Rattan Lal, Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, OARDC/FAES, School of Natural Resources, Ohio State University, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210, Jon D. Hanson, USDA-ARS, Northern Great Plains Research Lab, P.O. Box 459, Mandan, ND 58554, and Donald C. Reicosky, USDA-ARS North Central Soil Cons. Res. Lab., 803 North Iowa Ave., Morris, MN 56267.
Historical lessons from plow-related erosion and soil degradation may contribute to present day social stability and sustainable agriculture. Agriculture originated 10 to 13 millennia ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East, mostly along the Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, Indus and Yangtze River valleys and was introduced into Greece and southeast Europe > 8000 years ago. Sumerian and other civilizations developed a wide variety of simple tools (digging sticks) to place and cover seed in the soil that led to more complex paddle-shaped spades pulled by human or animals. A wooden plow, called “ard”, was developed in Mesopotamia about 4000 to 6000 BC that led to the Triptolemos ard named after the Greek God and hero. Historical documents and archaeological evidence illustrate the “mystique” of tillage implements that were thought to "nourish the earth" and to "break the drought" as is evidenced in several ancient texts. The ard evolved into the “Roman plow”, with an iron plowshare, described by Vergil around 1 AD and was used in Europe until the 5th century. It further evolved into a soil inverting plow during 8th to 10th century. In the U.S., a moldboard plow used was designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1784, patented by Charles Newfold in 1796, and marketed in 1830's as a cast iron plow by a blacksmith named John Deere. Use of the plow expanded rapidly with the introduction of the “steam horse” in 1910 instigated to severe soil erosion and environmental degradation culminating in the Dust Bowl of 1930's. The transition from the plow to conservation- or no-tillage began with the development of 2,4-D after World War II and is presently practiced on about 90 million hectares globally. The no-till technologies are very effective in minimizing soil and crop residue disturbance and in controlling erosion losses for sustainable production and enhanced environmental quality.