An Agricultural Testament

Sir Albert Howard

(Inside cover note, Rodale Press edition, US, 1976)

SINCE this book first appeared in 1940, it has been regarded as one of the most important contributions to the solution of soil rehabilitation problems ever published. More important, it has been regarded as the keystone of the organic movement.

The late Louis Bromfield called it "the best book I know on soil and the processes which take part in it." Soil Science called it "the most interesting and suggestive book on soil fertility which has appeared since King's Farmers of Forty Centuries." And Mother Earth News recently called it "the most basic of all introductions to organic farming by the founder of the modern movement."

The object of the book was to draw attention to the loss of soil fertility, brought about by the vast increase in crop and animal production, that has led to such disastrous consequences as a general unbalancing of farming practices, an increase in plant and animal diseases and the loss of soil by erosion. Howard contended that such losses can be repaired only by maintaining soil fertility by manufacturing humus from vegetable and animal wastes through the composting process. He stressed, too, a little-known nutritional factor, the mycorrhizal association, which is the living fungous bridge between humus in the soil and the sap of plants.

"Howard's work is based upon the premise that good agricultural practice is based upon the observation and the use of natural processes," wrote farmer-poet Wendell Berry in The Last Whole Earth Catalog. "Howard's discoveries and methods and their implications are given in detail in An Agricultural Testament. They are of enormous usefulness to gardeners and farmers, and to anyone else who may be interested in the history and the problems of land use. But aside from its practical worth, Howard's book is valuable for his ability to place his facts and insights within the perspectives of history. This book is a critique of civilizations, judging them not by their artifacts and victories but by their response to 'the sacred duty of handing over unimpaired to the next generation the heritage of a fertile soil.'"

It was a reading of this book which led the late J.I. Rodale to publish his flrst copy of Organic Farming and Gardening (now Organic Gardening and Farming), the bible of the now wide-spread organic movement in America. Howard's work remains the keystone of that movement.

"In the reading of An Agricultural Testament, I was affected so profoundly that I could not rest until I purchased a farm," wrote Rodale. "The reading of this great book showed me how simple the practice of the organic method could be."

(Back cover note, Rodale Press edition, US, 1976)

SIR Albert Howard was the flrst pioneer of the organic method. The son of a Shropshire farmer, he studied agriculture at Cambridge University, then expanded his knowledge in a lifetime of practical research and study in the West Indies, India and England. An Agricultural Testament, his exposition of his practice theories of agriculture, remains a landmark work nearly 30 years after its original publication.

"Can mankind regulate its affairs so that its chief possession -- the fertility of the soil -- is preserved?" he asked. "On the answer to this question the future of civilization lies."

The organic method can trace its roots to this question. For Sir Albert examined the history of agriculture in many societies and in nature. He observed that those societies which most closely approximated nature's methods of husbandry had the longest histories. In nature he noted that "the forest manures itself." In India he observed that the natives with the healthiest crops and animals were those who eschewed chemical fertilizers for natural manures.

As a generalist, Sir Albert shunned the conventional -- now almost traditional -- forms of agricultural research for practical testing. He was opposed to research conducted by teams of specialists, each working on a fragment of the whole, each contributing an isolated splinter of knowledge.

In his major experiment, conducted over a period of 25 years in India, Sir Albert Howard farmed 75 acres, observing and testing the parts and the whole. His work suggested a system of farming -- the organic method -- which offered what is still the best answer to his question.


SINCE the Industrial Revolution the processes of growth have been speeded up to produce the food and raw materials needed by the population and the factory. Nothing effective has been done to replace the loss of fertility involved in this vast increase in crop and animal production. The consequences have been disastrous. Agriculture has become unbalanced: the land is in revolt: diseases of all kinds are on the increase: in many parts of the world Nature is removing the worn-out soil by means of erosion.

The purpose of this book is to draw attention to the destruction of the earth's capital -- the soil; to indicate some of the consequences of this; and to suggest methods by which the lost fertility can be restored and maintained. This ambitious project is founded on the work and experience of forty years, mainly devoted to agricultural research in the West Indies, India, and Great Britain. It is the continuation of an earlier book -- The Waste Products of Agriculture, published in 1931 -- in which the Indore method for maintaining soil fertility by the manufacture of humus from vegetable and animal wastes was described.

During the last nine years the Indore Process has been taken up at many centres all over the world. Much additional information on the role of humus in agriculture has been obtained. I have also had the leisure to bring under review the existing systems of farming as well as the organization and purpose of agricultural research. Some attention has also been paid to the Bio-Dynamic methods of agriculture in Holland and in Great Britain, but I remain unconvinced that the disciples of Rudolph Steiner can offer any real explanation of natural laws or have yet provided any practical examples which demonstrate the value of their theories.

The general results of all this are set out in this my Agricultural Testament. No attempt has been made to disguise the conclusions reached or to express them in the language of diplomacy. On the contrary, they have been stated with the utmost frankness. It is hoped that they will be discussed with the same freedom and that they will open up new lines of thought and eventually lead to effective action.

It would not have been possible to have written this book without the help and encouragement of a former colleague in India, Mr. George Clarke, C.I.E., who held the post of Director of Agriculture in the United Provinces for ten years (1921-31). He very generously placed at my disposal his private notes on the agriculture of the Provinces covering a period of over twenty years, and has discussed with me during the last three years practically everything in this book. He read many of the Chapters when they were first drafted, and made a number of suggestions which have been incorporated in the text.

Many who are engaged in practical agriculture all over the world and who have adopted the Indore Process have contributed to this book. In a few cases mention of this assistance has been made in the text. It is impossible to refer to all the correspondents who have furnished progress reports and have so freely reported their results. These provided an invaluable collection of facts and observations which has amply confirmed my own experience.

Great stress has been laid on a hitherto undiscovered factor in nutrition -- the mycorrhizal association -- the living fungous bridge between humus in the soil and the sap of plants. The existence of such a symbiosis was first suggested to me on reading an account of the remarkable results with conifers, obtained by Dr. M. C. Rayner at Wareham in Dorset in connexion with the operations of the Forestry Commission. If mycorrhiza occurs generally in the plantation industries and also in our crops, an explanation of such things as the development of quality, disease resistance, and the running out of the variety, as well as the slow deterioration of the soil which follows the use of artificial manures, would be provided. I accordingly took steps to collect a wide range of specimens likely to contain mycorrhiza, extending over the whole of tropical and temperate agriculture. I am indebted to Dr. Rayner and to Dr. Ida Levisohn for the detailed examination of this material. They have furnished me with many valuable and suggestive technical reports. For the interpretation of these laboratory results, as set out in the following pages, I am myself solely responsible.

I am indebted to a number of Societies for permission to reproduce information and illustrations which have already been published. Two other organizations have allowed me to incorporate results which might well have been regarded as confidential. The Royal Society of London has permitted me to reprint, in the Chapter on Soil Aeration, a precis of an illustrated paper which appeared in their Proceedings. The Royal Society of Arts has provided the blocks for the section on sisal waste. The Royal Sanitary Institute has agreed to the reproduction in full of a paper read at the Health Congress, held at Portsmouth in July 1938. The British Medical Journal has placed at my disposal the information contained in an article by Dr. Lionel J. Picton, O.B.E. The publishers of Dr. Waksman's monograph on Humus have allowed me to reprint two long extracts relating to the properties of humus. Messrs. Arthur Guinness, Sons & Co., Limited, have agreed to the publication of the details of the composting of town wastes in their hop garden at Bodiam. Messrs. Walter Duncan & Co. have allowed the Manager of the Gandrapara Tea Garden to contribute an illustrated article on the composting of wastes on this fine estate. Captain J. M. Moubray has sent me a very interesting summary of the work he is doing at Chipoli in Southern Rhodesia, which is given in Appendix B.

In making the Indore Process widely known, a number of journals have rendered yeoman service. In Great Britain The Times and the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts have published a regular series of letters and articles. In South Africa the Farmer's Weekly has from the beginning urged the agricultural community to increase the humus content of the soil. In Latin America the planters owe much to the Revista del Instituto de Defensa del éCaf de Costa Rica.

Certain of the largest tea companies in London, Messrs. James Finlay & Co., Walter Duncan & Co., the Ceylon Tea Plantations Company, Messrs. Octavius Steel & Co., and others, most generously made themselves responsible over a period of two years for a large part of the office expenses connected with the working out and application to the plantation industries of the Indore Process. They also defrayed the expenses of a tour to the tea estates of India and Ceylon in 1937. These arrangements were very kindly made on my behalf by Mr. G. H. Masefield, Chairman of the Ceylon Tea Plantations Company.

In the work of reducing to order the vast mass of correspondence and notes on soil fertility which have accumulated, and in getting the book into its final shape, I owe much to the ability and devotion of my private secretary, Mrs. V. M. Hamilton.

A. H.
1 January 1940

IN deciding to issue a fifth reprint of my late husband's book, An Agricultural Testament, I have abstained from introducing any additions or corrections. To do so would necessitate an almost complete rewriting of this, the first and perhaps the most trenchant, statement of his views. Nevertheless, it would be incorrect to deny that the subject matters treated progressed rapidly even in the course of his own life time; he himself added to what he said here, and many gallant writers have followed his lead. A survey of literature presents difficulties, partly owing to Sir Albert Howard's practice of scattering articles in journals all over the world. Following on the creation of an Albert Howard Foundation of Organic Husbandry, the declared aim of which is to continue and make known the Albert Howard principles, inquiries may be addressed to the Headquarters of the Foundation at Sharnden Manor, Mayfield, Sussex, England.

Louise E. Howard

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