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of them, the owners or farmers of those lands could undersell all others, and engross the whole market. Lands of a lower degree of fertility or in a more remote situation, might indeed be cultivated by their proprietors, for the sake of subsistence or independence; but it never could be the interest of any one to farm them for profit. That a profit can be made from them, sufficient to attract capital to such an investment, is a proof that cultivation on the more eligible lands has reached a point, beyond which any greater application of labor and capital would yield, at the best, no greater return than can be obtained at the same expense from less fertile or less favorably situated lands.
The careful cultivation of a well-farmed district of Eng. land or Scotland is a symptom and an effect of the more unfavorable terms which the land has begun to exact for any increase of its fruits. Such elaborate cultivation costs much more in proportion, and requires a higher price to render it profitable, than farming on a more superficial system, and would not be adopted if access could be had to land of equal fertility, previously unoccupied. Where there is the choice of raising the increasing supply which society requires, from fresh land of as good quality as that already cultivated, no attempt is made to extract from land anything approaching to what it will yield on what are esteemed the best European modes of cultivating. The land is tasked up to the point at which the greatest return is obtained in proportion to the labor employed, but no further : any additional labor is carried elsewhere. “It is long,” says one of the latest travellers in the United States,* “ before an English eye becomes reconciled to the lightness of the crops and the careless farming (as we should call it) which is apparent. One forgets that where land is so plentiful and labor so
• Letters from America, by John Robert Godley, vol. i. p. 42. See also Lyell's Travels in America, vol. ii. p. 83.
dear as it is here, a totally different principle must be pursued to that which prevails in populous countries, and that the consequence will of course be a want of tidiness, as it were, and finish, about everything which requires labor." Of the two causes mentioned, the plentifulness of land seems to me the true explanation, rather than the dearness of labor ; for, however dear labor may be, when food is wanted, labor will always be applied to producing it in preference to anything else. But this labor is more effective for its end by being applied to fresh soil, than if it were employed in bringing the soil already occupied into higher cultivation. Only when no soils remain to be broken up but such as either from distance or inferior quality require a considerable rise of price to render their cultivation profitable, can it become advantageous to apply the high farming of Europe to any American lands; except, perhaps, in the immediate vicinity of towns, where saving in cost of carriage may compensate for great inferiority in the return from the soil itself? As American farming is to English, so is the ordinary English to that of Flanders, Tuscany, or the Terra di Lavoro; where by the application of a far greater quantity of labor there is obtained a considerably larger gross produce, but on such terms as would never be advantageous to a mere speculator for profit, unless made so by much higher prices of agricultural produce.
The principle which has now been stated must be received, no doubt, with certain explanations and limitations. Even after the land is so highly cultivated that the mere application of additional labor, or of an additional amount of ordinary dressing, would yield no return proportioned to the expense, it may still happen that the application of a much greater additional labor and capital to improving the soil itself, by draining or permanent manures, would be as liberally remunerated by the produce as any portion of the labor and capital already employed. It would sometimes
be much more amply remunerated. This could not be, if capital always sought and found the most advantageous employment; but if the most advantageous employment has to wait longest for its remuneration, it is only in a rather advanced stage of industrial development that the preference will be given to it; and even in that advanced stage, the laws or usages connected with property in land and the tenure of farms, are often such as to prevent the disposable capital of the country from flowing freely into the channel of agricultural improvement; and hence the increased supply, required by increasing population, is sometimes raised at an augmenting cost by higher cultivation, when the means of producing it without increase of cost are known and accessible. There can be no doubt that if capital were forthcoming to execute, within the next year, all known and recognized improvements in the land of the United Kingdom which would pay (as the phrase is) at the existing prices, that is, which would increase the produce in as great or a greater ratio than the expense; the result would be such (especially if we include Ireland in the supposition) that inferior land would not for a long time require to be brought under tillage; probably a considerable part of the less productive lands now cultivated, which are not particularly favored by situation, would go out of culture; or (as the improvements in question are not so much applicable to good land, but operate rather by converting bad land into good) the contraction of cultivation might principally take place by a less high dressing and less elaborate tilling of land generally; a falling back to something nearer the character of American farming; such only of the poor lands being altogether abandoned as were not found susceptible of improvement. And thus the aggregate produce of the whole cultivated land would bear a larger proportion than before to the labor expended on it; and the general law of diminishing return from land would have
undergone, to that extent, a temporary supersession. No one, however, can suppose that even in these circumstances, the whole produce required for the country could be raised exclusively from the best lands, together with those possessing advantages of situation to place them on a par with the best. Much would undoubtedly continue to be produced under less advantageous conditions, and with a smaller proportional return, than that obtained from the best soils and situations. And in proportion as the further increase of population required a still greater addition to the supply, the general law would resume its course, and the further augmentation would be obtained at a more than proportionate expense of labor and capital.
$ 3. That the produce of land increases, cæteris paribus, in a diminishing ratio to the increase in the labor employed, is, as we have said, (allowing for occasional and temporary exceptions,) the universal law of agricultural industry. This principle, however, has been denied, and experience confidently appealed to, in proof that the returns from land are not less but greater, in an advanced, than in an early stage of cultivation—when much capital than when little, is applied to agriculture. So much so, indeed, that (it is affirmed) the worst land now in cultivation produces as much food per acre, and even as much to a given amount of labor, as our ancestors contrived to extract from the richest soils in England.
It is very possible that this may be true; and even if not true to the letter, to a great extent it certainly is so. Unquestionably a much smaller proportion of the population is now occupied in producing food for the whole, than in the early times of our history. This, however, does not prove that the law of which we have been speaking does not exist, but only that there is some antagonizing principle at work, capable for a time of making head against the law. Such
an agency there is, in habitual antagonism to the law of diminishing return from land; and to the consideration of this we shall now proceed. It is no other than the progress of civilization. I use this general and somewhat vague expression, because the things to be included are so various, that hardly any term of a more restricted signification would comprehend them all.
Of these the most obvious is the progress of agricultural knowledge, skill, and invention. Improved processes of agriculture are of two kinds; some enable the land to yield a greater absolute produce, without an equivalent increase of labor; others have not the power of increasing the produce, but have that of diminishing the labor and expense by which it is obtained. Among the first are to be reckoned the disuse of fallows, by means of the rotation of crops; and the introduction of new articles of cultivation capable of entering advantageously into the rotation. The change made in British agriculture towards the close of the last century by the introduction of turnip-husbandry, is spoken of as amounting to a revolution. These improvements operate not only by enabling the land to produce a crop every year instead of remaining idle one year in every two or three to renovate its powers, but also by direct increase of its productiveness; since the great addition made to the number of cattle by the increase of their food, affords more abundant manure to fertilize the corn lands. Next in order comes the introduction of new articles of food containing a greater amount of sustenance, like the potato, or more productive species or varieties of the same plant, such as the Swedish turnip. In the same class of improvements must be placed a better knowledge of the properties of manures, and of the most effectual modes of applying them ; the introduction of new and more powerful fertilizing agents, such as guano, and the conversion to the same purpose of substances previously wasted; inventions like subsoil