GRASS AND FOOD-VALUES
By PROFESSOR R. G. STAPLEDON
THERE are factors impinging on each other today which are assuredly the heralds of an agricultural revolution which, while world-wide, will affect most profoundly those countries which, like Great Britain, have a huge population and a very restricted land surface.
Let it once be possible to define accurately, and in precise scientific terms, and in respect of every foodstuff, the golden word " quality," and we shall be speaking another language. Science is marching rapidly in this direction, and knowledge is 'accumulating rapidly in regard to the subtleties. Rations must be balanced, not only relatively to the grosser needs—protein equivalents and starch equivalents—but also in relation to the subtleties, and vitamins are not the only subtleties. Soon, both in respect of our crops and of our livestock products, we are bound to be reckoning not in tons per acre, not in gallons per acre, but in " health units " per acre. Nobody has yet proved whether gross yield per acre and " health units " per acre are best served by the same technique of production. If it were shown that maximum bulk and maximum " health units " were incompatible in respect of a number of our more important human foods, that alone would be sufficient to alter completely the agricul- tural outlook and policy of this country ; derelict acres would be a serious matter indeed.
In the light of modem knowledge milk is probably to be regarded as the most important of all health-giving foods, and there is still a great deal to be learned about the subtleties of milk. Clean milk, fresh milk—these are already national slogans. We know at all events that the quality of milk is profoundly affected by the kind and quality of the feed supplied to the cows. Grass is the mother of milk ; and grass of high quality supplied to the cows all the year round means—or should mean— milk of good quality available all the year round. This is by no means all, for, on the basis of Sir John Orr's estimate, in the interest of national health the milk consumed in this country should be increased in quantity by 42 per cent. ; the butter consumption should also be increased. National consumption is influenced by three factors in particular—knowledge, the income of the poorer families, and the price of the commodity. Tech- nique of production has a direct and an indirect influence on the price of a commodity. If improved technique makes for greatly cheapened production, this, in the long run, will force consumers and producers alike to demand and to create facilities for rational and cheapened dis- tribution. Let it once be generally realised that the product in question is of prime necessity in the interest of national health, then the cheapening of production will be the master-key that will open doors that have long seemed impenetrable.
The technique of production, where grass is concerned, has advanced out of all recognition in recent years, and is ready to combine with these other causes to revolutionise agricultural practice over an enormous acreage in this country. Grass, it must be remembered, is not only the mother of milk, but in relation to modern practices it is at least the step-mother of eggs, and it is the most important of all foodstuffs in the production of meat. The acreage under grass in this country is excessive— excessive because the quality of the preponderant area leaves almost everything to be desired. What is wanted above all things is young and nutritious grass all the year round. By the adoption of modern practices, the out-of- door grazing season can be very considerably and effectively increased. To do this, however, demands resort to the plough and resort to a rotation pivoted upon the temporary ley—fields put down to grass and main- tained in grass for varying periods from one to about six years. The scope of ley-farming has been greatly increased by the introduction of new and improved strains of grassland plants resulting from the endeavours of the plant-breeder. There remains, however, the problem of winter grass, and this problem the technique of drying young grass has solved. Much is still required—the introduction of smaller and effective drying plants ; a progressively better understanding of the methods of procedure to be adopted, and a greatly extended resort to the ley will be necessary in order to produce enough grass of high quality for drying as well as adding to the length of the out-of-door grazing season.
These are all details ; the outstanding fact to be grasped is that the drying of young grass is correct in theory—correct to the last detail—is feasible in practice and eliminates the last obstacle which has stood between the farmer and the cultivation of grass considered as a crop. More and more we shall come to think and act in terms of grass-production and fertility, and not in terms of time-worn and neglected pastureS and meadows. There could be no bigger revolution in British farming than that brought about by purposeful activity accom- panied by the plough and cultivations on that huge acreage in inferior permanent grass which at present cries shame to the nation, and pours scorn and derision on the ancient art of husbandry.
No doubt our grosser needs can always be met, without serious detriment to health, from overseas. The subtleties, however, we must produce for ourselves under our own supervision—enough fresh eggs, enough fresh vegetables, enough fresh meat and enough fresh milk for all. Eggs, meat and milk all are grass. The potential capacity of Great Britain for the production of grass of the first quality is enormous. But let it once more be emphasised that to produce enough grass of sufficiently high quality to insure a sufficiency of health units for the nation as a whole means the plough and rotational grass ; means grass-drying on a grard scale ; means, in short, high farming everywhere, and would, therefore, spell the salvation of British agriculture and of rural England.