“Big Hugh” Bennett, the “Father of Soil Conservation”
On April 27, 1935, Hugh Hammond Bennett of Anson County became director of the Soil Conservation Service, a position he held until his retirement in 1952. “Big Hugh,” as he came to be known, grew up in the drainage basin of the Pee Dee River and became aware of the woeful effects of soil erosion at an early age. He is widely credited with selling the benefits of soil conservation to a dubious public.
The solution to the nation’s agricultural problems, according to Bennett, was preservation of the topsoil, accomplished by means of terracing, cover and strip cropping, contour plowing, grassed waterways and crop rotation, among other methods. The “Dust Bowl” which devastated the American prairie lands in the mid-1930s increased the urgency of his work. Widely respected for his expertise, Bennett advised on projects in Alaska, Brazil, Cuba and South Africa, among other places.
For 50 years, Bennett worked with the federal Department of Agriculture, rising to the leadership role in the Soil Conservation Service. In his native Anson, he established the Brown Creek Soil Conservation District in 1937. It was the first organization of its kind in the nation. Today those who continue the work to preserve the soil honor Bennett as the “father of soil conservation.”