Friday, September 23, 2011

Wadesboro Native Is Father of Soil Conservation Service

In 1935, at the height of the Dust Bowl, North Carolina native Hugh Bennett arranged to testify before a congressional committee considering the creation of the Soil Conservation Service. He timed his testimony to the arrival in Washington, D.C., of a dust storm from the Great Plains. The dust storm helped demonstrate the need for soil conservation and the Soil Conservation Service Act was passed April 27, 1935. Bennett served as its chief until he retired in 1951.

Hugh Bennett of Wadesboro, N.C., had joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a soil surveyor after graduating from the University of North Carolina, and had investigated crop declines and soil erosion. He wrote extensively on the problem in popular and scientific publications, leading Congress to approve funding for soil erosion experiment stations in 1930. He helped establish the Soil Erosion Service in 1933 and served as its director until he became director of the Soil Conservation Service.

By Frank H. Jeter, published Sept. 9, 1946, in the Charlotte News

Because civilization rests upon that thin film of soil which covers the continents of the earth, I am glad that someone realized the danger to that film and sought to save it before it was too late. I shall always be eternally grateful to Dr. Hugh H. Bennett, native of North Carolina, who raised his voice in a prayer for protection of the soil. I shall always be eternally grateful for his persistence. At first, his pleadings were not heard; they were not popular, but now wherever agricultural leaders and good farmers gather they know that he was heard none too soon. Even so, it was almost too late for some sections and some farms.

But because Hugh Bennett saw and understood what was happening to the soils of his country, he has perhaps saved us from becoming a decadent people existing upon a decadent soil. North Carolina does well to honor him and those of us who try to find the facts and interpret them for others who live on and from the soil and proud to see credit given where credit is due.

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