The Soil and Health

The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture

Albert Howard
With a New Introduction by Wendell Berry
Copyright Date: 1947
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jcp63
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  • Book Info
    The Soil and Health
    Book Description:

    During his years as a scientist working for the British government in India, Sir Albert Howard conceived of and refined the principles of organic agriculture. Howard's The Soil and Health became a seminal and inspirational text in the organic movement soon after its publication in 1945. The Soil and Health argues that industrial agriculture, emergent in Howard's era and dominant today, disrupts the delicate balance of nature and irrevocably robs the soil of its fertility. Howard's classic treatise links the burgeoning health crises facing crops, livestock, and humanity to this radical degradation of the Earth's soil. His message -- that we must respect and restore the health of the soil for the benefit of future generations -- still resonates among those who are concerned about the effects of chemically enhanced agriculture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3209-9
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. NEW INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
    Wendell Berry

    In 1964 my wife, Tanya, and I bought a rough and neglected little farm on which we intended to grow as much of our own food as we could. My editor at the time was Dan Wickenden, who was an organic gardener and whose father, Leonard Wickenden, had written a practical and inspiring book,Gardening with Nature, which I bought and read. Tanya and I wanted to raise our own food because we liked the idea of being independent to that extent, and because we did not like the toxicity, expensiveness, and wastefulness of “modern” food production.Gardening with Nature...

  5. PREFACE
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
    A.H.
  6. 1 INTRODUCTION AN ADVENTURE IN RESEARCH
    (pp. 1-14)

    My first post was a somewhat unusual one. It included the conventional investigation of plant diseases, but combined these duties with work on general agriculture; officially I was described as Mycologist and Agricultural Lecturer to the Imperial Department of Agriculture for the West Indies.

    The headquarters of the department were at Barbados. While I was here provided with a laboratory for investigating the fungous diseases of crops (mycology) and was given special facilities for the study of the sugar-cane, my main work in the Windward and Leeward Islands wru, much more general—the delivery of lectures on agricultural science to...

  7. PART I. THE PART PLAYED BY SOIL FERTILITY IN AGRICULTURE
    • 2 THE OPERATIONS OF NATURE
      (pp. 17-32)

      The introduction to this book describes an adventure in agricultural research and records the conclusions reached. If the somewhat unorthodox views set out are sound, they will not stand alone but will be supported and confirmed in a number of directions—by the farming experience of the past and above all by the way Nature, the supreme farmer, manages her kingdom. In this chapter the manner in which she conducts her various agricultural operations will be briefly reo viewed. In surveying the significant characteristics of the life—vegetable and animal—met with in Nature particular attention will be paid to...

    • PLATES
      (pp. None)
    • 3 SYSTEMS OF AGRICULTURE
      (pp. 33-42)

      What is agriculture? It is undoubtedly the oldest of the great arts; its beginnings are lost in the mists of man’s earliest days. Moreover, it is the foundation of settled life and therefore of all true civilization, for until man had learnt to add the cultivation of plants to his knowledge of hunting and fishing, he could not emerge from his savage existence. This is no mere surmise: observation of surviving primitive tribes, still in the hunting and fishing stage like the Bushmen and Hottentots of Africa, show them unable to progress because they have not mastered and developed the...

    • 4 THE MAINTENANCE OF SOIL FERTILITY IN GREAT BRITAIN
      (pp. 43-56)

      Many accounts of the way the present system of farming in Great Britain has arisen have been published. The main facts in its evolution from Saxon times to the present day are well known. Nevertheless, in one important respect these surveys are incomplete. Nowhere has any attempt been made to bring out the soil fertility aspect of this history and to show what has happened all down the centuries to that factor in crop production and animal husbandry—the humus content of the soil—on which so much depends. The present chapter should be regarded as an attempt to make...

    • PLATES
      (pp. None)
    • 5 INDUSTRIALISM AND THE PROFIT MOTIVE
      (pp. 57-68)

      One of the developments which marks off the modern world is the growth of population. The figures are startling. There were about nine hundred million persons living during the eighteenth century, but over two thousand million at the beginning of the twentieth; in a century and a half world population, therefore, more than doubled. The principal increases took place in Europe.

      The first effect of this is obvious—there were many more mouths to feed. Had no other changes accompanied this rise in population, we can guess what might have happened. The density of the peoples in rural Europe might...

    • 6 THE INTRUSION OF SCIENCE
      (pp. 69-81)

      It was Francis Bacon who first observed that any species of plants impoverished the soil of the particular elements which they needed, but not necessarily of those required by other species. This true observation might have put subsequent investigators on the right path had their general knowledge of scientific law been less fragmentary. As it was, many ingenious guesses were made in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as to the nurture and growth of plants, some near the truth, some wide of the mark. Confusedly it began to be recognized that plants draw their food from several...

  8. PART II. DISEASE IN PRESENT-DAY FARMING AND GARDENING
    • 7 SOME DISEASES OF THE SOIL
      (pp. 85-102)

      Perhaps the most widespread and the most important disease of the soil at the present time is soil erosion, a phase of infertility to which great attention is now being paid.

      Soil erosion in the very mild form of denudation has been in operation since the beginning of time. It is one of the normal operations of Nature going on everywhere. The minute mineral particles which result from the decay of rocks find their way sooner or later to the ocean, but many may linger on the way, often for centuries, in the form of one of the constituents of...

    • PLATES
      (pp. None)
    • 8 THE DISEASES OF CROPS
      (pp. 103-157)

      Disease in crops manifests itself in a great variety of ways. Troubles due to parasitic fungi and insects are by far the most common. Many of these troubles have occurred from time to time all through the ages and are by no means confined to modern farming. In recent years attention has been paid to a number of other diseases, such as those due to eelworm, to virus, and to the loss of the power of the plant to reproduce itself. The varieties of our cultivated crops nowadays show a great tendency to run out and to become unremunerative. This...

    • PLATES
      (pp. None)
    • PLATES
      (pp. None)
    • 9 DISEASE AND HEALTH IN LIVESTOCK
      (pp. 158-172)

      About the year 1910, after five years’ first-hand experience of crop production under Indian conditions, I became convinced that the birthright of every crop is health and that the correct method of dealing with disease at an experiment station is not to destroy the parasite, but to make use of it for tuning up agricultural practice.

      If this holds for plants, why should it not apply to animals? But at this period I had no animals, my work cattle had to be obtained from the somewhat inefficient pool of oxen maintained on the Pusa Estate alongside, with the feeding and...

    • 10 SOIL FERTILITY AND HUMAN HEALTH
      (pp. 173-186)

      In the last two chapters the relation between soil fertility and the health of crops and of livestock was discussed. But what of the effect of a fertile soil on human health? How does the produce of an impoverished soil affect the men and women who have to consume it? The purpose of this chapter is to show how an answer to these questions is being obtained.

      When discussing how crops and livestock are influenced by an impoverished or by a murdered soil, the subject is obviously restricted to the solid portion of the earth’s crust, because cultivated plants and...

    • PLATES
      (pp. None)
    • 11 THE NATURE OF DISEASE
      (pp. 187-190)

      In the four preceding chapters the diseases of the soil, the crop, the animal, and mankind have been discussed, and my observations and reflections on these matters have been recorded. This recital is of necessity somewhat fragmentary, because such a mass of apparently unrelated detail has had to be described. At least one question will occur to the reader at this point: Is there any underlying cause for all this disease? If the birthright of every plant, animal, and human being is health, surely all these examples of disease must have something in common. It has been suggested throughout these...

  9. PART III. THE PROBLEM OF FERTILIZING
    • 12 ORIGINS AND SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM
      (pp. 193-210)

      The great problem before agriculture the world over is how best to maintain in health and efficiency the huge human population which has resulted from the Industrial Revolution. As has already been pointed out, this development is based on the transfer of food from the regions which produce it to the manufacturing centres which consume it and which make no attempt to return their wastes to the land. This amounts to a perpetual subsidy paid by agriculture to industry and has resulted in the impoverishment of large areas of the earth’s surface. A form of unconscious banditry has been in...

    • 13 THE INDORE PROCESS AND ITS RECEPTION BY THE FARMING AND GARDENING WORLDS
      (pp. 211-244)

      The system of composting which I adopted, known as the Indore Process, has already been fully set forth in 1931 and 1940 in two previous books: ¹ the detailed description will, therefore, not be repeated here. For those who are not familiar with these accounts it may be briefly stated that the process amounts to the collection and admixture of vegetable and animal wastes off the area farmed into heaps or pits, kept at a degree of moisture resembling that of a squeezed-out sponge, turned, and emerging finally at the end of a period of three months as a rich,...

    • PLATES
      (pp. None)
    • 14 THE RECEPTION OF THE INDORE PROCESS BY THE SCIENTISTS
      (pp. 245-254)

      Before leaving India in April 1931 arrangements were made to supply the Indian Central Cotton Committee with a sufficient number of copies ofThe Waste Products of Agriculture: Their Utilization as Humus,so that they could get composting taken up in all the cottongrowing areas without delay. After the book appeared the reviewers all over the world wrote many favourable and even enthusiastic notices, all of which were duly printed. A number of printed slips describing the contents and purpose of the book were then sent to most of the agricultural investigators of the Empire. Ample publicity was in these...

  10. PART IV. CONCLUSIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
    • 15 A FINAL SURVEY
      (pp. 257-262)

      The natural reaction to failure is to think again. Perhaps the best known and most vividly expressed example of the ruin which results from choosing the wrong road is that of the Prodigal Son. To-day the realization that there must be something very much amiss somewhere with a civilization which has led us, within twenty years or so, into a second and greater world war, to win which we must pour out all our resources, has produced plan after plan to guide our progress in the future into the paths of sanity and common sense. We are living in an...

  11. APPENDICES
    • APPENDIX A PROGRESS MADE ON A TEA ESTATE IN NORTH BENGAL
      (pp. 265-269)
      J. C. Watson
    • APPENDIX B COMPOST MAKING IN RHODESIA
      (pp. 270-273)
      J. M. Moubray
    • APPENDIX C THE UTILIZATION OF MUNICIPAL WASTES IN SOUTH AFRICA
      (pp. 274-288)
      J. P. J. Van Vuren
    • PLATES
      (pp. None)
    • APPENDIX D FARMING FOR PROFIT ON A 750-ACRE FARM IN WILTSHIRE WITH ORGANIC MANURES AS THE SOLE MEDIUM OF RE-FERTILIZATION
      (pp. 289-302)
      Friend Sykes
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 303-307)