By Dr. Royal Lee
Summary: Dr. Royal Lee grew up on a farm in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, giving him firsthand knowledge of what he called the “two most important problems of the land—the problem of erosion and the problem of maintenance of fertility of soil.” In this 1947 commentary, Dr. Lee suggests that the two go hand in hand. He speculates that a depletion in mineral salts—or an unnatural imbalance of them like that created by artificial fertilization—leads to an inability of the soil to absorb water and leach from it the organic matter necessary for its health. In turn, he says, a precise make-up of organic matter is required in the soil to ensure the proper mineral constitution. “It seems,” he says, “that we must have organic matter to hold the mineral elements needed by plant life, and we must have mineral salts…to hold the organic matter.” Dr. Lee follows his discussion with excerpts from the classic 1863 text The Natural Laws of Husbandry by German chemist and agriculturist Justus von Liebig, who decries the simplicity with which most agricultural scientists view soil constitution and warns of the profound danger of partial soil fertilization—a practice that nonetheless has become the calling card of modern agriculture. Finally, in an unrelated piece from the January 21, 1944, issue of Science, Dr. Lee comments on the similarity of nutrient factors within and across species in an article titled “Vitamer or Isotel? Both?” Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research reprint 29, circa 1947. Multiple original sources.