Address to the First International Congress of Soil Science

Title: Address to the First International Congress of Soil Science

Date: June 13, 1927

Location: Washington, D.C.

Context: To an assembly of the world’s leading soil scientists who would be sharing results of the various nations’ research and experimentation in soil and agricultural conservation and use

Members of the Congress:

The fundamental importance of the soil as a national and international asset becomes at once apparent when we reflect upon the extent to which all mankind is dependent upon it, directly or indirectly, for food, clothing, and shelter. Long after our mines have ceased to give up their treasures the soil must continue to produce the food necessary for feeding the increasing populations of the world.

It is highly appropriate, therefore, that representatives of many of the nations of the earth should assemble in groups such as this for the purpose of discussing methods to be employed in the study of the problems of soil conservation and land utilization. Moreover, the interchange of ideas and the personal associations made possible by such international gatherings as this can not but be productive of a better understanding among different peoples and ultimately lead to a more universal desire for peace among all nations.

Being a young Nation, the United States has not, as yet, been forced to conserve its great natural resources as have some of the older countries where pressure of population on food supply has necessitated the consideration of means for conserving the fertility of the soil and at the same time increasing the yield per acre. In the past, with our abundance of fertile acres, we have been able greatly to augment our total production through increased acreage and the use of improved machinery. With practically all our fertile land now under cultivation, except for irrigation and reclamation, further increases in total production must come from increased acre yields instead of from increased acreage.

Recognizing the fundamental importance of agriculture to the welfare and happiness of all citizens, the United States Government long ago adopted the policy of Federal aid and support for agricultural education and research.

The first step in this direction was the appropriation of $1,000 by Congress in 1839 for the “collection of agricultural statistics, investigations for promoting agriculture and rural economy, and the procurement of cuttings and seeds for gratuitous distribution among farmers.” These appropriations were expended under the direction of the Patent Office. The idea originated with Hon. Henry L. Ellsworth, who was Commissioner of Patents. The work continued to be carried on in the Patent Office with rapidly increasing appropriations until 1862, when a Bureau of Agriculture was established. In 1889 this became the Department of Agriculture, under the supervision of a Secretary of Agriculture, appointed by the President by and with the consent of the Senate. The Department of Agriculture thus became one of the executive departments of the Federal Government and the Secretary of Agriculture a member of the President”s Cabinet.

From its humble beginning the work of the United States Department of Agriculture has steadily grown to large proportions. The annual report of the Secretary of Agriculture for 1926 shows a personnel of 20,742 employees, with a total of $157,485,000 expended under the supervision of the department. The direct expenditures made by the Federal department amounted to $44,500,000, of which 10,300,000 was available for research.

On the second day of July next we shall celebrate the sixty-fifth anniversary of the passage of an act by the Congress of the United States whereby certain public lands were donated to the States for the establishment and the support of colleges of agriculture and mechanic arts, commonly called, from their origin, land-grant colleges. As a result of this act and subsequent appropriations, we now have publicly supported colleges of this character in every State and Territory of our Republic. In many States the college is a separate institution, but in others the instruction in agriculture is given in a college of agriculture organized within a great State university.

Following the establishment of these institutions for instruction in agriculture, it soon became apparent that fundamental research and investigation were required if real progress were to be made. In many of the colleges research departments were organized and experimental work inaugurated to supplement the teaching work and to supply information to the farmers. The facilities at the command of these agricultural colleges were not sufficient, however, to meet the demands made upon them and the need for additional support for research became more and more evident as the number of students seeking agricultural instruction increased.

Realization of this need having been brought to the attention of Members of the Congress, a bill was introduced and passed in 1887, just a quarter of a century after the bill establishing the agricultural colleges, providing Federal aid and support for State agricultural experiment stations. This bill, the Hatch Act, supplemented by the Adams Act of 1906 and by the Purnell Act of 1925, insures to every State and Territory a perpetual income for the support of agricultural investigations. This in many States is generously augmented by appropriations from the State treasuries. The personnel of the State experiment stations, together with the research staff of the Federal Department of Agriculture, constitutes the largest organized body of research workers in agriculture in the world.

This does not mean that we of the United States can not learn much from the scientists of other lands. A large proportion of the scientific work done in this country has consisted in the application of discoveries in pure science that have been made elsewhere. The scientists of Europe in particular have an enviable record of fundamental research. American scientists are glad to be able to use the results of this work. They are glad, too, to take to heart the lessons of patience, of intensive scholarship, and of singleness of aim characteristic of this field of endeavor.

Research in pure science is particularly significant in the study of soils. Fundamental investigations in physics, chemistry, and biology are essential.

While the Federal act establishing the State experiment stations covered the entire agricultural field, it specifically provided that, so far as practicable, all such stations should devote a portion of their work to the examination and classification of the soils of their respective States and Territories with a view to securing more extended knowledge and better development of their agricultural capabilities. By the Federal act of 1902 the soils work of the United States Department of Agriculture, which had previously operated as a division, was recognized and organized into a separate Bureau of Soils. A further reorganization is now being effected by which the research work of the Bureau of Chemistry is being combined with that of the Bureau of Soils into one large unit to be known as the Bureau of Chemistry and Soils.

The scientists of the Department of Agriculture have not only identified individual soils and classified and mapped them, but have carried on research in the economical use of low-grade phosphate for fertilizer manufacture, in nitrogen fixation, and in other problems connected with the soil. You will learn in this congress of the accomplishments, the plans, and the hopes of our scientists in this field, and they in turn will obtain from you fresh information and stimulation.

You realize, I am sure, from the brief survey which I have presented to you the importance which the Government of the United States has attached for nearly a hundred years, and attaches to-day, to agricultural research. You may be certain, therefore, of the warmest hopes of the people of the United States that this, the First International Congress of Soil Science, may be abundantly fruitful in illumination and inspiration to all who participate in it, and in stimulation of efficient practices and high ideals of research throughout the world. Science is not confined within any national boundaries. Its achievements and its benefits, like the achievements and benefits of all truth, are at the service of the world for the lightening of human labor and the enrichment of human life.

Citation: Everett Sanders Papers, Library of Congress

The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of Dennis Peterson who prepared this document for digital publication.

One Response to “Address to the First International Congress of Soil Science”

  1. Dennis Peterson

    Because almost all of the world’s food supply comes, either directly or indirectly, from the soil, it is critical that we use that soil wisely and take steps to maintain and enhance its productivity. That necessitates not only regular and ongoing research and experimentation but also sharing of the results of that research among the nations of the world. Learning best practices from each other will ensure the continued productivity of the earth and the sustenance of mankind.

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