History of Soil Fertility
A. Cultivation of plants for food allowed humans to
convert from a nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle to a more settled
Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates River in what is now Iraq
shows evidence of very early civilization. Writings
dating to 2500 B.C. mention fertility of the land. Fertility was due to
annual flooding of the land and a system of canals were built for
irrigation of crops.
C. On uplands shifting agriculture was necessary
"slash and burn"
D. Golden Age of Greeks 800-200 BC
1. Manure increased productivity and prolonged land
2. Green manure crops, especially legumes, enriched
3. Marl increased productivity (liming)
4. Wood ashes were beneficial
5. Saltpeter (KNO3) was beneficial to
6. Saline soils could be detected by taste test
E. First 18 centuries A.D.
1. Pietro de Crescenzi
(Roman). 1233-1320. Published a book on agricultural practices
2 .Jan Baptista Van
Helmont (1577-1644) His willow tree experiment "proved"
that water was the sole nutrient of plants.
"But I have learned by
this handicraft-operation that all Vegetables do immediately, and
materially proceed out of the Element of water onely .For I took an Earthen
vessel, in which I put 200 pounds of Earth that had been dried in a
Furnace, which I moystened with Rainwater, and I implanted therein the
Trunk or Stem of a Willow Tree, weighing five pounds; and atlength, five
years being finished, the Tree sprung from thence, did weigh169 pounds, and
about three ounces: But I moystened the Earthen Vessel with Rain-water, or
distilled water (alwayes when there was need) and it was large, and
implanted into the Earth, and least the dust that flew about should be
co-mingled with the Earth, I covered the lip or mouth of theVessel with an
Iron-Plate covered with Tin, and easily passable with many holes. I
computed not the weight of the leaves that fell off in the four Autumnes.
At length, I again dried the Earth of the Vessell, and there were found the
same two hundred pounds, wanting about two ounces. Therefore164 pounds of
Wood, Barks, and Roots, arose out of water onely." (Helmont,1662).
200 lbs. of soil, 5 lb willow shoot
added rain or distilled water
5 years of growth
169 lb 3 oz tree
All but 2 oz of soil was accounted for, which
he assumed was experimental error, so he concluded that water
was the source of plant nutrition.
Tull(1674-1741) - Thought small particles were ingested
by plants, and that cultivating the soil made it easier for plants
to take up soil particles.
wrote the Book - "Horse
Hoeing Husbandry" and developed the horse
hoe and the seed
F. Modern Period (1800-1900)
1. Justus Von Liebig
(1803-1873) Laid the foundation for the modern fertilizer industry.
(a) Stressed the value of mineral elements from
(b) Found that carbon in plants comes from CO2
of the atmosphere not from humus in the soil as was thought at the time
(c) Hydrogen and oxygen come from water
(d) The alkaline metals (Ca, Mg and K) were
needed to neutralize acids formed by plants
(e) Phosphates are necessary for seed formation
2. He manufactured fertilizer but made the mistake of
fusing P and K with lime (unavailable to plants)
Law of the Minimum - If one of the essential nutrients is deficient,
growth will be poor even if all other elements are abundant. Liebig's
Barrel. Barrel 2
4. Liebigs contribution to philosophy was important
Perfect agriculture is
the true foundation of all trade and industry -- It is the foundation of
the riches of nations. But a rational system of agriculture cannot be
formed without the application of scientific principles for such a system
must be based on an exact acquaintance with the means of vegetable
nutrition. The knowledge we must seek through chemistry.
G. Development of Soil Fertility in the U.S.
1. 1733 James E.
Oglethorpe - Experimental
garden on bluffs of Savannah River in Georgia to produce exotic food
2. Benjamin Franklin
- Had an interest in agriculture
and demonstrated the value of gypsum.
Applied to hill in a pattern which outlined the words "This
land has been plastered" Quotes
3. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) Founding father and agronomist . Quotes related to agriculture.
3. Edmund Ruffin in
Virginia from 1825-1845 one of the first to use lime on humid region soils
4. 1862 Department of Agriculture established.
5. Morrill Act
(1862) - provided for state colleges of agriculture and mechanic
The benefit of this
act, to the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one
college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other
scientific and classical studies and including military tactics,
to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture
and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the
States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal
and practical education of the industrial classes in the several
pursuits and professions in life.
Connecticut first ag experiment station 1875
1877 N. C. Ag
Experiment Station established
C. State University , General
History In 1887 the state legislature established the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now NC State) as the state's land-grant institution.