No-till icon McFadden dies at 95 years old

Senior Editor

ASHEBORO, N.C. (March 24, 2015) — Jim McFadden, a legend in his own time, is dead.
The man who provided the spark which ignited what became known as “the no-till revolution” in Maryland and Delaware, died peacefully on Wednesday March 11, at the home of his daughter in Asheboro, N.C.
“Big Jim,” as he was known to friends, colleagues and Delmarva farmers, was 95.
He made his mark selling the no-till burndown herbicide, Paraquat, for the Chevron Chemical Co.
With a passion for no-till matched only by his passion for the nation’s forefathers and the Word of God, Mr. McFadden became Chevron’s first $3 million salesman.
In his wake, he left a cache of stories about his youth in a huge farm family, about farmers whom he called “God’s noblemen,” about his experiences on the no-till trail and even a late-in-life recording of mountain songs of which he remembered every word.
Big Jim had left instructions that he was to be buried, without fuss, as shortly after death as possible. He died at 12:30 p.m. on March 11 and he was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Asheboro at 11 a.m. on March 13.
“We did the best we could” said daughter Carolyn Wilson, a nurse by training, who had cared for her father through those long last years.
The some 40 who attended the funeral gathered after the burial for a reception at a local eatery where it was announced that the family was “picking up the tab,” Carolyn said. “This is for Dad. Through his life, Dad enjoyed entertaining others and he would not have had it any other way.”
James Henry McFadden Jr. was born June 20, 1919, in Buchanan County, Va., the ninth child in a God-fearing family of 14. When Jim was one year old, the family, joining four other families and loading up a total of four railroad box cars, moved to Cecil County, Md.
It was the intention of the elder McFaddens to be able to send the children to better schools than those available in the Virginia hill country.
The family settled near Port Deposit and Jim attended the former Tome School in Northeast, later Shenandoah Valley College and then Delaware Valley Farm School — now Delaware Valley College at Doylestown, Pa — from which he was graduated with a degree in animal husbandry.
He was employed, after graduation, as herdsman at two large Maryland dairy farms, then as a DHIA tester in Bucks County, Pa., before taking a job as a fertilizer salesman and then joining Chevron Chemical Company in 1953.
His passion for no-till may have been instilled at an early age. Jim recalled, when he was nine years old, walking the farm fields with his father to inspect huge gullies, some more than knee-deep, which had been carved into the soil by erosion.
“I remember Dad’s tears,” Jim said. “It broke his heart to see this happening to his land.”
Jim and his brothers would cut brush and stamp it into the gullies; then they’d put hay on top of it, hoping to form a barrier against erosion.
“But then we’d work up the land to make it perfect for planting, knowing full well that, at the same time, we were working up the land to make it perfect for washing away.
“We were mining the soil, but we could do no better.”
McFadden, even as he rode Paraquat, and his enthusiasm for no-till, to a record sales performance for Chevron, and while admitting to generating some excitement, was always quick to credit agronomy chieftains Dr. Jim Miller of the University of Maryland and Dr. Bill Mitchell of the University of Delaware, for providing the research to back him up.
“The research people at the two universities,” McFadden said, “saw the tremendous advantage of no-till farming almost immediately… There probably has never been a more capable and effective group of research people in one area at one time in our history.”
McFadden retired in 1984, after 30 years with Chevron, virtually all of those years on the Delmarva Peninsula.
He and his wife, the late Janet McFadden, lived in Fairlee, Md., near Chestertown, until moving to Asheboro in 2005.
In addition to his daughter, Carolyn Wilson, Mr. McFadden is survived by two other daughters, two sisters, three brothers, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Condolences may be addressed to Carolyn Wilson, 3137 Grange Hall Road, Asheboro, N. C. 27205. Memorial contributions may be sent to United Hospice, 902 West D St., Suite B, North Wilkesboro, NC 28659.