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Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow


The leading agricultural product of the State, as well as of all countries capable of the production, is wheat, the staff of life and the ancient basis of values. The California farmer having learned that the summer-cracked soil of the great valleys would product wheat in greater quantities than he had been accustomed to gather on the prairies of the West, and that the long droughts which he had thought precluded cultivation only perfected his grain and insured a safe harvest, has turned his chief attention to the raising of this cereal until the crop materially affects the markets of the world. In the crop year ending June 30th, 1873, there were produced 12,675,470 centals of wheat, from 2,003.420 acres, and in 1874, 19,891,800 centals from 2,490,700 acres, a general average of about fourteen bushels per acre. The average was much reduced by the drought which affected the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, where large tracts had been sown. Many farms reported a yield of forty-five, fifty, and as high as sixty bushels per acre, the larger farms generally a less rate than the small ones. The counties producing over a million centals were: Colusa, 1,700,000; Santa Clara, 1,360,000; Monterey, 1,132,000; San Joaquin, 2,200,000; Stanislaus, 3,220,000, and Merced, 2,400,000. This royal grain is grown in every section of the State, and at every altitude, from San Diego at the south, to Siskiyou at the north, and from the sea coast to the high plateaus of the Sierra Nevada. Many of the great farms cover from ton to forty thousand acres, and in the great valleys of the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Salinas the traveler may pass for miles and miles, almost a day's journey, through a continuous wheat field, unobstructed and unguarded by fence, the growing grain spreading to the horizon like a broad prairie in its native wildness. A single farm on the bank of the Sacramento River, of 45,000 acres, produced some 30,000 tons, or at the rate of twenty-five bushels per acre.

To take this crop of a single farm to market at San Francisco would require the constant services of ten steamers, making a trip in ten days, each towing a barge of 300 tons, for a period of one hundred days, and in sending it to England, would dispatch a ship of a thousand tons each day for a whole month. The amount of the whole crop of the State that can be spared to export is, placed in round numbers, at 600,000 tons, leaving 200,000 tons for home consumption and seed. To illustrate the magnitude of this a calculator has estimated that if it were taken on carts overland to New York, one ton to each cart, it would form a close column with one end entering New York before the rear had left San Francisco. This imaginary train is surely an imposing one, and would rise to mock those who a few years since declared the great valleys but sun-burnt deserts, and the State unfitted for self-support. The usual market for wheat is Great Britain, where California, from its superior quality and dryness, always commands a ready sale. The rates of freight vary from $17 to $25 per ton, and the price in San Francisco from $1.60 to $2.25 per cent al, the first being about the rate for 1874.

The production of this grain has greatly increased during the past five years. In 1865, the product was 11,579,127 bushels, and the average twenty-four bushels per acre. The prices then were from $3 to 85 per cental, two preceding years of great drought having nearly exhausted the home supply of breadstuffs. Then California was not an exporter. In the subsequent years of 1887 and 1868, the price exceeded $2.50 per cental, which greatly encouraged the production. But the low price of $1.50, in 1869, did not discourage the farmer, and a still greater breadth was sown in 1870. The extension of the railroads through the wheat-growing districts has given an impetus to the business, and a better prospect for profits in distant localities. With the cost of cultivating and harvesting an acre of nineteen bushels, or 1,140 pounds, at $16, and the price one and three-fourth cents per pound, or $19.95, a profit of $3.95 per acre is left the farmer. The cost of production is divided as follows: Plowing, sowing and harvesting, $8.50; threshing, $1.50; sacks, $1; hauling, freight, etc., $3.50; interest or rent, $1.50.

The wheat for shipment abroad is freighted to San Francisco, Vallejo, or Oakland, in small vessels or by railroad, and at those several points is taken on board ship. From far up the Sacramento or San Joaquin, it is brought in barges towed by small steamers, and the cars bring it from points along the line of the railroads. An elevator for raising and loading grain in bulk was constructed at Vallejo, but the system of shipping grain in sacks is considered the best, and is therefore adhered to. The usual varieties cultivated are the Chilean, Sonora Club and Australian, and the distinction of winter and spring wheat is not known. The sowing is best made in November and December, in order to be benefitted by all the rains of the winter; but good crops are often obtained when the seeding is made in February and March, if it should happen that rains fall in considerable quantity in April and May. Harvest begins in June, and is done by reaper or header machines, drawn by horses, and the threshing is by machinery often driven by steam. The grain is received in sacks, and is stored in the field, by the railroad stations, or by the river landings, where it awaits a market or transportation. Stacks and barns, in which to store the crop to await the toilsome process of the flail, during the long and frozen winter, are unknown in the sunny clime of California. The golden grain can safely remain in the field, either in the straw or in the sack, improving in the dry atmosphere until the rains of October or November, during which the farmer has had ample time to transport it to market or the great warehouses by tide-water, where at any time the ships of commerce may take it on board for a distant port. This dried and hard wheat is preferred in all markets to any other, as it withstands without damage the long voyage through the tropics, where damp grain would heat and sweat. It is, moreover, strong in nutritious matter, and requires the addition of much water when prepared for use, thus giving the advantage of increased weight to the consumer.


This cereal ranks next to wheat in quantity of production and aggregate value. It was in great demand in the early days of the State for feed for horses, and for a number of years constituted the leading product of the farmer. Being regarded as a hardy plant, it was thought to be the only grain that could be successfully raised in such a climate as California. Growing finely and producing a perfect kernel, it became a favorite article with the farmer, and nearly all the grain fields of the State wore devoted to it. At last, in about 1857-8, the product became so great the markets were overstocked, and barley sold at from fifty cents to $1 per cental. This low rate admonished the farmer that he must vary his crop, and wheat, oats and other grains were essayed. Success attended the venture, and thus barley is the honored pioneer of the cereals of California. This grows on lands not favorable to other grains and as the seed is not so enclosed in the head as wheat, more falls in harvesting, this seeding the ground for the following year. The "volunteer" crops from such sowing are often better than the first, and give an easy profit to the farmer. Five and six volunteer crops have been known to succeed each other, but usually in the third year the field is so choked with woods and cheat as to render the crop valueless except for hay. The yield of barley is often as high as forty bushels per acre, but the report of the Surveyor-General shows the crop for 1860 to have averaged twenty bushels per acre. There were then 362,830 acres sown, and the product was 7,331,333 bushels. In the year 1873 there were 451,000 acres sown and 8,405,484 bushels harvested, and in 1874, 509,200 acres and 11,972,400 bushels. The price of this grain during some years has exceeded that of wheat, so prone have farmers been to abandon one class of products and concentrate upon another. Lately the price has but little exceeded $1 per cental, being from $1 to $1.10; but this will give an average profit of $5 to $7 per acre. The barley of California, like the wheat, is a superior article, and it has been successfully exported to the East and England, where it was used for making beer. Its great superiority has created such a market that California barley is enabled to pay railroad transportation across the continent. This grain may be planted later than wheat, as it grows and matures rapidly. The manner of harvesting, threshing and sacking is the same as wheat, but barley finds a home market rather than seeking a foreign one. It is used throughout the Pacific Coast as food for horses, to the almost exclusion of oats, and is also converted into malt for making beer.


In most countries oats constitute the principal grain food for horses, but in California barley has been substituted. Not, only is this cereal the delicate food for horses, but in Scotland and on the continent of Europe it is highly regarded for its nutritious and strengthening qualities as a food for man. The cultivation of this valuable grain is comparatively neglected, and for several years the acreage and yield has fallen off. In 1839 we recorded a product of 2,568,759 bushels from 72,034 acres, being an average of thirty-two bushels per acre. In 1872 we find 88,056 acres and 2,164,017 bushels, and in 1878 it had fallen to 61,967 acres and 1,643,964 bushels, an average of twenty-six and a half bushels per acre. The usual market price for oats ranges from $1.45 to $1.65 per cental. This beautifully growing grain is a "native and to the manor born," the hills and plains biding covered with it in a wild state, growing most luxuriantly. This indigenous grass is largely cut for hay, for which it is well adapted. To observe the countless thousands of acres of this wild grain waving in the wind when the virgin soil of the State, was untouched by the plow, was one of the pleasantest sights that greeted the eye of the pioneer, and was convincing to every sensible observer of the capacity of the country for the production of every other species of grain. It has lately been demonstrated that by careful cultivation the native wild oat can be transformed into a plump and heavy seed, superior and more hardy than any other species of that grain. This is a grand discovery, and will save from extirpation this fine native plant.

Oats are grown successfully in this State, and, as with other grains, exceed in weight the standard established in the East, weighing here usually about forty pounds per bushel. As with all other grain in California, it is sold and reckoned by the cental, or hundred pounds. This grain is grown throughout the State, and is planted and harvested as wheat and barley.


The climate of California being warm and the soil rich, it would naturally be supposed that corn would be the most largely producing grain, but such is not the fact. Referring again to the Surveyor-General's Report, we see that 88,025 acres were cultivated in 1878, and 1,807,814 bushels produced an average of near thirty-five bushels per acre. In the great corn-growing States of Indiana, Kentucky and others of the Mississippi Valley, from forty to one hundred bushels are produced, showing that California is far behind those States in that grain. It is gratifying, however, to know that the grains which are raised are preferable for breadstuffs, equal as food for stock, and are produced with less manual labor; and, besides that, the luscious grapes of our vineyards furnish to the bibulous a pleasanter beverage than corn whiskey.

The fact is now generally claimed that this cereal is grown with greater certainty than formerly, and the product is increasing. There are several localities whore corn is grown with great success. These are in the vicinity of Chico, in Russian River Valley, and at El Monte, in Los Angeles County. The worm is the great enemy of the corn-grower, but the localities mentioned are more exempt from its ravages than elsewhere. Quite large quantities are grown in the vicinity of cities, where it is sold green in the markets, at high prices. The usual price for shelled corn is about $l.75 per cental.


The rye crop of California is among the least of the cereals, simply, it appears, because it has not become the fashion to cultivate it. This grain grows to great perfection, particularly in the mountainous and colder sections of the State. Upon the eastern slopes of the Sierra the grain grows to a size resembling the plump berry of wheat, and is rich and nutritious. This is one of the best of cereals for domestic use, ranking next to wheat, and is raised whore the other will not yield a remunerative crop. If it is desired to find a substitute for corn for distillation, rye can well supply the place. The opportunities for the distiller in this connection are very great. The fine quality of the grain, the cheapness of the land where grown, and the certainty of a crop, are inducements to its cultivation and utilization. The Reports of the Surveyor-General give no basis for an estimate of the average product per acre, as much of the rye, as well as other grains, is cut for hay; therefore we see reported many acres of rye cultivated which return barely enough of grain to seed the ground for another crop. The official report for 1873 shows a product of 39,336 bushels, and 2,533 acres cultivated. The crop of 1874 is much larger. Rye usually sells at $1.00 to $1.10 per cental.


This is usually a very successful crop, although the grain is grown only for local consumption, and the market is easily overstocked. The product in 1878 is officially reported at 18,757 bushels, from 518 acres, or an average of twenty-six bushels per acre. Buckwheat flour soils at $3.50 per hundred lbs.


The favorite food of the miner and the toiler in the country has, since the days of the pioneer, been the edible whose name heads this paragraph. Frijoles and tortillas were the mainstay of the country in the days of '49. Then they were imported in large quantities from Peru and Chili and around Cape Horn. Beans are now cultivated to supply the home demand and for export. Upward of 200,000 bushels are raised annually, the average being about twenty-seven bushels per acre, and the price about $1.70 per one hundred lbs.


This plant is cultivated successfully in every section of the State, sufficient to supply all demands, the annual product being about 100,000 bushels. As peas are usually consumed when green, the estimate of production is difficult to make with any degree of accuracy.


roduced in large quantities on the sandy river bottoms, the product being about 200,000 bushels per annum. This properly belongs to the tubers, as it grows beneath the ground. It is very prolific, producing from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds per acre. California peanuts have become popular in other states, and quite large quantities are exported.

Castor Bean

The castor bean, from which the castor oil of commerce is obtained, is indigenous to the soil of California, and therefore its cultivation was naturally suggested. In the warm valleys it grows luxuriantly, and its product is becoming an important item in agricultural statistics. The product in 1873 was 233,932 pounds. The counties where this is chiefly cultivated are Los Angeles, Sutter and Yuba. The success of the cultivation is variously estimated, but the profits reported in some localities encourage the belief that it will become a prominent crop. Four to five cents per pound are readily obtained for castor beans.


The establishment of extensive Linseed Oil Works in San Francisco has stimulated the cultivation of flax, and the breadth of land devoted to this product is rapidly increasing. In 1873, says the official report, 3,959 acres were in flax. The Surveyor-General estimates that 2,000 pounds of seed can be grown per acre, returning $80, seemingly much more profitable than wheat. The stalk is seldom saved for the fibre, as, when cultivated for seed, it is not valuable for spinning, and it is asserted that when grown in the warm climate and rich soil first appropriated by the husbandman, it becomes too brittle for use. Flax and hemp are indigenous to California, and there can be no question but that they may be grown to perfection for every purpose to which they are usually applied. A bagging factory at Oakland, in Alameda County, uses a large quantity of jute, which it imports, but would substitute flax and hemp were such fibre obtainable and properly prepared. Four hundred hands are employed, and ten thousand sacks are turned out daily. During the season of 1874 the Pacific Cordage Company planted a field of five acres in Alameda County, in hemp, as an experiment, which yielded about 1,000 pounds of fibre to the acre, of excellent quality, returning a value of about $250 per acre. The culture and manufacture of flax, hemp and jute offer grand opportunities for unlimited capital.


 Much as the cultivation of rice has been advocated, the favorable opportunities shown forth and great profits assured, this valuable cereal does not yet enter into any table of California agricultural statistics. Some fifty million pounds are imported annually, at a cost of upward of three million dollars. The extended area of tule lands in various parts of the State, particularly about the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, are eminently suited to the culture of rice, and the inquiry is often propounded why it has never been undertaken. Experiments have been reported as in contemplation, but no results are returned. These lands are now devoted to wheat and produce largely, but as that grain brings only from one and a half to two cents per pound, the higher price of rice, being from five to eight cents per pound, it appears that the cultivation of the latter would be most tempting to the enterprising farmer. Upland rice is grown successfully, as proven by experiment of Mr. J. H. Taylor, who, in 1874, planted three acres in Livermore Valley, which grew well. It is the belief of the experimenter that upland rice will grow on any land that will produce good barley.


In the cultivation of the hop it has been necessary to overcome a prejudice, as it was in many other things, and now that the California hop is admitted as superior to all others, unless it is the Bavarian, its culture is advancing. The quantity produced it is difficult to ascertain, as no reliable statistics are collated, the official reports varying so greatly from those obtained privately or from newspapers as to render them totally valueless. The County Assessors return a product of about half a million pounds per annum, at the rate of from two hundred to eight hundred pounds per acre ; while unofficial sources report a product of from one to two thousand pounds per acre. Formerly the brewers imported the hops required in their business, but now they are exported largely, California hops generally loading the market in New York, and selling at from thirty to fifty cents per pound. The Eastern and English markets for the superior California hops is almost unlimited, and they seem capable of driving the product of the yards of Wisconsin and New York, the principal hop-growing sections of the East, from the market. Here the yield is greater, the product better, and the price higher. This is another branch of cultivation that will relieve the soil and the market of wheat, greatly to the advantage of the farmer. 

California Gazetteer | AHGP California

Source: Pacific Coast Business Directory for 1876-78, Compiled by Henry G. Langley, San Francisco, 1875

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