The Work on Wheat
The first problem was wheat. This crop was the staple food of many of the peoples of India and was also exported, the amount exported constituting, however, only about one-tenth of the whole crop; nor did these exports rank high on world markets, Indian wheats being soft and white and greatly inferior to the strong Canadian and Australian wheats. The problem was therefore looked on almost entirely as one of improving the food supply of the country; from this point of view it was of extreme importance.
At the second annual meeting of the newly formed Board of Agriculture, held at the Pusa Research Institute in January 1906, Sir Albert Howard, as head of the Botanical Section, was asked to prepare an outline of future work which could apply to the whole of India. Barely four years after this first official assignment, in December 1909, the book entitled Wheat in India appeared. So much information had been collected and there was so much to say that publication was pushed on to fill 288 large-quarto pages, but the work undoubtedly suffers from having appeared before research was completed. That research was immensely stimulated when in 1910, as already described, the Howards doubled their efficiency and trained themselves in a new set of conditions, those of dry farming and irrigation, by transferring their residence each summer to the hot dry climate of Quetta in Baluchistan, where a second set of investigations was carried on. By 1924 no fewer than thirty-one papers (a few items were printed twice, once as Research Station Bulletins and again in the Agricultural Journal of India, so that the actual number of papers is less than 31) exclusively on wheat had appeared, some of a very elaborate nature, all based on original and prolonged experiments.
Possibly in view of these papers the investigators never proposed to themselves to sum up their final results on the same comprehensive scale as that in which they had set out the original problem: no second book appeared. However, a survey of work was presented to the Royal Society of Arts in 1920, while a rather longer Bulletin was published in 1928 after final surrender of the post at Pusa.
The work on wheat was not only outstanding on account of its results, but was of great importance to the Howards themselves. In the course of it they acquired their first fundamental conception of the agricultural needs of the East. It introduced them to problems of drainage, irrigation, and manuring, which had to be solved if progress was to be made. It proved to them that little was known of Indian agriculture, that what had been said was often wrong, and that plant breeding for Indian crops would have to start at the beginning with the huge task of sorting out a great confusion of varieties before any attempt at improvement could be made. It tempted them, very rightly, to merchandise their harvest and to seek a verdict in the severe competition of a Western world market; to go further and test final quality in the form of the baked loaf on the breakfast table, thus pursuing their product to the mouth of the consumer. Moreover, owing to the fact that wheat is a staple crop of the West as of the East, their researches kept them in intimate touch with scientific work along the same lines, especially with the Mendelian school at Cambridge, where some of the Pusa seed was grown on their behalf at the University farm. Finally, the extraordinary success of their efforts ensured their position as leaders in tropical agricultural work and was altogether heartening and encouraging.
The impression gained on reading of the first proposals made is one of great boldness and great assurance; comprehensive ideas are set out and are stated each and all to be necessary. These were embodied in the outline programme which Sir Albert Howard was asked to put before the Agricultural Board meeting of 1906, in which the following points were enunciated. It is stated that the researcher must acquire at first-hand experience of the growing of Indian wheats in the field: he must study the soils of India: he must make a careful survey of indigenous practices -- the antiquity of these was already inspiring Sir Albert with respect: he must take into consideration the prevalent habit of growing mixed varieties and of combining wheat with a legume: must aim at adaptability to very varying conditions of any new variety to be launched: must realize that such new variety would have to be easily distinguishable in the field by some one simple characteristic of colour or appearance: must secure that his crops should be free of rusts and other diseases: must not consider this task accomplished until he had dealt with storage of the grain: until he had followed its career both on home and on export markets: until he had seen it milled, baked, and had discovered the qualities of the actual loaf which was the end result of all his labours. Above all, the investigator must consider with whom and for whom he was working: he must take into consideration India and the peoples of India.
'The preliminary work to be done before the improvement of the Indian wheat crop can be effectively undertaken is very considerable. A wide outlook is essential at the outset. The general agricultural conditions of the various wheat tracts have to be studied in detail and experience of the actual growing of the crop has to be obtained at first-hand. The soils most suitable for wheat, the methods of irrigation and the agricultural practices in regard to cultivation, rotation of crops, harvesting and storage of the grain must be mastered. The needs of the local and export markets as well as the general trade conditions are matters of great moment as well as the diseases to which wheat is subject in India. These details are much more important than appear at first sight. The present condition of Indian agriculture is the heritage of experience handed down from time immemorial by a people little affected by the many changes in the government of the country. The present agricultural practices of India are worthy of respect, however strange and primitive they may appear to Western ideas. The attempt to improve Indian agriculture on Western lines appears to be a fundamental mistake. What is wanted is rather the application of Western scientific methods to the local conditions so as to improve Indian agriculture on its own lines.'
The need for studying the conditions of the country became even more obvious as the great range and variety of circumstances in which this crop had always been grown emerged.
'While considering the various agricultural practices concerned in the production of wheat in India, it is necessary to bear in mind the fact that there is a great range in climatic conditions in the various tracts in which this crop is grown. Wheat is cultivated from Quetta to Mandalay and from Peshawar to Coimbatore, and is moreover one of the most important crops in the Indo-Gangetic plain. In Baluchistan sowings take place in October and the crop is reaped in July, the young wheat being covered by snow in the winter as in northern Europe. In the Punjab the growth period is shorter and the crop is reaped in April and May. Passing eastwards down the Gangetic plain, the harvest becomes earlier until in Bihar the crop is ripe in March. On the black cotton soils in Peninsular India wheat ripens in February. While the harvest time, which depends on the onset of the hot weather, is earlier towards the east and south, there is very little range in the sowing period and the second half of October roughly represents the sowing time of most of the Indian wheat crop.
'The length of the growth period and the moisture conditions are the chief factors in the production of Indian wheat, and these materially influence the varieties grown and the practices of the various agricultural tracts. A comparison of the practices in vogue in the various wheat-growing regions reveals how often the smallest differences in procedure are closely bound up with differences in local conditions.'
How much there was to be learnt in this direction became clear when a review was made of the methods adopted in the course of centuries for fitting wheat into the general cropping schemes of the different regions.
'The principle of the rotation of crops is well understood in India and widely adopted in practice. Instead, however, of growing his crops in a definite order, the Indian cultivator usually grows them mixed, and this practice is well exemplified in the case of wheat. A considerable proportion is grown mixed with gram, barley, linseed, and mustard, and fields containing all five of these crops at the same time are commonly to be seen in Bihar.
'On the inundation canals in Sind the rotation is usually juar (Sorghum vulgare) or bajra (Pennisetum typhoideum) one year and wheat another, but in some cases wheat alone is grown. On the Jamrao canal the rotation is cotton one year and wheat the next with catch crops of juar and bajra. In all cases long fallows are given periodically.
'In the Punjab wheat is either grown alone or mixed with gram, barley, or mustard or with both gram and barley... In the south-western corner, in the Jhelum and Chenab river colonies and in the district of Rawalpindi the crop is generally grown unmixed as well as in the districts of the North-west Frontier Province... (In the United Provinces) in 1906-7 the area under wheat grown alone amounted to 5, 537,712 acres and that of wheat grown with gram and barley to 1,501,385 acres. There are two common mixtures in this province: (1) wheat-barley (gujai) frequently met with in the eastern half of the province where the two grains are harvested and threshed together and ground together into flour, and (2) wheat-gram (birra) which is common in the western districts and is the usual crop in Bundelkhund where water is not often available for irrigation and where it is risky to sow wheat by itself... In Bengal the practice of growing mixed crops is very common. Wheat is found mixed with barley, gram, peas, linseed, and rape... In the Central Provinces and Berar... on the black soils to which the wheat crop is practically confined, the common practice is to leave the land fallow during the kharif and sow wheat alone or wheat mixed with gram (called birra) for the rabi... The proportion of gram sown with wheat is not constant and varies in the different districts from about 5 to about 25 per cent of the crop... (In Bombay) the extent to which the wheat crop is grown mixed... is stated to be as follows: dry crop wheat is either grown alone or with subordinate rows of safflower; sometimes linseed occupies the headlands. Wheat and gram mixed are grown in the Panch Mahals. Irrigated wheat is usually unmixed.
'It will be seen that in all the important wheat-growing districts of India, except the irrigated districts of the Punjab, the practice of growing leguminous crops on wheat lands is universal. In this important matter, therefore, the Indian ryot has nothing to learn from Western practice.'
Fallowing and rotation were also relied on, rotation crops including maize, millet, cotton, tobacco, indigo, rice, sugar-cane, gram, gram with peas, pulses or a pulse-mixture. All the methods adopted, rotation, fallowing, and the growing of leguminous crops, were designed for one end -- to maintain the fertility of the soil so as to enable it to meet the demands of this nitrogen-consuming crop. Even an apparent exception was on examination found to conform to the general principle.
'In the canal colonies of the Punjab, however, wheat is grown year after year without manure, apparently without producing any diminution in the fertility of the soil. Judging from the dark green colour of the leaves and the general vegetative vigour of the crop, no nitrogenous manures are necessary. The question arises whence do the large wheat crops derive their nitrogenous manure? Apparently the answer is to be found in the leguminous weeds which thrive so luxuriantly as a bottom growth in the wheat fields of the Punjab.
'There are three common leguminous weeds among others in the Punjab wheat fields: (1) yellow-flowered senji (Melilotus indica), (2) white- flowered senji (Melilotus alba), and (3) a creeping clover-like plant with curious curved pods (Medicago denticulata). These three plants also grow and seed freely on the banks of the water channels, and are very probably distributed by the irrigation water. In the wheat-fields they ripen their seeds and dry up by the early part of April before the wheat is cut and thus give no trouble at harvest time. At flowering time in March their roots are covered with nodules. Their general vigour shows that they are admirably adapted for bottom growth with wheat.
'It would appear, therefore, that these weeds confer on the soil of some of the irrigated wheat lands of the Punjab all the benefits of a leguminous rotation and supply the nitrogenous manure required by the wheat crop. In this respect the wheat growers of the Punjab seem to be especially favoured by circumstances as they are able to obtain all the benefits of leguminous crops without the diminution of wheat output entailed in the usual rotations practised on wheat lands in other parts of India. No difficulty would be experienced in obtaining seeds of these leguminous plants. They grow and seed freely among the wheat, in waste places and on the banks of the water channels. Yellow-flowered senji mixed with the other two weeds is grown as a cold weather fodder crop in the Punjab and is sometimes left to ripen for seed purposes.'
This striking instance of the role which weeds can play in keeping up soil fertility can be cited as an illustration of very recent ideas on the subject of weeds, which, it is argued, should be allowed to play their own part in our general cultivation schemes (F. C. King, The Weed Problem, Faber & Faber, 1951); once again the tradition of the East links up with modern Western knowledge. Sir Albert Howard noted the facts and grasped their general significance. They evidently struck him, for he refers to them again in later life; he must have stored them in his mind as among the many varying aspects of the nitrogen problem.
There can be no doubt that this most thorough survey of Indian practices in wheat growing formed an excellent starting-point for experimental work. But what is most striking is the attitude of mind of the investigator, so careful to note every item in the local practices and consider their bearing. Not in the case of every crop was Sir Albert so respectful of what the Indian cultivators had achieved. As there will be occasion to state in a subsequent chapter, when it came to a survey of Indian fruit growing, or even of indigo, he was a severe critic. But wheat had been grown in India for more than two thousand years; it was a crop essential to existence, every grain of value: the practices of the Indian peasants were the result of generations of hard experience, and though it was to be hoped, and in the event justly hoped, that science could add a great deal, yet the first essential was to understand and appreciate the teachings of these centuries of effort.
In spite of the enormous extent of this crop, valued above all other food crops where it could be cultivated, it was not really easy to grow wheat in India. There was a very great limiting factor in the shortness of the time both for sowing and again for harvest, two separate risks which had to be faced. This the cultivator knew very well.
'The restricted supply of soil moisture and the short period of growth make it impossible to cultivate high yielding types. The concentration of the monsoon rainfall into a period of between three and four months limits the growth-period of the crops cultivated. Only rapidly maturing varieties can be grown in the rains. Such varieties must of necessity be low yielders. In the cold season, when crops are raised either on irrigation or on moisture stored in the subsoil, the temperature factor limits the growth-period and the choice is again restricted to rapidly maturing types. Both monsoon and cold weather crops, therefore, have one feature in common -- early maturity and low potential yielding power.'
'Cultivators... often sow too early and also favour the cultivation of varieties which ripen on the late side. These tendencies are probably the result of poverty and of the temptation to strive after the maximum crop. In favourable seasons they are successful, but... to some extent wheat growing in India is a gamble in temperature.'
Finally, the wheat had to be harvested and stored. But there was no machinery and few buildings. The methods were perforce in a category utterly different from those employed in Western agriculture. Once again the investigator's judgment is curiously sympathetic. He seems to have had from the outset a rare faculty for putting himself in the place of the peasant without sacrificing his trained scientific point of view.
'The methods employed in India in the harvesting and threshing of the wheat crop and in the storage of the produce may appear very primitive at first sight, but they are simple and efficient if the means of the cultivators and the average size of the holdings are borne in mind.
'In the Punjab, North-west Frontier and Sind harvest begins about the middle of April and extends well into May, except in the Frontier districts where it is not over till the end of June. The grain is cut by hand by means of a sickle, the workers usually squatting on the ground. Large bundles are made so that they may be readily counted and are usually stacked roughly for threshing. (In Sialkot the district authorities require the stacks to be made close together to prevent the cultivators wilfully setting fire to each other's wheat.) The extreme dryness of the straw makes this possible and no loss is suffered by the wheat in the bundles heating. Indeed, so dry and brittle is the straw that the straw bands for tying have to be soaked in water to make them tough enough for the purpose. The labourers are paid usually in kind, but in the Canal colonies where labour is scarce, as much as 16 annas a day is paid for hired labour. The scarcity of labour and the large holdings in the Canal colonies have had a marked effect on the choice of the variety of wheat grown. Bearded wheat is generally grown in preference to beardless, as this kind is less liable to the depredations of birds and sheds its grain less easily, thus suffering less damage if it remains standing in the field.
'The grain is generally trodden out by the feet of cattle assisted by the phala or threshing frame. This frame consists of a hurdle covered with brushwood and weighted with bricks or clods of earth. The bullocks are yoked to the phala and fastened to a post in the centre of the threshing floor of beaten earth. They are driven round and round the stake about which the wheat is heaped and in a short time the brittle straw is broken up into short pieces and the grain is freed from the chaff. One pair of bullocks with the phala will tread out the produce of an acre in four days. In the hills, where stones are available, the threshing floors are carefully paved, but in the plains they are always of earth. The grain is separated from the chaff by being thrown into the air by a pitch-fork when the hot winds which prevail at this time carry the dry chaff to a distance while the grain falls back on the threshing floor. The winnowing basket (chhai) is then used to clean the grain so obtained. Its use is almost universal except in Rawalpindi where the phio -- a flat spade-like instrument -- is used. Winnowing is done by low-caste workmen, rarely by the cultivators themselves, who in some cases would prefer to see their grain destroyed by rain rather than winnow it themselves. The chaff (bhusa) is used for fodder and is especially valuable when mixed with gram chaff when it is known as missa. When grown with gram, the two plants are threshed together and the resulting grains are often ground and eaten together.
'The yield naturally varies according to the season and other conditions, so that an average produce estimate is difficult. On well lands about 10 to 14 maunds per acre is obtained; on Canal lands the yield is somewhat less, while on sailaba lands (land inundated by the rise of a river) 8 maunds and on barani (land dependent on rain) soils about 6 maunds to the acre are obtained. In Sind the average yield is stated to be 10 maunds to the acre.
'Wheat is stored in the houses of the cultivators as a rule, but the old practice of keeping it in pits is still in vogue in some of the districts. The pits are lined with wheat chaff, but after about a year grain so kept is apt to darken and deteriorate. For household use the grain is kept in large earthen jars (bharolas). The well-to-do cultivators have granaries of mud or even of brick in some districts. After the monsoon the wheat is sunned and dried as a protection against weevils which, however, in the Punjab are not serious pests.'
Methods in the United Provinces, Bengal, the Central Provinces and Berar, and in Bombay are briefly described as very similar.
The Sorting Out of Varieties
Wheat was so important in India that it would have been strange if there had been no previous investigations. These, however, had been misdirected and for that reason had been unsuccessful.
'The majority of the experiments carried out in the past have been devoted to the effect of manures. Considering the smallness of the holdings, the means of the cultivators, and the scarcity of manure, especially of artificial manures, it is likely that any lessons to be learned from long and elaborate manurial experiments must remain, for many years to come, mere counsels of perfection. There are, however, other directions in which much important work may be done, for example, experiments on the conservation of soil moisture, on the most efficient methods of cultivation, and on the water requirements of wheat would probably yield important and interesting results.'
An obvious first duty was an examination of existing types of Indian wheats and their improvement by plant breeding. Previous investigations on this point had been desultory and local and had committed the unpardonable error of trying to solve the situation by a short cut, namely, by the introduction of foreign varieties. These had proved a complete failure. Much more fundamental work was required. The only way to master the situation was to examine, review, and classify all the wheats of India, a colossal task.
'The botanical survey of the wheats of India is not without interest apart from its importance in the improvement of the wheat crop. The wheats at present in cultivation in this vast Empire, in which a civilized agriculture has been practiced from time immemorial, represent the survival of types most fitted for the conditions of the various tracts. Nature has eliminated the unfit, and the experience of past centuries, handed down by tradition, has taught the cultivator what soils and what tracts are most suitable for this crop. Varieties of wheat introduced by sea from Western countries have, in recent times at any rate, had no influence on the crop and have not been adopted by the cultivators. No new forms have been introduced by selection or hybridization as has been done in Europe and America. It will be more than interesting therefore to find what has resulted under such conditions and how the characters and grain qualities of the Indian wheats compare with those of Europe and America.'
It was practically an uncharted field, and meant sorting out a chaotic confusion of types, in part cross-fertilized, and grown under all sorts of different conditions in this vast country. (Cross-fertilization of wheat in India is frequently mentioned by Sir Albert Howard. Other workers do not appear to have noted it and have attributed the confusion of varieties to initial mixed sowings.) In the course of the intensive examination undertaken, involving thousands of specimens, a mass of data on the inheritance of characters was arrived at, covering such points as bearding, grain colour, felting, grain consistency, and shattering of the ear. These data were embodied in three long and elaborate papers, which were a contribution to botanical knowledge of obvious scope and importance. Research on plant breeding has since then advanced out of all knowledge; there would be little point in conveying the botanical bearing of what was discovered in these years. The reader is therefore asked to take this work for granted or to consult the papers in the original. (The same applies to the long botanical monographs on tobacco, fibres, and some other crops.) The present section will concentrate on conveying the practical results of what was achieved in a little investigated field. The lesson lies precisely in this -- that a problem which had baffled many workers by reason of its utter confusion and vastness was rapidly solved by the exercise of exact knowledge, good judgment, and very great and strenuous industry. None of the infinite labour of this kind of work was shirked in a climate where outdoor operation has its own inconveniences for a European. Here the partnership between husband and wife, each at the height of their powers in these early years, proved its exceeding value. Wearing a topee and with a double-lined sunshade held over her head Gabrielle Howard continued to carry out the minutiae of the cross-fertilization and similar work; Sir Albert has left it on record that she was a veritable mistress of this kind of detailed labour, and also that she was a genius at training Indian workers to assist her and obtained from them a co-operation which surpassed even what he himself was able to evoke. The difficulties were not lessened by the fact that the classification of wheats in other parts of the world was a disputed matter. Several rival systems existed, German, French, American, or Australian, based on widely different principles. After careful consideration of all this work the Howards came to the conclusion that there was nothing for it but to proceed to their own classification of the wheats of India. The results occupy sixty pages of botanical definition in Wheat in India.
'Owing to the very mixed character of the Indian wheat crop, as ordinarily grown, the first step in improvement was a botanical survey of the varieties already in cultivation. Samples of seeds from the chief wheat-growing areas were sown and the results observed in 1906 and succeeding years. The wheats of the Punjab were studied separately at Lyallpur and a number of unit species were isolated between 1906 and 1909.
'Nearly forty different botanical varieties were found in the Indian wheat crop. Ten of these belong to the macaroni wheats (Triticum duram Desf.), six to the group of dwarf wheats (T. compactum Host.); there is one variety of Emmer (T. dicoccum Schrk.) and nineteen varieties of bread wheat (T. vulgare Vill.). No spelt wheats were found...
'Subsequently the wheats of Baluchistan were examined and classified. Interesting forms, intermediate between T. turgidum L. and T. vulgare Vill. were found, but nothing of economic importance emerged. In 1922 the classification of the wheats of Bihar was carried out as far as the unit species. Very interesting and valuable types were found in this series ...
'These preliminary studies led to isolation of large numbers of varieties and of unit species which formed the basis for subsequent work. Some of the unit species found were distinctly superior in general vigour and yielding power to the mixtures ordinarily grown.'
This, however, was only the beginning of the work. Each botanical variety was liable to be composed of several types. It is important to grasp what is meant by this term, and the following passage explains this, under the title 'The Constitution of a Wheat Field'.
'An examination of an ordinary wheat field in India at harvest time discloses the fact that the crop consists of a mixture of botanically different varieties sometimes belonging to two or three sub-species. These botanical varieties can be readily distinguished from each other by an examination of ripe ears. The variety represents the lowest limits to which wheats can be divided in the laboratory with precision and is, as it were, the botanical unit of the species or sub-species. Each variety may, however, compose several agriculturally distinct types. Such types, while botanically identical, differ in field characters, such as length and strength of straw, earliness or lateness, tone of colour of chaff and straw, erectness of the ear and susceptibility to rust. These differences between types can only be readily distinguished in the field in plots grown side by side. The types are the agricultural units of the variety in a similar manner as the varieties are the botanical units of the species or sub-species.
'The type itself, however, is formed of an assemblage of individuals which may differ from each other to a very slight extent. Such an assemblage of individuals is termed a population and forms the raw material, as it were, of the selectionist. If individual plants of this population are selected and grown separately, their progenies are termed pure lines... The mean values of any particular character such as yield may differ, however, in the various pure lines composing a population, and it is on these differences that the possibility of any improvement by selection depends.'
The upshot of this survey of wheats was, in fact, to prove that it was not enough to identify a botanical variety. What would satisfy the systematic botanist would carry the agricultural experimenter only a little way: his true work began where the other left off. This point is insisted on and is the explanation of why the growing of crops in the field is so earnestly advocated.
The differences between agricultural types only emerges when crops are grown in the large. Then the details mass themselves together and can be picked out by the eye; they usually consist of very trifling nuances of colour, shape, and stand, but they are unmistakable and a sure guide to the plant breeder. Thus in a curious way the delicacy of judgment of the practical investigator has to surpass even that of the worker in the laboratory; but it is based on rather different means.
The Breeding of the New Wheats
The new Indian wheats, known as the Pusa wheats, were perhaps the greatest practical achievement of the Howards. Some fifty named varieties were eventually produced by brilliant and sustained work. Even these were the result of severely imposed restriction of choice. It was, indeed, a matter of great judgment to use the vast material to the best advantage. Faced by the unlimited possibilities in front of them the investigators had decided at an early date 'to concentrate from the beginning on the best only', and their advice on this point is insistent.
'As a result of twenty years' experience we are convinced that in plant breeding for economic purposes the more rigid the selection in the early stages of the work the better. It was invariably found that whenever a doubtful case was carried on to the next generation it was rejected. The only result of this caution was a loss of time and of labour. The amount of land available for cultures and the shortness of the working period between the harvest and the rains made it essential to reject everything except the very best. Any attempt to carry on too much material is more a hindrance than a help. Experience showed that the only profitable and possible procedure was to concentrate from the beginning on the best only.'
The methods open to the investigators were, first, selection and, then, hybridization by cross-fertilization. Selection included both isolation of an existing good agricultural type in the mass and also the creation of a new type by breeding from a single chosen plant of promise; thus this word covers two distinct operations.
The first results were encouraging. It became clear that Indian wheats existed of a quality which had been entirely overlooked. It did not seem that the softness which had so told against them was their essential characteristic.
'We do not yet know with anything approaching precision the value of the wheats indigenous to India, for the simple reason that but few of these have as yet been isolated in pure culture and grown on a sufficient scale for their agricultural and milling qualities to be determined. From the results obtained by us at Pusa and in the Punjab it has been shown that there are wheats now in India very much more valuable both for local use and for export than any of the soft white sorts like Muzaffarnagar and the Desi Pissi of the Narbada Valley or Buxar soft white, which have been so much recommended to notice of cultivators.'
The emphasis laid by previous investigators on the introduction of foreign varieties appeared to have been unnecessary and mistaken. There was far more to be gained by concentrating on native types, which, as the Howards realized, had had a history of several thousand years and had become adapted to the conditions of the country. (But see Note by Dr. H. Martin-Leake at the end of this chapter.) There was here material of great promise.
'The extension of the cultivation of Indian varieties of wheat and their introduction into new localities have yielded results of some value, which stand out in strong contrast to the failure of the imported kinds. The results in this direction are not only important in themselves but also serve to indicate the direction in which still better results are likely to be obtained in the future.'
At Pusa four varieties were at first isolated, namely, Pusa 20, 21 22, and 23; of these Pusa 22 proved the most useful and subsequently gave rise to superior hybrids, but all four were later discarded for various reasons. At Lyallpur in the Punjab twenty-five agricultural types were isolated. Although none of these were of a really high quality, one, Punjab 11, a white bearded wheat with red chaff, was adopted for distribution on account of its qualities. By 1923 the area under it amounted to 750,000 acres.
The work rapidly proceeded to selection properly so called, namely, to the breeding of new varieties from single chosen plants of outstanding merit (pure lines). This work was at that time comparatively new. The Howards threw themselves into it with ardour, realizing that opportunities were before them which had not been available to previous investigators.
'In considering the attempts which have, till recently, been made in India to improve the wheat crop by selection, it must be borne in mind that at the time the work was done, the modern methods of selection were not generally understood even in Europe... In 1906, both at Pusa and Lyallpur, we commenced a system of selection from single plants which is being continued. In both cases the separation of forms and of pure lines was successfully accomplished... The use of this method of selection in India has already enabled us to produce several wheats of much greater value than the mixtures now in cultivation.'
The results were, in fact, outstanding and the best series of Pusa wheats were rapidly and permanently established.
'Besides these forms (Pusa 20 21, 22, and 23 referred to above as obtained by isolation), a number of new wheats were obtained by selection methods. They were derived from single plants of outstanding merit found in the mass of samples grown at Pusa in 1905. These new wheats, in all probability, arose either by natural cross-fertilization or as admixtures in some of the exotic wheats introduced at various times by government farms. In many cases the original plants selected proved to be crosses and it was from the progeny that the final selections were made. Pusa 4 and Pusa 12 arose in this way.
'One of the first of the wheats obtained by selection was Pusa 6. This variety possesses a small greyish grain of a much higher quality than any of the ordinary Indian types. In spite of this fact and the possession of a high degree of rust resistance it has not been introduced into general cultivation. It has two great weaknesses -- poor standing power and a tendency to drop its grain. Pusa 6, however, has proved to be of the greatest value in hybridization. The good qualities of its grain and its resistance to rust are readily transmitted to the offspring. In countries where the wheat crop does not stand so long in the field after ripening as in India, Pusa 6 has done well and a good deal of seed has been sent to South Africa during the last ten years. In 1923 a request for 2,250 lb. was received from Portuguese Africa, but only a portion could be supplied.
'A large number of other promising wheats were obtained from the cultures of 1906. The best of these from the agricultural standpoint were Pusa 1, Pusa 3, Pusa 6a, Pusa 7, Pusa 8, Pusa 10, Pusa 11, and Pusa 12... As a result of the preliminary trials carried out in Bihar Pusa 7, Pusa 8, and Pusa 12 were tested on a large scale -- Pusa 7 in Bihar and the Central Provinces, Pusa 8 and Pusa 12 all over India. Pusa 7 was distributed for a time in the Central Provinces, but was ultimately discarded in favour of one of the new hybrids. Pusa 8 was eventually given up in favour of Pusa 12.
'Pusa 12 has proved to be the most successful of all the early Pusa selections on account of its great adaptability and high yielding power. It has a large berry of an intermediate texture, while its bright red chaff makes it easy to recognize in the field. Distribution on a large scale is being carried out in the United Provinces, the Simla Hill States, the Eastern Punjab, Sind, and some of the Rajputana States. Yields as high as 37.5 maunds to the acre have been obtained. This wheat is also doing well in the Argentine.'
There follows the story of the famous Pusa 4, again best told in the words of the original account. This wheat rivalled and then surpassed even Pusa 12 in popularity.
'Pusa 4, obtained by selection from a heterozygote shortly after Pusa 12, is perhaps the best of the Pusa wheats as far as grain characters are concerned. It possesses a strong straw and a large, translucent white grain of very fine appearance. It is a rapidly maturing variety, is immune to yellow rust and is very suitable for tracts where an early wheat is required... Pusa 4 has proved very suitable for certain tracts in India, notably Bihar, Bundelkhund, the North-west Frontier Province and Gujerat. When well grown the grain has a very fine appearance and has been awarded the first prize for hard wheats in Australia. In the report of the judges of the Royal Agricultural Show held at Sydney, Australia, in March 1920 this wheat was referred to as follows: "A sample of the Indian wheat, Pusa 4, exhibited by Mr. W. H. Scholtz of Gilgandra, is worthy of mention. It yielded a percentage of excellent colour flour of 53 quarts to the sack strength, which was the highest water absorption of all the flours tested in the competition. In the exhibit of strong wheats Mr. Scholtz again stood first with an exhibit of Pusa 4, an achievement for Indian wheat, and in the class for five strong flour varieties Mr. Scholtz also stood first, two of the five being Pusa 4 and Pusa 107." Pusa 4 is now well established in Australia and is being regularly distributed by the Queensland Agricultural Department. The Agricultural Department of Rhodesia also reports that this variety is doing well. In India the grain is much appreciated for local consumption and is often used on ceremonial and festive occasions.'
The third method of arriving at an improved variety was to be by cross-fertilization. The Howards were well aware of the difficulties of this task. The start was in any case from a crop already partly cross-fertilized, a process which had been going on for many centuries in India, the result of which was seen in the innumerable varieties growing in the fields of the ryots. While it was very possible that this spontaneous crossing was the natural means of keeping up the vigour of the crop, which without it might have degenerated slowly (Wheat in India, pp. 139-40), yet the first necessity was, so to say, to undo all this natural process in order to arrive at pure lines. This was bound to be a complicated business.
'In carrying out cross-fertilization work in India the necessity of first growing and studying the parents in pure lines cannot be too strongly emphasized. It is necessary to grow the parents from single plants and to first determine all their characters both botanical, field, and physiological. Crossing botanical varieties is a very dangerous and unscientific proceeding as the botanical variety, in India especially, is complex and often consist of a large number of wheats differing in field characters, rust-resistance and in the quality of the grain.'
Under any circumstances the production of a superior type of wheat by hybridization must be a costly and laborious business; Sir Albert estimated that in India it could not possibly be done under five years as a minimum period. Not only was it necessary to have a large armoury of pure lines, got by careful selection, but it was also necessary to know how these pure lines were likely to behave as parents.
'Many of the characters of agricultural importance are not simple unit characters, but are combinations which readily break up on hybridization. This means that an enormous number of plants must be handled before a new hybrid combining all the desirable characters can be obtained. Further, the various types of wheat used as parents disclose very great differences in their power of transmitting their grain characters. Certain wheats can always be relied on to transmit some desirable character unimpaired. With others, the desirable characters break up on hybridization and the chances of recapturing them intact in later generations are small.'
The investigators had to have definite aims. These were what they themselves formulated; throughout this work the standards had to be self-imposed.
'In order to select effectively in the F2 and succeeding generations it was found necessary to adopt a definite policy as to which characters are essential and which are desirable. The following standards were therefore maintained: (1) the characters essential for an improved wheat are vigour, high-yielding power, strong straw and good rooting power, rust resistance, smooth chaff, white translucent grain equal in quality to that of the better parent employed, ability to hold the grain; (2) the desirable characters are: some attribute such as red chaff or the peculiar shape of the ear by which the variety can be readily distinguished in the field.'
There was a temptation to lose oneself in the innumerable possibilities of the work. It was at this point that the field method of sowing in the large became a corrective.
'In the third and succeeding generations the seed of the best selected single plants was always sown in small rectangular blocks next to next. These small plots were then periodically compared in the field by eye as regards vigour, standing power, and rust resistance. As a rule, this was repeated three or four times during the growing period and careful records made. The most promising plots were then marked and the single plants for the next generation were selected from these plots only. The rest were rejected.
'For successful distribution to cultivators it must always be remembered that a wheat must be a vigorous grower and yield well, otherwise the cultivator will never adopt it. It is therefore better to select in the field for such agricultural qualities and to examine the plants which survive for finer points in the laboratory afterwards. If the reverse procedure is adopted there is a tendency to forget the need of filling the villager's cart.'
The crossing of wheats was begun in 1906. The first trials were made on a wheat of northern India, Muzaffarnagar, a bearded variety of high yielding power; the grain was, however, soft and weak. Two early crosses in 1906 with Pusa 22 and Pusa 6 gave two successful hybrids, Pusa l00 and 101; these retained the high yielding qualities of the Muzaffarnagar. But the straw of Pusa 101 proved not strong enough to support the heavy-ears and this variety was eventually superseded by the favourite Pusa 4. Pusa 100 was found to suit the conditions in certain parts of the Central Provinces, twenty years later it was reported as still holding pride of place and as averaging nearly 70 per cent more than the native kathia.
A second series of crosses from Muzaffarnagar resulted in 'a very fine series of wheats', Pusa 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 110. Pusa 104 and 107 were some of the best-looking wheats ever bred at Pusa, and when sent to Australia became exhibition wheats, Pusa 107 , as already mentioned, taking first prize at the Royal Agricultural Show at Sydney, being the only wheat to obtain the maximum number of points. In India, however, these wheats proved less useful than some other varieties.
Another successful hybrid was Pusa 80, sometimes known as P80-5, obtained by crossing Pusa 4 with Pusa 6, the object being to get a very strong-strawed white wheat for Bihar. This crossing had the effect of combining the outstanding grain qualities of Pusa 4 with the good growing qualities of Pusa 6, and gave very successful yields in the locality for which it was destined.
In other localities there was a demand for bearded wheats.
'In certain parts of the Terai in those tracts where ravines are frequent, wheat suffers much from damage by wild pigs and birds. Further, where labour is scarce the wheat crop has to remain standing for a long time after it is ripe. Under such circumstances there is a tendency for most beardless wheats to lose a certain amount of grain. The cultivators claim that such losses are reduced if bearded wheats are grown. There is no doubt that the beard is a protection against damage by animals, although the prevention of grain shedding through the presence of awns is open to question. The cross Pusa 6 = Punjab type 9 was therefore made, with the definite object of providing such districts with bearded wheats of the same quality and yielding power as Pusa 4 and Pusa 12... Owing to the occurrence of the 15.1 ratio in two of the desired characters and to the fact that nothing less than a very high yield and high grain quality would serve any useful purpose, the time taken in working through the cross was above the average. Eventually, however, ten wheats, Pusa 50 to Pusa 59, combining the desired characters were fixed.'
Finally, for all wheats, whether selected or cross-bred, what is described as 'a very rigid selection for grain characters' was carried out in the laboratory. On the results, after cultivation had been tested both on a large and a small scale, the chosen varieties were sent to the Provinces to be tried out under varying conditions. Simultaneously, in order not to lose time, samples were sent to England for milling and baking. Reference to this is made in the last section of this chapter.
The whole work may be reckoned to have taken some ten or twelve years, the most spectacular triumphs arising from some of the early selection work, above all, from the breeding of Pusa 4 and Pusa 12.
The Problem of Rust
Cross-breeding was, however, of great importance in one direction, the finding of varieties resistant to rust. Indian wheat was generally healthy. Perhaps natural cross-fertilization over several thousand years in the ryot's wheat fields had kept it from degeneration; as already stated, Sir Albert Howard had surmised as much, and modern opinion might bear him out.
But Indian wheat was far from immune to rust. It may be a surprise to learn of the extent to which this crop suffered from this particular evil in view of Sir Albert's later statements that Eastern peasant agriculture is an agriculture free of disease. Sir Albert never placed Indian agriculture -- greatly as he admired it -- in the top rank alongside Chinese or Japanese agriculture; there was also that lack of manure. But in the case of wheat there was a special explanation, namely, in the influence of the zonal conditions. Crops, in order to be inherently resistant, must not only be well grown but must be grown in the right place or area. Now wheat is a cold country crop and is on the verge of not being possible in India. The peoples' need for this excellent grain accounts for its wide distribution, but such distribution was inevitably exposed to risks, as proved by the ancient existence of rusts.
'Rusts are the most important diseases of wheat in India. Indeed, the damage caused every year by these diseases far exceeds that resulting from all the other wheat pests put together. In this respect India is no exception to the other wheat-growing tracts of the world, and the rust problem is as great a question here as in the United States, Europe, and Australia...
'In India the ravages of rust vary greatly from year to year, and it is obvious that anything like an accurate estimate of the annual loss is impossible. Further, the damage done in the great wheat-growing tracts of the North-west is generally slight, while in Bombay, the Central Provinces, and in parts of the United Provinces and Bengal the crop may be reduced 50 per cent or even more... Rust is by no means a modern occurrence in the wheat fields of India. Sleeman, in 1839, speaking of rust in the Central Provinces, wrote: "I have seen rich sheets of uninterrupted wheat cultivation for twenty miles by ten in the valley of the Narbudda so entirely destroyed by this disease that the people would not go to the cost of gathering one field in four," and further: "I believe that the total amount of the wheat gathered in the harvest of 1827 in the district of Jubbulpore was not equal to the total quantity of seed that had been sown."
'In 1883 the subject received attention from the Government of India. A paper dealing with wheat rust by Carruthers was reprinted and circulated widely in India... The first investigation of rusts in India, including those on wheat, was made by Barclay... a general account of Barclay's work... was published in 1895. A more extended investigation of wheat rust was made by Cunningham and Prain at the instance of the Government of India... The great importance of rust-resistant wheats for Indian conditions was recognized by Prain and referred to... as follows: "Practically the only hope for India in combating rust in wheat is to adopt the method of selecting from among the various kinds of wheat those that show themselves little liable to rust. For, while probably no wheat is absolutely immune, it is a recognized fact that in certain areas particular wheats are relatively proof against rust. By a system of cross-breeding with kinds valuable on other accounts, new kinds can be made that will combine these qualities with the character of resistance to rust." '
The really arresting fact is that this major project of the wheat investigations was started in a locality particularly unfavourable to wheat. Pusa, with its damp climate, was the last place to be chosen for such work. But, as the Howards argued, there was this to be gained: any variety that would stand up to the unfavourable Pusa conditions could be guaranteed to do well elsewhere.
'Pusa is not an ideal site for work on wheat, as the Institute is situated in a tract where rice is the most important crop and where the general humidity in the cold season is much higher than in the great wheat-growing areas of North-west India. In the early years particularly the general dampness of the locality interfered with the experiments. Two of the three rusts which occur in India, namely, orange rust (Puccinia triticina Eriks.) and black rust (P. graminis Pers.), caused an enormous amount of damage and frequently prevented many of the varieties from setting seed. Yellow rust (P. glumarum Eriks. and Henn.) also appeared in years when the temperature was below the normal. The handicap imposed by the environment ultimately proved to be not altogether a disadvantage. A large number of rust-liable varieties were automatically eliminated. A detailed study of rust-resistance had to be undertaken and a good deal of time was devoted to the relation between the incidence of disease and soil management. Besides providing ideal conditions for rust attacks, the high humidity also adversely affected the standing power. Circumstances therefore assisted in carrying out one of the most difficult duties of the plant breeder, namely, the rigorous elimination of unpromising material. Any varieties which did well under the unfavourable conditions of Pusa were almost certain to stand out when transferred to more suitable localities.'
Was rust caused by weather? Everybody thought so, but there was a complete absence of agreement as to what sort of weather would bring on rust.
'In reviewing all that is known on this aspect of the rust question [ways in which rust is carried on from season to season] we are struck by the remarkable unanimity expressed among practical men as to the great influence which weather has on the amount of damage done by rust. The most diverse statements are, however, to be found as to the particular kind of weather which is responsible for the spread of the disease. This is true, not only of India, but also of all countries where the rust problem has been discussed. Indeed, on the burning question of the conditions most favourable to the spread of rust, the reports of Australian Conferences (1890-6) may be said to be a mass of contradictions...
'In general, the most widely accepted view is that long continued rain or cloudy weather in January or February gives rise to those conditions [in India] under which rust spreads with greatest rapidity. The opinion is also met with that rust sometimes follows an excessively wet seed bed in October (in places where the sowing rains have been abnormally great), and is also caused by over-irrigation. Occasionally, however, instances occur where rust appears early in the season on land where there has been no wet and cloudy weather and when the sowing rains have either failed altogether or have been very deficient. Such an example has been observed by us on the Pusa farm during the autumn of 1906. The field in question was sown with various varieties of wheat, including the local kind, on October 15th and 16th. The September rains were scanty and no rain fell during October, November, and December. The seed bed was distinctly dry and the crop very thin and the plants very spindly in appearance. The first ears appeared on the edges of two of the plots during the last weeks in November, and the first signs of rust appeared on the edges of two of the plots during the last week in November. By the end of December it had spread all over the plots, which were at that time very yellow and sickly in appearance. Here we have an example of the spread of rust on thinly sown wheat in the entire absence of rain and of cloudy weather and when the crop was growing in a distinctly dry seed bed. On the other hand, the same varieties were grown by us in another part of the Pusa estate under irrigation where a normal crop was produced. No rust had made its appearance on these plots at the time of writing (December 31st 1906), five weeks after the time when rust was first noticed on the farm.'
What, then, was the explanation of this extraordinary confusion of facts and of opinions? In the following significant passage, which, it must be remembered, dates back to 1909 , the whole later Howard theory of disease-resistance is set out. It is astonishing to find the main points so decisively and clearly expressed and all the apparently contradictory aspects reduced to such simple and convincing explanations.
'It has occurred to us that, in considering the effects of the various weather conditions on rust attacks, it is very easy to lose sight of one of the main factors in the case, namely, the plant itself. It is usual to regard the matter as concerning only the fungus and the influence of the weather on the spread of the disease. It is most important, however, that the question should not be regarded from too narrow a standpoint.
'Three main factors have to be borne in mind, namely, the wheat plant, the rust fungus, and the influence of external conditions on both. The chief external conditions are: the amount of moisture in the soil, the humidity of the air, the temperature, the light, and the amount of air movement. We must consider how these external conditions affect the well-being of the wheat crop as well as of the fungus. It is well known that if the sowing and the winter rains are seasonable and the weather up to harvest time is bright and clear but not too cold, we have all those conditions which favour the rapid and healthy growth of the wheat crop, and although a little rust may be noticed here and there, no great damage is done and a bumper harvest results. In such cases external conditions favour the wheat and are against the spread of the fungus. If, on the other hand, we have too moist or too dry a seed bed or if long-continued wet or cloudy weather sets in during any period of the growth of the crop, we have the conditions which check the host plant and bring about unhealthy developments. Wheat sown in a seed bed which is too dry either dies off altogether or else develops into a weak spindly growth almost certain to succumb to the first attack of rust. That this rust attack is wholly moderate in most cases and does not develop into an epidemic is due to the fact that dry weather is not so favourable to the fungus as wet and cloudy weather. In a seed bed which is too wet a good tilth is impossible and healthy root development cannot take place. Either a weak plant results which is incapable of much resistance to the attack of the fungus, or, as sometimes happens, the excessive wetness of the soil rots the young seedlings and the crop fails altogether and resowing is necessary. Long-continued wet and cloudy weather is very unfavourable to the healthy growth of the wheat even when established. Transpiration is lowered and the whole plant tends to become suffused with water. An enhanced wateriness of the crop results and at the same time the other activities in the leaf become abnormal and the protoplasm of the cells lose to a large extent their powers of resistance to a possible fungoid attack. At the same time the moist weather favours the germination of the rust spores and we have a state of things where the conditions are not only against the host plant but also favour the development of the parasite. Unless the weather changes for the better, a rust epidemic results and the damage will be complete or partial, depending on its duration and on the period in the growth of the crop when the attack occurs.
'High temperatures accompanied by high winds and low humidity have the effect of inducing rust attacks. Thus at Pusa in May 1907, and again in May 1909, we observed that cultures of Einkorn, which up to that date had remained immune to rust, became covered with uredo-pustules of black rust. The high temperatures experienced in both years at this time lowered the vitality of this very rust-resistant wheat to such an extent that it became as rusty as any ordinary susceptible Indian wheat. Similar results were observed by us at Lyallpur in April 1907 in the case of the European and North American wheats grown there. These wheats were caught by the hot weather of the Punjab in the flowering stage and the first result of the hot winds was to bring out a copious production of uredo-pustules of black rust, although up to this point they remained practically rust-free. A similar result was observed in March of the same year when these wheats were grown at Pusa...
'In addition to the influence of external conditions on both the wheat plant and the fungus, the inherent rust-resisting capacity of the variety itself has to be considered. While apparently the intercellular spaces of all wheats are invaded by rust mycelium, the resisting power of the protoplasm of the wheat cells varies greatly among the various varieties. Some varieties are easily overcome, others, like some types of Einkorn and Emmer, are markedly resistant and the invasion of the parasite comes to nothing ...
'If we regard rust attacks from this wider point of view and bear in mind the wheat as well as the fungus and the weather, it will be easy to understand how it is that apparently contradictory causes bring about the same result.'
In order 'to turn the struggle between the wheat and the rust in favour of the cultivator' it seemed desirable to cross-breed from the two primitive wheats, Einkorn and Emmer; in spite of the experience just related above, these were, as a rule, markedly rust-resistant. Crosses were therefore made with T. vulgare Vill. These first experiments proved abortive. It was possible to produce seeds but these either failed to germinate or if germination took place, the seedlings died at once. All attempts to raise even the first generation, whether at Pusa or Lyallpur, failed. With Einkorn the failure was particularly pronounced; the plants never flowered.
These set-backs were undoubtedly disappointing, but there were other lines of attack.
'The attainment of the highest possible degree of rust-resistance in Indian wheats was approached in another direction. It was hoped that success might be achieved by crossing Indian wheats with some of the new English varieties. English wheats, however, either do not flower at all at Pusa, or form ears so late in the season that crossing is impossible. It was decided therefore to carry out the actual hybridization in England. Through the kindness of the Professor of Agricultural Botany at Cambridge, two Indian wheats, Pusa 4 and Pusa 6, were grown as spring wheats at the University Farm and we made the crosses while on leave in 1910. The resulting seeds were brought back to India and sown in October 1910 and the succeeding generations were grown at Pusa.'
Four crosses were in this way made from Pusa 4 and Pusa 6 with American Club and a new English hybrid. Even these results, though at first sight promising, had eventually to be discarded. Pusa 6 was a variety very apt to shed grain in dry weather; this, which would not have mattered in the damper climate of England, was fatal in India, and, when crossed with the English variety also possessing this defect, the progeny (Pusa 60 to 69), though of excellent quality, had to be rejected as unsuitable for distribution on a large scale. The progeny of Pusa 4 (Pusa 30 to 48) failed to inherit the excellent qualities of their parent, while the progeny of American Club failed to prove rust resistant under Indian conditions.
The work was continued and eventually 'a fair degree of rust resistance' was secured. (Indian Agriculture, p. 39.) In summing up results some ten years later Sir Albert states his reasons for being satisfied with this attainment. (See Chapter 1) At an early stage in the work, he points out that the prevention of rust is a problem which involves factors much more comprehensive than the mere breeding of varieties, useful and necessary though such work may be. He himself had tried more than one expedient and it is not without interest when he reports that pickling seed with a copper sulphate solution or spraying the growing crop with a similar solution or iron sulphate proved equally useless. Early sowing, as tried in Australia, was risky in the Indian climate. Another Australian expedient, the sowing of two-year-old seed instead of one-year-old, proved waste of time; not only did such seed germinate very badly, but 'in due course' it was attacked by rust quite as markedly as the crop grown from younger seed. Rotation of crops appeared to be, apart from the breeding of resistant varieties, far and away the wisest preventive, and, as we have seen, this ancient method had always been incorporated in the practice of the East. (Wheat in India, pp. 100-1.)
In dealing with this great staple crop of wheat, so important to the peoples of India, the principles which should govern the work of the plant breeder were perhaps more clearly worked out than in the course of any other piece of work. These prolonged and intensive experiments were a great education to the Howards themselves. A baffling combination of problems was encountered, including unsuspected botanical queries, the difficulties of traditional use and custom, and, lastly, very important economic aspects; these together created a situation so fundamental and so comprehensive that in dealing with it the investigators' faculties were called upon.
The very success of the work put the first question: Would the new wheats retain their characteristics when grown elsewhere than at Pusa? For instance, in the canal-irrigated areas of the Punjab or on the black soils of the Peninsula? It was necessary to prove or to disprove this argument. Sowings were made at a number of stations with the help of the officers there in charge, and more especially with the co-operation of Dr. H. Martin-Leake, later to become Director of Agriculture in the United Provinces. The investigations were continued for six years, from 1907to 1912.
'It is unnecessary to discuss the results of these experiments in detail. It will be sufficient to state that they proved conclusively that wheats with good quality can be grown in all the wheat-growing areas, including the canal-irrigated tracts of the Punjab and the black soils of the Peninsula. Environment was found to have little effect on the strength of the flour and on the stamina of the loaves. The weak wheats remained weak, while the wheats of high quality retained their strength.'
It was simultaneously that the milling and baking tests were started, which were to prove so encouraging. In the course of them another point emerged, that high yield and high quality tended to be combined; both large harvests and good grain could be looked for from the same wheat. (The contrary view was prevalent at the time in England; cf. Journal of the Farmers' Club, 1912, p. 80.) Of the quality of the Indian grain there could be no doubt. Sample after sample was sent forward to be examined by the principal milling interests of Great Britain and detailed reports obtained; of the thirty-one papers on wheat written by the Howards six deal with these tests, which embraced baking as well as milling. There is not space here to give the points of the verdicts given by the highest authorities in the milling industry of Great Britain. The conventional condemnation of Indian wheats as soft and inferior was completely reversed. Wheats as good as the best of those exported from Canada could be produced, while Pusa 4 was actually declared to be 'as good as any wheat in the world'. (Mr. A. E. Humphries, one time President of the Incorporated National Association of British and Irish Millers, as quoted in Pusa Bulletin No. 1 7 1, p. 21. Mr. Humphries various reports are printed verbatim in the Pusa Bulletins.) Already in 1909 it could be stated:
'Eleven selections made at Pusa in 1906 have so far been tested in England for milling and baking. A large number of others will be ready for testing in 1910 and 1911. While all the Pusa selections already sent in have been favourably reported on, five bread wheats have done remarkably well and shown themselves, both in the mill and bakehouse, to be of the same class as American and Canadian spring wheats, the strongest and best wheats on the English market. These five Pusa selections are far superior to any Indian wheats yet sent to England.'
In view of such favourable verdicts Sir Albert did not hesitate to claim for India a premier position as a wheat-exporting country. (The increase in the population has since made it impossible for India to export grains, making quality of less importance.)
'These preliminary investigations showed not only that high-grade wheats were most suitable for the export trade and for the Indian consumer but that wheat of the same class as the best of those exported from North America could be grown in India. There was every reason, therefore, to make a systematic effort to place India on a similar plane to Canada in the wheat markets of the world.'
'If... an increase in yield is brought about by changing the variety or by better methods of cultivation, the surplus left over for export will increase and India will then take a larger share in the wheat production of the Empire. There can be little doubt that such a result is easily possible. At present the great plains of India do not produce half of what is possible. With a few simple improvements the alluvial soils of India could be made to grow twice their present crops and the Punjab and the United Provinces would then become the most important bread basket of the Empire. Wheat-growing is at present one of the great neglected and undeveloped natural industries of India. The capital for expansion is lying ready to hand in the shape of a marvellously fertile soil when properly managed, while in the cultivator and in his oxen is the foundation of the labour force necessary for development.'
The European market demanded a strong wheat and it had been an error to ship the soft white varieties.
But in no case was the volume exported more than a fraction of the whole harvest. The problem once more came back to a question of the food of the peoples themselves.
'As is well known, wheat is an important food grain in India, and of the 8,000,000 tons produced annually about 90 per cent is consumed in the country, the remainder being exported to Europe. Any improvement in the grain itself, to be of importance, must therefore satisfy both the Indian consumer and also the home miller. It is fortunate that the class of wheat most liked by the people for food is that which is worth the most money on the home markets. This is a most important point and one which cannot be emphasized too strongly. On many occasions, the Pusa wheats along with ordinary samples have been shown to cultivators, and they invariably prefer for their own food the kinds which have done best in the milling and baking tests in England. A number of landholders and educated Indians have eaten these new wheats and are loud in their praises of the superiority of these types over those which can be purchased in the Indian market. Every year at Pusa there is a great demand for any surplus wheat from the Botanical Area, while at the Dholi and Bowarrah estates, where the new varieties are grown for seed on a large scale, a well-marked preference for these wheats was at once shown by the people round about. At Dholi the factory servants asked to be paid in wheat instead of in money.'
Pusa 4 and Pusa 12 had commanded a premium on their local markets from the moment of their first appearance, in the case of Pusa 12 at the rate of an additional 6 annas (6d.) a maund, in the case of Pusa 4 at the rate of an additional 10 annas a maund.
Eventually, to suit the widely varying soil and climatic conditions of this huge country, five or six main varieties of the new wheats became permanently established. These were Pusa 4 in the North-west Province, Bundelkhund, Gujerat, and parts of Burmah; Pusa 12 in the United Provinces, in Sind, Eastern Bengal, and Bihar; Pusa 52 in North Bihar and the eastern districts of the United Provinces where a bearded wheat was essential; Pusa 100 in the Central Provinces; while Punjab 11covered many hundred acres of the Punjab Canal Colonies.
The areas of the new wheats extended with unprecedented celerity. Estimates could not keep pace with their popularity. In 1919 it could be reported to the Viceroy, on his visit to the Agricultural Research Institute at Pusa, that half a million acres were under Pusa 4 and Pusa 12; by 1921 this had doubled to over a million acres. In 1924 'a conservative estimate' gave an acreage of 2-1/2 million acres, with an additional profit to the growers, at fifteen rupees an acre, of £2,500,000 a year; while in 1925-6 a final estimate, again stated to be conservative, placed the acreage at no less than 7,412,857 acres, and even if the annual profit were reckoned at the lesser figure of ten rupees to the acre, this would mean an enhanced revenue to the peoples of India of seven crores of rupees or £5,500,000 a year. (The figures were arrived at on the basis of the sales of Pusa 12 in the United Provinces in 1916; better quality commanded an immediate pre mium of 3 to 4 annas per maund, which later rose to 8-10 annas, at the local bazaars; increase in yield was at the rate of about 3 maunds to the acre; the two increases combined worked out at 15 rupees extra profit per acre. Report of the Imperial Economic Botanists the year 1915-16, p. 3; the same for the year 1916-17, p 7.)
by Mr. H. Martin-Leake, Sc.D.
formerly Director of Agriculture, United Provinces, and sometime Principal of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, Trinidad
Towards the end of the last century, Mr. W. H. Moreland, I.C.S. , then Director of Agriculture in the United Provinces, India, was sent to Australia to study the wheat work of that country which was being conducted by Farrer. He brought back with him a number of Australian wheats including some of Farrer's raising.
These were grown on the Cawnpore Farm under the charge of Mr. J. M. Hayman, then sole Deputy Director of Agriculture. Crossing was attempted, probably with a crude technique, for it was before the days of Mendelism and the basis of these crosses was putting successive 'doses' of the Australian wheats on to local Indian wheats.
When I went to Cawnpore from Saharanpur in the autumn of 1906, the crop had already been sown. The work was transferred to me and I found myself in charge of a very large number of small plots, some of them labelled with the names of the original wheats, both local and Australian -- the Australian names I have forgotten. Others were labelled as crosses; thus 'Australian-x-Zuff', or 'Australian-x-Zuff-x-Zuff' (the first cross recrossed by Zuff) 'Zuff' being the shortened form of one of the standard Indian wheats 'Mozuffarnagar'.
Not one of the plots was pure, so that there had been much mixing; in fact, after close study all plots so nearly approximated to the same complete mixture that I decided that the only thing to do was to scrap the lot, go through the crop as a single mixture and pick out promising single plants for a fresh start.
I had been in touch with Mr. A. Howard (later Sir Albert) since his arrival in India in 1905. He had started his wheat work, so I invited him to Cawnpore and we spent a day or two going through the crops, the various plots being considered as a single unit, each selecting plants that appealed to us. That was in the spring harvest of 1907, and we each sowed our own collections at Pusa and at Cawnpore respectively in the autumn of that year. I did not see the Pusa crop but, in the case of the Cawnpore crop of spring 1908, many of these single plant cultures were pure, suggesting that, where these were not Indian types, they were in fact wheats of the original Australian stock introduced.
It was from these that, I believe, Pusa 4 and Pusa 12, came -- the first wheats widely grown throughout the Provinces. It was from the Cawnpore selection that, without any doubt, Cawnpore 13 came, the third of the new wheats which came to form so large a part of the area under wheat.
My own work on wheats ceased with that selection; I did not attempt actual breeding. The later wheats which came to replace these three were the direct product of Howard's own breeding work on true Mendelian principles as then understood.
The above is written from memory as all my records of this work were left in India. But that this recollection is the true one is suggested by the fact that as early as 1910 and certainly by 1914, the area under these three wheats was very large. There could not have been sufficient time to make crosses, sort out the F1s and obtain purity and multiply pure seed. Even starting with purity in a single plant the multiplication factor was very great.
It is interesting to note that one of these wheats, Pusa 4, I believe, was taken to Australia to become a widely grown commercial wheat. If my interpretation of what happened at Cawnpore is correct, and I can see no other, Australia was merely importing one of the wheats originally imported into India from Australia by Mr. Moreland about 1897; possibly slightly modified by a selection of minor characters effected by the natural forces of a different climate.
Wheat in India: Its Production, Varieties, and Improvement. Thacker, Spink and Co. , Calcutta, 1909, pp. 288.
Crop Production in India, 1924: Ch. XI: 'Wheat'.
Journ. of the Bombay Natural History Society, Oct. 1911: 'The Improve ment in the Yield and Quality of Indian Wheat'.
Agric. Journ. of India, Vol. VIII, Part I, Jan. 1913: 'The Improvement of Indian Wheat'.
Bulletin No. 171 of the Agric. Research Institute, Pusa, 1927: 'The 'Improvement of Indian Wheat'.
(b) Botanical Aspects
Journ. of Agric. Science, Vol. II, 1907: 'Note on Immune Wheats'. (Paper not available to the present writer.)
Memoirs of the Agric. Research Institute, Pusa (Botanical Series), Vol. II, No. 7, 1909: 'The Varietal Characters of Indian Wheats'.
Ibid., Vol. III, No. 6, 1910 (together with Abdur Rahman Khan): 'The Economic Significance of Natural Cross-Fertilization in India'; pp. 283- 303, 'Wheat'.
Ibid., Vol. V, No. 1 , 1912 and Vol. VII, No. 8, 1915: 'On the Inheritance of Some Characters in Wheat', I and II.
Ibid., Vol. VIII, No. 1, 1916: 'The Wheats of Baluchistan, Khorasan, and the Kurram Valley'.
Ibid., Vol. XII, No. 1, 1922: 'The Wheats of Bihar and Orissa'.
(c) Agricultural Aspects
Memoirs of the Agric. Research Institute, Pusa (Botanical Series), Vol. III, No. 4, 1910; Vol. V, No. 2, 1913; Vol. VI, No. 8, 1914 (together with H. Martin-Leake): 'The Influence of the Environment on the Milling and Baking Qualities of Wheat in India', I, II, and III.
Agric Journ. of India, Vol. VIII, Part II, April 1913 (together with H. Martin- Leake): 'Yield and Quality in Wheat'.
Ibid., Vol. IX, Part III, July 1914: 'The Seed Supply of the New Pusa Wheats'.
Ibid., Vol. X, Part I, Jan. 1915: 'Pusa 12'.
Ibid., Vol. X, Part III, July 1915: 'The Storage of Seed'.
Ibid. , Vol. XI, Part I, Jan. 1916: 'The Saving of Irrigation Water in Wheat Growing'.
Ibid. , Vol. XI, Part IV, Oct. 1916: 'The Influence of the Weather on the Yield of Wheat'.
Bulletin of the Fruit Experiment Station, Quetta, No. 4, 1915: 'The Saving of Irrigation Water in Wheat Growing'; reprinted as Bulletin No. 118 of the Agric. Research Station, Pusa, 1921.
Bulletin No. 122 of the Agric. Research Station, Pusa, 1921 (with B. C. Burt): 'Pusa 12 and Pusa 4 in the Central Circle of the United Provinces'.
Agric. Journal of India, Vol. XVI, 1921: 'Pusa Wheats in Australia'. (Paper not available to the present writer.)
(d) Baking and Milling Tests
Bulletins of the Agric. Research Institute, Pusa, No. 14, 1908; No. 17, 1910; No. 22, 1911: l: 'The Milling and Baking Qualities of Indian Wheats, I, II, and III'.
(See also under (c).)
Next: 3. Soil Aeration and Irrigation
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