By Gene Logsdon
Working from the premise that we will eventually run out of plentiful supplies of manufactured fertilizers, I have been reading old farming books written before artificial fertilizers became easily available. I am amazed at the sophistication with which science approached the subject of soil fertility once it become evident in the mid-1800s that farmers were rapidly depleting the native richness of their soils and had to find ways to restore it using livestock manure and green manure crops. In some ways, what science advocated then was more advanced than farming practices are today.
If we have to produce food for growing populations without large supplies of manufactured fertilizers, the science of a hundred years ago is going to be back in vogue. Even if we don’t run out of fertilizers, advanced manure science will be very useful for anyone wanting to avoid the high costs of commercial fertilizer. (Don’t laugh at the term, “manure science”— agricultural colleges are now conducting what they called Manure Science Review days.)
“Backward” farmers like myself may not look so backward after all in the future. Ralph Rice, who farms in northeastern Ohio, just emailed me a photo of his unbelievably lush corn, unbelievable because it is an open-pollinated variety and has no chemical fertilizers on it at all. The reason I believe Ralph’s photo is because I have similar corn and it is just beautiful. I hate to tempt fate by bragging— we could get a wind storm tomorrow and blow it all over. But the case just must be made. Granted that this is, so far, a very good year for corn, no one with an open mind can look at Ralph’s or mine and not wonder if maybe we backward guys are really going forward.
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