Government leaders worldwide have come
with a dangerous — yet little understood — crisis in agriculture. Today
farmlands are tired, overworked', depleted. Modern methods of farming
are producing a more critical soil imbalance.
WHY do we have this agricultural CRISIS?
Where is it leading — and what is the solution?
NOW FAST SHAPING UP - WORLD CRISIS in AGRICULTURE
Today agriculture is in deep trouble.
It is facing a crisis which even now is affecting the cost and the quality of the food on your dinner table.
is easy to see that widespread disease and famine loom on the horizon
for the poor, "have-not" areas of the world. But few are aware that an
agricultural crisis of equal — and possibly greater — magnitude is in
prospect for that third of the world we call the "have" nations.
in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, South Africa
and the other "have" areas of the world are dazzled by the storybook
pronouncements of "scientific agriculture." We have become so
accustomed to talk about "burdensome surpluses" that we seem to believe
we are immune to a food crisis.
But in the very near future, the
growing crisis in agriculture could easily cause you to be numbered
among the seriously sick and diseased — or among those hapless millions
who go to bed at night with empty, aching stomachs.
Seven Inches from Starvation!
No matter who you are or where you live, you must eat food to continue your physical existence. Ultimately
all your food comes directly or indirectly from the soil and, more
specifically, from the top few inches of earth known as topsoil.
life-sustaining topsoil lies in a thin layer at an average depth of
seven or eight inches over the face of the land. In some few areas it
may be as deep as two feet or more; in many other areas it is
considerably less than seven or eight inches.
"If that layer of
topsoil could be represented on a 24-inch globe it would be as a film
three millionths of one inch thick. That thin film is all that stands
between man and extinction" (Mickey, Man and the Soil, pp. 17-18).
This thin layer of earth sustains ALL PLANT, ANIMAL AND HUMAN LIFE!
civilizations have already destroyed much of it, and today we are
depleting and destroying that which remains at a faster rate than at
any previous time in human history.
Look for a moment at what man has done to the soil.
The Record of History
valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates supported some of the greatest
civilizations of old. A great irrigation complex was based on these
rivers. These rich lands were the granary of the great Babylonian
Empire. Pliny, the Roman naturalist and writer, tells of harvesting two
annual crops of grain on this land and grazing sheep on the land
Today, less than 20 percent of the land in modern
Iraq — site of these two famous valleys — is cultivated. The landscape
is dotted with mounds representing forgotten towns, the ancient
irrigation works are filled with silt (the end product of the oldest
and biggest polluter in history, soil erosion), and the ancient seaport
of Ur is now 150 miles from the sea, with its old buildings buried
under as much as 35 feet of silt.
Similar conditions exist in Iran, once the seat of the great Persian Empire.
valley of the Nile was another cradle of civilization. Every year the
river overflowed its banks at a predictable time, bringing water to the
land and depositing a layer of silt rich in mineral nutrients for
plants. Crops could be grown for seven months each year, and extensive
irrigation systems were established by 2000 B. C. This land was the
granary of the Roman Empire, and this system of agriculture flourished
for another 2,000 years.
But the population has continued to
grow, and economic considerations have diverted land from growing food
to growing cash crops.
Then in 1902 a dam was built at Aswan to
prevent the spring flood and to permit year-round irrigation. Since
then the soils have been deteriorating through salinization and
productivity has decreased. The new Aswan high dam is designed to bring
hundreds of thousands of new acres under irrigation. But the dam is
proving to be a disaster for Egypt. Any plusses accorded the dam are
far outweighed by the creation of serious problems. The dam could
become the ultimate disaster for Egypt. Aside from salinization,
population growth has virtually outstripped any possibility that the
new agricultural land can raise the average level of nutrition.
Sahara Desert was once forested and inhabited. The glories of ancient
Mali and Ghana in West Africa were legends in Medieval Europe. Ancient
Greece had forested hills, ample water, and productive soils.
Lebanon the old Roman roads, which have prevented erosion of the soil
beneath them, now stand several feet above the desert floor. In a
churchyard protected from goats for 300 years, cedars were found in
1940 to be flourishing as in ancient times.
"In China the
evidence is plainer. The Chinese had one of the greatest and earliest
of civilizations. Today they are a poverty-stricken, and helpless
people. Tens of millions of them are crowded into flat muddy valleys
and other millions of them huddle in houseboats on rivers which run
yellow with soil from their hillsides" (Soil Erosion Control, Burges,
Few worse-eroded regions exist in the world than that
of Northwest China. The channel on the Yellow River is choked with silt
and its floods are catastrophic.
Ancient irrigation systems of
India and China stand abandoned and filled with silt. Dr. Lamont C.
Cole told a symposium sponsored by the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, "When the British assumed the rule of India two
centuries ago the population was about 60 million. Today it is about
500 million and most of its land problems have been created in the past
century through deforestation and plowing and the resulting erosion and
siltation, all stemming from efforts to support this fantastic
Speaking of Central and South America, Dr.
Cole said, "Archaeologists have long wondered how the Mayas managed to
support what was obviously a high civilization on the now-unproductive
soils of Guatemala and Yucatan. Evidently they exploited their land as
intensively as possible until both its fertility and their civilization
collapsed. In parts of Mexico the water table has fallen so that towns
originally located to take advantage of superior springs now must carry
in water from distant sites.... Aerial reconnaissance has revealed
ancient ridged fields on flood plains, the remnants of a specialized
system of agriculture that physically reshaped large parts of the South
Today we call these areas of the world underdeveloped. We ought to call them overdeveloped!
The Lesson of Rome
Although the record is not complete, more is known about the progress of soil depletion in the Roman Empire than in the ancient civilizations of western Asia. What is known makes an invaluable case history.
soils of Italy started to decline before the reign of Augustus (called
the golden age of Rome), and by the time of the fall of the Western
Empire, some 500 years later, the soils not only of Italy but of all
the provinces except Egypt were completely exhausted. In England
evidences of Roman cultivation have been found, in places, five feet
below the present surface.
Largely as a result of Roman
exploitation, there are today no forests on the Mediterranean coast
from Spain to Palestine. Typical of this region is the North Dalmatian
coast where the hills were once magnificently clothed with primeval
forests. The Romans and the Illyrians, the earliest inhabitants, began
the destruction of the forests. The first Slav settlers were prodigal,
too. The denudation of the hills was completed by the Venetians, from
about 1400 to 1700, who cut the trees for timber for their ships and
pilings for their palaces. The Yugoslav government was unable to
reforest the hills, because the young trees not uprooted by the savage
north winds of winter were eaten by the goats of the peasants.
the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 A.D., the agricultural
regions of Italy and the provinces were nearly depopulated. The
exhausted, eroded soil simply could not support the population and the
terrific weight of imperial taxation.
Until modern times the
world had never known a more exhausting exploitation of both man and
soil than that of the Roman Empire. As we have just seen, the results
of Rome's avarice are visible yet today in the eroded hills of Greece
and the Mediterranean coast, in the sands of North Africa and western
Yet thirty years ago Kellog reported that some soils in
Italy had completely recovered and were producing more than they ever
did. Also, some soils in Central Europe and England have been farmed
for centuries not only without injury, but with yields steadily
increasing for the past 150 years (The Soils that Support Us, p. 269).
How did this recovery come about? And why is it that the soils of
Central Europe and England have not suffered erosion comparable to that
of other areas?
The Golden Age of Abundance
Rome's self-destruction, Europe in the Middle Ages was always on the
verge of starvation. No progress was made in maintaining soil fertility.
During the 18th century, Central Europe's soils were showing severe deterioration.
since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the world has had a larger food
supply than it ever had before. The 19th century was the golden age of
Except for this relatively brief period, food has
been man's chief preoccupation throughout history. Now this age of
abundance is rapidly drawing to a close. Already two thirds to three
fourths of the human race are again underfed and undernourished.
factors made the 19th century an era of spectacular abundance of food.
While Europe was undergoing an industrial revolution, it is often
overlooked that it was simultaneously undergoing an agricultural
Substitution of grasses and legumes for bare fallow,
contour cultivation and good crop rotations were three important
conservation practices which were adopted. Further, agriculture shifted
from a soil-depleting grain economy to a soil-building livestock
economy. Devoting large acreages to permanent, improved pasturage not
only greatly increased Europe's food production, but gave an
unparalleled stability to her soils — a stability maintained despite
two world wars. This stabilization was aided by the fact that soils in
Central Europe are generally heavy and not as easily erodible. Also,
the rainfall is regular, frequent, and gentle, as contrasted with the heavier and more irregular rains that prevail in most parts of the U. S.
But there is also this most important fact which must be considered: Soil stability in Europe was
at the expense of the ruthless exploitation of the soil in the new
world. The dramatic agricultural revolution which fed the new European
masses fathered by the machine age was important. But even more
important was the European colonization of the rich new fertile lands —
the Americas, Africa and Australia — and the opening up of the black
lands of Russia.
This colonization took place coincidentally
with the perfecting of machine exploitation of the soil and with the
development of rail and ocean transport of food crops to the ends of
With this combination of machine tillage and rapid
transport, the vast new lands became the granary of the world. Their
produce could be moved quickly to feed the swiftly growing industrial
populations of the capitalist countries or to alleviate famine in India
The soils and resources of the new frontiers — and especially North America — seemed inexhaustible. But not for long!
The Last Frontier
the New World had been exploited and abused. The white settlers had
scarcely set foot on the North American continent before the menace of
soil sacrifice appeared. By 1685, streams muddy with silt were seen,
and increased floods, due to cutting down the forests, were observed.
Undaunted, the destruction of field and forest continued.
and Jefferson — among a host of other early American leaders — were
alarmed by what they saw taking place around them. They crusaded
against destructive farming practices in word and deed, but to no
avail. The rape of the New World continued — andaccelerated. When one tract of land wore out, new land was always available just a little to the west.
social and economic force seemed to encourage the spread of American
agriculture. The invention of McCormick's reaper, in 1831, and the
other inventions of farm machinery that followed it, made possible the
cultivation of more and more acres. When the iron plow proved
inefficient in the sticky prairie soil, the self-scouring steel plow
appeared in 1837 to accelerate the westward march of agriculture" (Man
and the Soil, p. 46).
Some few, such as Marsh, a Vermont lawyer
and scholar, wrote with the ringing tones of a prophet, warning that
the way man was going was "as to threaten the depravation, barbarism,
and perhaps even extinction of the species" (The Earth as Modified by
Human Action, p. 43). But all such warnings were ignored.
close of the nineteenth century saw the Oklahoma territory opened to
farmers. It was the last great area of restricted public farmland.
Until this point in history access to free land had been the safety
valve which had relieved the pressure of unemployment and economic
Now all this was about to change. Throughout history,
when man had worn out land in one area, he had moved to another. Now,
for the first time, there was no rich new agricultural land to which
man could go. The last significant frontier in the U. S. had been
Decades of Destruction
effect of reaching this last agricultural frontier was not generally
realized at the time. But by 1914, when World War I commenced, it was
Jack and Whyte estimated the following: More
food-producing soil was lost to the world by erosion alone in the
twenty years between 1914 and 1934 than in the whole of the previous
historical period! (Vanishing Lands, p. 219.)
"During World War I, some fifty million acres of agricultural
lands in Europe, exclusively, went out of cultivation. Consequently, 40
million acres of grasslands in the United States were thrown into
cultivation for the first time. This land — most of it in the area of
western Texas and Oklahoma, extending into the bordering parts of
Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska — never was fitted for intensive
"In the madness of the 'wheat rush' these lands
were ripped open by the plow and wheat was cultivated on them by a
process which is better described as 'mining' than agriculture ..."
(Man and the Soil, p. 49, emphasis ours).
On many of these huge
farms there were no permanent residents. Men came in the fall or
spring, plowed and seeded the soil, and went away. They returned in the
summer, gathered the crop and went away again. After the harvest, the
bare soil lay unprotected, as dry winds swept across it and the fierce
sun baked it and robbed it of moisture and fertility.
the richness of the soil, "Catastrophe did not come for several
years.... When finally the one-crop system of spoliation had exhausted
the organic matter, the land was ready for the great dust storms"
(ibid., p. 49).
In portions of the U. S. Plains States, Arizona
and California, there are deserts where 50-100 years ago lush grasses
reached up to the horses' bellies or higher, and bumper wheat crops
were a yearly occurrence.
America Not Alone
entire world joined the U. S. in this orgy of destruction.
Deterioration of soil due to the unprecedented economic expansion of
the nineteenth century was worldwide.
When the soil
deteriorates, the effect is the same as a reduction in the amount of
land. So while population greatly increased, the earth suffered a
severe loss in her ability to feed her inhabitants!
According to Jacks and Whyte, Africa ranks even ahead
of North America in the extent and severity of depletion. General Smuts
of South Africa once stated, "Erosion is the biggest problem
confronting the country, bigger than any politics."
data is fragmentary, virtually every nation in Central and South
America suffers these problems to some extent. In many areas, such as
the wheatlands of Chile and the pampas of Argentina, they are severe.
Overgrazing and plowing up grasslands to grow wheat have taken a heavy
toll in destroying the choicest agricultural lands on the continent.
The Amazon Basin and other tropical areas — though of less value
agriculturally — also show excessive erosion.
The story of
topsoil depletion in the great Australian wheatlands and the grazing
lands that border the great central desert sounds like a replay of what
happened in the American West. Deforestation of mountains has also
created a flood and siltation problem.
In the grazing country of
New Zealand, there has been extensive deforestation to provide
pastureland, which, in turn, has been heavily overgrazed. Many steep
slopes that should have been left to permanent forest were cleared to
accommodate more sheep and cattle.
Nor is it just the newer
countries which are destroying their soil. Soil depletion is very
extensive and acute in the great wheat-producing black lands of Russia
and in the vast Eurasian grasslands. In India, too, this cancer has
been spreading with startling rapidity as the population has increased.
at the world's soils and natural resources in the large, they are in
general and with few exceptions characterized by similar degenerative
processes. Ward Shepard, writing in Food or Famine, classifies these as
"1) In humid regions, water erosion is destroying
sloping lands by virtue of poor methods of tillage and by overgrazing
"2) The cultivable grasslands — the prairie soils
of the Americas, Australia, Africa, and Russia — are being depleted by
one-crop farming, notably, wheat, and by wind and water erosion.
Semi-arid grasslands in the Americas, Eurasia, Africa, and Australia
have been severely devegetated by overgrazing, with intense wind and
water erosion that in many regions is producing or threatening to
produce true desert conditions.
"4) The bulk of the world's
forests are being destructively exploited, not over 12 or 15 percent of
the total forest area being under scientific management.
all these countries, poor tillage, overgrazing, and deforestation are
wasting vast quantities of surface water by permitting it to rush into
stream channels and out to sea instead of being absorbed into the soil
by well-kept vegetative cover. This wastage causes desiccation of the
land, the disruption of rivers and valleys, and in increasing menace to
immense potential sources of hydroelectric energy."
total forest and grassland cover has already been depleted well below
the safety margin for maintaining a healthy climate.
Assessing the Erosion Problem
has modified the surface of the earth more than the combined activities
of all the earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, and tidal waves since the
beginning of history, yet its processes are so gradual that we .. .
have been prone to ignore it," Burges says in Soil Erosion Control,
And ignore it men did!
It was not until the
emergence of the United States Soil Conservation Service in 1933 that
man "began to grasp the ominous magnitude and menace of man-made
erosion as a world phenomenon" (Food or Famine, p. 8).
seriousness of the situation was driven home by a series of calamities
in the "form of searing droughts, stupendous floods, and
continent-darkening dust storms that impressed on men's minds, to the
four corners of the earth, the fury of the swiftly spreading revolt of
nature against man's crude efforts of mastery" (ibid., p. 9).
what did the Soil Conservation Service find when they made their first
survey? They found that man-made erosion was in progress on more than
one billion acres of land — more than half of the total acreage in the
continental United States!
They found that already over 100 million acres of our best crop land had been irremediably ruined for further cultivation!
addition, "An even more destructive and critically dangerous erosion
has swept over the western grasslands of the Great Plains and
inter-mountain plateaus after fifty or seventy-five years of
overgrazing by livestock and futile and mistaken efforts to subdue
these lands to the plow.... Nowhere in America and almost nowhere in
the world is the stupendous breakdown of great land masses and river
systems more advanced, and in few parts of the world has man been more
decisively defeated by nature than in the grasslands.
"In the third great category of land — forest land — America has met the same decisive defeat at nature's hands" (ibid., p. 9).
spite of conservation efforts over the past 35 years, conservative
government estimates indicate that right now nearly two thirds of the
1.5 billion acres of privately owned rural land in the U. S. (about
three-fourths of the total land area) needs conservation treatment!
Estimated Annual Loss
U. S. Soil Conservation Service has calculated that, "In a normal
production year, erosion by wind and water removes 21 times as much
plant food from the soil as is removed in the crops sold off this land."
Man-made erosion from America's farms and grasslands alone is moving over three billion tons of soil
every year down into our rivers and reservoirs and out to sea. It would
take a train of freight cars long enough to encircle the earth at the
equator 18 times to haul away such an enormous quantity of earth!
That is a loss of one ton of topsoil for every man, woman and child on earth.
This is the rich topsoil that contains, in minerals and humus, the great reserves of plant food standing between man and famine!
the basis of 100 tons of topsoil to cover one acre seven inches deep,
the equivalent of 10,000 one-hundred-acre farms are lost in the U. S.
to water erosion down the Mississippi alone every year (Soil
Conservation, p. 9). That is about two million tons per day!
of the rivers of the earth probably are carrying to the sea about forty
times as much sediment as that carried by the Mississippi" (The
Illustrated Library of the Natural Sciences, art. "Erosion").
wind erosion can do was demonstrated by the unprecedented duster of May
11, 1934. It carried away an estimated 300 million tons of topsoil from
western Kansas and parts of neighboring states. On the same basis as
mentioned above, this one duster took the equivalent of 3,000
one-hundred-acre farms out of crop production!
All these figures, of course, must be taken only as estimates.
takes away the prime materials of the soil. Therefore, some experts
believe the loss is far greater than is apparent from mere
consideration of its actual weight or total quantity.
removed by erosion is the best part of the topsoil, the surface
portion, which contains health-producing microbes, humus and finished
plant food. The one ton of topsoil that each person on earth loses each
year contains enough plant food to provide that person's sustenance for
years. This all means, of course, that soil conservation and proper
agricultural methods could make the whole earth fabulously rich.
The Loss of Water
tale of wastage does not end with erosion. It also includes the mass of
surface water which is lost as it sweeps the eroded soil seaward. Under
normal conditions rainwater goes into the soil to nourish plants and to
slowly feed wells, springs, ponds, creeks, and rivers. Man-made loss of
surface water is desiccating the earth. It is wasting and preventing
human use of a substantial percentage of the total rainfall.
full fury of the destructive process is seen in our great river
systems. With their channels clogged and ever rising by the deposit of
our wasted soils, our rivers are becoming more and more incapable of
safely carrying away the increasing quantities of wasted surface water.
More than 8,000 of the 12,711 small watersheds identified in the U. S.
mainland — or 65 percent — have conservation problems needing a
solution (U.S.D.A. Bulletin 263).
Yet our engineers still think
that man can conquer nature. They dream of restoring our broken-down
river systems by simply erecting gigantic flood-detention and
silt-detention dams. What a pitifully naive approach to the problem!
the river barriers, in the form of dams and dikes, that man can
construct to repair the consequences of his own folly in raping the
earth are puny compared with the cosmic forces of destruction he has
unleashed over the land.
"The engineers ignore the fact that
nature herself, violently reconstructing entire watersheds in an effort
to cope with the surplus runoff, has carved over 200 million gullies in
the United States" (Food or Famine, p. 11).
Further, because of
nature's unconquerable power, "an estimated 2000 irrigation dams in the
United States are now useless impoundments of silt, sand, and gravel"
(from a speech "Can the World Be Saved?" by Dr. Cole).
THE GROWING TRAGEDY OF SICK SOIL
Robust human health demands wholesome food.
Wholesome food can come only from fertile and productive soil.
just what is this miracle we call soil? How does it work? What is its
function in the cycle of life? This is basic knowledge we all should
What Soil IS
is an entire ecosystem composed of six parts: 1) air 2) water 3) solid
minerals 4) dissolved minerals 5) organic matter — dead remains of
plants and animal wastes, and 6) a vast community of living organisms.
These all work together (when they are all present in proper balance)
to perform very important functions. One major function is to provide a
place in which plants can live and grow to give us food. Another, to
act as a garbage processing plant that not only gets rid of plant,
animal and human wastes and refuse from the landscape — but decomposes
that unusable refuse and gives it back to us in a form that is usable
and beneficial to produce more food and of better quality.
topsoil is by far man's most valuable and indispensable natural
resource. It lies, as mentioned previously, at an average depth of
seven or eight inches over the face of the land. In some few areas,
this life-sustaining layer of earth may be several feet deep; in many other areas it is considerably less than even seven inches.
soil is not, as many suppose, a dead, inert substance which merely
supplies mineral elements to plants and gives them a place to anchor
their roots. A healthy soil is vibrantly "alive" and dynamic. It teems
with bacteria, fungi, molds, yeasts, protozoa, algae, worms, insects
and other minute organisms which live mostly in its top few inches.
hive of living creatures in the soil, the eaters and the eaten, adds up
to incredible numbers. The bacteria alone may range from a comparative
few up to three or four billion in a single gram of soil. In good soil
the bacterial matter, living and dead, may weigh as much as 5,600
pounds per acre.
The fungi may add up to a million in a gram of dry soil, weighing over 1,000 pounds to the acre.
It is estimated that about 95 percent of the roughly one million insect species spend part of their lives in the soil.
then there is the humble earthworm. He is nature's plow, chemist,
cultivator, maker and distributor of plant food. Rich soil easily
supports a worm population of 26,000 per acre. The earthworm is so
important to the soil that we have an entire article about "The Worm
and You." A free copy is available upon request.
All this teeming soil life plays a vital role in keeping the soil healthy and building it up.
soil is not solid. It is actually composed of billions of grains, or
soil particles. These range in size from smaller than 1/2000 of an inch
up to 1/12 of an inch in diameter. Each of these tiny soil particles is
covered with a tight-fitting film of oxides, water and bits of organic
matter, which provides a habitat for the teeming soil life.
surface area of these particles is staggering. One ounce of soil can
easily have surface areas adding up to 250,000 square feet — about six
The organic matter is obtained from living and dead
plants and animals, plant roots, green manure crops, animal manures,
crop residues, fungi, bacteria, worms, insects, etc. This organic
matter is broken down and decayed through the action of the complex
mass of soil microorganisms and earthworms upon it. This digestive
action produces organic acids which make minerals soluble. The most
important product of this process is humus.
Why Humus Vital to Soil
importance of humus cannot be stressed too strongly. The more humus a
soil contains, the healthier it is. Here are a few reasons why:
it rains, soils with humus soak up the water. Humus is so porous it can
hold at least its own volume in water. A four-inch rain on humus-rich
soil causes little or no runoff; one half inch on humus-poor land can
cause erosion and some flooding in lower areas.
the physical condition of the soil, supports the soil's organisms,
increases permeability, improves aeration, stabilizes the soil's
temperature and serves as a storehouse of plant nutrients.
Yet to do all this, humus need not be more than five percent of the topsoil in most instances.
Why Soil "Wears Out"
minerals, organic matter and soil organisms are present and in balance
for a particular type of soil, that soil is fertile and healthy. But
all too often this balance is upset. How? By the serious depletion of
organic matter and humus, due to improper cultivation practices,
unchecked erosion, continued monoculture and failure to restore to the
soil what the preceding harvests have taken from it.
agriculture practices the substitution of synthetic fertilizers for
humus that is not being replenished in the soil. The "replacing" of
humus by artificial means does stimulate plant growth, but it also
continues to upset the vitally needed balance and blended mixture of
minerals, organic matter and soil life found only in humus.
fertilizers not only hasten the decay of organic matter and humus, but
they also add only a part of the mineral portion of the critically
important soil mixture essential to good health.
soil is not normally caused by a lack of minerals, as many believe.
Even in relatively poor soils there is normally a large reserve of
What is most often missing is sufficient organic
matter and the soil life which is necessary to break down the rock
materials into food forms the plants can assimilate and use. Even
mineral-rich soil usually lacks enough nutrients in available form for
vigorous plant growth. Humus, then, is one key to soil balance and
Types of Fertilizers
fertilization is the addition to the soil of materials conducive to
increasing soil life and humus content. Fertilizers are generally
recognized in two groups — organic and inorganic. The organic is
basically made up of organic matter and microbes.
fertilizers are basically comprised of minerals and are available in
two major types. One type is made up simply of ground-up minerals as
they are found in their natural state. This type of fertilizer is not
generally immediately dissolved by water, but is gradually changed into
plant food by the action of microbes, earthworms and organic acids that
are formed by the decomposition of organic matter.
type of inorganic fertilizers are those easily soluble in water,
causing corrosive action. These chemical fertilizers are manufactured
products and are commonly advertised and sold on the market for quick
results. Most farmers and gardeners use them, and feel they could not
get along without them.
In nature there is no need for special
fertilizers. Plants and animals live together, and their litter
accumulates on the surface to compost and decay, thus making a
health-sustaining, humus-rich soil. The whole life cycle in the soil
becomes a self-regulating system as long as it is undisturbed by
When man enters the picture, however, it becomes
a different story. He plows up virgin land to grow crops. The soil
condition made available by plowing stimulates the microorganisms into
breaking down the organic matter more rapidly. Then man removes his
crops from the soil, thus further taking from its reserves. When he has
thus "mined" the soil until it can no longer produce profitably, he
moves on — or at least he did until this century. Now there are no new
lands to exploit.
Since 1880, it is estimated that about half of
the humus in the Midwest has been lost — the loss greatly intensifying
in recent years. The situation is probably equally bad or worse in many
other heavily farmed regions of the world.
It doesn't have to be
this way. With a little more effort and a lot less greed, man could
return organic matter to the soil and build humus. But he seems to be
hopelessly greedy and short-sighted. He would rather borrow from the
soil's capital and ignore repaying this debt until necessity demands
it. Necessity is now banging on the door!
Desperately, man is
looking to chemical fertilizers to bail him out and to repay his debt
to the soil. But is this possible? Can chemical fertilizers truly
restore soil fertility?
No! Such was never intended.
How Chemical Fertilizers Became Popular
the 1840's, von Liebig in Germany noticed the regular presence of
certain mineral elements — especially nitrogen, phosphorus and
potassium — in the ashes of burnt plants. Since these had to be drawn
from the soil, he concluded that soil fertility depended primarily upon
the presence of these elements in the soil. He further suggested that
fertility could be maintained or improved by adding these elements in
suitable forms to the soil. About the same time an Englishman, Lawes,
was experimenting along similar lines.
It was found that when
nitrogen, phosphorus and potash were added to depleted soil, in the
form of water-soluble chemicals, production was increased like magic!
Soon farmers the world over were adopting this method as a shortcut to
It should be noted that the early advocates of
chemical fertilizers only intended that these fertilizers supplement
the use of organic matter. For a time this continued to be the case.
example, Lord Hankey, in a speech in the House of Lords when soil
fertility was debated said: "There is more common ground to begin with
in this matter than is generally realized. . . . There is common ground
as to the great importance of humus in the soil. There is common ground
also that, whether you have artificials or not, you must have an
adequate supply of organic fertilizers. Again, compost is admitted by
the supporters of chemicals to be a very valuable form of organic
In Lord Hankey's thinking — and the thinking of
many others — chemicals were not intended to replace the function of
organic matter, but to complement it — to help it feed crops.
But were these chemicals really necessary? Were they really needed to complement the organic matter?
is no question whatsoever about the fact that humus-rich soil can
provide everything needed to maintain and build soil fertility —
including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (abbreviated NPK). But
because of changing social and economic conditions, men found it much
more expedient to provide plant nutrients by organic matter and
chemical fertilizers instead of just by organic matter alone.
specialized farming became more and more popular. This method of
farming, for the most part, does not allow for crop rotation and
periodical planting of soil-building legumes. By this time, also, the
internal combustion engine was gradually replacing the horse. There
were labor problems with mass migration to the cities. Farm size was
increasing along with economic pressures on the farmer.
there was industry. Astutely sensing big business, industry did not
wait to be asked to provide artificial fertilizers to the farmer.
Through intensive advertising it urged and "educated" the farmer into
believing that artificial fertilizers were his panacea.
these conditions, the use of chemical fertilizers skyrocketed! Soon
many farmers forgot about the need for organic matter and true soil
As a result, our husbandry has been invaded by pests,
parasites and diseases; but industry, unashamed, has provided an
arsenal of more than 50,000 chemical formulations to fight them.
What Chemical Fertilizers Do
fertilizers are like shots in the arm to the soil. They stimulate a
much greater plant growth and a speeded-up consumption of organic
matter and humus.
But, and never forget this, chemical fertilizers can neither add to the humus content nor replace it.
do much more than just speed up the consumption of humus, however. They
also destroy the physical properties of the soil and its life.
they are put into the soil, they dissolve and seek natural combinations
with other minerals already in the soil. Some of these new combinations
glut the plant, causing them to become unbalanced. Others remain in the
soil, many in the form of poisons.
For example, when sulphate of
ammonia is used as a fertilizer, the sulphate is removed by hydrolytic
action and eventually ends up in the water supply or as insoluble
sediment in drainage reservoirs. Other chemicals used as fertilizers
follow the same pattern and add various pollutants to our soil and
Further, manufactured fertilizers alone cannot supply
what the soil needs to produce abundant, healthy crops. Plants need
much more than NPK! They need many other secondary and trace elements —
all in the proper balance. And they need the teeming microbial life
that helps them absorb the minerals.
The margin between too much
and too little is often very slight. Mineral excesses in plants — now
common — are often more dangerous than deficiences.
nitrogen weakens the plant. It grows lush and watery tissue, becomes
more susceptible to disease, and the protein quality suffers.
is no artificial fertilizer on earth that can supply a completely
balanced diet for plants in the way that humus-rich soil can. Chemical
fertilizer companies blend and formulate mixtures to the best of their
ability, but they simply cannot mechanically formulate humus.
Plants were not designed to get their nutrients by being force-fed. Quoting soil scientist Eric Eweson:
if we possessed sufficient knowledge and it were practical to provide
chemical fertilizers containing some 20 or 30 elements in the
infinitely varying proportions required by plants — instead of just NPK
— this would not solve our soil problem. Forcing upon the plants
immediately available food in the form of water-soluble chemicals,
which they cannot reject but must absorb constitutes a bypassing of the
soil's extremely important functions in relation to plant life and all
other life, in the same manner as intravenous injections of sugar or
protein bypass the digestive system of the human body. Neither can
contribute to normal, vigorous life."
in humus-rich soil supply nitrogen to the plants as needed; they don't
force-feed the plant like chemicals do. To force a plant to grow more
bulk will cause the plant to change its inner biochemistry. As
Professor Albrecht of the Missouri Experimental Station has shown, more
carbohydrates and less proteins will develop in such plants. Insects
are out for unbalanced plants and find these a well-prepared table and
a suitable diet.
As explained later, the purpose of insects is
to remove weak and sickly plants so that quality can be maintained. The
alarming increase in pests shows that something is wrong with an
increasing number of our crops.
Laboratory tests have shown that
seeds from plants grown on water-soluble nutrients are often incapable
of germination. Even now many farmers cannot continuously use their own
crops for seed because of poor germination. After a few years their
seed stock "runs out" — as farmers express it — and they are forced to
obtain fresh seed produced on better soil. Seed that cannot reproduce
is certainly lacking something vital! Hybrid seeds are also a major big
contributor to this problem.
Decline in Food Value
crops are grown in humus-deficient soil with the aid of increasing
quantities of chemical fertilizers, the crops become increasingly
deficient in proteins, vitamins and minerals. This has been proved
repeatedly by comparative analysis of grains, vegetables, and other
products produced on humus-rich soil and on chemically fertilized soil.
to Kansas surveys by the USDA between 1940 and 1951, while total annual
state wheat yields increased during this period, protein content
dropped from a high of nearly 19 percent in 1940 to a high of 14
percent by 1951. By 1969 the protein content of wheat had dropped to an
average of 10.5% in the U.S. Midwest.
Protein content in corn
and other feed crops have often dropped even more remarkably than in
wheat. This is one reason farmers today have to feed larger quantities of feed to livestock than they did in times past.
must depend upon the available supply of minerals in the soil in which
they are growing for the elements essential to their growth. Man and
the animals he eats depend in turn upon the plants for these nutrients.
other words, you are what you eat! If you eat foods which lack in
nutritional value, your body pays the penalty. Plants and animals
raised on eroded and depleted soil are inferior producers of foods. And
such foods result in sick, degenerate and disease-prone human beings.
It's just that simple — and that sure.
"The most serious loss
resulting from.. . soil exhaustion," warns Mickey, "is not
quantitative, but qualitative. It has to do with the quality of life
the soil supports" (Man and the Soil, p. 33).
Soil lacking in
calcium and phosphorus lacks the elements of proper bone growth of both
animals and humans. Soils lacking in organically produced nitrates and
other minerals produce vegetation lacking in the proteins essential to
the building and repair of body tissues. It has long been known that
animals raised on the world's choice limestone soils like those around
Lexington, Kentucky, and Florida's uplands, for example, have stronger
bones, sounder flesh, greater endurance, and longer lives than animals
raised on soils less rich in bone and muscle-building minerals. That is
why breeders of race horses in the U. S. have practically taken over
the Kentucky bluegrass region and much of Florida's limestone land.
same applies equally to humans. The baby won't have good bones if fed a
formula made of milk from a cow whose feed came from a soil deficient
in calcium and phosphorus. And the adult won't build muscle and good
red blood by eating a steak from a steer fed on grasses and grain from
leached and eroded soils devoid of protein-building minerals and iron.
remains to be done in the study of the relationship of the soil to the
mineral and vitamin requirements of human diet, but much has been done.
And what is known points unequivocally to the fact that deficient soils
produce deficient men" (Man and the Soil, pp. 3-4).
That is why the growing problem of soil depletion is so important to you!
recent years another major problem has been developing as a direct
result of chemical fertilizer use and the concentration of animal
wastes. That problem is pollution of water, air and food by excesses of
a form of nitrogen called nitrate.
Nitrogen, together with
carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, are the four chemical elements that make
up the bulk of living matter. But the nitrogen cycle, which vitally
affects protein quality, is very vulnerable to human intervention.
Today the nitrogen cycle in the U. S. is being thrown out of balance by
two main factors: nitrogen fertilizers and nitrogen oxides from cars
and other combustion processes.
More than 75 years ago research
stations such as the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station undertook
long-term experiments to study the effects of different agricultural
practices on crop yield and on the nature of the soil. When the 50-year
Sanborn Field Study from Missouri was published in 1942, it showed that
nitrogen was an effective means of maintaining good crop yields. But
the report also showed that the soil suffered important changes.
organic matter content and the physical conditions of the soil on the
chemically treated plots declined rapidly. These altered conditions
prevented sufficient water from percolating into the soil, where it
could be stored for drought periods. A condition had also apparently
developed in which the nutrients applied were not delivered to the
plant at the rate needed for optimum growth. Most of the nitrogen not
used by theimmediate crop was removed from the soil by leaching or denitrification.
Sanborn Field Study, and others elsewhere, were a warning that in
humus-depleted soil, fertilizer nitrate tends to break out of the
natural self-containment of the soil system. But this warning was
ignored. Today it can be ignored no longer.
Some seven million
tons of nitrogen fertilizer are used annually in the U. S. alone — a
14-fold increase ih about 25 years. Roughly half of this fertilizer
leaves the soil in some way. Much is leached out and drains into water
In heavily farmed areas, the nitrate level of surface
waters and wells often exceeds the public health standards for
acceptable potable water, resulting in a risk to human health from
nitrate poisoning. Also, when large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous
drain into surface water, they create an algal buildup that can and
does destroy entire bodies of water. The oxygen in the water is
depleted, causing fish and other animal life forms to die.
nitrates in plants cause similar problems. Some vegetable products in
the U. S. exceed the recommended nitrate levels for infant feeding.
Research indicates this is usually the result of intensive use of
Some of the nitrate pollutants found in the nation's atmosphere also come from agriculture sources.
The nitrate problem is so serious that it cannot continue — if we are to survive.
leads to the question of what can be done to solve the problems caused
by chemical fertilizers. And more important than that, what can be done
to solve the entire problem of decreasing soil fertility and its
resultant effect on human health?
What Can Be Done
First of all, we must stop employing practices that have caused the problems and begin replacing them with conscientious
methods of cure and prevention. We must have open minds — minds willing
to be reeducated, willing to admit error, willing to change.
needs to change his attitude towards the soil. Instead of only taking
from it, we need to give back to soil by replacing and building up the
supply of humus. Basically this can be done through heavy green manure
cropping and the returning of other organic material such as crop
residues, animal manures, etc., to the soil. Details on building the
humus supply are commonly available.
Animal waste in the U. S.
alone is equal to the sewage of two billion people. It amounts to a
billion tons per year! "Waste" is not really the right word, for these
byproducts of the life process are not to be wasted but carefully used
to maintain soil fertility. Manure used to be carefully collected,
composted and used on the land. Today its disposal is one of the
livestock industry's biggest headaches. Instead of being a pollutant as
in many instances it has become, it should be looked upon and handled
as an asset and returned to the soil.
We need to make efficient
use of all organic refuse. Why pollute our rivers and lakes with
organic wastes when such material could be used to enrich the land?
attention also needs to be given to soil ecology. The biological
activity of the soil takes place somewhat in layers. If this layer-type
activity is inverted the renewal and building process is interrupted.
Therefore, tillage practices which invert and destroy the soil
structure and soil life should not be continued. Manures and other
organic material should be added to the soil's surface or mixed into
only the very top few inches.
We must immediately embark on a
worldwide soil restoration program. Our attitude and action towards the
soil must change and return to sound principles if we are to reverse
the present crisis.
HOW MAN CAN RESTORE THE BALANCE OF NATURE
"Chemical warfare" is a fact of life. It is, today, man's last arsenal against crop-destroying insects.
chemicals affect not only insects but man himself. They affect everyone
— and that includes you. No matter who you are or where you live, you
consume, in your food, pesticides originally meant for insects. And you
carry these chemicals around in your body.
More than a billion
pounds of pesticides have already accumulated in the earth's air,
water, soil, living plants and animals; and the amount grows daily.
these poisons are doing to the entire web of life — and to personal
health — is only beginning to be known. But what is already known ought
to tell us that, unless we drastically change our ways, we are heading
Life Chain Threatened
The most common of the pesticides are DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons.
are especially vicious pollutants. They are very stable compounds and
are not easily broken down. And because of their persistence, they
cause dangerous biological concentrations in the food chain. They end
up ultimately in the human body. Here is what happens:
Ocean water, for example, contains phytoplankton —
the producer of over half the world's oxygen supply and the first link
of the chain of life in the sea. Not only does DDT decrease
oxygen-producing photosynthesis, but it has a tendency to be
accumulated in biological organisms and passed up the food chain — from
phytoplankton to zooplankton, shrimp, small fish, larger fish and then
fish-eating birds. In birds the concentration may have accumulated an
astounding 10 million times over the original amount present in the
Likewise on land, these poisons are extremely
destructive to microorganisms and other minute ferms of life and
life-processes in the soil.
Research on the subtle or long-range
effects of chlorinated hydrocarbons is just beginning — especially in
regard to man. But what is happening to birds and animals ought to
sound the alarm.
Pesticides have virtually wiped out certain
bird species by upsetting an intricate hormone-enzyme relationship
which causes thin-shelled eggs that crack and fall apart easily. They
have caused fatal nervous breakdowns in wildlife by interrupting the
nerve communication system. Recent research indicates DDT causes a
marked alteration in the sexual mechanisms of rats and a proneness to
cancer in animals from mice to cattle.
Dr. Charles Wurster, one
of the leading authorities on chlorinated hydrocarbons, says of these
chemicals: "All are nerve poisons. They cause instability or
spontaneous 'firing' of nerve cells, and increased doses result in
tremors or convulsions — typical symptoms of acute poisoning that can
occur in organisms ranging from houseflies to man. In general, if an
organism has nerves, the chlorinated hydrocarbons can kill it" (Weeds,
Trees, and Turf, August 1969).
Dr. Joseph J. Hickey, professor
of wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin puts it bluntly:
"DDT is a chemical of extinction."
Stanford biologist, Peter
Raven, asserts: "There is rock-solid evidence on what these chemicals
do to other animals. It would be a bad mistake to think that man is
As the harmful effects come to light, many around the
world are beginning to speak out against the use of DDT and the
Nerve Gases Used as Pesticide
many areas, organic phosphors are being substituted for DDT and
chlorinated hydrocarbons. These were originally developed in World War
II as German nerve gases. Chemically, they are cousins to the nerve
agents GD and VX, involved in the current chemical and biological
Some fifty million pounds of organic phosphors are being spread unchecked as pesticides on America's farms and gardens annually.
these pesticides break down much more quickly than chlorinated
hydrocarbons, many assume they are safer. The truth is that these
odorless and colorless chemicals are potentially even more dangerous.
Alice Ottoboni, California State Public Health Department toxicologist,
says of organic phosphors: "As a class, they are more immediately
harmful to man and animals than the persistent ones." Minute amounts
can kill almost instantly either by contact or by being swallowed.
a nonpersistent pesticide does not just "disappear." As it breaks down
"it becomes another chemical that may be less or more toxic than its
parent," warns Dr. Ottoboni. Very little is known of the environmental
fate of these degraded products of pesticides, either persistent or
The distressing fact, in addition to the
ecological problem, is that pesticides have not eliminated insect
infestation. Though we have increased pesticides enormously, more than
seven times over in the past 20 years,crop losses due to insects remain about the same. Presently, USDA figures show about l/5th of our crops are lost to insects.
major problem with using pesticides is that natural enemies of the pest
are often killed along with the pest. Since these natural enemies were
partially successful in controlling the pest population, wiping them
out temporarily leaves the pest free of important natural restraints.
Under these circumstances, the pest will develop a resistance through
mutation and again multiply before the natural enemies can multiply to
Thus resistance of insects to pesticides is a
mounting worldwide problem. Between 1908 and 1945 only 13 species of
insects had developed resistance. Now the figure stands at almost 150!
current practice employed to control these new hardy pests is to
develop a new, more potent pesticide. Instead of controlling or killing
the insect pests, a vicious cycle is created — stronger insects, more
toxic pesticides and an increasing threat to all life forms on this
No Way Out?
then is our dilemma: We are told that if pesticides were completely
withdrawn from use, crop and livestock production would drop from 25 to
50 percent — that commercial production of apples, peaches, cherries,
grapes, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, citrus and a host of
other products would come to a halt — and that millions would have
their diet drastically altered or reduced.
Yet, there are
numerous cases of farmers who have stopped using insecticides and have
done better than their neighbors who continued to use poisons.
If we continue to use pesticides we will be in deep trouble.
Not only will pollution reach critical proportions, but
as insects develop resistance faster than new pesticides can be
developed, it is just a matter of time until these insects will begin
to destroy food crops wholesale. And mankind will be utterly unable to
Some look to biological control to provide an out.
But so little money and effort is being spent on research in this area
— and progress comes so slowly — that this appears to be a false hope.
In addition, there are whole categories of pest problems with no remote
prospect of biological control.
Have we then painted ourselves
into a corner? Is there no way out? Is there no way that insect plagues
can be stopped without using pesticides?
The surprising answer is that there IS a way out.
begin to explore what the solution is by asking some very basic
questions — and finding some very simple, yet profound answers.
Do insects have a purpose? What causes insects to attack plants and become "pests"? Few seem to know.
The Purpose of Insects
constitute 70 to 80 percent of all animal species. They are so numerous
that no one knows how many species there really are. More than 800,000
have already been classified and 10,000 more are being classified
annually. There are almost as many insects on every square mile — three
billion — as there are humans on earth.
rapidly. A single pair of flies is potentially capable of producing
191,010,000,000,000,-000,000 offspring in just four months! If they all
survived, the earth would be covered to a depth of 47 feet!
cannot happen, because the laws governing nature never permit a single
species, plant or animal, to dominate any environment completely.
Weather factors — such as temperature and rainfall — limit the
distribution of an insect species. Toads, lizards, frogs, moles,
snakes, birds, bats, shrews and other creatures feed largely on
insects. Some birds eat their own weight in insects every day.
Predatory insects prey on other insects. Larvae of parasitic insects
develop in the eggs, the young or the adults of other insects. Viruses,
fungi and bacterial diseases also help control the insect population.
fact, if the insects were not kept in check by these natural forces, it
is doubtful whether any conceivable volume of chemicals could possibly
keep down their populations. Yet we are seldom aware of nature's own
All these natural checks do their work without
threatening man. Insecticides, which contribute only a very small part
of the total controlling force over harmful insects, are threatening
all life. Doesn't it make sense for man to encourage the balance of
nature rather than devastate nature's natural controls at every turn?
is not generally realized that less than one percent of the insect
species are considered pests to man. We can figure the crop loss due to
these pests with a fair degree of accuracy (about $4 billion annually
in the U.S.). But the positive benefits of insects are often overlooked
because they are more difficult to estimate.
It is easy to
forget that bees, wasps, flies, butterflies and other insects pollinate
plants that provide us with fruits and vegetables; or that some insects
are vital links in the food chains of fish, birds and land animals; or
that others act as scavengers of animal and vegetable debris and others
as aerators of soil; or that still others are parasites or predators of
Instead of studying the habits of insects and
implementing natural control methods, many now simply mow them down
with spray guns.
For the most part, the function of "harmful"
insects is all too little understood. Now, happily, some few scientists
are beginning to realize the relationship between soil fertility, crop
production and pests.
Why Insect "Pests"?
his landmark book An Agricultural Testament, the famous British
agriculturist Sir Albert Howard relates how in five years' time at a
research station in India he "had learnt how to grow healthy crops,
practically free from disease, without the slightest help from
mycologists, entomologists, bacteriologists, agricultural chemists,
statisticians, clearing-houses of information, artificial manures,
spraying machines, insecticides, fungicides, germicides, and all the
other expensive paraphernalia of the modern Experiment Station." In
other words, Sir Albert worked with the principles any small farmer
could use economically.
From his experience, he observed that:
"Insects and fungi are not the real cause of plant diseases but only
attack unsuitable varieties or crops imperfectly grown. Their true role
is that of censors for pointing out the crops that are improperly
nourished and so keeping our agriculture up to the mark. In other
words, the pests must be looked upon as Nature's professors of
agriculture: as an integral portion of any rational system of farming.
policy of protecting crops from pests by means of sprays, powders, and
so forth, is unscientific and unsound as, even when successful, such
procedure merely preserves the unfit and obscures the real problem —
how to grow healthy crops" (p. 161).
These conclusions are not
dreams of a man who failed. Sir Albert was knighted for these very
agricultural researches — for effectively proving the usefulness of the
Many who have worked with the soil have noticed the tendency of insect pests to prefer plants that are weak, sickly, unhealthy, unbalanced or just a little "under the weather."
deficiency or imbalance may be so subtle or so slight that it cannot be
measured or analyzed by present scientific methods. Because science
cannot ascertain this imperfection — and, judging by the paltry amount
of research being done in this area, is not interested in finding out —
it usually pretends that no imperfection exists. But it does exist. And
the bugs know it!
Now take the cause-effect relationship a step
further. What is it that causes plants to be weak and inferior — prone
to insect attack?
Why Inferior Plants?
A number of factors may cause weak and inferior plants. But one of the most important factors is a depleted or unbalanced soil.
professional soils consultant for Brookside Laboratories of New
Knoxville, Ohio has stated: "We are proving today that sick soils
produce sick plants and sick plants produce sick animals and humans.
There are about one hundred of us who work with about 10,000 farmers at
the present time. The overwhelming majority of them have already
discovered that in a truly healthy soil our crops are not attacked by
insects because God created these pests to destroy sick plants so that
they cannot reproduce themselves."
In times past, this
interrelationship of soil, plants and insects was recognized. In 1870
the American journalist Horace Greeley reported: "Multiplication of
insects and their devastations are largely incited by the degeneracy of
our plants caused by the badness of our culture. I presume that wheat
and other crops could not be devastated by insects if there were no
slovenly, niggard, exhausting tillage methods used. But when the fields
of western New York were first tilled there were few insects; but after
crops of wheat had been taken from those fields until they had been
well-nighexhausted of crop-forming elements, we began to hear of the desolation wrought by insects."
Greeley had understanding that most seem to lack today. In this day and
age ever so few see any relationship between our depleted soils, the
use of incomplete synthetic fertilizers and the alarming increase in
It is to their great shame that most agricultural
institutions have been preoccupied with research involving palliatives
such as pesticides. They have utterly neglected research into how to
correct the cause of insect pests.
The information gleaned from
the smattering of work that has been done, however, bears out the
validity of the principles just presented.
Dr. William Albrecht
of the University of Missouri showed that spinach grown in fertile soil
resisted the attack of thrips, while that grown on poor soil was
destroyed by these insects.
Dr. Leonard Haseman, also of the
University of Missouri, found that the greenhouse white fly attacked
tomatoes only where there was a phosphorus or magnesium deficiency in
the soil. Chinch bugs thrive and multiply where corn is grown under
conditions of nitrogen deficiency such as on eroded and poor hillsides
(Journal of Economic Entomology, Feb. 1946).
Work done at the
University of Florida shows that both the rate and the source of
nitrogen have a pronounced effect on the susceptibility of grass to
chinch bug damage. Grass receiving high rates of inorganic nitrogen was
severely damaged by the bugs, in contrast with the grass receiving
nitrogen from an organic source (Florida Turf Grass Association
Bulletin, Fall, 1962, under title, "Chinch Bug Damage and Fertilizer,"
by G. C. Horn and W. C. Pritchett).
The Haughley Research Farms
in England, operated over four decades, now under the world-renowned
Soil Association, have found in actual practice that crops grown on
soil built up by natural manures were much more resistant to
pest-inviting weaknesses than crops grown with the aid of chemicals.
We are observing the same result in our Ambassador College Agricultural Research Program.
under the best conditions, insects may destroy a small percentage of
the crop. But is this in itself bad? The loss of the weakest part of
the crop assures the food value of the remaining part.
think that the prospect of growing quality products which resist
insects and render pesticides unnecessary would cause great excitement.
not so. This solution — the only real solution — runs counter to the
greed of human nature and the vested interests of our social and
economic system. And it appears that man would rather perish than
Monoculture Upsets Natural Balance
the natural state, the earth always raises varied crops. But in some
areas of our modern world, it is a rare sight to see mixed-crop
Yet it is well known that growing plants in large
tracts of uniform crops is not natural and will attract abnormal
amounts of insects. The greater the area under one crop and the extent
to which that crop is grown exclusively year after year, reducing soil
quality, the greater the potential insect problem.
beetle is an example of what happens when man begins to simplify
agriculture and farm one crop exclusively. This beetle used to be
harmless, feeding principally on smart weed, which it hunted out from
among many other plants. When huge fields of potatoes were newly
introduced to Colorado, however, the beetle suddenly found itself in
the midst of mile after mile of green potato fields — a beetle's
"paradise." As a result, this beetle multiplied so rapidly that within
a few short decades it literally ate its way 2,000 miles to the
Similar examples could be repeated many times from all parts of the earth.Yet unfortunately, our entire modern
farming method is geared toward extensive crop monoculture. To many it
would be unthinkable to even suggest that this practice be changed! Yet
many have successfully changed of their own free will.
sound principles of agriculture which farmers often neglect are the
failure to rotate the crop to minimize insect reproduction; or to
observe the correct time for planting; or to grow trees and hedges
which encourage insect-eating birds to visit the farm.
Weeds and Herbicides
to kill weeds are another major segment of the poison-spray pollution
problem in agriculture. In the U. S., crop losses from weeds equal the
combined losses from insects and diseases and run second only to those
caused by soil erosion. American farmers lose about $2.5 billion
annually to weeds and spend another $2.5 billion fighting weeds.
and exploitation of herbicides — weed killers — has been both rapid and
recent. About half of the present commercial herbicides were unknown
ten years ago! Some experts predict the number of herbicides will
double in the next ten years and perhaps double again in the following
decade. So we see here the same vicious cycle as with the pesticides.
The Purpose of Weeds
with insect pests, few seem to realize that weeds have a purpose. In
the preface to his book Weeds, Guardians of the Soil, Joseph Cocannouer
lists some of the purposes of weeds:
bring minerals, especially those which have been depleted, up from the
subsoil to the topsoil and make them available to crops. This is
particularly important with regard to trace elements.
2. When used in crop rotation they break up hardpans and allow subsequent crop roots to feed deeply.
They fiberize and condition the soil and provide a good environment for
the minute but important animal and plant life that make any soil
4. They are good indicators of soil condition, both as to variety of weed present and to condition of the individual plant. Certain weeds appear when certain deficiencies occur.
Weeds are deep divers and feeders, and through soil capillarity they
enable the less-hardy, surface-feeding crops to withstand drought
better than the crop alone could.
6. As companion crops they enable our domesticated plants to get their roots to otherwise unavailable food.
Weeds store up minerals and nutrients that would be washed, blown or
leached away from bare ground and keep them readily available.
Obviously, these purposes and benefits are listed only as general guidelines and do not apply to all weeds under all conditions.
C. King in his book The Weed Problem: A New Approach also reveals that
weeds build up and protect the soil and, coexisting with domestic
crops, can help make soil nutrients available to these crops. This
author states that we are "hopelessly wrong in believing weeds to be
useless plants and in devoting our energy to their suppression, instead
of studying to employ them" (p. 17).
In England it has been
reported that when lawns become deficient in lime, daisies appear. The
daisies are found to be rich in lime, which they manufacture in their
tissues. The lime goes into the soil when the daisies die and decay.
When the soil becomes sufficiently enriched with lime, the daisy
When weeds become so abundant that they
interfere with crop production, it ought to be recognized that the
cause of the problem is not the weeds, but the depleted soil which the
weeds are trying to protect and build up. Instead of destroying such
weeds wholesale with herbicides while our soil continues to be
degraded, we need to get busy and build up the soil so the weeds will
naturally reduce themselves.
Solving the Problem
Here, then, is where we stand in regard to the pollution problem caused by pesticides, herbicides and such chemicals.
Is it possible to survive if we continue to use ever stronger chemicals in ever greater quantities? No!
Is it possible to survive if we quit using pesticides? Yes! Many farmers — large and small — are successfully doing it!
this be easy? For many, no! This is because the solution to the problem
is to restore natural fertility to the soil. And as Professor
Cocannouer has well stated:
"Bringing a piece of land back to
permanent fertility is probably the most difficult of all farm
operations. Too often the farmer fails to make a go of his soil
building because he doesn't acquaint himself thoroughly, before
starting, with all the adverse factors he is going to have to fight. He
gets discouraged because he does not see the size of the job of
remaking land that has been weakened for fifty or a hundred years. He
has more than likely been schooled to expect the quick response that
land makes to stimulants. He forgets that now he is building for
permanency, not merely stimulating."
Obviously the biggest
hurdle will be changing our attitudes and accepting the fact that the
way to success is to work with natural laws, not defy them.
tracts of monoculture would have to be broken up and planted into
smaller fields on a crop rotation basis. Because natural farming
methods involve more intensive care that can often be given only by
human hands, many millions from our crowded cities would eventually
need to move back to the land.
A crash program in research and
education to natural methods would have to be carried out immediately —
and administered by the highest-level governmental agencies — in order
to make a successful transition on a national level.
AN EXCITING PREVIEW OF AGRICULTURE in TOMORROW'S WORLD
A dramatic revolution in agriculture is just around the corner!
will produce far-reaching breakthroughs in food production and
prosperity that will stagger the imagination. It will deeply and
directly affect the life of every living person in every country on
Here is an exciting glimpse into some of the tremendous — and wonderful — changes that will occur.
Agriculture's Fantastic Future
new acreages of fertile, well-watered land will become available for
growing crops and raising livestock. Perfect weather and bumper crops
will be the rule — not the exception.
Hunger and malnutrition
will be a thing of the past. Everyone in every land will be able to
enjoy fresh, clean, wholesome, tasty, nutritious food — grain and nuts,
meat and dairy products, and fruits and vegetables in unbelievable
variety and abundance.
A large percentage of the world's
populace will live on very prosperous family-sized farms. Millions of
well-kept farms with spacious, beautiful homes will dot the landscape.
Farm families will enjoy stable economic prosperity, radiant health, and a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and fulfillment from their work.
will strive to work in harmony with nature and the laws of God in every
aspect of their farm operation. Farming will be a respected occupation
and farmers will take pride in what they produce. Their goal will be to
produce food that is high in true quality — not just a lot of bulk.
means that careful attention and hard work will be given to building up
the land. Natural methods of composting and fertilizing will be used to
produce a healthy soil rich in humus and soil life — a soil whose
produce will be practically impervious to insect plagues and disease.
This fertile soil will be protected and further built up by proper
tillage methods, diversification, crop rotation and other conservation
practices. Such carefully managed soil will make maximum use of
available moisture. It will not be plagued with erosion and a
troublesome amount of weeds.
Instead of soil-depleting one-crop
farming — with its corresponding price-depressing surpluses — farmers
in Tomorrow's World will raise a large variety of crops. These crops
will be carefully planted at the right time on the right soil.
and other harmful chemicals will, of course, be totally unnecessary.
Forcing the soil by means of artificial fertilizers, which produce
yields of inferior quality, will simply not be permitted.
Healthy Livestock and Poultry
animals play an important part in the ecology of the life cycle,
tomorrow's farms will have a variety of poultry and livestock. Most of
these farm animals will be allowed to roam freely over rich pastures.
Animal wastes will be properly used to make an important contribution
to soil fertility.
Though livestock may be temporarily penned up for fattening purposes, they will not spend most of their lives
confined in crowded feedlots. Neither will chickens spend their lives
cooped up in cages so small that they can barely turn around.
farm animals will not be given a host of drugs and shots, and feeds of
unnatural, unbalanced, highly concentrated mixtures that cannot
possibly produce high-quality meat. Rather, poultry and livestock will
be given feed and forage that is clean, balanced and high in natural
nutritional value. This wholesome feed will produce strong and healthy
stock that will reproduce robust offspring of the same high caliber.
breeding of both plants and animals will be practiced — but only to
build up factors of true quality. Development and use of inferior
hybrid strains will not be permitted. Neither will there be such
practices as artificial insemination.
Gracious Living for the Farmer
high quality evident in the farm produce will also be reflected in the
personal life of the farmer and his family. There will be hard work,
but it will be challenging and rewarding. And farm life will not be a
humdrum existence of toil and sweat from dawn to dusk with no time out
for culture, relaxation and enjoyment of life.
World the farm family will have better opportunity for personal
improvement, education, recreation, travel and socializing. Then all
farmers will be intelligent, educated, cultured individuals — in a
profession looked up to by the rest of society. They will have a goal
in life other than seeking how they can squeeze another dollar's or
pound's worth of produce out of the land.
Nearby cities will
offer a rich variety of cultural, recreational, educational and social
activities for the farm family. And scenic areas and parks of natural
beauty will be available for hiking, boating, camping, fishing, etc.,
just a few miles away.
Society will be agriculturally oriented in Tomorrow's
World. Farming will be so popular that even city dwellers will want to
take part in it. But not in the way so many do today when they "play
at" farming to gain tax benefits.
Rather, people in tomorrow's
cities will want to have their own gardens and small orchards just for
the pleasure of working with the soil, of being close to nature and of
growing a part of their own food. Because of changes in tomorrow's
urban areas many people in towns and cities will have room for
small-scale agricultural activities. Some will even keep a few
chickens, cows, sheep or goats!
But how will this wonderful
world of agriculture come about? Will it be by man's achievements in
agricultural science and technology? Let's look and see what man has
planned for the future of agriculture — and see how it compares with
the future just described.
Agriculture 2000 A.D.?
efficient farmer of the year 2000," says an impressive study entitled
Agriculture 2000, "is a super breed of farmer, with super skills and
super tools. The heart of his operation will be a control center
equipped with a wide array of electronic wizardry to help him produce
crops two to five times as abundant as today."
describes unmanned tractors that are controlled by computer tape,
buried wires or sensing devices. The courses of these tractors would be
plotted on headquarter units similar to radar sets which follow today's
Other new machinery projected by the report
are huge four- or six-wheel-drive tractors powered by electric drive,
fuel cells or efficient storage batteries. Cabs would include air
conditioning, food warmer, coffee maker, refrigerator, television, and
even a sink.
Plant growth is expected to be automatically
recorded, and simply by turning a dial the farmer will provide proper
light, water and nutrients.
Production of cows' milk is
predicted to quadruple. Man even plans to manufacture "identical" milk
from carrot tops and pea pods. New varieties of corn will produce
plants that look more like small pine trees! Fertile ova will be
transplanted from superior cows into common incubator cows, allowing a
superior cow to mother as many as 1000 calves in her lifetime.
report foresees staggering production figures. It predicts yields of
300 bushels of wheat per acre, compared with today's 27; 175 bushels of
soybeans, compared with 25; 30 tons of forage, compared with three;
30,000 pounds of milk per cow, as compared with 8,000; and 1000 pounds
of beef at 10 months of age, compared with 750 today!
are these staggering production figures to be achieved? By the three
magic wonders of modern agriculture: greater mechanization and
automation, greater use of chemistry, and man-manipulated genetics.
Chemical Care From "Cradle to the Grave"
many farmers feel they could not survive without chemical pesticides
and fertilizers. But we are told that the intensive use of chemicals in
agriculture is just beginning, compared with the future. Not only will
chemical pesticides be used with greater efficiency and precision in
eliminating pests, and not only will chemical fertilizers become more
refined and powerful, but scientists now envision "cradle-to-the-grave"
chemical regulation of plant growth, development, yield and quality! It
may surprise you to learn that the following plant processes are either
presently under control or are being experimented with to come under
Root initiation and development, speeding up or
slowing down germination, whichever is desirable; control of vegetative
growth and form of the plant so it can be accommodated by "once-over"
This control involves regulating the branching and leaf orientation, the time of flowering and fruit set, the color
and enlargement of the fruit and the control of fruit ripening. It
includes abscission control, which prevents the premature dropping of
fruit yet loosens the fruit to make mechanical harvesting easy.
lighting and automatic feeding have already become widespread in
livestock and poultry operations. Experiments with controlled
environments show that all animals have a "comfort zone" and that
temperature and humidity exert a marked influence on performance. Man
hopes to raise livestock of the future in controlled environments (some
even predict in high-rise, apartment-like dwellings!) and feeding is
planned to be computer-programmed to meet specific needs. Estrus
(sexual excitement) will be synchronized, and ovulatory rates regulated
with the ova being fertilized artificially with sperm of known genetic
With chickens, an effort is being made to break
through the egg-a-day barrier. It is reasoned that the hen should not
have to act as a packaging machine and be required to produce a
limestone container for each egg. If the shell could be discarded and
if only the "membrane envelope" were produced, much of the time and
energy now used in egg production could be eliminated. Such shell-less
eggs already constitute more than 5 percent of the market!
that will be marketed in 100 days from birth and beef animals that will
be marketed in six months are other predictions. The goal here is to
get as much gain from every pound of food being fed as possible. One
experiment with caged piglets produced close to one pound of gain for
one pound of food!
As of 1969, plastic roughage went on the
market for cattle! This product stays in the rumen and provides a
"scratch factor" needed for efficient digestion of grain and
supplement. It "eliminates" the need for natural roughage and in some
instances has even increased feed conversion by 10 percent!
recycling of animal wastes as reconstituted foods for livestock and
poultry is another trend that is catching on fast. This accomplishes
two purposes: It gets rid of the waste, and it provides cheap feed.
is the kind of agriculture man has planned for the coming years. But
something is terribly wrong with this projected picture overall.
Modern Agriculture Is Failing!
biggest problem in the glowing predictions we have just read is that
there is nothing which can quickly, practically, cheaply and
effectively be put to work in solving our race with worldwide famine!
may sound good. Some may even come to pass in carefully controlled
experiments or on small acreages in rich countries like the U. S. But
this is a far cry from having the capital and skilled manpower to be
useful on a large scale.
Besides, too often the
glamorous-sounding projects deal with relatively minor factors as far
as food production is concerned. The really big problems of shrinking
available arable land through erosion, salt destruction and urban
development, a sinking water table, and the continuing general
worldwide decline in soil fertility are almost totally ignored. Little
or nothing is being done to solve these major problems. In fact, the
modern practices mentioned previously are all too often hastening the
destruction of these priceless resources.
Just look at the end
result of many of the "successful" practices of modern farming, such as
chemical pesticides and fertilizers, drugs, antibiotics in feeds,
The truth is that every one of these practices is
largely at odds with nature. Thus they are breaking laws which exact
penalties. Because the penalty does not always immediately appear — at
least not in its fulness — it is too often assumed that a penalty does
not exist. But a delayed penalty simply means that the disastrous
effects are accumulating and will in due time be released in full fury.
Some of these unnatural practices may appear to be successful — until we start to reap the penalty.
and fertilizers, for example, have been hailed for contributing to
greater yields and an increased food supply. But they also have been
quietly and steadily killing soil life (earthworms, beneficial
bacteria, fungi, and other organisms), causing erosion and pollution,
and producing inferior food that is bringing sickness and suffering to
mankind. The widespread evils of DDT, as only one example, are just
beginning to be recognized by governments around the world.
soil begins to show signs of depletion, it ought to be rested and
carefully built up. Chemicals just mask the problem while they continue
to further deplete the land.
Inferior quality is also evident in
many new strains of plants. The widely hailed varieties of rice such as
IR-8, for example, not only need huge amounts of chemical fertilizers
and water, but they are also very highly susceptible to disease.
stock is likewise in a very precarious position. Feeds containing
antibiotics have taken away from the animals their natural capacity to
resist disease. Veterinarians warn we are "flirting with a tragedy" in
this area. Now it is feared this lack of resistance may be
transmissible to humans via the meat we eat.
We know of feedlots
where the animals have been so doped with drugs and concentrated feeds
that the manure of these animals will not even decompose! The producers
try to solve this problem by feeding the manure back to the animals!
estimated 85 percent of American cattle are given stilbestrol — "Queen
of the Hormones." It has been known to cause lower carcass quality,
prolapse of the rectum and blockage of the urinary tract in cows. It
lowers the grade of the carcass and gives the meat a watery, mushy
appearance. It is suspected of being a causative factor in cancer and
the appearance of female characteristics in men who consume the beef so
treated. Why is it used? Because 16 cents worth of stilbestrol can
bring up to twelve dollars worth of profit!
and automation can be bad when taken to an extreme or improperly used.
Mechanization has greatly speeded up man's ability to abuse the earth.
The moldboard plow, for example, has helped convert far larger acreages
into deserts than man has managed to transform into productive
Neither is it good to coop up thousands of chickens
in small cages so they can be automatically fed and watered at the
expense of the birds' health and where disease could quickly wipe out
the entire flock.
A disease of epidemic proportions in many
areas not long ago killed tens of thousands of laying hens in just such
poultry operations. The resulting egg shortage and increased expense in
securing eggs from greater distances was reflected in higher prices to
the consumer. These money-motivated practices often cost money!
then there are the social and economic consequences of modern
agriculture. The cost-price squeeze is one of many factors which drives
many small farmers off the land into already-overcrowded cities to try
to eke out an existence there. While the big farmers squeeze all they
can out of the land, the cost-price squeeze is also slowly but surely
closing in on them.
In utter incongruity, the government pays
for taking some cropland out of production to relieve the surplus,
meanwhile the farmer tries as hard as he can to produce more by forcing
as much as possible from his remaining land so he can make a living!
all the while agri-business debts pile higher and higher. Farmers are
forced to take out ever-bigger loans until they owe the bank or other
lending agencies their entire assets.
And in the underdeveloped,
hungry countries? There the limited agricultural resources (and almost
all fertilizer) are used to grow cash crops such as coffee, peanuts,
etc. These products are then exported to get foreign currency.
Meanwhile the local people suffer from malnutrition and hunger.
Human Nature — A Basic Problem
history, man has cut down the forests, overgrazed the grasslands and
mined the earth's croplands — with hardly a thought given to replacing,
rebuilding and restoring. With very few exceptions, land use has been
synonymous with land abuse.
And what has been at the root of
this abuse? Human nature! An attitude of getting! Man's nature of
vanity, jealousy, lust and greed manifests itself in every one of his
activities — and agriculture is no exception.
problems of agriculture today cannot be solved unless and until man's
nature of getting can be replaced by a nature of giving. As long as
human nature with its tendencies to tear down, exploit and destroy is
allowed to dominate, there is no hope for agriculture — nor to feed the
malnourished, hungry and starving masses of our world.
world-ruling government is direly needed to educate humans to proper
farming practices and where necessary to authoritatively change our
present agricultural ways.
And — believe it or not — very soon,
now, a strong world government is going to be established. But not the
way men seem to think. The whole world is going to learn the right way
to farm — the right way to live — the way to abundance and happiness.
Entire Society Agriculturally Oriented
the new world the nations "shall beat their swords into plowshares, and
their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against
nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Micah 4:3).
Instead of making instruments of destruction and being
a war-oriented society, men will make instruments of peace, and society
will become agriculturally oriented. Agriculture will be a respected
profession, and many, many people will be engaged in it.
they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and
none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath
spoken it" (Micah 4:4).
Because proper care of the land involves
work which can often be done only with human hands, the farms in
Tomorrow's World will probably be relatively small.
imagine what it will be like when man wholeheartedly works in harmony
with all of God's physical and spiritual laws? The results will be
breathtaking. The Bible describes it in these terms:
they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together
to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and
for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as
a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all" (Jer.
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman
shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth
seed, and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall
melt... and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof;
they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them" (Amos 9:13-14).
there is fantastic hope for the future! There is wonderful good news
that lies ahead. There will be no famine, no malnutrition or hunger in