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wayne-shell.jpgFor more than 30 years, Auburn Professor Emeritus Dr. Wayne Shell has been haunted by a question.  For more than 20 years, he undertook an almost superhuman effort to answer it. 

His new book, “Evolution of the Alabama Agroecosystem:Always Keeping Up, but Never Catching Up,” is the culmination of that 20-year effort. 

It’s a tome by any standard of measurement — all 861 pages, each page laid out in double columns.

For Shell,  who served 21 years as chairman of Auburn’s Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures, it is not only a labor of love but also a massive study encompassing several disciplines — history, physiology, soils, geography and climate — though it also deals with more subtle influences, such as Alabama’s politics and ethnicity. 

The research for the book settled a longstanding question, one on which he stumbled some 30 years ago.

Along with other College of Agriculture faculty, he was enlisted to develop educational programs to guide Alabama farmers through one of the bleakest farm crises on record in the mid-1980s. Their job was to help as many financially stressed farmers as possible transition to alternative forms of agriculture — Christmas tree farming, fish farming, leased hunting — anything other than conventional farming, which was so fraught with crisis during that era.

This challenge led him to investigate the reasons why Alabama agriculture was so adversely affected by the economic downturn in the first place.

Following some initial investigation, what he learned about Alabama’s comparative disadvantages vis-à-vis other states surprised and even shocked him.

wayne-shell2.jpgUnable for several reasons to investigate these concerns more fully at the time, Shell vowed that he would pick up the trail after retirement.

He was true to his word. 

The book, published by New South Books in Montgomery, leaves no stone unturned in Shell’s unrelenting efforts to get to the bottom of this issue.

The book traces how the development of agricultural practices in the Old World affect those of the new, particularly Alabama.  Most significant, though, it represents an exhaustive study of how changes in U.S. and Alabama agricultural practices and federal and state governmental policies since the 19th century have affected Alabama’s  and much of the South’s limited competitiveness with the rest of the nation.  Returning to the subtitle, it’s an account of how Alabama agriculture has always managed to keep up but never catch up.

Shell, who grew up in Butler County, earned his a bachelor’s and master’s degree in fisheries from Auburn University and also holds a Ph.D. in fisheries biology from Cornell University.  In addition to his 35-year career as an Auburn faculty member, Shell also served 21 years as chairman of the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures and also as director of the International Center of Aquaculture. 

He retired in 1994.

To learn more about Shell’s book, visit NewSouth Books at



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