------------------The 2011 William A. Albrecht Lecture-----------------

Presented by John Ikerd
Monday, April 25, 2011
University of Missouri, Columbia 

Healthy Soils, Healthy People; The Legacy of William Albrecht


John Ikerd*




William Albrecht was not only a distinguished scientist and brilliant scholar; he was also a true visionary and committed humanitarian. He believed that animals, including humans, provide biochemical photographs of the soils in which their foods are grown. With effective and affordable commercial fertilizers after World War II, the health and natural productivity of the soil no longer seemed to matter. Albrecht risked his academic reputation by warning of the public health risks posed by this so-called modern, industrial agriculture. History provides compelling evidence that he was right. A half-century later, America is facing an epidemic of diet related illnesses, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and various forms of cancer. If current trends continue, the cost of health care, which is already nearly twice the cost of food, will claim more than one-third of the U.S. economy by 2040. Recent scientific studies have linked a decline in the nutritional value of foods with the industrialization of agriculture. The result is foods rich in calories but poor in essential nutrients. As Albrecht warned, the declining health of our people may well be a biochemical photograph of the declining health of our soils. Regardless, today’s agricultural scientists should embrace the vision and courage of William Albrecht to venture beyond their narrow academic fields of study, to rethink the science involved, and perhaps redefine their disciplines. The health of our nation may be impossible to restore without first restoring the health of our soils.



* John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri, Columbia.


John was raised on a small dairy farm in southwest Missouri and received his BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in agricultural economics from the University of Missouri. He worked in private industry for a time and spent thirty years in various professorial positions at North Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Georgia, and the University of Missouri before retiring in early 2000. Since retiring, he spends most of his time writing and speaking on issues related to sustainability with an emphasis on economics and agriculture. Ikerd is author of Sustainable Capitalism, A Return to Common Sense, Small Farms are Real Farms, Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture and A Revolution of the Middle, on line at http://sites.google.com/site/revolutionofthemiddle/.


More complete background information and wide selection of writings are available at http://web.missouri.edu/~ikerdj/ or http://www.johnikerd.com.



 From Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Albrecht 


William A. Albrecht (1888–1974) PhD, Chairman of the Department of Soils at the University of Missouri, was the foremost authority on the relation of soil fertility to human health and earned four degrees from the  University of Illinois. As emeritus Professor of Soils at the University of Missouri he saw a direct link between soil quality, food quality and human health. He drew direct connections between poor quality forage crops, and ill health in livestock and from this developed a formula for ideal ratios of cations in the soil, the Base Cation Saturation Ratio. While he did not discover cation exchange in the soil as is sometimes supposed, he may have been the first to associate it with colloidal clay particles.

Twenty years before the phrase 'environmental concern' crept into the national consciousness, he was lecturing from coast to coast on the broad topic of agricultural ecology. (C. Edmund Marshall, In Memoriam, 'Plant and Soil' vol 48.)

" The soil is the ‘creative material’ of most of the basic needs of life. Creation starts with a handful of dust.” Dr. William A. Abrecht.

Albrecht was a devout agronomist,the foremost authority on the relation of soil fertility to human health and earned four degrees from the University of Illinois. He became emeritus Professor of Soils at the University of Missouri. Dr. Albrecht saw a direct link between soil quality and food quality, drawing direct connection between poor quality forage crops, and ill health in livestock.

From the late 1930s, as Chairman of the Department of Soils at the University of Missouri, he began work at the Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station investigating cation ratios and the growth of legumes. He had been investigating cattle nutrition, having observed that certain pastures seemed conducive to good health, and at some point he came to the conclusion that the ideal balance of cations in the soil was "H, 10%; Ca, 60 to 75%; Mg, 10 to 20%; K, 2 to 5%; Na, 0.5 to 5.0%; and other cations, 5%".

While Albrecht was a highly respected soil scientist, he discounted soil pH, stating that "plants are not sensitive to, or limited by, a particular pH value of the soil." Instead, he believed that the benefits of liming soil stem from the additional calcium available to the plant, not the increase in pH. This belief has continued to be held by followers to this day, despite much evidence to the contrary. Like much of the early research into BCSR where soil pH was not controlled, it is difficult to draw solid conclusions from Albrecht's research in support of BCSR.

"..."You have to have a vision. Unless you do, nature will never reveal herself." Dr William A Albrecht.

Throughout his life, Albrecht looked to nature to learn what optimizes soil, and attributing many common livestock diseases directly to those animals being fed poor quality feeds. He observed that :

"...“Food is fabricated soil fertility.”

Albrecht was a prolific author of reports, books and articles that span several decades, starting with his reports on nitrogen fixation and soil inoculation in 1919.