Southern Soil

The following map illustrates why Southern agrarianism was a romantic notion that had little correspondence to the reality of Southern agriculture in the 1930s:

Note: Ultisols, or red clay soils, are the dominant soil type in the Southeast. Ultisols are deeply weathered, strongly acidic soils that are common in subtropical climates with high temperatures, heavy rainfall, and a heavily forested landscape. In most of the South, the nutrients in the soil wear out much faster than in places like Iowa.

utisols

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40 Comments

  1. If Southern soil is ill suited for agriculture no one would invest in it. People don’t make business decisions based on ideology and romanticism.

  2. 1.) In the 21st century, we know considerably more now about the science of soil taxonomy, but this was unknown to our ancestors. OTOH, antebellum cotton planters were fully aware of the problem although they didn’t completely understand it or know what to do about it.

    2.) The sharecropping and farm tenancy system lasted for generations because of a poverty trap.

  3. Article is borderline nonsense. As it admits, the South is subtropical. And due to the fact that different plants thrive under different climate and soil conditions there are crops which are exceptionally well suited to Southern conditions. Tobacco, Soy beans, corn, and cotton beibg legendary. Nutrient content hasnt been and issue since the invention of fertilizer. I rather like the rural nature of the South anyway. That’s also the main thing that keeps the culture conservative in the first place.

    • TJ,

      1.) The subtropical climate is unchangeable and over thousands of years has determined the soil types that exist here.

      2.) Because of the nature of the soil itself, which is actually poorly suited for intensive agriculture, the nutrients in the soil are rapidly exhausted by crops like cotton and corn. Sure, you can dump enormous quantities of fertilizers on the problem, but that just makes Southern agriculture more expensive and yields per acre will still be lower than other regions.

      3.) As I said above, this was already a serious problem in the antebellum era, which is why planters were perpetually moving west after exhausting the soil in the seaboard states.

      4.) In addition to the Ultisols, the South has a far more erratic climate than other regions. It suffers more from pests too because of the lack of hard freezes compared to the Midwest.

      5.) Finally, most Southerners no longer live in rural areas and that has a lot to do with the breakdown of Southern agriculture caused by the sharecropping and farm tenancy system on such poor soil.

  4. TJ,

    I agree with you concerning the people in rural areas. Cities are cesspools of moral and cultural degeneracy. I often think how much better this country would be if we could somehow delete the major cities and metropolitan areas.

  5. 1.) The subtropical climate is ideal for plant cultivation. The only difference between the climate in the South and in the tropics is the winter freeze and slightly more irregular rainfall. You can literally grow bananas in the South for over 8 months out of the year.

    2.) All soils in all climates suffer from nutrient exhaustion and all farms fertilize their soil. In addition, all use crop rotation as a means of rebuilding soil utility. I disagree this makes the South unique. Perhaps slightly more fertilizer might be used, but because it’s produced locally it negates the fuel costs of transporting crops in and out of the area. At worst you find parity.

    3.) As I said above, this was already a serious problem in the antebellum era, which is why planters were perpetually moving west after exhausting the soil in the seaboard states.

    4.) I dispute the affect of the irregularity of the climate. Most of that happens for a couple weeks at the beginning of spring and end of autumn. It is warm/hot and wet with exceptional regularity 7-8 months out of the year. The increase in pests is counter-balanced by wild growth in the prime season. And once again, all crops suffer from pests and utilize pest control.

    5.) I disagree. While that may possibly be a small factor, I argue that the breakdown of rural Southern culture is due to the factors of media influence and the spread of globo-culture, along with white flight and opportunism from the North. Turn on the radio in the deepest parts of the South. Southern accents are a minority. The cities have exploded with transplants from Michigan and New York, while the rural areas have slightly declined or remained steady.

    • TJ,

      I am on the road, but briefly:

      1.) I agree that 20th century mass media – radio, film, television, satellites, the internet, newspaper conglomerates, corporate publishing houses – has been a homogenizing force that is systematically eroding Southern culture.

      2.) As for the crisis in Southern agriculture, it was well underway before the arrival of radio or even the greatest pest of all time – the boll weevil, which completely transformed the region.

  6. I’ve lived pretty much my entire life in a rural area – the Alabama Black Belt – without seeing any evidence that rural areas are less culturally degenerate than urban areas.

  7. I am not sure what point you are trying to get at with this, HW. I think that a connexion to the soil is important for us spiritually and culturally. That doesn’t mean we have to all own huge farms but we should foster agrarian cultural pursuits and attitudes.

    • Michael,

      I will have something new up about this tonight. Basically, the South is far less suited for agriculture than the Midwest for a number of reasons and this had played out by the early 20th century.

  8. I’ve lived pretty much my entire life in a rural area – the Alabama Black Belt – without seeing any evidence that rural areas are less culturally degenerate than urban areas.

    How many gay pride parades have you seen in the rural area where you live?

    • Jeff,

      I’m from an area that is too small to have gay pride parades, but I see mannish lesbians all the time around here and know quite a few who have recently gotten married in Alabama and Georgia. That’s nothing compared to the sheer number of interracial relationships and the spawn that I see every time I go to the grocery store.

      In the heart of the Bible Belt, this place is full of whiggers and women who have been married two or three times and have children by multiple fathers. The Whites here also a terrible problem with prescription drug abuse and meth among other drugs. This place is no rural arcadia.

  9. “I agree with you concerning the people in rural areas. Cities are cesspools of moral and cultural degeneracy. I often think how much better this country would be if we could somehow delete the major cities and metropolitan areas.”

    I have to disagree with that. My parents were from small towns in the South and wound up in the Atlanta suburbs because their parents were fleeing the boom and bust nature of southern agriculture and the cycle of dirt and tenant farming that was common among rural whites. I tired of the transplants and the traffic and jumped at the chance to move to a small town, and I don’t see any great virtue in the people or the lifestyle. Backstabbing, adultery, drug and alcohol abuse and perversions of all sorts seem pretty common, and I don’t blame it on the media or dominant culture.

    Many of the people I meet are downright unfriendly to outsiders and that’s when they aren’t feuding with their arch enemies in town.

    I’m a southerner, so it only makes sense that I would want to see an independent South that would serve the needs of southerners. I just don’t want to mythologize the history or people. I have no doubt that an independent South would also have lots of social, economic and class conflicts among whites. I see all of that every day in small towns.

  10. Todd,

    I have traveled and lived in numerous cities, towns, and rural areas. My experience has been (generally speaking) the opposite of yours. But I do value your perspective.

    There is no utopia anywhere. The problems you have cited are a part of human fallibility. There is no getting around that no matter where you are. But I don’t notice there are significant cultural differences between rural/small town and urban areas. For all its faults, I much prefer the character of rural/small town people than those in urban areas.

    • Jeff,

      Do you have any statistical proof of the rural arcadia? Of all the Whites in the United States, I know that those who live in parts of Appalachia have some of the most serious social problems.

  11. But I don’t notice there are significant cultural differences between rural/small town and urban areas.

    This should be “I do notice notice there are significant cultural differences between rural/small town and urban areas.”

  12. I also have been able to notice the difference. It’s a no brainer that riffraff exists both in the city and in the country. I am pointing out that people that are bred in the area don’t usually stay in the city and they keep a low profile. After a while you can pick them out in the city. There is definitely a palpable cultural contrast.

  13. It makes even more sense when you learn to differentiate between the people that are there by choice and the white trash that are forced into the rural areas by “poverty”, which is another way of saying their own vices. This number is multiplied several times over in the city where they have access to apartments and section 8 projects. Rural blacks are more tolerable than urban blacks and for the same reason.

  14. If you come up to middle TN I’ll be glad to give you a tour of the “rural arcadia” here. There are versions of it all over the South. The Black Belt is a bad reference point.

    Even if the South were at a disadvantage agriculturally, which I mostly disagree with, what would your alternative be? I’m happy with it the way it is. Are you proposing to expand the rest of the great cities of the South into districts of metropolitan conurbation like Northern Georgia/Atlanta. I don’t believe in perpetual growth. Nor do I believe that money is the measure of success or happiness. I am pissed that these shortsighted, greedy assholes are ruining Nashville.

    The idea that growth is necessary to fuel GDP and prosperity is a wall-street invention designed sap us of our humanity and transform our green and pleasant land into seas of steal and concrete.

  15. What can you tell us of agricultural subsidies in the South? How significant are they? Do small farmers receive anything?

  16. And speaking of ‘lesbians who have gotten married in Alabama, recently, how about that Chief Alabama Justice Roy Moore, today?

    By the way : MERRY CHRISTMAS!

  17. @Palmetto Patriot…

    ‘I am not sure what point you are trying to get at with this, HW. I think that a connexion to the soil is important for us spiritually and culturally. That doesn’t mean we have to all own huge farms but we should foster agrarian cultural pursuits and attitudes.

    Sir, Mr. Griffin is in a new phase : exploring the possibilities of the debunkification of the ‘mythick South’.

    Be patient, as he is on a voyage, and where he shall wind up, nobody knows!; BUT … whatever it is, it WILL be well written. On that you can rely.

  18. About all I know of Southern Ag I learned on deer hunting shows, where they have to pour the lime onto the ground to grow the crops that attract deer and provide the protein to grow those bodies that support those antlers which drives the industry of deer hunting.

  19. I was already familiar with the basic outlines of the history of Southern agriculture, but it is fascinating to see it described by an expert in relation to the climate and soil itself.

    • Alabama’s problems are Southern problems – the Ultisols, the erratic climate, the hilly and mountainous terrain in the uplands, worthless shallow soils in many regions that are prone to soil erosion, the sandy soils in the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain, the abundant rainfall combined with soils that have water retention problems, the lack of hard freezes and pests, etc.

      • When I was researching the history of Appalachia, I learned that the chronic poverty of the region was connected not just to the extractive, colonial economy that emerged after the War Between the States – coal, timber, iron and steel owned by absentee capitalists – but also to the rise and eventual dominance of Midwestern agriculture.

  20. http://m.southeastfarmpress.com/blog/retired-professor-writes-alabamas-agricultural-shortcomings

    It’s always difficult to turn a critical eye towards something we love, but Wayne Shell – a retired Auburn University professor who once chaired the school’s Department of Fisheries and Allied Agriculture – has done just that in a revealing new book, “Evolution of the Alabama Agroecosystem: Always Keeping Up, Never Catching Up.”

    The book is the culmination of 20 years of studying Alabama agriculture, and it’s far from being this year’s “feel-good” read for the state’s farming interests, nor was it intended to be. Try as it might, Alabama agriculture has never caught up, and there are some tragic and intractable reasons why, Shell argues in his book.

    Some 30 years ago, Shell and other Auburn University faculty members were enlisted by the College of Agriculture and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System to guide Alabama farmers through one of the bleakest farm crises on record in the mid-1980s. Their job was to help as many financially stressed farmers as possible transition to alternative forms of agriculture — Christmas tree farming, fish farming, leased hunting —anything other than conventional farming.

    “It was obvious U.S. agriculture was in serious trouble, but the situation in Alabama was even worse,” he recalls.

    Shell, a professor emeritus who capped his 35-year Auburn career chairing the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures, began to investigate the reasons why Alabama agriculture was so adversely affected by the economic downturn.

    What he learned shocked him. Alabama agriculture was not only uncompetitive with the rest of the nation but has been from the beginning of its history — and even in the areas long considered to be the state’s strengths: annual corn and soybean yields, dairy output and cropland rents.

    Unable for several reasons to investigate these concerns at the time, he vowed to himself that he would pick up the trail after retirement.

    He was true to his word. Last year, New South Books published his findings, the culmination of almost 20 years of intensive, multidisciplinary study that leaves no stone unturned. Shell started with the more obvious factors — history, physiography, soils, geography and climate — but in time, his studies led him to investigate more subtle factors, such as politics and even ethnic influences.

    For example, Alabama’s unusually warm and moist climate strike most people as an unqualified plus, but it’s highly erratic.

    “We are prone to one to three weeks of unusually dry weather during the middle of the growing season, and that wouldn’t be as much of a problem except for the state’s poor soils,” he contends.

    Another limiting factor stems from the fact that virtually all of the principal crops produced in Alabama — cotton, soybean, corn and livestock — evolved in other parts of the world. In fact, the only two Alabama commodities that originated in the state are loblolly pines and catfish, Shell stresses.

    Even political factors figure into these challenges, he maintains. At the top of the list are what Shell describes as the “Southern Band of Brothers”—a tightly bonded multigenerational coalition of Southern congressmen and senators who have fought fiercely to safeguard Southern agricultural interests.

    This coalition was instrumental in ram-rodding through Congress the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, which provided permanent protection for what Shell describes as the five “Southern belles”: cotton, peanuts, tobacco, rice and sugarcane. He contends that this legislation worked to fuse Alabama’s economic destiny permanently with agriculture at a time when the state would have been better off pursuing another destiny, namely industrialization.

  21. You’re right about the soil. At one time in my life I traveled a lot in the Mid-West. I’ve actually stopped by the side of the road to look at a farmers field in Wisconsin once. The dirt was so black and loamy. It was beautiful. Nice barn with a huge silo full of corn. Our soil is just nothing like that. The reason is the North was covered with glaciers that ground up rocks depositing minerals all through the soil. That in turn allowed abundant microbial action that increased the quality of the soil.

  22. If you want to grow, you have to cultivate. Ground cover crops (vetch, cowpeas, etc.) that get plowed under, enrich the soil. Alternation/rotation of different crops yearly, and letting large swaths of land lay fallow for 5-7 years (the biblical mandate) will have to be done, to build back up ANY possible fertility in soil, but especially in soils such as this.

    You can’t just keep taking, taking, taking, and not replenish.

  23. You’re right.

    The South’s soil is extremely weathered by millions of years of heavy rainfall in a sub-tropical climate. In contrast, the Midwest’s soil is relatively new and was deposited by glaciation in the last Ice Age. Iowa has some of the best farmland in the world.

    In a free-market, free-trade zone like the United States, the Midwest was always going to have a comparative advantage in agriculture over the South, Northeast, and the West. This is why corn and wheat progressively migrated out of the Upper South as the Midwest developed.

  24. This may be considered covered in crop rotation but the Bible is clear that one should let the land rest every 7th year and the 50th year in a 50 year jubilee cycle. God promises abundance for doing this.

    Leviticus 25:3-4, 11
    (3) Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof;
    (4) But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.

    (11) A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.

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