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article number 316
article date 02-13-2014
copyright 2014 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Manure, Crop Rotation, Commercial Fertilizer and Lime … What the Oklahoma Farmer Knew in 1924.
by Clarence Roberts

From the 1924 book, The Business of Farming – A Manual of Farm Methods for Oklahoma.


A very definite way to increase the fertility of a part of our soils is with the manure produced on the farm. Not enough manure is found on the average farm to build back or maintain the fertility. But the manure will help greatly, and every bit of it should be carefully saved and applied to the poorer soils on the farm where produced.

FERTILITY IN MANURE. A ton of average farm manure contains about 10 pounds of nitrogen, 5 pounds of phosphorus and 10 pounds of potassium. Thus, we see it contains three elements, which are necessary for plant growth and which are most often missing from the soil.

However, if manure is left exposed to the rain for as long as six months it will lose about one-half of its fertilizing value. The Kansas Experiment Station placed one ton of cow manure in the open for seven months. At the end of that time it had lost 65 percent of its fertility and weighed only 1,070 pounds.

Most of the fertility has been lost from this manure. Yet the farm on which the picture was taken was a very poor one with crop yields far below average.

WHEN TO SPREAD MANURE. Manure should be spread on the field as fresh as possible. During the fall, winter and early spring this is easy to do. At these times land is being prepared for crops and the manure can be spread and then plowed under or harrowed into the surface of the soil.

During the summer the manure may be used as a top dressing on a field of oats, rye, barley or wheat stubble after the crop is cut. If no place is available for the manure it should be piled under a shed of some kind. Such accumulations, of course, should be hauled out at the first opportunity in the fall.

HOW TO SAVE THE MANURE. The liquid manure contains some of the most valuable fertility from our farm animals and it should be saved whenever possible by bedding down the cow and horse stalls or sheds with straw or stalks of some kind. These will absorb the liquid portion of the manure and will carry it to the field when the barn or shed is cleaned out.

In feeding hay or fodder the rougher parts which are not eaten may be thrown under the horses and cows and will absorb much of the liquid manure. If straw is hauled into the horse barn or shed once a week and spread out in a deep bed it will save nearly all the manure produced and at the same time keep the stalls in a dry condition for the horses.

Cow stalls should be cleaned out every day, but straw should be used the same as with horses if a supply can be had from the farm.

AS A SOURCE OF HUMUS. In addition to the plant food contained in manure the undigested vegetable matter is a valuable source of humus. Here again we help our soils in two ways when we spread a load of manure. We add fertility; we also add humus which makes the soil more open and porous, easier to work, and causes it to absorb and hold more water, all of which help to make bigger yields.

AMOUNT TO SPREAD. Manure should be spread at the rate which will give the largest increase in yield from each ton of manure. That is, the object should be to get as much good out of the manure as possible, rather than try greatly to increase the yield of a few acres. To get the best results, manure should be spread at the rate of five to eight tons per acre.

Often manure is used with a crop of a high acre value, like Irish potatoes. The increase in yield from such a crop may be worth more than an increase of another crop with a lower acre value made with the same amount of manure.

Hillside land should be terraced before manure is spread on it, else a large part of the manure will be lost.

MANURE IN WESTERN OKLAHOMA. In western Oklahoma manure must be applied as a light top dressing. A good practice is to spread it on the wheat fields in the fall, winter and early spring. Or it may be spread as a light top dressing on a field to be planted to row crops either before or after those fields are broken out in the fall or winter.

Many western Oklahoma farmers like to keep the vegetable matter near the surface of the soil at all times and such farmers will not plow under any manure, but instead leave it on the surface of the soil to prevent blowing or conserve moisture.

Manure is especially valuable to those farmers who have sandy land farms as the manure helps to keep the soil from blowing and also adds humus which the sandy soil needs badly.

Even though manure must be used with care in western Oklahoma, the manure produced there can be applied as top dressings without injuring any crop, but to the great advantage of all.

Two ways to spread manure. Either way is far better than allowing the manure to go to waste. Taking care of everything on the farm is one way by which successful farmers get ahead.

The actual value of manure all depends upon the kind of crop grown, how well it is cultivated, the kind of seed used, the kind of season that comes and what the crops sell for, or are fed to.

This being true, a ton of manure will be worth more one year than another. But it is always worth the time and effort used in saving and spreading it carefully. The farmer will be well paid for his time with bigger yields of crops. It is another item in the program of the successful farmer and another means by which all farmers may add to their income.


Another means of increasing yields is by the use of crop rotations. A rotation is the changing of a piece of land from one crop to another, from year to year. Such rotations do not add to the fertility of the soil, but do increase crop yields in other ways.

RESULTS OF CONTINUOUS CROPPING. When one crop is grown on a soil year after year the soil becomes “sick.” Yet that sick condition may not affect another crop grown on the same soil.

Some crops like oats and millet, have a shallow root system and feed on the top layer of soil. Other crops as corn and cotton have deeper root systems and feed more on the subsoil. By changing from one to the other a better balance of fertility will be maintained in the soil.

One crop planted continuously on a field will attract and multiply its own insect enemies. But those same insects may not injure other crops. Weeds and grass, too, multiply on land planted to some row crops, but when that same land is planted to small grain the weeds and grass may be largely killed out by breaking soon after harvest, followed by such work as will maintain a clear seedbed.

RESULTS FROM ROTATIONS. As the result of these conditions we know that rotating the crops will increase crop yields. The fact has been proved by many experiments at the experiment stations. At our own station at Stillwater the continuous growing of oats resulted in a yield of 37 bushels per acre while oats in rotation with darso, cotton, oats and cowpeas resulted in a yield of 47 bushels.

Wheat at the Kansas Experiment Station grown continuously for 10 years, gave a yield of less than seven bushels while wheat grown in a three-year rotation of corn first year, corn second year and wheat the third year resulting in an acre yield of over 16 bushels.

At the Missouri Experiment Station continuous culture of corn gave an average yield over 30 years of 21 bushels while corn in a three-year rotation gave a yield of 32.5 bushels. The yield in each case was the result of the rotation and not of fertility added to the soil.

The grain in these sacks show the result of growing wheat on four different fields for a 30-year period at the Missouri Experiment Station. Wheat continuously made an average of 9.5 bushels; wheat continuously with manure made 18 bushels; wheat continuously with fertilizer made 19 bushels; wheat in six-year rotation with manure made 20.5 bushels per acre.

ALWAYS INCLUDE A LEGUME. Many other experiments have been completed which prove to us that crop yields can be increased by simply rotating the crops from year to year. It is not easy to plan a rotation for all farms. The rotation must be made to fit the farm where it is used.

In eastern Oklahoma this rule should be laid down and followed: That one year out of four, and at the very least, one year out of five, each acre on the farm should be planted to some legume crop. On many of the poorer farms from which the fertility has nearly all been farmed away it may be necessary to grow an even larger acreage of legumes the first few years, while some of the original fertility is being restored to the soil.

A good three-year rotation for southeastern Oklahoma is cotton first year, oats second year and corn and cowpeas in alternate rows the third year; then back to cotton again. This rotation provides for two feed crops and a cotton crop each three years.

Another rotation suitable for southeastern Oklahoma is cotton first and second years, oats third year and corn and cowpeas in alternate rows the fourth year. This allows for half of the land in cotton and half in feed crops. With one of those feed crops, corn, a legume is raised.

A rotation suited to northeastern Oklahoma is wheat first year, oats or barley second year and corn in alternate rows with cowpeas or soy beans the second year. Another rotation consists of sweet clover two years, followed by corn, oats, barley or wheat for two to four years and back to sweet clover again. If red clover can be grown it may take the place of the sweet clover.

The actual crops used in a rotation is not so important a matter. A rotation of some kind, which includes a legume, is highly important as a means of maintaining and increasing crop yields.

ROTATIONS TO CONSERVE MOISTURE. In western Oklahoma the value of a rotation lies chiefly in the opportunity to store moisture for the succeeding crop. A rotation which has proved of value in western Oklahoma on the tight land is one of wheat the first year, any row feed the second year and summer tillage the third year.

Under this plan the wheat stubble is broken or listed in the summer or early fall. From the time the wheat is cut until the row crop is planted, the farmer has eight to ten months in which to store up a supply of moisture for growing that feed crop.

After the feed crop is harvested in the fall the land is turned. The farmer then has 11 to 12 months in which to store moisture for wheat to be sown a year later.

This summer-tilled land is kept clean of weeds and grass until wheat seeding time, which practice nearly always assures an abundance of moisture for sowing and getting a good thrifty stand of wheat the fall of the third year.

When corn was grown on a field for 30 years straight and nothing added to the soil, the average yield was 21 bushels. When grown in a rotation the yield was 32.5 bushels, but when manure was added to the rotation the average yield for 30 years was 43.5 bushels. A rotation is good farming; rotation and manure is better farming. (Results from Missouri Experiment Station.)

ONE-CROP FARMING HAS ALWAYS FAILED. The growing of cultivated crops continuously has failed wherever tried. In states older than Oklahoma crop yields fell below a “living wage” for the farmer and his family, and farming plans then had to be changed.

In other countries where the same piece of soil has been farmed 1,000 years no effort is made to grow the same crop year after year on the same soil. Farmers have learned that the land must be changed from one crop to another in order to maintain yields.

THINGS EVERY FARMER CAN DO. We have now studied how the farmer can make his soil richer by using materials and means he already has at hand. He can prevent the erosion of his soil by constructing dams and building terraces; and he can increase the fertility by turning under every possible bit of vegetable matter, by plowing deeper and earlier, by spreading straw and manure, by growing legumes and by rotating his crops.

The careful farmer will make use of all these methods. By means of each one he will add to the fertility of his soil and the size of his crops. By means of all of them he will grow bigger and bigger crops each year. To use them he does not have to spend any money or buy any materials. He does not have to wait, but can begin at once with what he has to make his soil more productive and his farm more profitable.


Commercial fertilizers contain plant food in such a form that the plant can use the food at once in making growth. Fertilizers that contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are called complete fertilizers. But other fertilizers may contain only one or two of the three missing elements which we have before read about.

When should a farmer use commercial fertilizers? Only when he has made use of all the methods of increasing the fertility of his soil which we have studied about in the foregoing chapters.

When he has done all these things he should use commercial fertilizers when those fertilizers will return an increased yield large enough to pay for all work of applying them, pay for the fertilizers themselves and a profit in addition, during the period that the fertilizers give an increase in the yields of crops with which they are used.

As an exception to the above rule, fertilizers may be used to increase yields during the time that the land is being built up by the methods discussed in the foregoing chapters, after which less fertilizer or none at all may be needed to maintain those yields.

This farmer spreads all the manure produced on his farm and also raises colts of the better kind. His horses are well-fed and of a size to do a big day’s work. He is, in fact, a successful farmer.

MUST TRY OUT EACH FERTILIZER. How can a farmer tell whether it will pay him to use commercial fertilizers? Only by actually using them on his own farm.

It is often supposed that a sample of soil can be tested or analyzed and the need for fertilizers determined. But this cannot be done. To find out what fertilizers to use and how much to use we have to try out different kinds until we discover the right kind and the right amount to use for each different kind of soil.

Since Oklahoma is a new state, few fertilizers have been used. We do not know as much about their use in our own state as we should. But more fertilizers are being used each year and it should not be many years until we know just what kinds will be profitable to use.

PHOSPHORUS NEEDED IN EASTERN OKLAHOMA. Already we have found out that a large part of the soil in eastern Oklahoma is in need of phosphorus. In fact in eastern Oklahoma quite large amounts of acid phosphate and bone meal (two forms, of fertilizers containing phosphorus) have been used.

These fertilizers have given increases of three to ten bushels of wheat and five to fifteen bushels of oats. These results were obtained with only 100 to 200 pounds of fertilizer to the acre. In nearly all cases the farmer earned a good profit by using the phosphorus fertilizer.

Just how much of the soil of eastern Oklahoma needs a phosphorus fertilizer we do not yet know. But we believe that most of it does. We shall know just as soon as we make tests, which we can do only by actually using phosphate fertilizers.

SOILS THAT NEED NITROGEN. On most of the soils of eastern Oklahoma which have been farmed 20 years and longer a nitrogen fertilizer is needed. As we have seen, nitrogen may be added to soils by growing legumes, and as a first step legumes should be liberally used. It will often pay, however, to buy more nitrogen in the form of commercial fertilizers to increase crop yields.

Very few nitrogen fertilizers have so far been used in Oklahoma. But we are sure our soils in eastern Oklahoma need them since every soil that has been farmed for years with a rainfall as heavy as that of eastern Oklahoma needs nitrogen.

It is believed that Oklahoma soils, contain plenty of potassium for years to come. No need for potassium has been so far discovered. If full use is made of all vegetation, straw and manure on every farm, the potassium content of the soil can be maintained with very little loss.

While a tractor may save labor on a farm its chief value lies in the fact that it helps a farmer to get the work done more quickly during the rush seasons.

OTHER THINGS COME FIRST. The remedy for poor soils does not consist alone in using commercial fertilizers. Crops will not make full use of fertilizers unless they are first made mellow and loose by adding vegetable matter to the soil which forms the humus so necessary to high crop yields.

Nor should the farmers of Oklahoma depend on the use of nitrogen in commercial fertilizers until they first make full use of the legume crops.

After the farmer does these things it then becomes a business matter of adding more fertility to his soil. If he can buy fertility at so much a pound and make the investment pay, under average weather conditions, it is good business for him to do so.

The use of fertilizers in central and western Oklahoma is dangerous, since rainfall is usually lacking to mature the vigorous plant growth made by the use of the fertilizer. Phosphorus and nitrogen are the two needs of eastern Oklahoma. Nitrogen can be grown with the use of legumes; the phosphorus must be bought.


Much of the soil in eastern Oklahoma is sour, or acid. Such a soil produces good yields of some kinds of crops. But unfortunately legumes will not grow on acid soils, or at least will make only very poor growth.

We have seen how important legumes are to eastern Oklahoma. They are needed to add nitrogen to the soil, to add humus to the soil and to supply the young stock and milk cows with a balanced ration.

But the legumes cannot be grown on the sour soils until they are first made sweet. This we can do only by adding lime to these soils.

Many fields of bottom land in eastern Oklahoma are too sour to grow alfalfa. But when treated with two tons or more of ground limestone to the acre alfalfa grows abundantly. The more acid upland soils will not grow soy beans or sweet clover until treated with lime.

The cowpea also, will be benefited by first adding lime to the soil, although this crop grows better on a sour soil than most other legumes.

WHERE LIME IS NEEDED. The Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College has made extensive soil tests over nearly all of eastern Oklahoma. It has found that as high as 90 percent of the soil in some counties is so acid that lime is needed. Other counties show a need for lime on 50 percent of the soils. Some lime has already been used in eastern Oklahoma.

Bottom soils, and in northeastern Oklahoma prairie soils, are growing fine crops of alfalfa where alfalfa would not grow before the land was limed. The experience of farmers in other states who have used millions of tons of limestone bear out the fact that on sour soils the use of ground limestone is a paying practice.


LIME BEFORE LEGUMES ON SOUR SOIL. If the growing of legumes in eastern Oklahoma were not so important the use of lime would not be so important. But before we can grow legumes on sour soil successfully we must first apply lime to sweeten the soil, as we know no other way to do it.

But lime does more than simply make a sour soil sweet. It tends to make the soil mellow and easy to work. It helps to break up the hard subsoil, thus allowing more water to soak into the soil, and also allows the roots to go deeper in search of food and moisture.

It helps to liberate plant food in the soil which plants otherwise cannot make use of in their growth. When all these benefits are put together lime becomes of great value to the man who has a sour soil, which often is also a tight soil.

The tests made by the college of our soils in eastern and central Oklahoma show that an application of two and one-half tons of limestone to the acre will make the soils sweet. This amount of limestone will last for three to five years at the end of which time another application may be needed.

COST OF GROUND LIMESTONE. The cost of making such an application depends on the distance of the buyer of ground limestone from some crusher. There are a number of crushers in the state.

The cost at the crusher is low. Most of the total cost consists of freight charge, although the railroads have encouraged the use of ground limestone by granting a special rate on it for use on sour soils. The cost, however, will rarely be more than $1.25 a ton. At this price, even, a farmer can well afford to use limestone on soil too sour to grow legumes.

Lime should be applied on alfalfa land a year before the alfalfa is sowed. It may be applied to land before it is broken in the fall or winter, or to plowed land in the spring after the land is broken out. The work that is done to firm the seedbed will distribute the limestone through the soil properly.

TAKING A SOIL SAMPLE. Any farmer who suspects that his soil is sour should send a sample to the Agricultural and Mechanical College at Stillwater.

This soil sample may be taken by first digging a hole with a spade six inches deep and then shaving a slice from the side of the hole so made.

Slices are taken from a number of holes over the whole field. These soil slices should then be well mixed and a half pint sent to the Agronomy Department, Agricultural and Mechanical College, Stillwater. The College will test this for acidity and recommend to the farmer how much limestone he should use and just where he can buy limestone at the lowest price.

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