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The turning of soil can invoke an almost tangible sense memory.

Brent Murphree, Content Director

March 21, 2024

2 Min Read
Plowed Earth
My first job on the tractor when I was a kid was plowing down rows of cotton stalks and disking down the borders in our wheat fields post-harvest.Brent Murphree

I smelled plowed dirt the other day for the first time in several months. It’s one of those sensory memories that you don’t really note when it’s not there, but when a plow or disk digs more than a few inches into the ground, for those that know it well, it is profound.

In the Midsouth we’ve moved away from deep digs into the earth unless we need to do some field leveling or other heavy field work, for good reason. But in the olden days, this time of year we were digging deep, turning over soil and ripping the heck out of that soil biome.

We’ve learned that disturbing the biology of the soil is not necessarily a good thing and growers are more conscientious about making as little imprint on the soil as possible. Even in arid regions where the dry soil needs to be broken a bit to let water drain down, growers are now trying to do the work in as few passes as possible.

My sister came home one day after one of her FFA classes and told us that my grandfather was featured in an old FFA movie – not a newfangled video - about how the soil needed to be tilled deep and often. The movie showed my grandfather turning over huge sections of soil with a large plow that dug deep.

My first job on the tractor when I was a kid was plowing down rows of cotton stalks and disking down the borders in our wheat fields post-harvest. I hated the dust, but the smell of the moist soil always helped me relax into the job.

Later I drove a huge, powerful Caterpillar pulling massive shanks deep through the ground to break up some of the heavy caliche laden soil on the farm. Into the late night I’d pitch in the seat as the ripper points pulled through varying levels of thick soil. The pitch and drone of the Cat, the shriek of the metal tracks and smell of deep soil lulled me into relaxed comfort – at least until I had to maneuver the cumbersome beast into a turn at the end of the field.

Now, if I see earth being moved for a new construction site – Blue Oval or any of the new home developments – I’ll roll down the window just to smell the dirt.

I was recently at the Dabbs farm in Stuttgart, Ark. They showed me the ground leveling equipment they use to keep their farm water efficient. I had to restrain myself from asking if I could move some dirt. I just wanted to smell the ground.

So, I hate to say, when I saw the farmer out my office window moving some dirt in the field across the road this week, I slipped on some Crocks by the back door and ran across the road, just to smell the dirt.

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