William Albrecht

“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

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.

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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. He served as 1939 President of the Soil Science Society of America.

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William Albrecht, arguably the father of the science of soil fertility, was a professor at the University of Missouri. During his working life he, and his students, performed painstaking experiments to find out just what constituted a fertile soil in terms of balanced mineral and organic matter content to grow healthy plants which, in turn, provided nutritious food for stock and people.

He was a prolific communicator, publishing many scientific papers and also expressing the science in layman’s language in articles for farming and health magazines. He was also a constant critic of the stupidity of the N-P-K system pedalled by the fertiliser companies, the land-grant universities and the US government and for good reason; his predictions are now painfully true for all to see around the world.

William A. Albrecht was born on a farm in 1888 in the Mid-West United States. He was the foremost authority on the relation of soil fertility to human health and earned four degrees from the University of Illinois. He went on to be emeritus Professor of Soils at the University of Missouri. Dr. Albrecht saw a direct link between soil quality and food quality – a link which necessarily lent itself to human health. His work made clear that health stems from the soil. He drew direct connections between poor quality forage crops, and ill health in livestock. He developed base-level requirements for soil nutrients which are still being used.

Throughout his life, Dr. Albrecht looked to nature to guide his research and learn what optimizes soil, plant, animal, and even human health. Fairly early on in his research, Albrecht attributed many common disease conditions found in livestock directly to those animals being fed poor quality feeds. In Albrecht’s mind, that meant forage grown on soils that were deficient in essential elements. Put yet another way, Albrecht insightfully observed that “Food is fabricated soil fertility.”

Rumor has it that Albrecht was forced out by chemical and fertilizer companies that bought off and took over ag schools like the University of Missouri. Fertilizer companies easily retooled WWII munitions plants into fertilizer factories. This fertilizer was of the N, P, K variety (nitrogen, phosphate, potassium), key ingredients in munitions. With his knowledge, Albrecht knew that focusing just on N, P, K was a very shortsighted fertilizer program, and he wrote extensively about it. It must have been frustrating to have mounds of N, P, K to sell, and the leading soil scientist is instead touting calcium, magnesium, and micro nutrients like zinc.

Unlike many organic farming circles that tend to just focus heavily on soil biology (organic matter and microbes), AM also emphasizes the importance of soil structure and soil chemistry. Diving into AM is sorta like going back to high school chemistry. You’re enlightened by the importance of each mineral, for example, potassium, and how it interplays with other minerals to provide food for plants. There’s so much that’s still unknown, but so far it’s pretty clear that ideal soils are 50% air and water, 5% humus (organic matter), and 45% nutrients. Of the 45%, great soils have about 65% calcium, 15% magnesium, 4% potassium, 2% sodium, 10% hydrogen, and the remainder is chock-full of micro nutrients: sulfur, phosphorous, zinc, copper, iron, manganese, etc. Soils with this breakdown have ideal pH levels, are very friendly to soil life, and, with some time, can produce very nutritious crops at high yields.

AM starts with testing your soil to find its Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), which is the amount of sites in your soil that can attach and hold minerals. Minerals and nutrients are held in the soil by humus and tiny clay particles. AM helps you to focus on getting the nutrients you do have into the right balance so soil life will flourish and help free up more nutrients to plants.

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The Albrecht Collection, from Soil & Health:

In addition to numerous Albrecht articles there are also included here two complementary items by Firman Bear.

Albrecht, William A. Nutrition Via Soil Fertility According to The Climatic Pattern. Melbourne, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), 1949

The most concise yet complete statement of how climatic variations in soil fertility (or human intervention through management practices) results in hugely differing levels of animal (and human) nutrition, and consequently, differing levels of health. This booklet contains a goodly number of illustrations and consequently is a rather sizeable download, a PDF of 1.36 mb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Soil Reaction (pH) and Balanced Plant Nutrition. Paper prepared for an illustrated lecture in Alamosa, Colorado, August 31, 1967 and for a seminar at Canon City, Colorado organised by the Western Soils Company, Waterloo, Iowa, September 1-2, 1967.

Albrecht’s final and most thorough statement summarizing his research on maximizing nutritional quality by adjusting soil mineral nutrient ratios and quantities. Contains many well-rendered illustrations, maps, charts and tables. The download is an html document of about 1 mb. PUBLIC DOMAIN.

The Dental Journal of Australia. Albrecht, William A. “Pattern Of Caries in Relation to the Pattern of Soil Fertility in the United States.” Vol. 23, No. 1, January 1951, p.1-7.

“By means of this broader pattern (of soil fertility in the US) we would probably arrive at the suspicion, at least, that much that is now called “disease” should more properly be called deficiencies in nutrition because of low soil fertility.”Downloads as a PDF of 307 kb. OUT OF PRINT.

Annals of Dentistry. Albrecht, William A. “Our Teeth and Our Soils.” Number 6, 1947.

Similar in content to his 1951 statement in the Dental Journal of Australia, perhaps stated a bit more simply and makes broader implications. Downloads as a PDF of 981 kb. OUT OF PRINT.

Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Fifth Edition. New York: Paul B. Hoeber, Inc., 1945. Chapter 20, “Food Is Fabricated Soil Fertility,” by William A. Albrecht, pages 461-469. Downloads as a PDF of 89 kb. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is available for purchase as a new book; buy a copy and support the Price-Pottenger Nutrition FoundationIN PRINT.

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1952. They include: Soil Treatment and Wool Output; Diseases As Deficiencies Via the Soil; How Smart is a Cow? Quality vs. Quantity Crops; “Deep Rooting” Depends on Soil; Soil Fertility and Nutritive Food Values; Soil and Proteins; Our Teeth and Our Soils; Mineral Hunger; Soil Acidity is Beneficial; Too Much Nitrogen? Protein Deficiencies. . . through Soil Deficiencies. Downloads as a PDF of 298 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1953. They include: Soil and Nutrition; The Role of Nitrogen; More and Better Proteins; Proteins and Reproduction; Protein Protection; Better Proteins; Soil Fertility for Proteins; Soil Conservation; The Importance of Soil; High Time to Learn About Our Soils and Our Health; The Use of Mulches; Protein Service in Nutrition. Downloads as a PDF of 169 kb.OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1954. They include: Amino Acids in Legumes According to Soil Fertility; The Soil Fertility Pattern (February 1954, MISSING); The Little Things Count in Nutrition; Animals Know Good Food!; Agriculture is Biology First and Foremost; The Upset Biological Processes; Consider the Soil–Not Technologies!; Some Soils Analyzed; The Role of Clay in Plant Nutrition; Root Chemistry and Clay Chemistry; The Sustaining Fertility of the Soil; The Importance of Soil Economics. Downloads as a PDF of 317 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1955. Soil Fertility. . . Its Climactic Pattern; Problems of the Small Farm; The Pattern of the Small Farm; Income Problems of the Small Farm; Use of Resources of the Small Farm; Why Small Farms Are Popular; Creating Good Soil is a Challenge; Biology vs. Technology in Growing Things; Organic Soils and “Good Constitutions; The Soil’s Assembly Line; Some Aims of Soil Research; Make Tax Allowance for Fertility Depletion. Downloads as a PDF of 168 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1956. They include: Trace Elements and Agricultural Production; Our Soils Affect Nutrition; Basic Facts of Soil Science; A New Book–“Our Daily Poison.”; Soils, Plants and Nutrition; Soil Calcium and the Quality of Leafy Greens; Soil Alters Calcium Digestibility in Leafy Greens; Is Commercial Urea an “Organic” Fertilizer?; Compost for the Sea or the Soil?; Food Quality–as Physiology Demands It; Blast Furnace Slag–a Soil Builder; Plants Struggle for their Proteins, Too. Downloads as a PDF of 388 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1957. They include: Rhododendrons . . . a Problem of Soil Fertility, Not Acidity; Is Soil Fertility via Food Quality Reported in Your Varied Pulse Rate?; Breeding Out Plant Proteins–Bringing in Diseases; Cycles of Soil Changes In White Clover Years; Cycles of Soil Changes in White Clover Years; Fertilizing with Nitrogen: The Cow Makes Her Suggestions; Fertilizing with Nitrogen: Rabbits Testify by Experiments; Fertilizing with Nitrogen: We May Use Too Much Salt; Fertilizing with Nitrogen: Fertility Imbalance and Insect Damage; Too Much Salt for the Soil; Blood Will Tell; What Texture of Soil is Preferred? Downloads as a PDF of 739 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1958. They include: Silt Loams–Nutritional Blessing of the Winds; What Texture of Soil is Preferred? II. Clay-The Soil’s Jobber; Water–Major Mineral of Soil Nutrition; Water–Nature’s Major Biochemical Reagent; Cows Know Nutrition; Soil Organic Matter, Builder of Climax Crops; Soil Organic Matter–Fertility and Crop Needs; Soil Organic Matter–“Constitution of the Soil”; Soil Organic Matter–Mobilizer of Inorganic Soil; Soil Organic Matter–Includes Much “Et Cetera”; Soil Organic Matter–Includes Much “Et Cetera”; Soil Organic Matter–Farm Manures Help Maintain It. Downloads as a PDF of 860 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1959. They include: Soil Organic Matter–Possible Poisons Naturally; Soil Organic Matter–Possible Poisons of our Own Make; Soil Organic Matter–And Man-Made Poisons; Soil Organic Matter–Man-Made Poisons; Natural Organic Matter–Man-Made Organic Supplements; Soil and Plant Compositions: 1. Too Much Nitrogen or Not Enough Else?; Different Soils, Different Plant Compositions (Both Soil, Plant Responsible); Different Soils, Different Plant Compositions (Both Soil, Plants Responsible); Different Soils, Different Plant Compositions (Phosphorus in Crop Varies with Nitrogen Applied); Different Soils, Different Plant Compositions (Soil Nitrogen and Vitamin C in Plants); Different Soils, Different Plant Compositions (Varied Soil Potassium Means Varied Organic Values); Different Soils, Different Plant Compositions. Downloads as a PDF of 385 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1960 They include: Different Soils, Different Plant Compositions (Bacteria Help Legume Roots Mobilize Fertility); Different Soils, Different Plant Compositions (Microbes Give Legumes Their Protein Power); Different Soils, Different Plant Compositions (Fertility Effects Show Early in Plants); Different Soils. . . (Big Yields of Bulk-Low Phosphorus Concentration); Different Soils. . . (Boron Interrelated with Potassium); Different Soils. . . (Boron Helps Maintain Potassium Balance); Different Soils. . . (Soil Exhaustion–Variable Organic and Inorganic Composition of Plants); Different Soils. . . (Sulfur Deficiency in Soils); Different Soils. . . (Chemical Composition of Plants and the “Feeding Power” of Their Roots); Different Soils. . . (Chemical Composition of Plants and the “Feeding Power” of Their Roots) part 2; Different Soils. . . (Vegetable Quality Reveals its Connection with Soil Organic Matter); Different Soils.. . (“Chelation”)–Nature’s Emphasis on Soil Organic Matter. Downloads as a PDF of 576 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1961 They include: Different Soils, Different Plant Compositions (Natural Laws Regarding Soils and Plant Compositions); Different Soils . . . (Depleted Soils–Species Extinction); Different Soils . . . (Soil Organic Matter Mobilizes the Phosphorus for Plants); Different Soils . . . (Soil Organic Matter Mobilizes the Phosphorus for Plants); Different Soils . . . (Depleted Soils Change Sugar, Starch, Proteins and Yields of Crop); Mobilizing the Natural Soil Potassium; Nitrates . . . Possible Poison Grown into Foods; To Keep the Soil a “Living” One; Soil’s Resurrection in Three Years; Schedule of Soil Fertility Delivery and Crop Growth; Schedule of Soil Fertility Delivery and Crop Growth; An Old Problem–Loss of Applied Nitrogen. Downloads as a PDF of 544 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1962 They include: A Few Facts About Soils; “Agricultural Education”; “The Natural” vs. “The Artificial”; Salt Damage to Seedlings; Salt Damage to Seedlings; Purpose of Liming Soil an Enigma; Immunity Against Leaf-Eating Insects via Soil as Nutrition; Immunity Against Leaf-Eating Insects via Soil as Nutrition; Garden Soils and Bio-geochemistry; Bio-Assays Rather than Chemical Analyses; Their Questions–My Answers; Less Soil Organic Matter Spells Lower Form of Vegetation. Downloads as a PDF of 411 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Seven short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1963 They include: Weeds Suggest Low Nutritional Values; Weeds Suggest Low Nutritional Values; Changes in Quality of Soil Organic Matter; Soil Humus. . . Chelator of Inorganic Elements; Humus. . . Soil Microbial Product; “Mycorrhiza,” I. Mobilizers of Organic Plant Nutrition; “Mychorrhiza,” II. Misconceptions Persist. This year’s collection is missing March through July; these magazines were not in the Library of Congress’ collection. Downloads as a PDF of 335 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1964 They include: “Mychorrhiza,” II. Misconceptions Persist; “Mycorrhiza,” III.Facts About Their Magnitude; “Mycorrhiza,” III. Facts About Their Magnitude; “Mycorrhiza,” IV. Revelations of Species; “Mycorrhiza,” V. Parasite or Symbiont According to Soil as Nutrition; “Mycorrhiza,” V. Parasite or Symbiont According to Soil as Nutrition; “Mycorrhiza,” VI. Some Field Observations; “Mycorrhiza,” VI. Some Field Observations; “Mycorrhiza,” VII. Proteins, Amino Acids and Benzene Rings; “Mycorrhiza,” VII. Proteins, Amino Acids and Benzene Rings; “Mycorrhiza,” VIII. Early Beliefs Lately Confirmed; Magnesium . . . Balance in Soil, Plants and Bodies. Downloads as a PDF of 308 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1965 They include: Magnesium . . . Its Relations to Calcium; Magnesium . . . Its Relation to Calcium in Plants; Magnesium. . .Its Relation to Calcium in Body Tissues; Magnesium . . . Its Relation to Potassium; Magnesium . . . Its Excess, According to Plant Species; Magnesium . . . Indirect Modifications via Mixed Flora; Magnesium . . . Imbalances Among Companion Elements; Magnesium . . . Biochemically, So Little is so Important; Magnesium . . . Relation of Soil Test to Crop Analyses; Balanced Soil Fertility, Requisite for Nutritional Quality of Crops; Quality Becomes More Quantitative; Nutritional Quality of Vegetables via Plant Species and Soil Fertility. Downloads as a PDF of 617 kb. OUT OF PRINT

Albrecht, William A. Twelve short articles from Let’s Live monthly magazine for 1966. They include: “Self-protection by Plants Linked to Nutritional Values; Variable Quality Production By Food Plants; Nutritional Values of Vegetables Change Rapidly; Variable Nutritive Values in Carrots; Values of Apples According to Chemical Analysis; Nutritive Value of Apples According to Biological Assay; Size and Weight Versus Nutritional Quality; Magnesium in the Soils of the United States; Health As Different Soil Areas Nourish It Part 1; Health As Different Soil Areas Nourish It Part 2; Soil Phosphorus–Activated Via Soil Organic Matter; Balanced Soil Fertility–Better Start of Life.” Downloads as a PDF of 638 kb. OUT OF PRINT.

Bear, Firman and  Arthur Prince. Cation Equivalent Constancy in Alfalfa. Rutgers: New Jersey Experiment Station, 1944.

This article and also the next one by Bear further explore the idea that levels and ratios of mineral nutrients determine the nutritional qualities of the crop.

Bear, Firman. Cation and Anion Relationships in Plants and their Bearing on Crop Quality. Rutgers: New Jersey Experiment Station, n.d.

– Source: Soil Health: The Albrecht Collection.

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