Introduction

One of the most important resource for mankind is the fertile soil. Already in ancient times men knew that fertility is of utmost importance for living. The term fertility was associated with gods, the fertility of soils and animals including women. It was only in recent times due to the impact of modern philosophy, particularly the Enlightenment, men tried to explain fertility and also soil fertility in modern scientific terms. One ofthe first pioneers of this modern thinking was the French chemist Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier (1743-94). He carried out numerous field trials and came to the conclusion that the excrements of animals were the matter from which the humus was formed in soils and that the humus was the basis of soil fertility. It was shown that the incorporation of animal excrements into the soil improved crop yields. Based on these experiments the humus theory was formed which in the nineteenth century had a favorable impact on farming in France and Central Europe. Humus was considered as the nutrient of plants (humus theory). According to this theory animals would compete with men for fertile soils since animals were required for producing the matter by which soil fertility was maintained. This humus theory was accepted by farmers and had a favorable influence on farming in West and Central Europe.

Carl Sprengel (1787-1859), a German chemist at the beginning of the nineteenth century, analyzed plants and soils on their chemical elements and came to the conclusion that the actual plant nutrients were chemical elements. He disproved the humus theory.

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