Ploughman's Folly


Edward H. Faulkner

With a Foreword by

S. Graham Brade-Birks
M.Sc. (Manc.), D.Sc. (Lond.), of the South-Eastern Agricultural College
(University of London), Wye, Kent

Michael Joseph Ltd.
26 BIoomsbury Street, London, W.C.1

First published 1945

Set and printed in Great Britain by Tonbridge Printers, Ltd.,
Peach Hall Works, Tonbridge, in Baskerville ten on twelve point,
and bound by James Burn.

God's in his heaven --
All's right with the world!
-- Browning

To my late father, John Wesley Faulkner, Jr.
who did for the land as regular routine
much of what farmers now are paid to
do as compensation for past errors

Author's Acknowledgments

I have had much help in this work; much of it was unintentional. There is not space to thank all of those who have helped in some way or another. A few who have helped voluntarily and to whom I am especially indebted are:

Professor Paul B. Sears, Head of the Department of Botany, Oberlin College; Russell Lord, Editor of The Land; Garet Garett, Special writer for the Saturday Evening Post; Peter Vischer, Editor and Publisher of Country Life; Ollie E. Fink, Curriculum Supervisor, State Department of Education, Columbus, Ohio; Charlotte Brooks, Assistant Librarian, Elyria Library; Merritt Powell, Manager, Lorain County Farm Bureau Co-operative, Elyria, Ohio.


BEHIND the modern practices of ploughing there is a long complicated history which could be illustrated from a thousand localities in England and Wales. I take an example intimately known to me: more than eleven hundred years ago, eight ploughlands around my own home in Kent were given as a present to an archbishop by a conquering king. I can identify some, if not all, of those ploughlands and walk over them to-day. I believe them to have been about 120 acres each -- 960 ploughed acres in one parish 1100 years ago! My instance is no isolated one, investigationwill reveal numerous parallel cases hereabouts.

Even our ancient measurements include links with ploughing: there is the furrow-long (furlong) which is the economic distance that an English ('Anglo-Saxon') team of oxen could be driven at one stretch without a " blow" -- a chance to take proper breath. And our acre, a furlong in length and 22 yards wide, is the amount that could be ploughed by one labour unit in a day. Notice that its dimensions make it a strip-like area ten lines as long as wide. In ancient times the acre was somewhat different in size in different places.

But South-Eastern England provides us with much more ancient corn-plots than those I have mentioned. The Celtic inhabitants -- the Britons -- had squarish fields with the length nothing like a furlong, but more like 120 yards, or a little less, a distance again dictated by the employment of a smaller plough team than that used by their English successors. You can still see the outlines of these Celtic plots on the downlands of Kent and Sussex where later inhabitants have never thought it worth their while to turn the shallow soil. No doubt it was fields of this shape on more fertile soil that were pillaged in the first century before Christ by Caesar's soldiers on their foraging expeditions during his unsucccssful invasion of Britain.

But these ancient fields were not the beginning, for small irregular areas of cultivation, where prehistoric man prepared the soil with his primitive implements, are to be found in wilder parts of Britain, and notably have been identified in the Weston Dartmoor. And I suspect that a reconstruction of the primitive practices of that Bronze Age farmer three thousand years ago would be more to the liking of Edward H. Faulkner than any of the so-called advances which have been made as a result of the introduction of the mouldboard plough in comparatively recent years. Certainly the digging stick would be quite incapable of producing those results which our author condemns and deplores. Since there is such a lonng history behind the plough, it is natural that its traditions should be strongly established and entrenched. With tradition there frequently goes unquestioning adherence to the practices of centuries whether those practices are sound or not.

If Ploughman's Folly does nothing more, it calls halt to an unquestioning plodding onwards in the footsteps of that long procession of ploughmen that generation after generation has witnessed.

No industry, to-day, can afford to submit unquestioningly to tradition, and this book at least calls attention to the fact that it is time to give new point to the poet's question:

If the farmer and the agricultural engineer will read Mr. Faulkner's book carefully -- and grasp all its implications -- they will have food for thought and space for action. If they are not moved to a complete renunciation of the "folly," at least they may feel that "there is something in it," and may be spurred to investigation. Investigation on a large enough scale must, at any rate, bring about major improvements upon our present methods of cultivating the soil. If our author brings home the urgency of investigation to the scientific agriculturist with sufficient insistence to promote action, his book will have fulfilled at least a part of its mission.

As a soil-scientist, I cannot see quite eye to eye with Mr.Faulkner in some of his concepts of soil properties, but these differences of view do not, it seems to me, in any way invalidate the arguments that are based upon them.

We commend this essay to the earnest consideration of all who are able to test and probe further into the mysteries of the relationship of plant and soil. It is clear to every humble-minded investigator that no work that promotes enquiry into fundamental principles can have been written in vain.


1. The Margin of Error
2. What Is Soil?
3. Soil Is Not Eroded
4. Traditions of the Plough
5. "Research": Unsponsored... Unconventional
6. Proof on a Field Scale
7. Soil by Machine
8. King Weather Deposed
9. Tile Treachery
10. What About Soil Types?
11. Coals to Newcastle
12. Exit Pests
13. Weedless Farming
14. Mother Earth Can Smile Again

Next: 1. The Margin of Error

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