You're right about soil structure and soil health back in those "organic" days BW, not that those old guys would have had a clue as to what everybody is on about when they talk about "organics".
They would have in all likelihood wet themselves laughing if what "organic" meant would have been explained to them .
To put a not very fine point on it, the soils by the 1940's were to say the least, buggered!
They were mined out of most essential nutriments like natural phosphorus although phosphorus fertilizers., ie Super Phosphate were already being used as they had near to no crops if they didn't use Super.
Nitrogen also was almost non existent in the older cropped soils.
The soil structure didn't exist anymore which resulted in the great dust storms in the 1930's and 40's which I have posted on here previously.
The "experts" from the much later generations sagely nod their heads and explain that the soils was "exploited" and the old timers were very sinful to let that happen.
The reality was that there were still large scale famines and hunger in the world and the the world needed Australian wheat particularly as Europe drifted into WW2.
And I really wonder whether a lot of those "experts" could have even survived in the conditions that people of those times worked under.
There were no herbicides as I have posted before and the only weed control and moisture conservation for the next crop was to fallow; ie cultivate the soil with a tyned implement with say 6 inch wide shares on to cut the weeds off.
Fallowing was done from about the winter of one year until the sowing time in winter of the next year.
This cultivation had to be done about every three weeks when there was rain about as the weeds would emerge and become too big to control as well as using vast amounts of water, a much proven fact, that was hopefully being stored in the soil profile for the next crop to use through any dry periods during the growing, seed filling and ripening stage.
This of course meant that you only got a crop every second year from a patch of dirt; ie; two year rotations.
The cultivator were generally about 8 to 10 feet wide and up to 12 feet for a large one.
There were some tractors around but a lot of those huge draft horses were still used through to the mid 1940's when the 1944 drought meant that the draft horses had to be agisted down in the Western District as there was nothing left to feed them up here in the Wimmera and Mallee.
A lot of those horses never came back as tractors were being given a priority supply item rating by the government to those grain farmers who wanted to buy them for the vital war food production.
A team of 10 or 12 Clydesdale draft horses, covering perhaps 40 feet wide, each with four feet of which each foot covered an area about as big as a small dinner plate and steadily pounding the soil and the clods into dust every time one of those one tonne horses put a foot down and this every three weeks or so for the winter, spring and late autumn months of the year on the same patch went a very long way towards destroying the soil structure.
The real story on how the farmers completely rejuvenated their soils and dramatically raised their productivity and rebuilt the soil nutrients, soil structure and water permeability has never been fully told or if it has, it has been totally ignored by the academic and city interests in that such a story would undermine a lot of their claims of the terrible raping of the countryside that has been carried out by farmers, something that seems to show up on a regular basis on this forum from a couple of posters.
The story really started with the importation of the first sheep into Australia by Macathur although there are quite a few others involved as well who get little credit in the popular media..http://www2.dpi.qld.gov.au/sheep/6570.html
With those sheep mixed into their wool, came some new to Australia plants from the Mediterranean.
They were Medics, a native of the Mediterranean region and a low growing pasture plant but most importantly a legume, a nitrogen fixing plant of which in Australia, a characteristic that is only found in some native trees and some of the wild pea varieties but none that have the requirements that would make them suitable for domestication.
The Medics of which there are hundreds of species produce small brown burrs which contain about 5 to 7 small yellow flat kidney shaped seeds arranged in the spiral type winding of the pod.
The pods also have curved small spikes on them which enables them to cling to wool and clothing and etc and so are spread to new areas.
These Medics, the Burr Medic as the type I am discussing was and is called started to spread all over Australia where ever sheep were run and where ever there was suitable warmth and rainfall similar to the Mediterranean region which is the whole of the southern regions, the grain belt of Australia,
The first deliberate documented use of medics in Australia to increase soil fertility is probably unknown but the following story is very likely amongst the very first and deliberate use of leguminous, nitrogen fixing medics to increase crop yields.
An old guy called Ron Holland, a very near neighbor of mine for some 30 or more years told me this story AND produced the news paper cutting to back his story up.
Ron is a very old man now but as a young boy, his father, the well known in the district at the time, Harry Holland, in around 1926 or 28 use to get young Ron to go out on to the local roads after summer when the seed burrs had fallen off the ripe medic plants and sweep together the medic burrs that were laying on the roadside where the medics grew wild.
Ron then had to load these Medic burrs into a horse drawn dray which is a heavy two wheeled cart and take the loads of Medic burrs out into a paddock and spread the medic burrs across the paddock.
The area where this occurred is about two or three miles east of a location called Wail which is on the main Melbourne / Adelaide highway and about ten kilometres on the Horsham side of Dimboola.
The Wail rail overpass is well known to regular travellers on this highway.
Harry Holland did not know what those medics did but he did know that wherever he spread those "native" Burr Medics he grew much better wheat crops to the extent that he nearly always won the then very prestigious awards from the various and regional Agricultural Show Societies of the time for the best wheat crop in the region.
The South Australians and their Ag research organisations were arguably by far the most advanced in the use of medics and research associated with using medics to rebuild soil fertility, soil structure and etc by the end of WW2.
About this time also a South Australian by the name of Alf Hannaford developed a large seed grading and seed dressing machine that fitted onto the back of an ex WW2 lend lease Chev or Ford and with this he used to go out on a run cleaning and dressing seed for the coming sowing season.
Seed dressing is the use of various chemicals on the seed to stop certain types of fungal diseases attacking the plant.
One of these "Stinking Bunt" is no longer seen but is always ready to reappear.
Stinking bunt is a fungal disease of the ripe in the head seed grain and turns the grains in the individual head black and stinking.
A few affected seeds in a load and it is no longer fit for human consumption nor in many cases will stock eat a load that is apparently only very lightly contaminated.
After WW2, Alf Hannaford built an large business with his seed graders travelling to all parts of the Australian wheat belt to clean and dress seed for sowing.
Alf Hannaford in SA also saw just how medics could revitalise and rebuild soil fertility and the huge increase in wheat yields, often doubling after a crop of medic had been plowed in when the fallow was being made.
As he was also well known for his social conscience work Hannafford carried large signs and slogans on his machines extolling the benefits of using medics to boost and revitalise soil fertility where ever his machines went in the Australian wheat belt.
Quite quickly by about 1950 there was a new industry based on the 30 year old Subterranean Clover seed technology created to harvest, clean and distribute medic seed through the wheat belt.
Medic pastures really took off with the Korean War wool boom where wool reached a pond a pound of wool.
Wages were about 10 or 12 pounds per week at the time.
Sheep of course did very well on the medic pastures which are very high in plant protein as well.
And the medics grew like there was no tomorrow as not having had any medics on nearly all the cropping country, the ground was free of all the diseases, nasties and insect attackers that build up on any plant species that have been long established.
My father had paddocks of medics that were two feet high and you could walk across them.
I learn't to drive the Holden ute on those pastures and my brothers and I use to see how many turns in spins we could get out of the old ute across the sheep tamped, rock hard but very slippery and wet medic paddocks.
When plowed in and incorporated into the soil those medic pastures put huge amounts of plant fixed nitrogen into the soil plus enormous amounts of organic matter.
The whole of the old worked out soil structure just literally jumped to a new level of fertility when a medic pasture was plowed in.
Crop yields went from about the maximum mentioned in my previous post of about 7 to 10 bags an acre [ 1.5 to 2 tonnes / Ha ] with 5 bags [ 1 t /Ha ] often more the case to 12 bags to 14 bags an acre [ 1.4 to 1.8 t / Ha ] after a good heavy medic crop had been ploughed in.
Then came the the first of the herbicides and new modern, more reliable machinery and new wheat and barley varieties with inbuilt genetically based disease resistance and we jumped to another new level in crop yields.
And all of that is why you can buy food at such low prices here in the western World and in Australia.
You will probably never again in the foreseable future have to spend 80% of your income on food as many of the poorest on earth still have to do and as has been the case right through human history for all but the very wealthiest.