Page images
PDF
EPUB

farmers, who own in the aggregate so considerable a part of our timber-growing land. From the fact that the farmer's woodlot constitutes a permanent holding, drawn upon steadily for wood supplies, the practice of forestry can probably be more easily introduced on the woodlot than on the large holdings of lumbermen, whose operations are seldom planned with a view to holding the land permanently for forest purposes.

A very important part of the investigative work is that which relates to the study of forest products. The major part of this work is conducted in the Forest Products Laboratory at Madison, Wis. It includes studies in the physical properties of wood, the drying of wood, strength tests, wood preservation, wood distillation, the production of wood pulp and paper and of naval stores, and wood utilization. Many of these studies are highly technical, but all are thoroughly practical in their aim. The facilities for scientific research in the field of forest products are now adequate, and the work is well organized and conducted by a corps of trained specialists. Results are being attained which mean a lessened drain upon our forest supplies through more economical use of material, the opening of new sources of supply for various industries, the utilization of every kind of wood for the purpose to which its intrinsic qualities best adapt it, a greater incentive to the practice of forestry because of the increased returns made possible, better adjustment of woodusing industries to meet the conditions created by past use without forethought, and a general clarifying of the situation with respect to our forest resources and requirements through accurate knowledge of what these requirements are and what is available to fill them.

BUREAU OF SOILS.

SOIL SURVEY.

Soil surveys were carried on in 60 areas distributed through 21 States, and a total area of 95,420 square miles was mapped. Of this area, 25,096 square miles were mapped in detail and 70,324 square miles were mapped in the broader, more general way, which we designate as reconnoissance mapping.

The demand for surveys continues to run far ahead of our ability to do the work. An increasing interest in the work is being manifested by agricultural colleges and experiment stations. They are beginning to use the results of the work as a basis for their experiments as well as their demonstration and extension work. The lack of such a demand in the past has been due to a recognition of the futility of the demand if it were made. Soil surveys had not, until very recently, covered an area in any State sufficiently large to enable investigators to draw any general conclusions from them or to base

on them any comprehensive scheme of investigations. This is no longer the case. In a few States as much as half the area has been mapped, and in many others from a fourth to a third has been covered. Owing to the policy of the survey of distributing the work rather uniformly over the whole area of the various States, even the mapping of a fourth of the total area will enable an investigator or a student of the maps to arrive at a close approximation to the distribution over the State of the main soil areas, such as the soil series, at least.

Until considerable areas had been covered wholly or in such a way that approximate conclusions could be drawn as to the conditions in such areas, our results could not come into general use. Not only could they not be used for the reasons stated above, but they were not even well known; not enough had been done to attract attention. A certain amount of passive or active opposition, due in many cases merely to lack of familiarity with such work, its methods, nomenclature, and results, manifested itself during the early years of the bureau's activity. The time has come when the work is forcing its way to recognition by its quantity, even if it be not by its quality. The mere mass of the work already accomplished is making it evident that it has already gone so far that to recede is impossible. It is evident also that the general plan of the work can not be profoundly changed, thereby causing those whose objections to the work were based on its methods and its system of expressing its results to realize that such objections must now be futile. There is no such thing as an absolutely right way to do work of this character. There are various methods and various points of view. One method or system must be adopted and one point of view must be maintained if the results are to have any consistency or any value. It is not so important which system is adopted or what point of view is maintained as it is to be consistent after some one system has been adopted.

The work of the soil survey is no longer new and unfamiliar. Because of increasing familiarity with it investigators find less occasion to criticize it or ignore it. By many, if not most, of the broadest men in the agricultural colleges and experiment stations of the country the necessity of a soil survey on which to base investigations is admitted without question. That the idea will spread still further can no longer admit of a doubt.

This increasing recognition and interest in soil survey work is expressing itself in increasing requests for cooperation, made by State organizations. We have been compelled to decline many such requests solely because of lack of funds. Cooperation with a State organization makes it necessary for us to do more work and spend, therefore, more money in that State than might be done without cooperation. In declining requests for cooperation, however, we have not changed our opinion as to the value of cooperative work. Work done under such conditions is considered to be often of a higher grade than that done without cooperation. It brings together and harmonizes the experience of two organizations, each, because of the conditions of its existence, possessing knowledge that the other does not possess. It increases also the total amount of work done by the amount that the State men are able to do. It is very desirable that the Bureau of Soils be placed in a condition enabling it to take up cooperative work with all the States that desire it. This will avoid the inevitable confusion that would result if the States should do the work alone and according to any point of view they might have. The increasing interest in the work is making it certain that the States will undertake it alone if the bureau can not lend its aid in the matter. For the sake of fullness, accuracy, and uniformity of results it is very important that the bureau should be placed in a position where it would not be compelled to decline requests for cooperation.

Another condition arising from the increased interest and recognition of the work of the soil survey is the necessity for greater accuracy, not only of mapping, but of definition and correlation. This necessitates more careful supervision of the field work, more comprehensive study of soil relations, and more careful criticism of reports and maps by the scientific staff of the survey. During the past year more time has been spent in this part of the work than has ever been spent in this way before. The results have fully justified the money and effort expended. Rigid supervision is absolutely necessary if uniformity of results is to be attained. The increased supervision has not, however, sensibly increased the cost, per square mile, of the work. The membership of the supervising staff has not been increased, in fact there has been a slight decrease, but the better results are being brought about by greater care in the work and better methods. Revolutionary or striking results have not been attained and are not expected in the future. Soil survey work is fundamental in its nature. In the very nature of the case it can not be spectacular. The soil survey is an institution devoted to the accumulation of a well-defined group of facts. The knowledge thus gained has a scientific as well as a practical value. The practical knowledge can be applied in many cases at once and valuable economic and social results arise from it. This is the value that is usually emphasized-to be able to direct agricultural progress along proper lines, to point out natural adaptabilities of soil, to suggest improved methods of cultivation based on a knowledge of the soil to be cultivated, merely to attract the cultivator's attention to the soil as something well worth his careful study; these are some of the possibilities and actualities of the soil survey. The fact, however, that its results have a practical value of this kind makes them no less valuable as facts of science.

A careful survey of the natural resources of a state or a nation is essential to the inauguration of a systematic plan for utilizing or developing them. This has long been recognized in theory, but has been strangely limited in its application. Geological surveys were inaugurated by many States more than half a century ago and by the Nation many years ago. Forest surveys also were begun in a very general way by some of the States many years ago. A survey of the soils of any part of the country, however, seems not to have been seriously thought of until little more than a decade ago, yet the natural resources of the soil are of more importance to the welfare of mankind than all other natural resources combined.

SOIL-FERTILITY INVESTIGATIONS. The work on the problems connected with the fertility of soils has opened up avenues of profitable investigation and already forecasted results of great economic importance. The investigations have been made on soil from various parts of the United States, comprising a number of important soil problems. During the year these researches have led to the discovery of organic soil constituents decidedly beneficial to growing crops. These are organic nitrogen compounds, and it has been demonstrated that they exist in organic fertilizers, in green manures, and in soils; that they are directly beneficial to crops, and that they are able to replace nitrates in aiding plant growth. The facts demonstrated by these investigations are of fundamental significance in soil fertility, and the recognition of these directly beneficial soil constituents is no less important than the recognition that harmful soil constituents exist.

The effect of harmful soil constituents and their distribution in the soils of the United States has been further investigated. The presence of one of these harmful constituents has been definitely associated with poor yield on many soils from all parts of the United States from Maine to Texas and Oregon. The compound is therefore of common occurrence and is likely to be encountered in soils where unfavorable conditions exist which tend to form and accumulate this constituent.

The nature of soil humus has been further investigated and a considerable number of new constituents determined, among them organic compounds containing nitrogen and phosphorus. The nitrogen and phosphorus are frequently tied up in the soil in very resistant forms in complex compounds which have been isolated. To be utilizable by plants this complex must be broken up, and this phase of the question has already been studied with considerable success. The chief aim in the agricultural use of nitrogen is to convert this into nitrates by chemical and biological means, an operation which is far from simple. The present researches are very suggestive of

the fact that for agricultural purposes it may not be necessary to convert all nitrogen into nitrates, but that nitrogen of waste nitrogenous materials in the industries can be converted into compounds of the nature of the beneficial soil constituents discovered in this work, and so make available to agriculture much nitrogen now lost because of the difficulty of converting it into nitrates.

FERTILIZER RESOURCES.

The management of the soil for the efficient and economic production of crops is the fundamental problem of agriculture. In general, three instrumentalities are available, namely, tillage, crop rotation, and fertilizers. And the history of the world shows that as the civilization of a region advances intensive methods of cultivation replace the extensive methods of the pioneer, and all three instrumentalities must be employed that the land may be brought to and maintained at a high productivity.

Tillage and crop rotation problems are very largely within the personal control of the farmer himself. Fertilizers, however, involve contact with outside commercial and manufacturing interests, so that they invite the special aid of the Government. Two great problems are presented, (1) to find sources of fertilizer materials, and point out methods and agencies for the preparation of the material to the use of the farmer, and (2) to bring the people to a realization of the value of properly used fertilizers. To both of these problems this department is addressing itself assiduously. To further the efforts of the department, especially in meeting the demands of the first problem, Congress at its last regular session made a special appropriation, directing that the Bureau of Soils should explore and investigate natural sources of fertilizer materials. Although less than half the fiscal year has expired since this appropriation became avail-. able, the results accomplished are of a character to justify special comment at this time.

Phosphatic fertilizers have been studied, the areas of productive rock at present and prospectively available have been noted, and valuable information has been gathered regarding improvements in methods of saving waste at the mine and in the manufacture and distribution or sale of product. It seems that new occurrences of natural deposits of phosphates are being continually reported and that the amount of such material now known to exist in this country is so vast as to dissipate any fears as to our natural resources in this regard. At the same time, for many reasons, improvements in methods of mining and utilizing this great resource are imperatively demanded in the people's interest, and we have called attention to these matters in appropriate publications from this department.

« PreviousContinue »