In 1884 the committee appointed by the Canadian House of Commons to inquire into the best means of developing the agricultural resources of Canada suggested the establishment of experimental farms. At the time of the report the committee stated that very little attention was paid by the Canadian farmer to the selection of seed and the proper cultivation of the soil. There was a great amount of ignorance as to the value of manures and their use in maintaining fertility, with the result that land cultivation was becoming less productive. As regards live stock, little or no attention was given to breed, and owing to ignorance and the want of proper appliances the dairy products of Canada were of inferior quality. In short, the amazing fertility of the soil had led to a complete indifference as to scientific methods, and the committee recommended the establishment of an experimental farm or farms to carry out investigations in all branches of agriculture and horticulture, and that the widest publicity should be given amongst the farmers of the Dominion to the results of the experiments carried out there.
Two years later, after exhaustive inquiries as to experimental stations in Europe and America, an Act was passed providing for the establishment of a central experimental farm and four branch farms, the central farm to be located near the capital Ottawa, where it was to serve the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The branch farms were to be distributed over the Dominion, the first for the Maritime provinces, the second for Manitoba, the third for the North-West Territories, and the fourth for British Columbia.
Since that time the expansion of agriculture and the development of the West has outgrown the original arrangement, and now there are scattered through the country a large number of other branch farms which are doing excellent work in educating the residents as to the best means of grappling with the local conditions. In choosing sites for the various branch farms it has always been the object of the Department to establish them upon soil which is representative of the area with which they have to deal, so that their experiments will be for the greatest good of the greatest number.
Thus it is that any farmer wanting information has at his ready disposal an encyclopaedia of the most up-to-date information it is possible to conceive. The advice of a staff of trained scientists is available free, and the appreciation with which these farms are regarded may be gathered from the amount of correspondence carried on with farmers in all parts of the Dominion.
A year after the farms were organised the number of letters received amounted to 5,000. Five years later over 25,000 were received and answered, and during the ten years between 1898 and 1907 the average number received annually averaged about 72,000. In addition to all this, over 300,000 copies of useful reports and circulars are sent out annually.
The largest and most important experimental farm is at Ottawa. It extends over an area of 460 acres, of which 250 acres are devoted to experiments with crops in charge of the agriculturist. Cereals are allowed thirty-two acres, ten acres are set aside for horticultural experiments with fertilisers, orchards and vegetable grounds occupy forty-two acres. The Arboretum and Botanic Gardens extend over sixty-five acres and contain two specimens each of over 300,000 kinds of trees and shrubs, and about the same number of perennial plants. Forest belts take up twenty-one acres, grass and fodder plots two acres. There are thirty staff officials and about seventy labourers. The cost to the State is about 80,000 dollars a year, which, considering the untold value to the country in general, is a reasonable expenditure.
In the agricultural department there are two main sections, dealing respectively with :-
1. The cultivation and manuring of the soil and the growing of farm crops.
2. The breeding, housing, and feeding of farm animals.
As regards the former, experiments have been conducted to determine the best methods of growing various crops, the cost of production per acre, and so forth. For immigrants into Canada, some of them absolutely ignorant of the conditions peculiar to the new country, information of the kind available should be of the utmost value.
Experiments have been carried out to find the stock bearing capacity of the land, and on a 200 acre plot the possibilities of farming such an area with a definite system of cropping are demonstrated. Of equal value to the agriculturist are the experiments made with live stock at the central and other farms, which are of the most searching kind. Experiments in cattle-breeding were begun in 1889 with a herd of forty-four head, and include such subjects as beef production, breeding, food values, housing, and so on. In the department of dairy cattle experiments were made in breeding, the economy of production of milk, food values and their influence on the quality and quantity of the milk, and there is also a large section devoted to pig-keeping. All the leading breeds are represented at the Ottawa farm and experiments are continually being made to determine the vexed question of the greatest profit with the smallest outlay.
The horticultural division of the central farm was organised in 1887. The testing of varieties has been, perhaps, the most notable work accomplished, for it is only by obtaining the variety most suitable to the varying conditions that satisfactory work can be done in horticulture. For example, one may mention that the horticultural division has been testing apples until the number of named varieties exceed 600. It was only by this means that the discovery was made that Russian apples were hardier than any apples of American origin, and it was through this discovery that apples were first introduced into Southern Manitoba. Interesting work has also been done in introducing new varieties, and people who have raised apples from seedlings are invited to send in specimens of the fruit for examination with the object of discovering a hardy native fruit. Though the work described applies particularly to apples, it need hardly be said that other fruit and vegetable culture has been brought to a high degree of perfection.
The experimental work in forestry has been of the utmost value, proving as it does that suitably planted belts of trees are of great assistance to the farmer on the plains. For the purpose of supplying these a great nursery has been established not far from the experimental farm at Indian Head, and it offers young trees and seeds free to all farmers who undertake to comply with the very simple regulations laid down for the establishment of shelter belts. This work, though it has not made as much headway as might be expected among the struggling people of the plains, still is much appreciated and will in time, it is prefectly certain, add immensely to the amenities of life, and such shelter will be regarded as actually necessary when mixed farming supersedes the present extravagant methods.
Perhaps the most fascinating of all the sections is the division organised only recently for the work of testing and improving the culture of cereals. By means of this division innumerable kinds of seeds have been brought together from all parts of the world to determine their relative value in yielding, quality of grain, etc., when grown side by side under conditions as nearly uniform as it is possible to get. By this means the farmer has been shown the most suitable kinds for his particular part of the country, and so forcibly has this been demonstrated that the varieties of seed have been narrowed down to a very small number, and are practically standardised. So carefully are the tests carried out that it has been found desirable to erect in recent years a small flour-mill and baking apparatus to test the milling and baking capacities of very small quantities of wheat. All the new varieties produced by the experimental farms are closely tested for milling and baking before being distributed to the farmers for trial. The chemical division deals with all questions relating to soils, manures, and fertilisers, cattle food, insect pests, dairy products, etc. One of its duties is to report upon all the samples of agricultural description forwarded to farmers from all parts of Canada. These samples include soils, natural fertilisers, water, dairy products and cattle food amongst an innumerable number of other matters.
In the division of entomology and botany the work consists of making collections of plants and insects, mainly of an injurious character, and in helping farmers to exterminate them.
There is also a section dealing with the breeding and all branches of poultry work, and largely owing to its labours in the last twenty years fowls are becoming increasingly popular with small farmers.
BRANCH EXPERIMENTAL FARMS. These farms vary considerably in size, and are of 160 acres to 680 acres in extent. Recently the tendency in making new ones has been to keep them the smaller size. The work under-taken on them is practically on the same lines as that carried on by the central organisations, with this vital difference : that their duty is to study the local conditions of the district in which they are situated, and to devote their attention mainly to that which will be of the most interest to the farmers for whom they are established. For example, in the prairie their business is to make investigations as to the best soil for grain-growing. In Southern Alberta the branch farm at Lethbridge deals particularly with irrigation and ” dry farming ” methods. In Northern Alberta mixed farming and the cultivation of forage crops are the principal items, and in British Columbia fruit-growing and crops suitable for food for live-stock are the characteristic experiments.
Under the Inspection and Sale Act of 1906 the whole of agricultural Canada is divided into an eastern inspection division and a western inspection division. The eastern division consists of Ontario and Port Arthur, and east of the provinces of Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The western division contains Manitoba, west of Port Arthur, the prairie provinces and British Columbia. In the Manitoba division the wheat is graded as follows
No. 1. Manitoba Hard.
No. 1. Manitoba Northern.
No. 2. Manitoba Northern.
No. 3. Manitoba Northern.
Commercial Grade No. 4.
Commercial Grade No. 5.
Commercial Grade No. 6.
Commercial Grade Feed.
Standard ” samples are selected by a board which meets annually to determine the character of the grades which, in accordance with the act shall guide the Government Inspectors in grading the crop.
The freight charge depends naturally on the distance from the market. From Fort William, at the head of the great lakes, to Liverpool is roughly nineteen cents per 100 lbs., from Winnipeg twenty nine cents, and from Regina thirty-seven cents.
In order to deal with this huge volume of wheat, coming as it does from the country to great centres at the busiest time of the year, the wheat elevator has become a national institution. Let us take the case of Port Arthur, which is one of the great centres of the wheat-gathering industry. At the season of the wheat rush, from the farms near the railway comes an endless procession of waggons of all sizes carrying the season’s crop. These in turn are emptied into the railway cars, specially contrived for the holding of their precious burden, each the size of an English pantechnicon. The farmer has probably sold to the wheat-buyer or middleman at so much per bushel, conditionally upon the wheat being up to sample, and he is so far secure that he knows he will receive a certain price should the Government Inspector of Winnipeg pass his wheat as being of the grade claimed. The inspector does his work with a long hollow tube, which he plunges into the car at several points. He mixes the samples which he has drawn, and issues his certificate, a copy of which goes to the farmer. After leaving Winnipeg, the identity of the wheat is lost, except for the fact that it is now officially graded. When the elevators at Fort William or Port Arthur are reached all the wheat of the same grade is shot into bins to be stored until it is wanted to supply the needs of a hungry world. The cars running into the elevator-siding are stopped in the shadow of the giant elevator. Nine cars at once, each containing about 1,000 bushels, can be unloaded in less than twenty minutes, and in the rush season elevators are kept working night and day unloading not less than 600 cars in the twenty-four hours, and dealing with 600,000 bushels of wheat. The wheat is run into huge sluices, and passed through whirling fans which suck the dirt from it. Chaff and the broken wheat are sucked along another tube and are used for making cattle food. The wheat is weighed and is carried to the top of the elevator, and it is thrown into the huge bin where it is stored. There it stays until the buyer claims it, the charge for storage being half a cent per bushel for the first fifteen days, and half a cent per bushel for each succeeding thirty days.
At Port Arthur may be seen King’s Elevator, a sort of wheat hospital for dealing with wheat that has been damaged by weather or other misfortune. It may be that the wheat is damp, and if it were stored in this condition it would heat and eventually catch fire, or a heavy rainstorm at an inopportune time may beat the crops to the ground and cover them with dirt, or it may be that wheat grown on ground which has formerly been used for oats may result in a mixed crop of wheat and oats which must be separated.
The machinery in King’s Elevator is most complicated, and the wheat is run first through machinery which scours the grain and extracts the dirt, and also the oats and broken wheat go with it. No charge is made for this extracting, but the owner of the elevator takes the ” screenings,” as they are called, and grinds them up for cattle food. If wheat is damp a charge is made according to the degrees of moisture. For ” tough ” wheat the charge is one and a half cents per bushel, for damp wheat two and a half cents, and for wet wheat three and a half cents. The wheat runs into high wire-sided chambers upon which impinge blasts of hot air. The time taken to dry wheat varies between two and six hours, and at this elevator 50,000 bushels of tough wheat can be dried in twenty-four hours. Damaged wheat may not be sold as graded wheat : it must be sold on its merits.
The farmer may be paid in two ways. Either he may be paid after the grain is loaded on the car at his local station, when settlement will take place on the basis of the Winnipeg inspection, and the weight of the wheat at Fort William. This is termed ” track price.” On the other hand, he may be paid load by load as he delivers grain to the elevator company, settlements being made on the company’s grading weights and dockage. This is known as ” street price,” and is based on the Winnipeg price.
The elevator industry has naturally taken a very large place in the social economy of the Western farmer, and from time to time bitter complaints have arisen as to the elevator companies’ methods of doing business. In 1906 a grain commission considered the farmers’ grievances, and came to the conclusion that the source of the difficulty was the question of railway transit, and that with an ample supply of cars there would be little difficulty.
It is easy enough to speak of putting the grain on the railway, but it must be remembered that only comparatively few farmers are close to the main lines or even near a branch line. On the main line the question of marketing wheat is simplicity itself, but in newly-settled regions, some way from the railway, he is often handicapped by the roads and insufficiency of horses, and too often the hard-worked farmer spends valuable time when he might be preparing for the next crop in getting into safety the crop he has reaped.
The Dominion Government has realised, however, as the railways are realising, that cooperation between railways, farmer and government, is the only way out of this difficulty. As the outlying settlements push further and further away branch lines are run out to meet their necessities, and .close upon the heels of the pioneer comes the railway surveyor.
With regard to the supply of cars the Manitoba Grain Act was passed in order to place the farmer on the same level as the elevator company. Any farmer desirous of shipping his grain on his own car is entitled to be sup-plied with a car on a certain date. Railway rates, particularly in an agricultural country, are always a fertile source of grumbling. The Dominion of Canada, however, exercises a more paternal care over the farmer than does the Government of the United States, and the position of the Canadian farmer compares very favourably with that of his United States neighbour in North Dakota and Minnesota.