Too often, agriculturists see only the effects, while the actual causes of the crisis grow worse and more complicated. Yet we must recognize our agricultural problems—their causes—and CORRECT THEM.
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This article is excerpted from the book Mounting Worldwide Crisis in Agriculture by Dale L. Schurter, the world’s foremost authority on biblical agriculture and sustainable husbandry. Subsequent installments will appear in The Real Truth over the coming months.
Robust human health demands wholesome food, but wholesome food can only come 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 possess.
Soil is a complex ecosystem composed of six parts: (1) air, (2) water, (3) rock mineral particles, (4) dissolved minerals, (5) organic matter—dead remains of plants and animals (and animal wastes)—and (6) a vast community of living organisms. These all work together to perform important functions.
One major function is to provide a place in which plants can live and grow to give us food. Another is to act as a “garbage processing plant” that not only rids the landscape of plant, animal and human waste and refuse, but also decomposes the unusable refuse and gives it back to us in a form that is usable and beneficial to producing food.
Realize this towering fact: fertile topsoil is by far man’s most valuable and indispensable natural resource.
Agronomically, the dust is the best, most mineral-rich part of the soil. The smallest soil particle is called a colloid, and the dust is made up of both humus and clay colloid particles. These tiny particles hold/carry the vast majority of the minerals that form the structure of the soil—and thus the “structure” of plants, animals and humans.
Unknown to most, agricultural principles found within the Bible’s pages align with scientific laws of nature. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, states that mankind was formed “of the dust of the ground” (2:7).
Consider: what is removed by erosion is the best part of the rich topsoil—the dust—the surface portion, which also contains health-producing microbes, humus and finished plant food. Each half ton of topsoil lost every year contains enough plant food to provide one person’s sustenance for years. This all means, of course, that soil conservation and proper agricultural methods could make the whole Earth fabulously wealthy.
Rich, well-kept farmland equals life! When man degrades topsoil, however, he is destroying his ability to live healthfully.
This is just one example where science aligns with agricultural principles found in the Bible. Much more will be mentioned later.
Again, topsoil lies at “an average depth of seven or eight inches over the face of the land” (Man and the Soil, Karl B. Mickey). In some few areas, it may be several feet deep, in many other areas, considerably less than seven inches.
In 1994, I was invited to introduce biblical agriculture in Ukraine, and had the opportunity to visit and walk over native pastureland in their National Land Reserve, preserved untilled for over 2,300 years. An elongated excavation had been made, beginning at ground level, sloping downward to more than 12-feet deep. This excavation fully exposed the soil’s profile, and enabled good access for inspection of the depth of topsoil, and the first two feet of subsoil. The rich topsoil measured an amazing 11.38-feet deep.
“The soil is not, as many suppose, a dead, inert substance,” Jerome Rodale wrote in his book Pay Dirt: Farming & Gardening with Composts. “It is very much alive and dynamic. It teems with bacteria…fungi, molds, yeasts, protozoa, algae and other minute organisms. All are microscopic plants except the protozoa which represent animal life. As a group, these lower plants and animals are referred to as the biologic life of the soil…This microbial population of the soil is concentrated mainly in the upper four or five inches where the bulk of the organic matter, their food, is to be found.”
“This hive of living things in the soil, the eaters and the eaten, adds up to incredible numbers. The bacteria alone may range from a comparative few [to] up to three or four billion in a single gram of dry 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 [hyphae, microscopic strands of cells in which fungi grow] in a gram of dry soil, weighing over 1,000 pounds to the acre” (The Web of Life, John H. Storer).
In his book The Forest, Peter Farb estimated that “about 95 per cent of the nearly one million insect species” spend part of their lives in the soil.
And then there are the humble earthworms. They are nature’s plow, chemist and cultivator, maker and distributor of plant food. According to Mr. Farb, rich soil may support millions of earthworms per acre. They are the soil specialists responsible for building and maintaining an ideal fertile environment for good plant growth from inert rock particles and organic debris.
The larger earthworms, night crawlers, are a miracle of engineering in and of themselves. They burrow sometimes many inches downward into the soil, sometimes many feet into the subsoil searching for and gathering small bits of soil and/or rock particles to ingest and move through their series of “stomachs.” As this species of worm tunnels down and around, it instinctively searches out minerals missing in the topsoil above. The earth it ingests and “composts” does not just travel through it. This type of earthworm also serves as a “dump truck,” and carries a processed load to the soil’s surface and deposits it there, where most needed. In addition to minerals, enzymes, bacteria and hormones are also deposited, all adding to the soil’s fertility.
The “red wiggler” earthworm species does much of the digestion and composting in the top few inches of the soil and in compost piles or bins.
All this teeming 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 colloidal particles. These “particles of the soil are classified according to size into three principal groups [known as soil separates], which are called sand, silt, and clay. The particle sizes in each of the groups range between certain limits, which have been arbitrarily fixed at diameters of 2 to 0.05 mm for sand, 0.05 to 0.002 mm for silt, and less than 0.002 mm for clay” (Soils and Men, U.S. Department of Agriculture). Each tiny soil particle is covered with a tight-fitting film of oxides, water and bits of organic matter, which provides a supportive environment for the soil life.
The surface area of these particles is staggering. According to A. F. Gustafson in his book Using and Managing Soils, “The combined surface area of the colloidal particles in a cubic foot of soil is from 150 to 200 acres.”
Organic cementing agents hold these particles together to form small structural units called aggregates or peds. They give soil the ideal crumbly granular structure necessary for proper tilling—and prevent compaction. Prime aggregation provides an optimum of large and small pore spaces needed for the soil to “breathe.”
A favorable soil structure is just as important to growing healthy plants as is soil fertility. The organic bonding compounds in soils are continually decomposing and must be replaced to maintain aggregate stability and good soil structure.
The organic matter is obtained from living and dead plants and animals, plant roots, green manure crops, animal manure, 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. As soil organisms decompose organic matter, nutrients are released. This digestive action produces organic acids that dissolve insoluble rock minerals and makes them available for plant use.
The most important product of organic matter decomposition is humus.
The importance of humus cannot be overemphasized. Humus is the portion of organic matter that accumulates in soil to give it its most valuable characteristics. Here are a few reasons: humus improves the physical condition of the soil, supports its organisms, increases permeability, improves aeration, stabilizes temperature, and serves as a storehouse of plant nutrients. Essentially, all of a soil’s nitrogen reserves are stored in humus.
When it rains, soil with humus soaks up water. Because it 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, whereas a half-inch rain on humus-poor land can cause erosion.
Originally, the rich virgin soils of the U.S. Midwest contained from 5 percent to more than 10 percent humus in the top 12 inches. Now, worldwide our tillable land (and its soils that feed us) continues to send millions on a “death march by installment plan.” Malnutrition and starvation will result from our increasing neglect—indeed, poisoning—of this vital resource.
This flies in the face of husbandry guidelines found early in the Bible, which were given to bring health and abundance to mankind. Notice: “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden [personally prepared for him, see Genesis 2:8] to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15).
Digging deeper, we find the Hebrew words translated “dress” and “keep” in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible include quite an expanded meaning:
Dress: (Hebrew abad) “to work,” “serve,” “till.” In the King James Version, it is also translated to be a “husbandman.”
Keep: (Hebrew shamar) “to hedge about,” “guard,” “keep,” “to protect,” and “attend to.” In the King James Version, it is also translated “observe,” “preserve,” “reserve” and “save.”
What specific guidelines! With soil being man’s most precious resource, he must guard, keep, protect, preserve and SAVE IT!
Underlying the idea of dressing and keeping the Earth is that we must be in line with God’s natural laws. Breaking these has dire consequences—the record of history vividly and repeatedly proves this statement true.
When minerals, organic matter, and soil organisms are present and in balance for a particular type of soil, the 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 and fertilization practices, unchecked erosion, continued monoculture (growing a single variety of plant in large tracts of uniform crops)—and failure to rest the land and restore what the preceding harvests have taken from it.
Biblical principles established millennia ago help guard against such depletion, but today are being ignored. The most basic of these laws states that all land should rest one year in seven. This provides a “sabbatical”—a rest for the land in which natural cycles are allowed to restore balance to the soil. This guards against topsoil depletion and erosion.
Essentially, a land sabbath is a way the Earth “puts itself in check.” It allows the restoration of minerals and other plant nutrients used and not returned during the previous six years. During this time, organisms that naturally replenish the land can more quickly build up the soil.
This practice is outlined in the book of Leviticus: “Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; but in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard” (25:3-4).
The next verses detail what should be done during the rest year and how food will be provided. Read carefully: “That which grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, neither gather the grapes of your vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land. And the sabbath of the land shall be meat [food] for you; for you, and for your servant, and for your maid, and for your hired servant, and for your stranger that sojourns with you, and for your cattle, and for the beast that are in your land, shall all the increase thereof be meat” (vs. 5-7).
Simply put, this means that during the year that a field rests, a farmer can still pick fruits and vegetables (that grew on their own) to sustain his family, workers and animals. This fresh produce is in addition to foods that would have been stored during previous years, such as grains.
This sabbatical maintains the health and life of the soil, and ensures a continued abundance of food for all. If we followed this and other biblical practices today in the United States and worldwide, we would not be facing the soil depletion and erosion crisis.
In an attempt to get around the necessity of land sabbaths, modern agriculture practices the substitution of synthetic fertilizers for humus that is not allowed to be replenished in the soil. The “replacing” of humus by artificial means does stimulate plant growth, but what happens to soil humus, organic matter, and soil life as a result?
There are essentially two basic philosophies regarding fertilization. One began with the humus theory, and is based on the concept that fertilizer should be used to feed the soil to maintain its balance and vital functions—thus allowing the soil to feed the plants. The other philosophy, largely promoted by the chemical fertilizer industry, is that fertilizer is a plant food and should be used to feed a plant directly. Such thinking often ignores and bypasses the biological and physical properties and functions of the soil (The Scientific Monthly).
This “fertilizer as plant food” philosophy had its beginnings in the 1840s. It was at that time when Justus von Liebig in Germany noticed the regular presence of certain mineral elements—especially nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium—in the ashes of burned plants. Since these elements 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, Sir John Bennet Lawes, was experimenting along similar lines (Soil and Civilization).
These men found that when nitrogen, phosphorus and potash—or potassium carbonate—were added to depleted soil, in the form of water-soluble chemicals, production increased like “magic”!
Soon farmers the world over were adopting this method as a shortcut to soil fertility.
It should be noted that early proponents of chemical fertilizers did not believe that such substances should be used to replace organic matter. But with additional demands on food from the war economy of the 1940s, farming methods dramatically changed.
In his book An Agricultural Testament, English botanist Sir Albert Howard addressed the loss in soil fertility at that time. He said, “A wide gap between the humus used up in crop production and the humus added as manure has naturally developed. This has been filled by chemical manures. The principle followed, based on the Liebig tradition, is that any deficiencies in the soil solution can be made up by the addition of suitable chemicals. This is based on a complete misconception of plant nutrition. It is superficial and fundamentally unsound. It takes no account of the life of the soil, including the mycorrhizal association—the living fungous bridge which connects soil and sap” (emphasis added).
He continued, “The ease with which crops can be grown with chemicals has made the correct utilization of wastes much more difficult. If a cheap substitute for humus exists why not use it? The answer is twofold. In the first place, chemicals can never be a substitute for humus because…the soil must live and the mycorrhizal association must be [one of the essential links] in plant nutrition. In the second place, the use of such a substitute cannot be cheap because soil fertility—one of the most important assets of any country—is lost; because artificial plants, artificial animals, and artificial men are unhealthy and can only be protected from the parasites, whose duty it is to remove them, by means of poison sprays, vaccines and serums and an expensive system of patent medicines, panel doctors, hospitals, and so forth” (emphasis added).
An increased demand for agricultural products fostered by World War I and government price supports caused intensive and specialized farming methods to become more popular. Also, by this time, the internal combustion engine was gradually replacing the horse. Mass migration to the cities was causing labor problems. The size of farms had to increase to cope with economic pressures against farmers.
And then there was industry. Following World War I and II, nitrate and phosphate factories producing munitions for war no longer had a market. Sensing huge potential profits, industry began developing a new market in agriculture. Through research grants to agricultural colleges and extensive advertising campaigns, it urged and “educated” farmers into believing that with artificial fertilizers they could produce greater yields and make bigger profits (Journal of the Soil Association).
Under these conditions, the use of chemical fertilizers skyrocketed!
Between 1949 and 1968, “agricultural production increased by about 45 per cent”—and this was on 16 percent less land. “In that period, the annual use of fertilizer nitrogen increased 648 per cent…Clearly, more crop was being produced on less land (the yield per acre increased by 77 per cent),” Barry Commoner wrote in his book The Closing Circle.
Mr. Commoner also stated that “the cost of fertilizer, relative to the resultant gain in crop sales, [was] lower than that of any other economic input” for the farmer.
“In 1949, an average of about 11,000 tons of fertilizer nitrogen were used per USDA unit of crop production, while in 1968 about 57,000 tons of nitrogen were used for the same crop yield. This means that the efficiency with which nitrogen contributes to the growth of the crop declined fivefold. Obviously, a good deal of the fertilizer nitrogen did not enter the crop and must have ended up elsewhere in the ecosystem.” Unbelievable!
“The organic content of the U.S. soil, according to data from Missouri University, [had] gone down 50% since 1940 [by the early 1970s]” (Land Bulletin Number 133).
Even after these reports warned of the damages that fertilizers were costing soil fertility, little has been done over the decades to quell their use, and the situation continues to grow dire. (It is also worsening in many other heavily farmed regions of the world.)
A 2011 report released by the USDA found that, over a period of 20 years, cropland lost 27 percent of soil organic matter. This means that even after over four decades the same pattern of decline is prevalent—virtually nothing has changed!
In nature, plants and animals live together, and their litter—such as fallen leaves, shed fur, manures, etc.—accumulates on the surface along with plant residues. This then decays and is broken down by microorganisms to become incorporated into the layers underneath, thus making a life-sustaining, humus-rich soil. This repeats, creating a “whole life cycle in the soil [that] becomes a self-regulating system—an organized community, adjusting its numbers to the food supply so long as it is undisturbed by [humanly designed] outside forces,” Mr. Storer wrote in his book The Web of Life.
History proves that when man enters the picture, these soil systems are changed. In ignorance or in greed, he plows up virgin land to grow cash crops. Increased aeration caused by plowing stimulates the microorganisms into breaking down the organic matter more rapidly. Then man removes his crops from the soil, thus taking further nutrients from its reserves. When he has mined the soil until it can no longer produce profitably, he moves on—or at least he did. Now there are no new lands to exploit. But man must till and use the soil to survive, and the way it is used has a direct relationship to soil, plant, animal and human health.
With a little more effort and a lot less greed, man could return enough organic matter to the soil to build up humus levels. But he seems to be hopelessly greedy from economic pressure and shortsightedness. He would rather borrow from the soil’s capital and ignore repaying this debt until necessity demands it. Well, necessity is now banging on the door!
Average farmers, ranchers, landscapers, horticulturists, lawn keepers, and home flower and vegetable gardeners continue to desperately look to chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides—rather than to good husbandry practices that rebuild, restore and sustain true soil fertility, and crop, animal and human health. The Fertilizer Institute estimates that more than 50 million tons of chemical pesticides are being applied every year on food-producing land just in the United States of America, plus over 180 million are used on a combined much greater acreage in the rest of the world. It should be a “no brainer” that 230 million tons of poison (toxic chemicals) are incredibly harmful! (While these figures are lower than in previous years, this is due to a simultaneous rise in the planting of genetically modified crops. More about this later.) This practice truly does support and promote other practices that kill and destroy. The costs are much higher than paying more for health-supporting, mineral-rich non-toxic foods.
We would do well to remember the message of the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, who was one of the first authors to write about the destruction of the environment as a result of pesticides and other chemicals. Unless we as individuals, communities and nations change our ways, are we not headed for the “Last Silent Spring”—by choice?
Much research on soil and plant nutrition has been done to the tune of millions of dollars annually, and continues to expand. At the same time, plant disease and insect infestation has increased by leaps and bounds.
More and stronger pesticides are being used to combat old and new “mutant” insects, more chemical fertilizers are being applied per acre in an attempt to produce similar yields as previous years, and new resistant plant strains are being developed to combat “mutant” strains of plant diseases. Yet the problem of disease and insect invasion is escalating.
Why? There is a cause!
Research facilities such as the Sanborn Field Agricultural Experiment Station study the results yielded from the various agricultural practices as well as their effects on soil composition. When the results of a 50-year study were published by the University of Missouri in 1942, it showed that large quantities of nitrogen maintained good crop yields. Even after such heavy amounts of fertilizer were applied, however, “it was too small to have an appreciable effect…”—and actually degraded the soil.
But the report also showed dramatic changes. “The organic matter content and the physical properties of the soil on the chemically treated plots [had] declined rapidly. These altered conditions prevented sufficient water from percolating into the soil and being stored for drought periods. Apparently a condition [had] developed in the soil whereby the nutrients applied [were] not delivered to the plant when needed for optimum growth.”
“Evidently most of the nitrogen not used by the immediate crop [was] removed from the soil by leaching or denitrification” (ibid.).
The Sanborn Field study and others elsewhere “were a warning that in humus-depleted soil, nitrate fertilizer tends to break the natural self-containment of the soil system,” Mr. Commoner wrote in an article published by Scientist and Citizen. But this warning was ignored. Today, it can be ignored no longer!
Overall nitrogen fertilizer production and use over a 25-year period from 1946 to 1971 showed a 1,050 percent increase (The Closing Circle). Roughly half of this fertilizer leaves the soil in some way. Much is leached out and drains into water supplies, as demonstrated today by the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a study in 2010 illustrating the ineffectiveness of nationwide efforts to prevent fertilizer from running or leaching off the land, with nutrient pollution remaining “one of the top three causes of degradation in U.S. streams and rivers…” The levels of nitrates in drinking water are above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards and continue to be a health concern for over 40 million people.
Two other studies by the USGS followed nutrient trends in the Mississippi River and Chesapeake Bay. From the late 1970s to 2008, nitrate concentrations showed dramatic elevations, with a 75 percent increase in two sites along the Mississippi River and a 53 percent increase on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
Good fertilization is the addition of materials to the soil that provide minerals (in balance) and increase soil life, organic matter, and humus.
A much-misunderstood aspect of soil fertilization lies in recognizing the detrimental effect that improper fertilization and overfertilization has on the soil, its life, and ours. Just as we humans are different and have different nutritional needs, so does soil.
Soils have been classified into several types. Each of these has a different capacity for holding fertilizer. This is determined by several factors, one of the greatest being the specific composition of the soil’s colloidal particles. Two major classes of colloids are clay and humus. Soluble minerals (fertilizers) attach to these particles until they are needed and used by a plant.
The fertilizer molecules are held there by a type of electronic bond. When fertilizers are applied, they should be applied in proper balance and not exceed the capacity of the soil’s colloidal system. Humus in soil is of vital importance in that it has 10 times the capacity of an equal amount of clay. Once the colloids are “full,” any excess soluble fertilizer may accumulate in toxic amounts in the soil or may leach downward into the groundwater (especially in sandy soils) or runoff in surface water when it rains or when land is irrigated. In fact, this is the cause of a major portion of agriculture’s contribution to nitrate and phosphate pollution in our streams, rivers and groundwater.
Plants also can be malnourished when soil has been overfed with water-soluble fertilizers. Again, just as humans need nutritionally balanced diets, so do plants, and the only way they can get them is by feeding on nutritionally balanced soil.
Roots of plants take up nutrients by exuding carbon dioxide and hydrogen in exchange for minerals attached to the soil colloids. They also solubilize mineral particles that are taken up in water solution. When one (or more) water-soluble fertilizers are found in excess in the soil, as the plant takes up water into its circulatory system, it can be choked by an abnormal amount of those minerals. When this happens, the plant is not able to use the excess in its tissue-building process and the normal balance of plant nutrients (minerals) is upset. This extra amount of minerals remains within the plant, sometimes in toxic form. For example, this is how excess applications of water-soluble nitrogenous fertilizers can cause excess nitrate accumulation in crops and in foods.
Manufactured fertilizers alone cannot supply what the soil needs to produce abundant, healthy crops. Plants need much more than NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium). They need many other secondary and trace elements—all in proper balance. And they need the teeming microbial life that helps them absorb minerals.
The margin between too much and too little is often very slight. Mineral excesses in plants—now common—are often more dangerous than deficiencies. If given too much nitrogen, a plant grows weak and watery. The content and quality of its proteins and minerals suffer, which makes the plant more susceptible to disease.
There 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 abilities, but they simply cannot mechanically formulate humus. And plants were not designed to get nutrients by being force-fed.
Crops grown in humus-deprived soil through use of ever-increasing quantities of chemical fertilizers become deficient in proteins, vitamins and minerals. This has been proven repeatedly by comparative analyses of grains, vegetables and other products produced on humus-rich soil and on chemically fertilized soil.
A study by researchers at Washington State University comparing wheat yields from 1842 to 2003 “found declines in mineral concentration for all eight minerals studied, with an 11 percent decline for iron, 16 percent decline for copper, 25 percent decline for zinc, and 50 percent decline for selenium. Put another way, the researchers found that, to get their recommended daily allowance of nutrients, people would have to eat many more slices of bread today than people had to eat in the past” (The Organic Center).
Nutritional content in corn and other feed crops have dropped even more remarkably than in wheat. This is one reason farmers today give larger quantities of feed to livestock than they did in times past to accomplish the same gain.
Plants must depend upon the available supply of minerals in the soil for elements essential to their growth. Man and the animals he eats depend in turn upon the plants for these nutrients.
Remember, we are sustained by the dust of the ground. In other words, we are what we eat! Human beings are what they think and eat—what we eat does affect the way we think and the way we think does affect what we eat.
If we consume foods that lack nutritional value, our bodies pay the penalty. Plants and animals raised on eroded and depleted soil are inferior producers of foods. And such foods can result in sick, degenerate and disease-prone human beings.
“The most serious loss resulting from…soil exhaustion,” warned Man and the Soil, “is not quantitative, but qualitative. It has to do with the quality of life the soil supports…Soil lacking in calcium and phosphorus lacks the elements of proper bone growth of both animals and humans…Soils lacking in nitrates and other chemicals produce vegetation lacking in the proteins essential to the building and repair of body tissues. It has long been known that animals raised on soils like those around Lexington, Ky., have stronger bones, sounder flesh, greater endurance, and longer lives than animals raised on soils less rich in minerals. That is why breeders of race horses have practically taken over the Kentucky bluegrass region” (emphasis added). This area is also great garden country.
The book continued, “The same thing applies equally to humans…The baby won’t have good bones if its formula is 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 [cells] from a steak from a steer fed on grasses and grain from leached and eroded soils devoid of protein-building minerals and iron.
“Much 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.”
Can we now better see and understand why the growing problem of soil depletion is so important to you, me and all fellow human beings with whom we share this planet—which had its life systems up and running when we arrived?
First of all, we need to acknowledge what actually works within the laws of nature. We must stop employing practices that have caused problems and begin replacing them with conscientious methods of cure and prevention. We must have open minds—minds willing to be re-educated, willing to admit error, willing to change.
A sad truth I have witnessed in my short 75-year sojourn on this planet, thus far visiting and teaching biblical agriculture in 40 different countries around this “jewel in the sky” we call Earth, is that many—and I mean most—do not yet do, practice and live the good practices they already know. Do you?
Man needs to change his attitude toward the soil. Instead of only taking from it, we need to give back to it by replacing and building up the supply of humus.
Basically, this can be done through good management of cropping, tillage, fertilization and resting the land. Growing cover crops and returning other organic material such as crop residues, animal manures, etc., to the soil should be included—and we must stop poisoning it!
We need to put technology to work to help us fertilize soil in a scientific, balanced way. Soil balancing through proper fertilization should be a major goal. Fertilization should not exceed the soil’s capacity to hold added nutrients on its colloidal system. To fertilize beyond this, remember, causes pollution problems, and wastes one’s hard-earned money.
Based on the most recent estimates, every year, 1.37 billion tons of solid animal waste is produced, which “is 130 times greater than the amount of human waste—a total of [3.75] tons for every human being in the country” (Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production). “Waste,” however, is not the right word, for these by-products of the life process should not be wasted but carefully used in maintaining soil fertility. Manure used to be carefully collected, composted and put on land. Today its disposal is one of the livestock industry’s biggest headaches. Instead of being a pollutant, as it has become in many instances, it should be considered 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?
Careful attention also needs to be given to soil ecology.
Tillage practices that invert and totally bury organic residues help destroy soil structure, soil life, and should be ceased. Manures, fertilizers and other organic material should be added to the soil’s surface or mixed into only the top few inches. They should be incorporated into the soil so that mixing, but not covering, the material takes place. The depth of mixing will be determined by the amount of residue to be incorporated.
To follow practices that “mine” soil humus decreases soil quality and its productive capacity. On the other hand, following management programs based on revealed understanding and confirmed by scientific knowledge and demonstration will maintain and build soil humus and overall soil fertility to benefit both present and future generations.
Be sure to read the next issue for the continuation of the book. To read it online, visit Mounting Worldwide Crisis in Agriculture.