Albrecht on Droughts and Soil Fertility

From Glencolton farmshare member Gary Wilson:

Grey County, where Michael Schmidt’s Glencolton Farms is located, has suffered a lack of rain.

In 1938, long before the presumed effects of global warming were being discussed, the soil scientist, William A. Albrecht, Ph.D, listed some of the consequences of declining soil fertility. Number five on this list was “Greater weather hazards”. In 1954, in a paper discussing the increasing records being set for both floods and droughts, he asked, “Are these new records other than man made?”

Albrecht points out that the severity of a drought is measured by damage to crops rather than by meteorological indexes. While droughts are attributed to a lack of rainfall, they are really should be attributed to a lack of water. The soil itself, both the topsoil and the subsoil, as well as the water table below the surface of the soil act a as reservoir for water that can get plants through a period of time of little or no rainfall. 

When it rains, this surface soil acts as a blanket, holding rainwater allowing it to penetrate further into the subsoil. When soil fertility is in decline, the surface soil becomes shallower. As a result, of course, less water is held to penetrate into the subsoil thereby raising the level of the water table. On shallow soils, heavier rains are more likely to cause soil erosion which further compounds the problem. The excessive runoff makes it to the rivers and streams where it builds up until downstream the rivers may overflow their banks causing a flood. Simply put, more water held by the soil leading to raising the water table means less water runoff causing floods in the spring while providing a source of stored water when later in the season there are periods of time without rain. If you are using well water to irrigate crops during a period without rain, it would make sense to ensure that when there are rains or spring melts, enough water penetrates to the water table so that a decline in the level of the water table itself does not occur. Digging deeper wells to reach a declining level of the ground water is no solution to the problem.

Roads with solid surfaces and their drainage ditches add to the problem of excessive water runoff and lack of penetration of the water into the soil. The same ditches that carry off the rainwater from the roads can also carry away the water running off the farmers’ fields. In the spring wet fields can prevent the farmer from getting out with his tractor to prepare the fields for planting. One solution is to tile the fields to promote better drainage. Later in the same year, the farmer with the tiled fields may complain about a lack of water for his crops. Perhaps more of this temporary excess of water in the spring could be retained for service later in the season during a period where there is little or no rainfall.

In another article published in 1960, Albrecht describes a demonstration by two adjacent experimental plots at the Missouri College of Agriculture of how soil fertility is the underlying cause of soil erosion. These two experimental plots alongside each other were planted with corn year after year. The management of both plots was the same except that one plot was receiving six tons of manure annually while the other plot received no soil treatment. All of the crop, both grain and fodder, was removed from both plots. One year, after both fields had been ploughed, a single rain demonstrated the difference that soil fertility makes. The untreated field was hammered flat by the rain. As the soil particles settled after their movement with the larger particles settling first followed by smaller and smaller particles, the soil surface sealed over thereby preventing the penetration of the rainwater. Without the border of sod around this plot, the surface soil of this plot would be somewhere downstream as silt in a river. On the plot receiving the manure treatment, however, the same rain did not disturb the ploughed appearance of the field. The water falling on this plot soaked in, soaking a deeper layer building up the stored water supply. It’s surface soil was cooler by ten degrees (F) in the summer than the untreated plot. The rills of running water only appeared on the plot that received no soil treatment. For those who do not understand the role of soil fertility in erosion, rills caused by running water may evoke mechanical responses to the erosion to “fight” or  “control” the running water.

In light of Albrecht’s evidence, to make a claim that man made global warming is responsible for this or any year’s drought conditions or for increased flooding seems similar to ignoring Galileo’s evidence in order to maintain the claim that the earth is the centre of the universe. Is “science” today essentially  the same as it was in Galileo’s day? Are we satisfied to exist in our own self-delusion or should we take a look back at evidence we have ignored for so long? Perhaps if we looked at droughts and floods from Albrecht’s point of view, we might reduce the damage to crops during periods where there is a lack of rainfall, and, if in the future global warming does tend to increase the damage done by droughts and floods, applying solutions based on Albrecht’s evidence might mitigate this increase in damage.

The Albrecht papers used as a basis for the foregoing article are:

1/ 1938, “Feeding  the Animals by  Treating Soil” republished in chapter 5 in Volume IV of “The Albrecht Papers” (currently out of print)

2/ 1954, “Droughts– The Soil As Reasons For Them”, republished as Chapter 23 in Volume I of “The Albrecht Papers” (republished as “Albrecht’s Foundation Concepts”)

3/ 1960, “It’s the Soil That Feeds Us” republished in Volume I of “The Albrecht Papers” (republished as “Albrecht’s Foundation Concepts)

“Albrecht’s Foundation Concepts” is available from Acres, U.S.A. The evidence presented in this volume is at odds with so many things we are taught about agriculture, nutrition and health. Maybe some day this evidence will be “rediscovered”.


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8 responses to “Albrecht on Droughts and Soil Fertility

  1. nedlud

    Modern ‘science’, the science of modern industry and economics and fashion, knows only the surface of things, and very little of the ‘surface’ at that. Yet they (the fascist corporatists) feel certain enough of ‘what they know’, to kill and destroy everything else. Just ‘because’.

    I farmed only with horses and small tractors until Organic Valley wiped us out, basically because we were too little and too old-fashioned, in addition to standing up to their horrific abuse and lies. I can say for a fact that our soil does a better job of receiving and holding rainfall, than any of the neighboring fields, farmed with mega-tractors and mega-equipment. The difference is plain to see. I cannot produce as much as the chemicalists or even the obedient so-called ‘organicists’, on a per year or a per cow basis, but I do something (or at least I did in better, former days) else, I care for things for eternity. I love.


  2. Interesting article, Gary. But I puzzled over this sentence in the 3rd paragraph: “When soil fertility is in decline, the surface soil becomes shallower.” I gather that a lack of humus in the soil not only makes it shallower, but also less porous, which is why it won’t retain water. In the Wikipedia article on “humus” it says, “[humus] helps the soil retain moisture by increasing microporosity…”

    • Hi Karen:
      Needless to say, what I have said in this article is severely condensed from Albrecht’s articles. You are right to consider the importance of humus in the soil. Albrecht explains that the original organic matter in soil allowed the “green revolution” to start with such dramatic results. The organic matter in the soil acted as a buffer in the use of chemical fertilizers (NPK). However, in the process, the organic matter was being consumed. Albrecht said you might get even 40 years of good crops but eventually, when there is little or no organic matter left, you start to run into problems.
      Simply put, the “green revolution” has lowered soil fertility by reducing the depth and quality of the topsoil. As you said, humus increases the ability of the soil to let water soak in and to hold it. After rain falls on a clay soil with little or no humus, as the soil dries out the larger particles settle first followed by smaller and smaller particles. This is similar to building concrete. (Try and push a finger into a tight clay soil after it dries out.) This seals off the surface so little or no water from another rain will penetrate the soil, causing the water to mainly run off (more severe floods followed by more severe droughts).
      Adding humus, however, is not the solution. Creating humus in the soil is the solution. The beginning of humus in soil are the bodies of the dead microbes. The beginning of microbes are the various minerals necessary for life to be present in available form in the soil. Humus and earthworms are products of good soil fertility, not the cause of it.

      • Thanks, Gary. I see sells Albrecht’s papers (Volume 1 as a paperback is $12.74 and Volume 2 is $20). Nobody has published any reviews of them. Maybe you should do so.

    • Grow Gal

      Feeding the soil (the earth is made to digest) with green manures, ploughdowns and rotations builds up topsoil and creates organic matter.It is carbon that holds the moisture in soil. Excess moisture depletes your nitrogen.. nitrogen carries the current in soil (energy) When no rain, nitrates (esp conventional farms using granular fertilizers) are not used
      and become excess…this is why this hay, grass or feed can be toxic to animals. It is imbalanced. Its not just lack of water or rain. Our Heirloom tomatoes were in a field and were not watered once (6 wks without rain) were stressed but grew, had tomatoes altho 1st ones were small. When the metallic oxides (salts) being released in the chem trails alter the air from neutral to conductive this no longer supports a natural way of growing. Its not just soil also the genetics of plants or seeds planted.
      If one looks at fields of soybean, corn that was green and growing great (in a drought & on poor soil) you will find out these are test plots. These plants have had a protein gene inserted to FOOL them into not knowing they are stressed so they continue to grow. Sort of like humans today with all the drugs and vaccinations.

      • Hi Grow Gal:
        I would be interested in your scientific reference for your claim that rotations build up topsoil.
        The evidence presented by William Albrecht supports his position that rotations are the quickest way to mine the soil. He reports that studies at the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station on Sanborn Field comparing rotations of two, three, four and six years in length using various combinations of corn, oats, wheat, clover and timothy with growing each of the crops continuously resulted in a greater decline in soil fertility in the fields where the crops were being rotated. The comparison of rotations to growing the same crop continuously took place over a fifty year period.
        Near the end of the fifty year period, the six year rotation of corn, oats, wheat, clover, timothy and timothy produced no crop for removal in the three years growing clover, timothy and timothy. In spite of three years of essentially fallow treatments, this rotation over the fifty year period was exhausting the soil fertility faster than any of those same individual crops grown continuously over the same period.
        As a result Albrecht states, “Here is evidence, like that from ecological climaxes, suggesting that if we must start with exhausted soils, the problem may be less difficult and complex in building back and maintaining the fertility if we use one crop and grow it continuously.”
        This report is in Volume II of “The Albrecht Papers” now reprinted and titled, “Soil Fertility and Animal Health”.

  3. Would you believe there is not a State agricultural employee here in the state of Missouri that knows anything about Albrecht’s methods? I guess with government you do NOT get what you pay for.

    • Grow Gal

      yes…would you expect Satan to follow the bible? Besides these other ways of looking at growing.. Albrecht, Reams, etc are one of many different ways or theories on how is the best way to treat soil, grow etc.Since the beginning of time things were balanced and worked. Soil, seed, plant = food. The rains came the sun shone we had seasonal rhythms. We saved our own seed put back into the land what we took out. Now man needs a manual, an education, a degree, soil tests, huge machinery new seeds to suit the sick soil he has abused. The ones lucky enough to have land don’t even have a garden and buy in all the food for the animals. Connected?
      Most growers that grow outside the box would not go to GOVT for answers. Go to a grower.

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