1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > British Agriculture: Increase and Diffusion of Agricultural Knowledge since 1815

(Part 9)


Progress since 1815: Increase and Diffusion of Agricultural Knowledge

Let us look now at the means by which, during this period, agricultural knowledge has at once been increased and diffused. Notice has been already been taken of the institution of the Highland Society and the national Board of agriculture. These patriotic societies were the means of collecting a vast amount of statistical and general information connected with agriculture, and by their publications and premiums made known the practices of the best-farmed districts of the country, and encouraged their adaptation elsewhere. These national associations were soon aided in their important labours by numerous local societies which sprang up in all parts of the kingdom. After a highly useful career, under the zealous presidency of Sir John Sinclair, the Board of Agriculture was dissolved, but has left in its Statistical Account, county surveys, and other documents, much interesting and valuable imformation regarding the agricultur of that period. In 1800 the original farmer’s magazine entered upon its useful career under the editorship of Robert Brown of Markle, the author of the well-known treatise of Rural affairs. The Highland Society having early extended its operations to the whole of Scotland, by-and-by made a corresponding addition to its title, and as the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland continues to occupy its important sphere with a steadily increasing membership, popularity, and usefulness. As its revenue and experience increased, it gradually extended its operations. In 1828, shortly after the discontinuance of the Farmer’s Magazine, its Prize Essays and transactions began to be issued statedly in connection with the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, a periodical which until recently occupied a prominent place in our professional literature. This society early began to hold a great annual show of live stock, implements, &c., the popularity of which continues unabated. In 1842, Mr. John Finnie at Swanstone, near Edinburgh, having suggested to some of his neighbors the desirableness of obtaining the aid if chemistry to guide farmers in many departments of their business, the hint was promptly acted upon, and these Mid-Lothian tenant-farmers had the merit of originating an Agricultural Chemistry Association (the first of its kind), by which funds were raised, and an eminent chemist engaged, for the express purpose of conducting such investigations as the title of the society implies. After a successful trial of a few years this association was dissolved, transferring its functions to the Highland and Agricultural Society, which has ever since devoted much of its attention to this subject. The nature and importance of the services which labourers in this department of science have rendered to agriculture may be gathered from the society’s transactions, and numerous other publications of a similar kind. The highland Society has of late years established itself on a broader basis, and imparted new energy to its operations by lowering its admission fee in behalf of tenant-farmers, who have in consequence joined it in great number, and now take an important part in the conduct of its business. The practice adopted by it, about the same time, of holding periodical meetings for the discussion of important practical questions, by means of essays, prepared by carefully selected writers, did good service, too, to the cause of agriculture progress.

The adaptation of the government of a proposal made by this society, to collect the agricultural statistics of Scotland, showed at once how thoroughly it enjoyed the confidence of the tenantry, and how easily, and by what simple and inexpensive machinery, this most important and interesting inquiry could be conducted. Through an unfortunate misunderstanding between the government and the society on a mere technical point, this most useful inquiry came to an abrupt termination, after having been conducted for five years. The brief experiment had, however, proved so conclusively the value of such statistics, and the ease with which they could be collected, that the government soon after took the matter in hand, and has ever since, through the agency of the officers in Inland Revenue, obtained annual returns of cropping and live stock for the whole of Great Britain.

The obvious success of this national Scottish Society has led to the formation of similar ones in England and in Ireland. The former, instituted in 1838, and shortly afterwards incorporated by royal charter, at once entered upon a career of usefulness, the extent of which cannot well be over-rated. Its membership – comprising the most influential persons in the kingdom --- and its revenues are now so large as to enable it to conduct its proceedings on a scale befitting its position and objects. These are of a varied character, but its efforts are concentrated upon its journal and annual show. The former, published twice a year, is chiefly composed of the essays and reports to which the liberal prizes of the society have been awarded, and undoubtedly stands at the head of our present agricultural periodicals. At the annual shows of the society, a prominent place is assigned to implements and machines. Such as admit of it, are subjected to comparative trials, which are conducted with such skill and pains that the awards command the entire confidence of exhibitors and their customers. The extent and rapidity of the improvement in agricultural machinery which the society has been mainly instrumental in effecting are altogether extraordinary.

There are a few market towns of any importance that have not their organized club or occasional gathering of the farmers in their neighborhood, for the discussion of professional topics. We have now also a goodly list of agricultural periodicals, both weekly and monthly, most of them ably conducted, which are extensively read, and are the means of collecting and diffusing much valuable knowledge, which, but for them, would often, as in former times, perish with its authors, or be confined to corners. The facilities now afforded by railways for cheap and expeditious traveling, induce most farmers to take an occasional peep at what is going on beyond their own neighborhood. This, more than anything, deals death-blows to prejudices, and extends good husbandry.

The literature of agriculture has been enriched by the contributions of many able writers. Some deserve to be particularly mentioned. The volumes of the late David Low, Esq., on Practical Agriculture, Landed Property and economy of Landed Estates, and Domesticated Animals, must ever be of standard authority on their respective subjects. Mr. Henry Stephens’ Book of the farm, and Mr. J. C. Morton’s Cyclopedia of agriculture, are invaluable to the agriculture students for their fullness, and for the minutes of their details. Mr. Caird’s English agriculture supplies the means for a most interesting comparison with the descriptions left to us by Arthur Young. Mr. Hoskyn’s history of Agriculture and Chronicles of a Clay Farm are the very gems of our professional literature. In a series of essays on our farm Crops by Professor John Wilson of Edinburgh, the scientific and the practical are most happily combined. Among the more recent publications of value may be mentioned Loudon’s Encyclopedia; How Crops grow, by Mr. Johnson; M’Combie’s cattle and cattle-Breeders; Mechi’s How to Farm Profitably; Hozier’s Practical Remarks on Agricultural Drainage; Tood’s American Wheat Culturist, &c.. Johnston, Anderson, Way, and Voelcher have done admirable service in expounding the chemistry of agriculture; Youatt, Spooner, and Vasey, its zoology; and Smith, Parkes, Webster, Bailey, Denton, Scott Burn, and Starforth, its engineering, mechanics, and architecture.

I reviewing the history of our national agriculture for the past sixty years, it is pleasing to note the growing intelligence display by our agriculturist in the prosecution of their calling. It is curious, also, to observe the analogy between the order of that progress, and that which is usually observed in individual minds. For a long time we see agricultural societies and writers occupying themselves chiefly about the practical details and statistics of husbandry, and attaching much importance to empherical rules. Gradually, however, we observe, along with a zealous collecting of facts, a growing disposition to investigate the causes of things, and desire to know the reason why one practice is preferable to another. When, therefore, the Royal Agricultural Society adopted as its motto, "Practice with Science," it expressed not more the objects to be aimed at in its own proceedings, than the characteristic feature of our present stage of agricultural progress.

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