Dr William Albrecht was above all a student of nature, and perhaps his greatest credential related to the fact that his system worked successfully with, rather than against, nature. As a scientist, writer and educator, Albrecht worked tirelessly to empower the farmer with the knowledge required to increase “real” fertility via soil balance and appropriate nutrition. Unlike earlier resistance fighters like Austrian Rudolf Steiner, Albrecht’s approach remained practical and accessible. While Steiner philosophised about cosmic forces and spiritual influences in agriculture (alienating more than he converted), Albrecht set about delineating actual measurable parameters of fertility. Through a comprehensive study of clay chemistry, he concluded that the smallest particle of the soil – the clay colloid – stored positively charged nutrients called cations, which attached to the colloid magnetically. These cations were exchanged with hydrogen by plants seeking nutrition. The relative cation storage capacity of a soil varied depending upon the clay content of the soil – a light, sandy soil storing less than a heavier clay soil. This relative storage capacity was called cation exchange capacity (CEC). As is often the case, no discovery occurs in a vacuum. Albrecht’s initial work was inspired by earlier European research in clay chemistry. However, his great personal breakthrough related to his identification of the exact ratios of each cation required in any given soil to achieve maximum fertility and associated plant health. The major cations include calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and hydrogen.
Albrecht and his research team devised an experiment where clay colloids were spun in a machine at a speed fast enough to dislodge the attached cations. The research team collected hundreds of kilos of naked clay colloids, located them in numerous research plots and began the painstaking task of adding the cations in different ratios and evaluating the related plant growth response. In this manner, Albrecht was able to ascertain the exact ratios of calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium required for maximum plant growth and vitality. The magnitude of his discovery did not escape him when he commented that the Missouri University research plots located at Sanborn fields represented “a few small acres that have contributed more to the understanding of plant growth than any area on the planet.”
The enormous significance of Albrecht’s breakthrough can only be fully understood within the context of his complete approach. Albrecht’s system centres around the primacy of calcium as the most important nutrient for healthy plant growth. Lime is viewed as a major fertilliser contributing to both quantity and quality of produce. The criteria for liming recommendations within conventional agriculture has been soil pH levels (If pH is low, then lime is recommended), but Albrecht insisted that, as magnesium, sodium and potassium can actually have more effect on raising pH than calcium, then the conventional pH approach could never accurately assess calcium requirements for maximum fertility. This misunderstanding has serious fertility consequences in modern N-P-K agriculture, where the overuse of nitrogen destroys calcium and contributes to an imbalanced calcium / magnesium ratio. Magnesium has 1.4 times more power to increase soil pH than calcium, so using the pH criteria for liming requirements in high magnesium soils is doomed to failure. The majority of Australian soil laboratories still use the unreliable and inaccurate pH criteria to determine calcium requirements. Albrecht established his own soil laboratory in the US, which measured cation exchange capacity and specified base saturation percentages (the cation ratios he had discovered, which determine fertility). The laboratory he established 40 years ago, Brookside Laboratories, continues to flourish today, with consultants covering most of the globe, including Australia.