Some of the Most Vital Research Needs Time and Money to Bear Fruit

Klaas Martens's picture

By Klaas Martens, OFRF Board Member

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
- Naturalist, John Muir

Imagine what more than a century of studying soil in one place might tell us?

The Morrow plots were established in 1876 and are the second oldest long-term systems trials (LTST) in the world.  Data from the Morrow plots has shown that: "soil quality is a vital component of agricultural productivity." The oldest continuously operating system trial is at Rothamsted Manor in England.  It started in 1843 just as synthetic fertilizer manufacturing was beginning to study its effect on soil and wheat production.

 One striking example of how the public benefits from funding this type of research came from Sanborn field, the oldest continuous experimental field west of the Mississippi River.  Dr. William Albrecht, who managed Sanborn field, noticed something interesting in the soil of plot 23 which had been in continuous timothy grass with no fertilizer of any kind since 1888.  From a sample of the soil taken from that plot, aureomycin was discovered and made commercially available in 1948. What at the time was a modest but very long-term investment in soils research,  unexpectedly resulted in one of the most important discoveries in medicine of the last century.  

It took almost 60 years of operation before Sanborn field yielded its greatest and least anticipated return.  If it had been the victim of budget cuts or a government shutdown as several currently operating long term systems trials are at risk of becoming, literally millions of people who have been cured of infections would have suffered or died needlessly. If these trials had been halted after only 10 years, the discovery would never had been achieved.  Sadly, due to funding the work being done in Sanborn field is greatly scaled back today and the Morrow plots are reduced to only 0.8 acres.  

Without a current Farm Bill, funding for several long-term systems trials is now in jeopardy.  LTSTs are expensive to conduct and to maintain.  Because by their nature, they must be conducted over a long time frame and they produce their most valuable data after many years of operation, it is difficult to keep reliable and continuous funding for them.  Yet they provide a crucial and irreplaceable platform that is needed to build other important research on.

Each of the long-term trials being conducted in this country is unique and valuable in different ways.  Each has already produced many valuable scientific discoveries. In fact, useful discoveries are still being made from the old data from these studies.  We all need to urge our Universities and our representatives in congress to keep these long- term experiments going.  In addition, we need to support the work of OFRF in funding important scientific research in Organic farming and in educating our leaders about the importance of funding Organic research.  Now is the time to contribute to OFRF so that they can leverage our small donations into efforts that make a big difference!

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