restricted access 12. Origins and Scope of the Problem
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12 ORIGINS AND SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM THE GREAT PROBLEM before agriculture the world over is how best to maintain in health and efficiency the huge human population which has resulted from the Industrial Revolution. As has already been pointed out, this development is based on the transfer of food from the regions which produce it to the manufacturing centres which consume it and which make no attempt to return their wastes to the land. This amounts to a perpetual subsidy paid by agriculture to industry and has resulted in the impoverishment of large areas of the earth's surface. A form of unconscious banditry has been in operation: the property of generations to come, in the shape of soil fertility, has been used not to benefit the human race as a whole, but to enrich a dishonest present. Such a system cannot last: the career of the prodigal must come to an end: a new civilization will have to be created, in which the various reserves in the earth's crust are regarded as a sacred trust and the food needed is obtained not by depleting the soil's capital, but by increasing the efficiency of the earth's green carpet. This involves the solution of the problem of fertilizing. Why does the problem of fertilizing arise? What is the reason for our constant anxiety about the state of the soil? This preoccupation is as old as the art of agriculture. The problem occurs throughout the world, being recognized as a first consideration among all cultivating peoples. Its antiquity and its universal character are striking and must lead us to conclude that it is based on something of fundamental importance. Briefly stated, the necessity for manuring arises out of our interference with the natural cycle of fertility. It is perhaps the most insistent of those problems which owe their origin to human action directed towards manipulating for the benefit of humanity the life of the vegetable and animal kingdoms. For be it admitted, the operations of cultivation, sowing, and reaping-all the acts that make up agriculture-are serious interruptions or interventions in the slow and intricate processes which make up growth and decay. This is, perhaps, the place to devote a few words to this basic conception of agriculture as an interference with Nature. I have been attacked 'for not recognizing that interference. My constant references to Nature as the supreme farmer have been found inapplicable and inept, it being pointed out that if we were to follow Nature alone, we should be restricted to those small harvests which she is accustomed to provide, to the gatherings from the woodland and the hedgerow, from the wild pasture or the moor. I am accused of ignoring the fact that the whole aim of the cultivator is to do better than Nature and that the success attained in this direction is a source of legitimate pride. It is, therefore, not out of place to take this opportunity of stating that the conception of agriculture as an interruption or interception of natural processes has always been recognized by me.! Where I part company with my critics is in my general view of the unbalanced nature of these human acts. Intervention there must be: the most elementary act of harvesting is an interception: the acts of cultivation, sowing, and so forth are even more deliberate intrusions into ,the natural cycle. But these interruptions or intrusions must not be confined to mere exploitation : they involve definite duties to the land which are best summed up in the law of return: they must also realize the significance of the stupendous reserves on which the natural machine works and which must be faithfully maintained. The first duty of the agriculturist must always be to understand that he is a part of Nature and cannot escape from his environment. He must therefore obey Nature's rules. Whatever intrusions he makes must be, so to say, in the spirit of these rules; they must on no account flout the underlying principles of natural law nor be in outrageous contradiction to the processes of Nature. To take a modem instance, the attempt to raise natural earth-borne crops on an exclusive diet of water and mineral dope-the so-called science of hydroponics-is science gone mad: it is an absurdity which has nothing in common with the ancient art of cultivation. I should be surprised if the equally unnatural modem practise of the artificial insemination of animals...