication with icy barriers. The heat of the South enervates energy and invites to indolence. Missouri enjoys the genial mean which permits the widest range of products and the full exercise of physical powers. The thermometric record kept at Jefferson Barracks latitude 38 deg. 28 min., elevation 472 feet-shows that the mean annual temperature for twenty-six years, is 55.46 deg. The highest monthly average is 85.80 deg., and the lowest 18.54 deg. The mean annual rain-fall is 37.83 inches. The thermal and hydral averages of the season are: Spring, 56.15 deg. 10.56 inches. Summer, 76.19 " 12.88 " Autumn, 55.63 " 8.02 " Winter, 33.85 " 6.37 " It seems as though it would only be necessary to advertise these advantages of climate to induce agricultural emigrants to avail themselves of such a genial co-operation of nature. Of the 35,000,000 acres of arable land in Missouri, 2,000,000 are the alluvial margins of rivers, and 20,000,000 high rolling prairie. The richness of the soil is practically inexhaustible. In bottoms the mold is sometimes six feet deep. Some farms, after bearing without artificial fertilization twenty-five successive crops, have yet failed to show any very great decrease in productiveness. The strength of the land and the length of the season permit two harvests to be gathered from the same field every year. Winter wheat or oats can always be succeeded by a crop of corn fodder or Hungarian grass, from the same ground. This is an advantage of material importance to small farmers. The composition of the soil varies with the geological formation. But the main elements-clay, lime, sand and vegetable mold-commixed in different proportions, from)a rich marl or loam which the facts of harvest prove to be highly fruitful. The following statistics, which are given by Mr. Parker, may in some instances largely exceed the average yield, but still they illustrate the possible productiveness of the soil: 

 These counties are not selected on account of superior fertility; they are taken as samples for the simple reason that I have not been able to procure recent returns from other counties. In some of these products the figures indicate a productiveness which is below the average of the richer districts. The table refers to special harvests and farms, and does not aim to express the mean fertility of the several counties or of other years. The average yield of wheat in Missouri is from fifteen to twenty-five bushels an acre. Little facts are often suggestive of the fruitfulness of the soil.

Sweet potatoes have been raised in Missouri which weighed ten pounds apiece. Apples and turnips have been exhibited at our fairs which measured respectively six and eight inches in diameter. Melons and pumpkins have been produced which attained the relative weights of 40 and 100 pounds. Corn sometimes reaches as high as sixteen feet, and sorghum twenty feet. In good seasons, farmers occasionally cut four tons of hay to the acre. In all these cases, the average is of course much below these figures. These exceptional instances are cited to show what vegetable monsters the richness of the soil sometimes brings forth. Yet, notwithstanding this wonderful wealth of soil, more than 25,000,000 acres of land in Missouri are suffered to lie fallow. There are to-day 4,000,000 acres of unentered land in this State. Nearly all of this land is rich in agricultural or mineral resources. Under the Homestead Law, 160 acres of land can be purchased for $18. Improved farms can be bought at from $5 to $30 an acre. According to a recent estimate of the Agricultural Bureau, the average price of farm labor in Missouri is $18.00 a month with board, and $26.75 without it. The water of Missouri is abundant and healthful. Perennial springs and copious streams are found in every part of the State. The alluvium which the Mississippi holds in solution does not impair the salutary quality of its waters. The undulating surface of Missouri affords advantages of drainage and water-power which are denied to level prairies. This is an important consideration. The necessity of thorough drainage to highly successful husbandry has been established, and the emigrant who would prefer the plains of other States to the gentle inequalities of Missouri, would betray a costly ignorance of his own interests. The products which thrive in Missouri are too numerous for separate enumeration. The list would be an inventory of the productions of the temperate zone. All the cereals grow with rank luxuriance. The soil is rich in the chemical elements of which the different grains are composed. Cotton is produced in the southern portion of the State. The amount per acre varies from 200 to 400 pounds. During the war, it was a very profitable crop. The soil of Missouri is suited to the culture of sorghum and imphee. Their rank growth and great productiveness strongly recommend a more general cultivation of these vegetables. No portion of them is worthless. The juice is refined into excellent sugar and syrup, the leaves making good fodder, and the fiber of the stalk is manufactured into paper. Hemp and tobacco are two of the main staples of Missouri. Equal to the best growth of Kentucky and Virginia, they are a vast source of wealth to the State. Few crops yield a larger profit. Missouri produces more than forty-five per cent. of the hemp of the Baited States. Missouri is admirably adapted to the cultivation of fruit. Apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries, currants, strawberries, blackberries, quinces, apricots, and nectarines, reach a rare size and delicacy of flavor. Trees and vines grow rapidly and bear largely. In southern Missouri, the winters are so mild that fruit trees are seldom injured by inclemency of the weather. The season, which even in northern Missouri permits plowing by the middle of March, cannot be very severe or protracted. In open winters, farmers have not infrequently done their plowing in December and January. In the genial climate of Missouri, the farmers may enjoy from May to November an uninterrupted succession of fresh fruits. Apples can be produced in illimitable quantities. The trees mature at least five years earlier than they do in New England. Peach trees continue to bear from fifteen to twenty years, and apple trees from twenty-five to thirty years. Two thousand bushels of peaches have been gathered from a single acre. Fruit culture is one of the most lucrative branches of husbandry in Missouri. Unless the prophecies of scientific men are false, and the obvious intentions of nature are thwarted, Missouri is destined to be the vineyard of America. There has been no elaborate investigation since the geological survey of Professor Swallow. But the familiarity of the facts which his researches developed does not diminish their truthfulness. It is estimated that there are in Southern Missouri 15,000,000 acres adapted to the culture of the grape. This land is situated 1,000 or 1,500 feet above the level of the ocean. Nature has, in many localities, molded the surface into terraces, as if on purpose to facilitate the labors of the vine-dresser. The composition of the soil is remarkably like that of the celebrated vine lands of Germany and France. Chemical analysis shows that the soil abounds in lime, soda, potash, magnesia, and phosphoric acid; and these are the principal elements which enter into the structure of the vine. The soil is dry and light, the air equable and comparatively vaporless; the water abundant and pure. These are the identical conditions under which the luscious vintages of the Old World attain their perfection. The success of (our vineyards has been seriously diminished by the inexperience of our vine-dressers. Unfamiliarity with the best methods of treatment, and ignorance of the varieties best suited to our conditions of climate and soil, have materially lessened the )profits of grape-growing in Missouri. Yet the following averages, based upon the statistics of Mr. Husmann, in his excellent treatise on "Grapes and Wine," show that, even under the existing disadvantages, the culture of the vine has been highly lucrative. The approximate expense of preparing a vineyard is indicated below:

Variety of Grape. Cost per Acre. 

Delaware.......................... $875.00 
Norton's Virginia.................. 660.00 
Herbemont.......................... 625.00 
Catawba............................ 465.00 
Cod................................ 410.00

The mean results per acre of one of Mr. Husmann's vineyards, from 1849 to 1865 inclusive, are as follows: 

The statistics of Mr. Wm. Poesehel's vineyard are:  

Under favorable circumstances, two acres of vines yielded the following results: 

These figures exhibit a profit which is certainly ample enough to satisfy every reasonable expectation of gain. In 1865, the value of the grape crop in the vicinity of Hermann was appraised at $150,000. If we may be guided in our estimates by European statistics, the vinelands of Missouri are able to afford a pleasant and remunerative occupation to a population triple the present census of the State, and to yield an annual vintage of at least 1,000,000,000 gallons of wine. The physical structure of Southern Missouri is a prophecy of rich and delicious vintages, which the sagacious enterprise of our citizens should speedily fulfill. Almost all the valuable varieties of forest trees abound in Missouri. The pine, oak, ash, elm, walnut, hickory, maple, gum, overcup, cottonwood, cypress, chestnut, sycamore, linn, beech, catalpa, and tupelo are found in different portions of the State. The following table, taken from Mr. Parker's suggestive volume, shows the magnitude which some of these trees occasionally reach: 

The magnitude of these statements excites distrust, but I have no means of verifying them. If there is no error in the figures, the existence of such vegetable giants demonstrates a marvelous opu lence of soil. Large Districts of Southern Missouri are heavily covered with timber. For the purposes of ship-building, the live oak of this State is unsurpassed by any that grows in the Missis sippi Valley. In the southern counties, there are millions of acres of valuable yellow pine which the hand of man has not touched. Some of these are four feet in diameter, and shoot up to a height of ninety feet. Energy might easily coin this timber into a fortune. Last year about $50,000 worth of tar, rosin and turpentine was brought to St. Louis from these pilleries, and sold at a large advance upon the cost of manufacture. The cultivation of grass brings the farmer liberal profits. Clover, timothy, red-top, I-Hungarian and herds-grass grow with spontaneous exuberance. The yield varies from one and a half to three tons an acre. In the culture o! this crop, improved machinery enables the farmer to secure large returns for a slight outlay of labor. The richness of the herbage is favorable to stock-raising. Cattle occasionally graze all winter. It is seldom necessary to feed them more than two months and a half. The luxuriant verdure of our alluvial bottoms and loamy uplands would fatten cattle enough to supply the markets of the country. The farmer has the advantage of the open prairie-his herds can feed at will upon its verdant pasturage. The stock raiser adjacent to a prairie can make a profitable use of its vast commons. The hilly region of Southern Missouri is admirably adapted to sheep grazing. A moderate use of Missouri's ability to raise sheep would remove the necessity of importing into this country 100,000,000 pounds of wool annually. The alpaca of Peru is a hardy animal, and thrives upon the scantiest pasturage. Our national Bureau of Agriculture has recommended the naturalization of this animal in the United States. The hardihood of the alpaca and its abundant yield of wool justify the attempt. Southern Missouri affords the finest opportunities for the trial of this experiment. Our farmers may find in the introduction of this new breed a rich reward for their enterprise. In this way, portions of the State too uneven or sterile for the purposes of agriculture may be reclaimed to profitable uses. At all events, the experiment is worthy of a trial. The mulberry tree grows wild in Missouri. It is hardy and rank. With cultivation, it would answer every want of the silk grower. The Chinese silk worm, which has been imported from France and naturalized in this country, would find in the abundant foliage of the ailanthts tree rich materials for its glossy fabric. The softness of the climate is peculiarly favorable to the health and industry of this little manufacturer. The castor bean richly repays the labor of cultivation. An acre will yield from fifteen to twenty-five bushels. During the last four years the price has varied, in consequence of competition, from $2 50 to $5 50 a bushel. The oil factories of St. Louis alone are able to express 200,000 bushels of castor beans annually. At the present price of castor oil, the manufacturers can afford to pay from $2 50 to $3 a bushel. Flax is a quick crop. In three months from the time of sowing, the farmer can receive the profits of his industry. The yield of an acre is from fifteen to twenty bushels of flaxseed; or, when flax and barley are sown together, from ten to fifteen bushels of flaxseed, and from sixteen to twenty-two bushels of barley. The average weight of straw to tile acre is from one and a half to two tons. The crop is unfailing. Its certainly is a strong recommendation. The annual capacity of our St. Louis mills for the manufacture of linseed oil is 250,000 bushels. For the last three years, the seed has been worth $2 50 a bushel. The millions of dollars which this country is now paying for imported castor and linseed oil ought to enrich American producers. The culture of flaxseed and the castor b)ean challenges the favorable attention of the farmers of Missouri. The cultivation of the beet may yet expand into an important branch of Western agriculture. The enormous productiveness of this vegetable may enable it to enter into a profitable competition with cane in the manufacture of sugar. The necessary brevity of this article precludes a fuller discussion of the agricultural interests of Missouri. Our limits only permit the mention of our leading staples. But this brief enumeration of our principal products or capabilities suffices to show the rare adaptation of Missouri to the uses of agriculture. The Agricultural Bureau at Washington is efficiently promoting the interests of American husbandry. It is intelligently exploring the productions of the world, determining their value and testing their adaptation to the needs of American agriculture. Our farmers ought to avail themselves of every judicious and practical suggestion which emanates from this Bureau. They cannot afford to neglect the results of scientific investigation. The liberality of the general government has given to Missouri 330,000 acres of public lands. This gift is sufficient for the organization and partial endowment of an Agricultural University. Such an institution, organized upon a practical basis, might render an important service to the farming interests of Missouri. It would elevate agriculture to a science, and promote alike the cultivation of the mind and the soil. It would diffuse throughout the State the latest results of scientific inquiry and experiment. It would suggest new, less expensive and more profitable processes of culture. It would liberalize the mind by broader views and nobler conceptions of the independence and dignity of the farmer's life. The husbandry which is prompt to take the hints derived from chemical analysis and actual trial, will always produce the most fruitful harvest. Our soil and climate are favorable to every staple of the temperate zone. In every direction, there are unopened avenues leading to wealth. Rich lands and certain competency are the prizes which the intelligent immigrant will draw. For the prudent and industrious settler there are no blanks. In this State, agriculture will assuredly bless its skillful follower with independence and worldly store. St. Louis, easily accessible by river and rail, furnishes a ready and unfailing market for every production of the husbandman. The exuberant West invites the farmers of the Old World and of New England to forsake their ungrateful wastes for a soil which will show a richer appreciation of their tillage.