Celebrate World Soil Day, December 5, 2013


In honor of World Soil Day on December 5, 2013, BioCycle shares Jerry Goldstein’s thoughts from 1975…

World Soil Health DayWhat are now BioCycle Conferences were launched in 1971 under the auspices of Compost Science and Organic Gardening & Farming. The Fifth Annual Composting And Waste Recycling Conference, April 25-26, 1975 was in Washington, DC. The opening speaker was Russell Train, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. In a summary of the conference, Jerry wrote: “In Washington, DC, the more than 300 registrants at the Fifth Annual Composting and Waste Recycling Conference: Composting, Fertilizer and Food Production, heard Russell Train, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, call for an end to the status quo in waste disposal. “The use of organic waste in agriculture will become an economic necessity, rather than only an ecological nicety,” said Train, who added that the use of feedlot wastes and municipal sludges could satisfy about 6.5 percent of our national nitrogen requirements — at a dollar value of some $400 million annually to farmers.”

Jerome Goldstein

Jerome Goldstein

After discussing several other conferences held in Spring 1975 related to agricultural waste management, Jerry made the following suggestion: “After all that good talk on composting and organic waste recycling, the thought emerges of how vital it is for the U.S. to develop a National Humus Program. Humus becomes the critical yardstick by which to measure how seriously the excellent scientific research on wastes-in-agriculture is put into practice. …

“As we enter the Bicentennial Year, let’s suggest to our politicians and policy makers that we should include in the celebration the vow to build up the soil humus content of the nation with all kinds of organic wastes. Perhaps we can even get our candidates in 1976 to include a Humus Plank in their presidential platforms. …. Two hundred years should be more than enough time to begin laying the foundation for a permanent agriculture in the U.S. By translating organic wastes into soil organic matter, a major step will have been taken.”

Ten months later (February 1976) a “Special Action Issue” of Environmental Action Bulletin (EAB) was titled, “The National Soil Fertility Program,” expanding on the concept of the National Humus Program. The issue included a “self-mailer” that readers could use to send comments to the two Congressmen, Rep. Fred Richmond (D-NY) and Rep. James Jeffords (R-VT), who agreed to shepherd the program through the House Agriculture Committee. The self-mailer explained that The National Soil Fertility Program (NSFP) “shall be our national policy to encourage the return of soil-building organic matter to our country’s farmlands and to reclaim that land rendered

BioCycle ClassicRep. Richmond, the only member of the House Agriculture Committee at the time representing a totally urban constituency, noted that “the consumers definitely have a real stake in farming and farm policy. And that means a soil policy. The NSFP will directly affect urban residents. Fertile soils mean that less fossil fuel input is necessary to produce any given crop and, with the price of energy the way it is, this will translate into food at a moderate cost … We also must convince the city administrators to accept their place in the nation’s total food chain. In a truly national food policy, cities must recycle both solid wastes and sewage sludge back to the land.”

The wrap-up by Jerry on the NSFP is startling in its prescience: “The National Soil Fertility Program emphasizes that organic waste should be used under a priority system that puts composting first. To burn it is to condemn our nation’s soils to a continued loss of organic matter, increased soil erosion, and a loss of the vitality and life-sustaining force of those soils.”

Fast forward to February 19, 1977, when an update appeared in EAB on the NSFP legislation: “During 1976, major provisions of the National Soil Fertility Program were successfully inserted into the Democratic Party’s platform, with backing from then-candidate Carter. Now the program has reached legislative form …. The following wording is from Sec. 6, par. 56 of H.R. 75, sponsored by Rep. E. de la Garza (D-TX), a ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee. The bill is also known as the Land and Water Resource Conservation Act of 1977:

“[The bill calls for] investigation and analysis of the practicability, desirability, and feasibility of collecting organic waste materials, including manure, crop and food wastes, industrial organic wastes, municipal sewage sludge, logging and wood manufacturing residues, and any other organic refuse, composting or similarly treating such materials, transporting and placing such material on to the land to improve soil tilth and fertility. The analysis shall include projected costs of such collection, transportation and placement in accordance with sound, locally approved soil and water conservation practices.”

Bulletin readers were encouraged to send letters of support for H.R. 75. Wrote Jerry: “A deluge of letters will help ranking Ag Committee members see that our soils have a constituency willing to fight for their protection and health.”

For more information of World Soil Day:

Soil Science Society Of America


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