Hugh Hammond Bennett (1881-1960)
Father of Soil and Water Conservation
National Hugh Hammond Bennett Page
Hugh Hammond Bennett was born in a plantation home near Wadesboro, North Carolina in 1881. As a boy, Bennett played, worked, and roamed the acreage of his father's cotton farm. A setting that gave Bennett the opportunity to witness soil erosion while growing up.
After earning a degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Bennett became a soil surveyor with the USDA's Bureau of Chemistry and Soils. His years of working with the Bureau gave him insight into the effects of erosion on soil and the production of agricultural commodities. He became a nationally recognized authority on the issue through a number of publications and papers he would write.
In 1933, as the nation struggled through the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, Bennett was given the opportunity to put his ideas on soil conservation into practice. The Soil Erosion Service (SES) was created within the Department of Interior and Bennett was named its director. Bennett and the other employees of the SES began to holding demonstrations on farms throughout the country.
In 1935, the SES was moved to the US Department of Agriculture and renamed the Soil Conservation Service (SCS). Bennett continued as the chief of this new agency.
Bennett and his colleagues devised an entirely new approach to land management; putting every acre to its best use and treating every acre according to its needs. Thus was born the conservation plan based on soil resources and their capabilities. This concept involved the ecology of the entire farm -- woods, crops, pastures, and wildlife. Along with the conservation plan, the revolutionary idea of soil conservation districts was born.
In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent to the governors of all states legislation that would allow the formation of soil conservation districts. The first district established was the Brown Creek Soil Conservation District which included Bennett's home county, Anson.
Bennet's flair for showmanship and his evangelistic commitment to soil conservation, convinced national leaders and farmers alike for the need to conserve our soil and water resources. His ideas changed the face of America's landscape. On farmland scared by gullies and blown by winds, lush fields of grain once again waved. Conservation practices like stripcropping, terraces, and waterways had stopped the erosion of our soil and returned the land to its former productivity.
In 1951, Bennett retired as chief of the Soil Conservation Service. His influenced had spread worldwide as many other nations emulated the programs he had established in their own country. He was one of the founders of the Soil Conservation Society of America (now the Soil & Water Conservation Society).
On July 7, 1960, Hugh Hammond Bennett died of cancer in Burlington, North Carolina at the age of 79. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
His legacy lives on in the Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the SCS), the nation's 3,000 Soil Conservation Districts, and on the land he worked so hard to protect and enrich.