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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: History of Plowing over Ten Thousand Years

Authors
item Lal, Rattan - OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
item Hanson, Jonathan
item Reicosky, Donald

Submitted to: World Congress of Soil Science
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: April 3, 2006
Publication Date: July 15, 2006
Citation: Lal, R., Hanson, J.D., Reicosky, D.C. 2006. History of plowing over ten thousand years. World Congress of Soil Science.

Technical Abstract: 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 Historical documents and archaeological evidence illustrate the "mystique" of tillage implements that were thought to "nourish the earth" and to "break the drought" as is evidenced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 furthe 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.

Last Modified: 7/25/2014
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