Topic 1



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 existence.

B. 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 use

2. Green manure crops, especially legumes, enriched the soil

3. Marl increased productivity (liming)

4. Wood ashes were beneficial

5. Saltpeter (KNO3) was beneficial to plants

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.

3. Jethro 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 drill.

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 the soil

(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)

3. Liebig's 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 crops.

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 arts.

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

1887 N. 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.


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