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QUARTER CENTENNIAL REPORT
BOARD OF AGRICULTURE.
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts : —
The State Board of Agriculture was organized twenty-five years ago. It was designed to systematize and to supervise the distribution of the bounties offered by the Commonwealth through the county agricultural societies, – a method of encouragement originated as early as 1818, in furtherance of a clause of the Constitution, or organic law of the State, chap. v, sect. 2, which makes it “the duty of legislatures and magistrates to encourage private societies and public institutions by rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, and manufactures, and a natural history of the country.”
The bounties, at first very limited in amount, on account of the small number of societies then in existence, had gradually increased by the multiplication of such societies till they amounted, in 1852, to more than nine thousand dollars a year. Certain returns were required to be made as a condition of receiving the bounty; but they were not published or made known to the public till the year 1845, when a small pamphlet was issued, under the direction of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, containing the more important portion of the transactions of the societies, little condensed and in a form possessing few attractions for those whom they were intended to benefit. These volumes were, therefore, little read. They were not sought after to any extent by the people; and the editions were left on hand in great numbers, stored in the spacious lofts of the State House. But the publication was continued annually, notwithstanding the limited call for them; and constant additions were made to the large accumulation of back numbers.
This indifference arose in part from the fact that the habit of reading was far less common among the farming community of that day than it is at present. There was little spirit of inquiry, little taste for investigation, little interest in farm improvements, compared with what we see at the present day. But it was due in part, no doubt, to the fact that there was no uniformity in the returns of the various societies, and they could not be arranged so as to offer the means of ready comparison. The volumes were not indexed; and it was extremely difficult, without wading through a vast mass of material, to find any thing that might be wanted. The returns, generally very poor and meagre at the best, were not thrown into an attractive form, and they consequently fell dead, so far as any influence in awakening an interest in agriculture was concerned.
In order to do something to arouse the farming community from the general apathy that seemed to prevail, the trustees of the Norfolk Agricultural Society, at their meeting on the 28th of January, 1851, Voted, “That the president and secretaries be a committee to mature and adopt a plan for a convention of delegates from the various agricultural societies of the Commonwealth, to be holden at some convenient time and place, the object of which shall be to concert measures for their mutual advantage, and for the promotion of the cause of agricultural education." In accordance with this vote, arrangements were made to hold a convention of delegates at the State House on the 20th of March, 1851, when the Hon. Marshall P. Wilder was chosen president; the vice-presidents consisting of the presidents of the various societies represented on the occasion, the venerable ex-Gov. Lincoln of Worcester at the head of the list.
The deliberations of this convention resulted in a central Board of Agriculture, from which grew the present department of the State government, whose organization was effected the following year by an Act, approved by the Governor April 21, 1852. The first important duty was to arrange some uniform system of returns, in order that the manner in which the bounties distributed through the societies might readily be seen and compared. To accomplish this object it was necessary to prepare suitable blanks, the details of which were to be perfected by the experience of subsequent years.
Measures were thus taken to secure a greater degree of system and uniformity; and, as a result, the Reports of the Board soon became more attractive and widely sought for, and the number printed was increased from three thousand to five thousand, then to eight, ten, and afterwards to twelve thousand copies; and this number fell far short of supplying the demand in the State, to say nothing of the eagerness with which they were sought after in other States with which the Board instituted an exchange, as well as with many foreign countries, in Europe, the Sandwich Islands, Australia, &c. Meantime, the popular taste for reading and for scientific investigations in the domain of agriculture gradually increased, and the spirit of inquiry became more general.
It would be easy to show the operations of the Board in detail, and its influence upon the agriculture of the Commonwealth. It took measures, quite early in its history, to secure a greater protection for the interest of sheep husbandry; and though the laws enacted for the purpose of encouraging that industry have not had the effect to multiply sheep, and to cover our hills with the tracks of the “golden hoof,” the law, strenuously opposed at first, has remained on the statute book, and is generally regarded as just and useful, and is as rigidly enforced, because sustained by public sentiment, as any law which bears directly upon the pockets of the people. The law and its amendments, all of which originated in the Board, after affording an adequate protection to the owners of sheep that may have been destroyed by dogs, has the effect to restore back to the towns a surplus fund of nearly a hundred thousand dollars a year for the support of town libraries, public schools, and the advancement of learning.
Early in its history, also, it instituted an elaborate and accurate series of experiments designed to throw light upon a multitude of questions relating to the details of feeding stock, the drainage of lands, the effect of special fertilizers upon the growth of crops, and many other points. These experiments, very numerous and attended with great labor and expense, though not to be compared for value, perhaps, with more recent investigations carried on with the advantage of modern and more accurate scientific methods and appliances, were among the best and most valuable of that day, and did much to lead to a greater spirit of investigation, and to lay the foundation of the more recent steps of progress.
The law for the encouragement of town societies, or farmers' clubs, originated in the Board, and many of the numerous active town organizations resulted from it. Appropriations were for a time made by the Legislature to enable the Board to sustain agents and lecturers, to visit towns where such organizations existed; but owing partly to the want of suitable men, and partly to the little interest at that time in the discussion of scientific questions relating to agriculture, the results were not commensurate with the expense involved, and the plan was abandoned, after the experiment had been fully tried, for the more effective and popular system of public lectures and discussions, which have been found to impress larger masses of men, and to have a far greater influence upon the agriculture of the Commonwealth.
When the pleuro-pneumonia was first imported into this State, in 1859, it was not recognized by the veterinary surgeon called in to treat the disease, and its existence and the danger to be apprehended from it were little noticed. As soon as the attention of the Board was called to it, active measures were taken to interest the Legislature so far as to secure an appropriation adequate to its extirpation. A small appropriation was asked for, which, if it had been promptly granted, would have accomplished the object, and thus have saved many thousands of dollars to the State treasury, and great loss and suffering to numerous individual owners of stock.
Strange to say, owing to the ignorance that prevailed at that time in regard to the nature and the terrible danger of the disease, the application met with determined and persistent opposition; so that, when the appropriation was finally made, it proved to be wholly inadequate to meet the case. During the delay and the hesitation incident to protracted hearings, the insidious disease was rapidly spreading from herd to herd; and every day, every hour, increased the difficulty and the expense of checking it. It was through the efforts of the Board that a cattle commission was created, and clothed with power to control contagious diseases among stock.
No intelligent or fair-minded man will deny, that, if it had not been for the persistent and determined efforts of the State Board, we should have had the most dangerous and the most terrible of all the contagious diseases among stock permanently fixed upon our herds. The cost to the State treasury of all the efforts for its extirpation, extending over several years, was about seventy thousand dollars; and it was by far the best investment the State ever made, since it saved the loss of millions of dollars to the State and the country. No man of ordinary intelligence now doubts the contagious character of the disease. It must be regarded as more dangerous and more to be dreaded than the rinderpest, or cattle-plague of Europe, on account of its long period of incubation, during which it is utterly impossible to detect its presence, thus giving the owner of cattle that have been in contact with it an opportunity to spread it far and near, with little risk of exposure, in his anxiety to save himself from certain loss. The value of the service which the Board thus rendered to the State far surpassed all the cost incident to its organization, from the date of its existence to the present time.
The Act of the Legislature commonly known as the “ Fertilizer law,” designed to regulate the manufacture and sale of commercial fertilizers, originated in the Board: and, though it met with determined opposition from the first, it has come to be regarded as one of the most useful laws ever passed ; and has commended itself not only to farmers, for whose protection it was originally designed, but to the manufacturers themselves, from the fact that the public confi. dence in the general honesty of the manufacture of such articles has increased their use by farmers to an amazing extent. The regulation of this trade has indeed worked an entire revolution in the whole business of commercial fertilizers, and placed it upon a far higher standard than it ever