The Open Furrow Projects Behind the Wire Dirt Hog's Companion On Point Explorations Agrosphere Journal

songs Hey fellers! What could be more romantic than a ditty about soil? Rural minstrels of the pre-WW II era sang about plowboys, cotton fields, bo' weevils, crawdads, black snakes, cabbage heads, and turpentine farms, often employing highly sophisticated double entendre. Care to rosin up your bow round the dung heap?


Mittledider The first edition (1970) of 'Food for Everyone' by Jacob Mittleider (1918-2006). Mittleider was raised on a farm in Idaho, USA and travelled the world demonstrating 'dramatic food production methods'. However, there's nothing inexplicable about Mittleider's success with plants. His production methods embody, essentially, the principles of 'sound agronomic practice': soil fertility, including micronutrients; soil water, including irrigation and drainage; deep tillage, where needed; pest control; planting density; and improved genetics. A radical idea in 1970!

Behind the Wire is a venue for communicating innovative, boot-worthy ideas about soil with the global community of scientists, engineers, farmers, and informed citizens. We invite you to explore the links below as well as contribute your own original material. For the record, Behind the Wire is an expression I coined to conjure an image of operations being conducted outside the ideological, scientific and professional conceits that often divide us. Not clandestine, the expression suggests placing one boot heel on either side of the fence, doing so tactically as well as strategically in order to gather frontier intelligence from which insight and understanding are forged. Join us in exploring the outer sweep of that frontier.

  • Zones of Loosening Produced by a New "Variable Depth Ripper" as Compared to Other Deep Tillage Machines. -G.C. Naderman, C. Dixon, M. Thurman, L.G. Ambrose, and W.R. Peele III. Is subsoil compaction robbing yields on your farm? Recovering those purloined bushels may require deep tillage. Here's a comparative assessment of deep tillage tools from the Naderman group (pdf).

  • Subsurface Compaction and Subsoiling in North Carolina. AG-353 Extension Bulletin.-George C. Naderman, Extension Soil Specialist, North Carolina State University. We offer a digital edition of this classical bulletin, still unsurpassed for its practical treatment of subsurface compaction in the North Carolina Coastal Plain (pdf).

  • Manganese Status and Needs of the Southern Region. R145-300. Managing manganese availability in the soil can be a delicate balance where native supplies are naturally low as in our Southern region. This classical bulletin by Cox and Reid circa 1964 remains relevant even today as a repository of what's scientifically known about this critical micronutrient (pdf).

  • Nutrient Quantity or Access? A New Understanding of How to Maintain Soil Fertility in the Tropics. -Roland Bunch. Provocative thesis about soil fertility in the tropics based on pioneering work by Brazilian agronomist Ana Primavesi. In her words: "To respect soils and learn how to cultivate them properly is the key to prosperity and well-being for all." (pdf).

  • Green Manuring Principles and Practices. -Adrian J. Pieters. Everything known about the time-honored practice of green manuring is presented in this fascinating classic 1927 book. Ever wonder who coined the term "cover crop"? The answer's here! The book features many charts and images, some which are of great historical interest. Public domain, digital reproduction by The Soil and Health Library (pdf).

  • Re-thinking the Conservation of Carbon, Water, and Soil: A Different Perspective. -Thomas F. Shaxson. What is the relationship between soil erosion and productivity? In this piece, Shaxson argues that focusing on erosion as a physical process is misplaced. In some conservation tillage planting systems, top-down processes can accelerate soil formation, increase infiltration, and improve the plant rooting environment. Results from our 30-plus year old tillage plots in North Carolina's upper piedmont support the author's contention that residue cover is a prime determinant of soil productivity. open access archive (pdf).

  • Soil Management and Conservation for Small Farms. Soils Bulletin 77. -V.H. de Freitas. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been around since 1945. Over the decades, it has published many excellent technical bulletins on agronomy that have been little appreciated by the general public due to limited distribution. A few of these have become available in digital format, including this bulletin describing innovative strategies for introducing smallholder technologies and equipment aimed at countering land degradation in the State of Santa Catarina, Brazil (pdf).

  • Biosolids: The Word.-Northeast Biosolids and Residuals Assocation. Tamworth, NH. Updated December 2008. Do words matter? Is it margarine or Parkay®? Does the word "biosolid" describe the genetic identity of stabilized sewage sludge or is it subterfuge, as some claim? Discussion courtesy of NEBRA; make your own judgement (pdf).

  • Representative Tensions in the Constructed Indentities of Farmer-Writers Walter Thomas Jack and Edward H. Faulkner.-Zachary M. Jack. Southern Rural Sociological Association 2007."No one has ever advanced a scientific reason for plowing." Scribed by Edward H. Faulkner of Elyria, Ohio in Plowman's Folly (1943), these words forever changed the way we think about farming. Today Edward Faulkner is forgotten, but his book provoked a national debate over the apparently insoluble riddle of soil depletion. It also aroused tension among the USDA-land-grant intellengsia of that era, "dirt farmer vs. soil scientist". This paper by Zachary M. Jack, great-grandson of "dirt farmer " Walter Thomas Jack, author of The Furrow and Us (1946) and prime critic of Faulkner, examines the controversy in a historic perspective, over what is now understood as conservation tillage (pdf).

  • Following are three articles published originally in the agriculture magazine Country Gentleman in the early 1950s. Vintage magazines like Country Gentleman and Farm Journal (the latter absorbed CG in 1955), flush with period advertising, offer a many-faceted glimpse of agrarian life, as well as chronicling changes in agricultural technology and soil and crop management over time. Reprints are pdf format.
  • Do You Really Need to Plow? March, 1953. Examines early results of reduced tillage and residue management experiments in Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois. Not all the methods described in this article have survived to the present day but they pointed up that conservation tillage planting methods were viable.

  • Mulch Planting of Corn Pays Off. December, 1953. Progress report on mulch tillage planting methods under testing in the midwestern USA.

  • Cover Crops in Corn. June, 1953. The practice of interplanting legumes in row crops like corn has been touted as avant-garde by acolytes of sustainable agriculture. But in fact a perusal of the literature shows there's nothing new here. Ditto aerial seeding.

  • And this from the Seventeenth Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture (1911), a 1,080 page "little bit of everything" rural epistle ostensibly published to disseminate agricultural statistics back then:
  • Farming with Explosives. Got hardpan? Caliche? Dynamite may just do the trick, according to Samuel J. Crawford, ex-state Governer who farms in Cherokee county, Kansas. We don't know how this turned out, but surmise it didn't catch on as a soil management BMP in Kansas. On the other hand, explosives are still used to loosen indurated strata in highway and building construction. Fire in the hole!

This site was created by Robert D. Walters in consultation with Jijy Thanwalee. Reproduction of author's content by permission only. Questions and/or comments about this site may be directed to This site and all content within it have not been endorsed by N.C. State University. Directory information for Robert D. Walters available here (via Linkedin).

This page was last modified on 13-Nov-2019 .