THE "IRRIGATION STATES" OF NORTH AMERICA. T HE Century Magazine for
March contains a history of the rise and progress of the "irrigation farms " of the arid belt of North America. The writer, Mr. William Smythe, describes nothing less than a reconstruction of agriculture on a new basis. It is no longer confined to certain valleys of California and Colorado, but has spread over the whole length of the United States, from the Canadian line in Montana to the " etaked plains" of Lower Texas, which the waters of the Pecos River are now turning into a garden. In a few years hence a region ten times greater than Lower Egypt, worked by prosperous Anglo-Saxon freeholders, and irrigated by dams, canals, and more commonly by wind mills standing on the farms themselves, from the drainage of the Rocky Mountains, will be added to the productive area of the new world. The new system has restored the prestige of agriculture among the most progressive people in the world. But the discovery has done far more than provide competence and comfort for the new population of the " arid " States. Economically, the system is ideally perfect ; socially, it exactly meets the pressing needs of a particular phase of civilisation. It offers an escape to better things to the overgrown town population of the Eastern States, and gives this alternative in a form which pays, which gives permanent homes, progressive incomes, and is of almost unlimited capacity for the reception of the urban overflow. In view of the com- plete failure of Australia, the prairie area, and the Argentine plains, to attract this population, and of the rapidity with which, in spite of their want of inhabitants, the surplus lands of Canada, the States, and the Southern Republics have passed into private ownership, the reason for the "population capacity "of the arid belt of the United States, when irrigated, needs some explaining. The surplus lands of the rest of the New World and Australia present the apparent contradiction of having failed to provide new homes for any great number from the old countries, and yet of being already completely "occupied" in the sense that all paying land is now private property. It is not a contradiction, in fact, because their development has been in precisely the opposite direction to that most to be desired. The system has been precisely that which is most wasteful of land-area and most exclusive of the small settler. In Australia the big squatter "ate up" the little squatter, and then sold his interests to banks and land-companies, who joined run to run, and cut down management expenses until the small settlers ceased to exist. On the pampas of the Argentine Republic, the size of the ranches has continually tended to expand, while on the corn-growing prairies the size of the farms increases while the cultivation becomes less efficient. Even in the old-fashioned Eastern States of North America, the hard-working New England farmers are increasing the size of their farms, because, by cultivating much land ill, they run less risk of complete failure than by cultivating a small farm well Here, then, was a hopeless outlook. In Europe and America a town population, dependent mainly on weekly wages, and for these on the chances of commercial success or failure, menaced every year by some great catastrophe such as a general war—a population spending at least 70 per cent. of this wage, when in work, on food, clothes, and shelter—were yet debarred from return to agriculture by its economic failure in the old countries, and the monopoly of capitalists in the new ones, a monopoly not maintained selfishly, but due to the fact that on the existing system, whether of cattle, sheep, or corn farming, only great areas could be made to pay.
The irrigation farming of the "arid States" has solved this problem for many years to come for the artisans of the United States. It pays, it provides a life not only of com- petence, but of positive charm, and it is essentially economical not only of labour, but of area. Small farming pays best. As the system grows more perfect, the size of the garden-farms decreases, while the produce doubles and trebles. The utmost possible crop is produced by these garden-farms of from five to twenty-five acres. Thus in California a single great estate of four hundred thousand acres has now been split up into thousands of these farms. "The Anglo-Saxon has at last thrown himself into the study of the new methods with as much enthusiasm as he bestows on electricity and new mining processes, and the men who are doing this are being mainly recruited from the millions engaged in the industries of the Eastern States and towns." "The Western labourer is his own employer. He is also his own• landlord. These two facts constitute ideal independence. But there is, in his case, the practical side. From his ten or twenty acres, insured against failure by flood or drought, first by its aridity and second by irrigation, he can systematically produce almost every item of food which his family consumes Western rivers and lakes abound in fish which can be had without cost; salmon are abundant in all the streams which enter the Pacific." Trout are kept in immense numbers and artificially fed in the farmers' pools and dams. "In average years on a twenty-acre farm there is a comfortable surplus. It may be said that the same results are yielded by the agricultural industry elsewhere; but it cannot be done with equal certainty nor on an equal area without irrigation." The " water-farmer " has no bad seasons, and the small size of the farm prevents that curse of the Eastern States farmers, the year-long strain of physical overwork. Any analysis of the means by which these results are reached, strengthens the conviction that the elements of the system are sound and permanent. The basis of agricultural depression is, first, the over-production of the staple products, corn and cattle, and secondly, the fact that they are the pro auction of what is in each country the least-skilled class of labour. The irrigation farmer does not aim at growing corn, or even cattle—except as a dairyman; and his farm is a mechanical manufactory of luxuries, of choice fruits and vegetables for sale with a reserve of grain, cattle, and poultry, mainly for house- hold consumption. He thus avoids competition with the peasant corn-producers and the unskilled labour of the rest of the world ; in other words, he is above the level of con- ditions which produce agricultural depression. He raises from three to six crops a year, according to climate and the kind of crop he plants, and by singular good luck or good judgment he has found a fodder-plant specially suited to " intensive " cultivation. This is the alfalfa, a species of lucerne, which will, in the South, produce six crops a year, and is eaten not only by cattle, but by poultry and swine.
The home question at once suggests itself. Are the benefits of this astonishing revival confined by climate to the regions on either side of the "Great Divide," the moun- tain chains of the United States, or are they applicable in part to the fields of England ? The answer must be sought in reference to the area to which the system is now applied in the United States. There it is not limited to the "arid belt." It has spread northwards to latitudes as high as that of the St. Lawrence and the cities of Lower Canada, and has passed the latitude of New York. It has spread from the barren wastes of Lower Texas and New Mexico to the temperate climate of the North, and it is the experience of Montana and Wyoming which will be most eagerly scanned by the farmers of England. Here we shall do well to quote Mr. William Smythe verbatim : —" The evidences of the triumph of irrigation might be multiplied a hundredfold by reference to the story of the valleys of arid America. But there is a wide difference between the agriculture, and especially the horticulture, of the Salt River Valley of Arizona, and the Yellowstone Valley of Montana. The one produces oranges, figs, and pomegranates ;
the other only the hardiest fruits (English fruits). The same conditions influence the size of the farm and the methods of applying the water, but the fact remains that without irrigation neither Arizona nor Montana would have any agriculture worthy of the name, while with irrigation both support farming populations which may be vastly multi- plied." In Wyoming the new system has won a most complete triumph over the old. Wyoming lies south of Montana and has an English climate. There was an "organised stock in- terest" of large cattle-farmers, who resisted the new idea of agriculture almost by armed force. They were beaten. Circum- stances were too strong for them, and Wyoming is on its way to become an "irrigation state." "There will be more cattle lithe aggregate, but distributed among a multitude of small owners living in the irrigated valleys. There they will raise the diversified products necessary to their support, and great crops of winter fodder (on irrigated fields) for their cattle. This process has begun, and it results in the elevation alike of the men and their industry."
Here, then, is the lesson for English agriculture. Water- meadows, irrigated on a primitive plan, are even now worth doable the rent of ordinary grass-land. Alfalfa will grow on English soil, and the average duration of sunlight is calculable, though not constant. Each year more land is laid down to grass in a land of rivers and ponds. Millions of pounds have been spent in draining away the stagnant waters which injure the land, yet the knowledge, common to every West of England farmer, that water passed rapidly over the surface at the proper season gives three grass-crops instead of one, has been used, not in England, but in America- There its proper application is the result mainly of scientifie experiment. "It was sought," says Mr. Smythe, "through the- medium of agricultural colleges, experimental farms, an neighbourhood associations. We have thus approached, by gradual steps, true scientific methods which are producing results unknown before in any part of the world." Never was an agricultural experiment of such gigantic dimensions. so quickly successful. Its geographical limit is not yet. reached in the New World, and is clearly indicated as within- the scope of English farming. The County Councils of every shire should devote part of their technical education grant to. send qualified inspectors to the northern irrigation area, and publish the results of their inquiry for the benefit of English agriculture.