Various Crops and Various Problems
(The work on indigo is discussed in Chapter V on The Problem of Disease.)
After wheat, tobacco was the next important assignment during the early years at Pusa. This crop had been introduced by the Portuguese three hundred years earlier. It now constituted the fifth or sixth largest crop in India, covering over a million acres and yielding a harvest of perhaps five million pounds a year. It was especially important in Bihar, the Province in which Pusa was situated.
Two species were cultivated, Nicotiana tabacum L., where the climate was warm and moist, and a robust yellow-flowered Nicotiana rustica L., in drier, colder parts; only in Bengal and parts of Madras was cigar tobacco grown. While it was an important money crop and very worthwhile, its production was expensive, as it required much nitrogenous manure and frequent weeding and cultivation. It was therefore handled by the best cultivators only and apparently confined to the most suitable soils. This perhaps accounted for its freedom from pests and disease. Only one root parasite (Orobanche cernua Loeffl.) was known. (It is particularly interesting that this parasite only appeared when the plant was forced into giving a second harvest.)
While thus ranking as a major crop, the quality of Indian tobaccos was deficient. The product was coarse and suitable for the home market alone; it was smoked in hookahs or made up into snuff. Yet there had been no want of attempts at improvement. Since 1829 the old records abounded in efforts to develop better varieties. Over and over again seed had been introduced from Havana, Virginia, and Sumatra. Expert curers had been engaged. Two Government estates had been leased to a company to stimulate commercial production; one of these had been the Pusa estate itself, and the complete failure of this effort had thrown this estate back into the hands of Government, and accounted for the fortuitous and rather unwise choice as the site of the new All-India Experiment Station.
In spite of the importance of the crop and its money value some rather surprising weaknesses in cultivation methods were prevalent. Careless sowing and above all indifferent transplanting of seedlings entailed heavy losses, so that in some years growers brought no crop at all through the season; there was hardly any rotation, tobacco following tobacco year after year. As usual, all varieties were found mixed in the same field, and, as this plant is capable of cross-fertilization up to about one-fifth of the stand, the confusion of types was inextricable. Above all, there was no attempt whatever to aim at quality. A large harvest was the sole objective and even part of the stalk was illegitimately included in the cured product.
Such was the situation which met the Howards when they undertook this work in 1907. They found some sowings of tobacco on the Pusa farm, made in 1905 and 1906, no doubt continuing the tradition of the old estate. For these seed had been procured from various directions, no selection had been done, and these plants had again been allowed to cross-fertilize.
The usual intensive study of previous literature was made. Not much which was relevant to India had been done. An Italian investigator, Comes, had in 1899 classified and named six varieties. The attempt to assign the many types found in India to these six varieties had soon to be given up. There were far too many intermediates and aberrants. As in the wheat work, the Howards decided that the only thing to do was to start from the beginning and make their own completely comprehensive study of all existing Indian types. It was the second instance in which they committed themselves, perhaps without quite realizing it, to an immense task.
Their aims were, however, quite definite; in later years Sir Albert defined them as modest. All thoughts of competing with the highly organized and heavily capitalized American export market were laid aside; such a project was far too ambitious and could only end in failure. (Later, in 1927, the great success of the cigarette tobacco, Pusa 28, induced Sir Albert to think there might be a possibility of entering the export market.) But at home there was everything to be done. Nevertheless, even to attain the limited aim of improving Indian tobacco for the Indian market, the work would have to be of a fundamental and searching nature.
In commenting on the failure of previous attempts to improve the quality of Indian tobacco by introducing foreign kinds the Howards point out how ill-conceived is such an idea without a complete initial sorting out and classification of existing types, the confusion of which must render variety work nugatory if attempted from so haphazard a basis. Indeed, there should be four stages clearly envisaged: first, to study existing varieties and sort out types; second, to isolate from these varieties pure cultures so as to have the appropriate material for trials and hybridization without which no real work could be accomplished; third, to study the acclimatization of tobaccos from other parts of the world; and, fourthly, by continuous breeding over a number of generations to study the inheritance of characters, a knowledge of which must precede systematic cross-breeding for improvement.
Of these four tasks the Howards embraced the first and second on a great scale. For reasons which will be given below they did not devote a great deal of time to the third. The fourth task led to some prolonged and elaborate work on Mendelian principles. The whole of the work was exceedingly laborious. Every year thousands of flowers were handled, tied into muslin bags, castrated or hand-fertilized as the case might be, the inflorescences counted and labelled, further buds removed, etc., and everything recorded. Mrs. Howard, with her genius for detail, devoted herself to the work; hour after hour was spent in the field, and the excellent health of these years was the reward of an outdoor life unusual in a European woman living in the plains of India.
These delicate operations were actually the final stages of the season's work. An almost equal amount of care had to be expended on sowing and transplanting. The smallness of tobacco seed was found to invite accidental scattering, while its remarkable viability allowed germination anywhere and everywhere even after several years; if stands were not to become mixed no ordinary accuracy was needed. Eventually, in order to forestall mistakes which would ruin the work by inducing cross-fertilization from adventitious plants, the following devices were adopted. The seed was sown in boxes, these being kept moist for six weeks before sowing so as to allow any stray seeds to germinate and be removed; on disuse, the earth was emptied away at a distance and the boxes washed. Between sowing each box and also between thinning each box the boys had to wash their hands. Wire netting and day and night watching prevented damage by animals. By these methods a supply of specified seedlings was obtained without any admixtures.
The next problem was transplanting. The country method was extraordinarily rough and resulted in numerous losses, made good by subsequent insertions of seedlings; this would again have entailed the risk, in experimental work, of taking seedlings from the wrong box. By previous careful watering, and by lifting with a lump of soil attached, then by furrow irrigation, which ensured lateral seepage of moisture but formed no hard lump of soil round the seedlings, so injurious to them, losses were brought down to a minimum. (See previous chapter.)
The result of this detailed work, carried out for three years in the first instance and continued for another three, was the classification of Nicotiana rustica L., into twenty, and of Nicotiana tabacum L. into fifty-one types. These are minutely described in orthodox botanical terms, with admirable photographs of each type, in the first two of the papers mentioned at the end of this chapter.
In the course of this work the idea was dispelled that variation in type arose with differences in environment, as currently suggested by many American investigators. Certainly this plant was very sensitive to conditions; changes induced by good or bad cultivation were 'almost incredible'; the same type could produce plants ranging from 1-1/2 to 8 or 10 feet in height; at the same time all variations seemed to be wiped out in poor undeveloped plants, which pointed to the absolute rule for growing normal and well-developed plants for all experimental work. In spite of this sensitivity true morphological change or degeneration was only found as the result of cross-fertilization; the seventy-one types, when isolated and grown from self-fertilized seed under bag, kept extraordinarily uniform, even the smallest morphological details being found constant.
If this were so, a sound basis would be arrived at for improvement of variety by cross-breeding work. This would entail an analysis of inheritable characters. The work was begun and in part completed, but it proved far more complicated than had been anticipated. The study of the extension of Mendelian laws to characters not qualitative but recognized by measurement only was just beginning and the enquiries were carried out on these lines. A prolonged investigation into the inheritance of seven characters in Nicotiana tabacum L. and of four in Nicotiana rustica L. was made by means of observations on many thousands of flowers, and was placed on record for future workers, the results on rustica, however, not until after the lapse of some time. A good many years later one other small piece of academic research was done, but of a negative character, the disproof of the claim that parthenogenesis and parthenocarpy occurred in tobacco. It was to this extent useful, that had parthenogenetic seed occurred, plant breeding work would have been affected.
The scientific work on tobacco must have absorbed an enormous amount of time. More especially was the recording of the facts on the inheritance of characters extremely elaborate. From my own recollection I know that Sir Albert stimulated his somewhat reluctant wife to give herself to these efforts -- one long paper was published under her sole name. He wished her to take her own place in the ranks of science, and certainly these papers must be reckoned to have fulfilled all academic requirements. But I also believe that this work marked a kind of turning-point: that by its very nature and the time it consumed it impressed on both investigators the urgent need for making a choice between the academic and the pioneering principle. They realized the great expenditure of energy which such theoretical investigations must involve, energy which had to be withdrawn from other work, and though, of course, ultimately all plant-breeding work must depend on an understanding of the laws of inheritance, it seemed to them that in the first stages of agricultural investigation -- which, as India was almost uncharted territory, was the position confronting themselves -- the most worth while results could be attained by directing effort to immediate objectives which promised the highest usefulness.
The most attractive aim was perhaps the evolution of a good cigarette tobacco. While after repeated trials, confirming the experience of so many previous investigators, no success was obtained from introduced American varieties, which proved both too liable to windbreak by reason of their height and far too slow in growth to suit the short Indian season, surprisingly enough one indigenous variety was isolated which did not too badly compare in flavour, texture, and colour -- the three important points -- with other good cigarette tobaccos. Later named Pusa 28, this variety largely repaid the immense labour of the selection and cross- fertilization work. It had some most advantageous qualities, proving itself both robust and a rapid grower giving a heavy yield. The product was sent forward for manufacture and stood up to the test. Seed was thereupon propagated and supplied to the growers, who immediately recognized its great superiority. By 1924 enough seed was being distributed to cover one-quarter of the areas devoted to tobacco in India, namely, some 250,000 acres, and thus to maintain a supply of needed material for the cigarette factories which were springing up and catering for the new fashion of cigarette-smoking which was beginning to displace the hookah.
While this rather unlooked for success from a single native variety got by simple selection might be counted as some reward for these prolonged investigations, the emphasis of the work was being completely changed. The very year which marked the publication of the Mendelian researches was also the year which saw the investigators take the situation in hand in quite a different fashion. In the annual address which Sir Albert was for several years pressed to give to the planters of Bihar, a section is included in that of 1913 on tobacco; a longer Bulletin was published in 1915. These papers are of a very different character from the previous work. Altogether practical, they are direct, simple, and do not beat about the bush. The local practices are castigated as 'about the worst possible': the local agriculture is, in growing tobacco, 'particularly defective': 'a regular field of tobacco in Bihar is the exception rather than the rule'. Then follows a stream of practical suggestions and advice, covering every point of difficulty, but never such as to go beyond the means of the local planters. And, if proof was needed that tobacco could be grown in Bihar without risk, without losses, and with a 25 per cent increase in cropping over the current average, the planter had only to visit the tobacco beds of the Botanical Section at Pusa, where the well-manured, carefully irrigated, carefully transplanted and cultivated tobacco plants, healthy, vigorous, and of superb growth, were a visible proof of the value of the given advice. (A photograph of a magnificent tobacco field at Pusa is reproduced in the Agric. Journ. of India, Vol. VII, Part 1, Jan. 1912.)
The history of the tobacco experiments is interesting from more than one point of view. It drew the attention of the investigators very forcibly to the two critical problems of manuring and irrigation; both the work on green-manuring (see section on green manuring, below) and the perfecting of the system of furrow irrigation had their inception from the growing of this crop. But it also put the investigators into an intimate touch with the Indian planter. The fact that the crop was so badly grown locally was perhaps an accident, which may have had an effect in deferring Sir Albert's general recognition of the skill of the Eastern cultivator; but it must not be forgotten that tobacco, though it had a history of three hundred years in India, was after all an introduced crop. But what clearly impressed itself on his mind was the immediate and grateful response to his teaching. The planters were only too eager to imitate and to buy the improved seed; the innovations at Pusa very quickly became country-wide practice. True, they were always dictated by that peculiar combination of science with common sense which remained the hall-mark of Sir Albert's work, but this readiness on the part of an old community to reform its methods at the given word, simply and plainly uttered but always backed by proved experience, laid the foundation of a most happy lifetime of give-and-take between the trained scientist and the world he was to serve.
Fruit, Including Tomatoes: Sun Drying of Vegetables
The fruit work at Pusa was started even before the work on tobacco, with plantings set in hand on arrival at the Experiment Station, but from the nature of the case only allowed of a slow development. Much the same situation was found as in tobacco, namely, great natural possibilities very indifferently handled by the Indian planters. As long ago as 1863 it had been pointed out what a handsome return would be obtainable, especially in Bihar, by the proper growing of choice fruits.
'In India little or no attention seems to have been paid either to the tillage of fruit lands or to the best condition in which the surface should be maintained. Some of the fruit plantations in the country are under grass, others are to a large extent uncultivated, the surface being covered with weeds and grass. In some cases the trees are so closely planted that they form a dense overhead canopy like that of a forest, under which no surface growth is possible. Vegetables or bananas are generally grown between the young trees, the object of the cultivator being to take off the largest crop possible. It is not surprising that under these circumstances the fruit trees have a neglected, stunted, and half-starved appearance. In the older plantations, the thickly planted trees are drawn and spindly and often bear but few fruits. Cultivation is often restricted to one digging in the cold weather, while there is generally little or no cultivation or weeding during the monsoon. The tillage of fruit plantations such as is understood and practiced in Europe and North America is still undreamt of in India. It is not surprising therefore that the produce of the average Indian fruit garden in the plains is so exceedingly poor.'
Not only was cultivation thus deficient, but the adaptation of varieties to different local conditions could hold no comparison with the results achieved in Western countries. The attempt to introduce new varieties had suffered through marriage to the wrong stocks. Nothing had been studied on root systems, and, in general, there had been few experiments of an effective type done by any European scientist. There were, however, a variety of trees to be found in the botanical gardens of the great cities; these gardens Sir Albert made a point of visiting during the first eighteen months of his appointment, thus adding to the extensive knowledge he already had of fruit growing in the West Indies and in Kent. He also used this period to go through all available literature on temperate and tropical fruit experiments in Europe and America.
Meanwhile practical work had been begun in a systematic way. Nineteen acres were selected, on a sloping site, at Pusa for trying out of eleven species of fruit, oranges, citrus, plums, custard apples, loquats, pears, peaches, guava, litchis, mangoes, figs, together with a few odd other fruits ranging from apple to jack fruit. Not everything was easy. Damaging frosts might be expected in January or February and gales could be severe; windbreaks were therefore provided. It is interesting that for the seedlings hedges of Persian rose were grown, with the suggestion that commercial growers could make an extra profit by the sale of roses, thus anticipating the now common practice of our own horticulturists in growing windbreaks of lilac, etc., for cutting.
The difficulties encountered, however, were not so much in this direction as in making a start with insufficient material. It was hard to find enough seedlings, nor were there any records whatever of varieties. To overcome the first hindrance, imports were obtained from France, while with a view to the future a variety plot was started, where a collection was made of 25 peaches, 19 oranges, 4 pumelos, 3 citrons, 5 lemons, 10 limes, 46 mangoes, 9 litchis, 15 plums, and 11 guavas. The question of selecting the right variety for recommendation to growers was of obvious importance, as the late ripening varieties of many fruits would bring them into the monsoon period, which would be hopeless; whereas other varieties which grew well, e.g. loose-skinned oranges, would be unsuitable for packing and transport in a hot country.
More fundamental was the question of stocks for budding. Here some very surprising facts emerged in relation both to cherries and plums. Whereas in a temperate climate almost any stock would be found suitable, in extremes of climate, whether wet, as at Pusa, or dry, as at Quetta, a severe strain would be imposed on the root system of the stock; yet it was on the vigour of the stock that successful fruiting was bound to depend. It was found by budding experiments that, in the case of the cherry and plum, the experience of temperate climates was reversed and that stocks that did less well in Europe were by far the best in India; experiments on budding peaches showed the almond to be the best stock. The results of these experiments were valuable, as much work would have been wasted if carried out on trees budded on unsuitable stocks. The inference is made that all experimental work on fruit in a new country should include preliminary growing of stocks and not merely the growing of trees already budded -- another instance, of course, of the value of going back to fundamentals.
In spite of his labour and attention, and his previous knowledge of fruit culture, Sir Albert records a number of failures in the first few years. The trees had been planted with great care; the windbreaks have already been mentioned; watering was done by pots sunk in the ground, and millet straw shelters were built for each individual seedling to protect it from the fierce sun. Yet green-fly, termites, grasshoppers, and caterpillars all attacked; in the course of 1905, 1906, and 1907 a large number of trees died, while the condition of others was 'pitiable'; the straw shelters attracted rats which damaged the trees.
It was realized that mistakes had been made. Watering by pots was abandoned; it did not give enough water and interfered with symmetrical root growth. In the second year of the experiments, 1906, a revised practice in planting was introduced; the seedlings were planted at the end of the cold weather, in the beginning of February; they made good growth during the ensuing hot months and were firmly established by the time they had to meet the downpour of the monsoon. This proved in practice far better than the orthodox system of planting at the beginning of the cold weather, when the seedlings remained static for many months and easily succumbed to various attacks. But the main point seized was that it was not the sun which was the enemy -- the straw shelters were swept away -- but the water.
Water-logged soil in the damp climate of Bihar was the explanation of much that went wrong. The system of furrow irrigation was introduced (see Chapter III, The Furrow System) and effectually prevented this evil. Here the experiments on fruit ran parallel with what was being learnt from the growing of other crops, proving the supreme importance in tree culture as in all other cultures of paying first attention to soil aeration and drainage. The arrangements were not easy, as trees must be grown on a slope to prevent frost, and this meant an inevitable run-off and danger of erosion with any system of watering or irrigation. Drainage and irrigation experiments had therefore to be supplemented by trying out different systems of tillage, namely, normal cultivation, no cultivation but removal of weeds, and grassing down. Eventually a combination of embanking, good cultivation, and the growing of a cover crop at certain seasons to be turned in for green-manure, proved successful, though some care was needed in the case of the peach not to stimulate the wood too much by manuring; in view of the modern craze for mulching it is interesting to learn that this practice, with a leguminous weed, busunduk (Sophora alopecuroides), was a pronounced success at Quetta. It is clear that every attention was paid to detail and that an enormous amount of observation was given to watching the growth of the many different species of fruit trees in the experimental plots. Much was once more learnt by trial and error. Thus one attempt to start the budding early in order to be able to deal with a larger number of trees merely ended in disaster -- the seedlings, handled prematurely, died. But in exactly five years, the period always quoted later by Sir Albert as the period of his apprenticeship during which he learnt to grow his crops as well as the peasants around him -- in the case of fruit much better -- he was able to publish an account of very definite results, including the production of peaches 'far superior' to those ordinarily grown in India.
A second set of experiments was started at Quetta, which indeed was named a Fruit Experiment Station. Here from 1912 onwards attention was given to forming a systematic collection of named varieties of suitable fruit trees. All the best local kinds were first secured, comprising 35 peaches, 7 nectarines, 8 apricots, 5 cherries, 8 plums, 5 pears, and 7 apples. To these were added likely kinds from France, England, and America, including 33 apricots, 42 cherries, 45 plums and greengages, 48 peaches, 15 nectarines, and 38 pears. Careful notes and records were made and a very valuable collection of trees was thus established as a permanent Experiment Station asset for future investigators. In doing this work a start had once more to be made from the beginning -- no records of previous work were available.
A rather definite lesson to growers was initiated in the taking over on 1st October 1911 of a derelict fruit garden of fourteen acres. A period of two years was first spent in getting the land into order, fertility being restored by the sowing of shaftal, Persian clover. In November 1913 this orchard was planted up with new-budded trees, systematically arranged, an improvement on the completely haphazard plantings of the local growers, which had implied great waste of irrigation, as in order to reach any special tree many others had to be watered. Direct help was also planned for growers in the production of large numbers of young fruit trees, properly budded and pruned, for local distribution. These were never given away, but sold at two to the rupee, so as to ensure that some care would be given to what had cost the purchaser money. The work grew beyond all expectations, and soon reached a quotation of 4,000 to 5,000 trees per annum. By 1918 it became so heavy that Sir Albert encouraged the starting of private commercial nurseries to cope with the demand, so as not to swamp the Experiment Station in routine work.
Some further experimental work was successfully concluded, both on the budding and selection of stocks, but more especially on the relation between green-fly attack and over-irrigation. (See Chapter 5, The Effect of Grass on Trees.) The same principle was also found to govern the occurrence of peach 'yellows', a prevalent local disease; not lack of nitrogenous manures, but simple lack of aeration in the soil, was the cause. This damaging disease was easily cured by a combination of cultivation round the trees and the growing of shaftal between the lines.
It was the peach which gave the prize to these efforts. It was peculiarly suited both to Bihar and Quetta. In later years Sir Albert could be heard to declare laughingly that if he could take his listener back to India he would present him with a peach 'as big as a dinner plate'; his test of a good peach was that it should peel in one piece and be perfectly ripe both sides. There is a record of the number of fruits set per tree at Pusa; the average was 3, 500 in 1909 on four-year-old trees; these had to be thinned down to between 750 and 1,000 in order not to break the branches.
The work on tomatoes was as successful as the work on tree fruits, but did not offer the same inherent difficulties, though again the Indian growers made a very poor show of this crop, allowing their plants to trail over the ground with no attempt at training or stopping. The simplest reforms in both these directions produced a harvest in 1912, despite abnormally early frosts in August and September which spoilt at least half the crop, at the rate of twenty-five tons to the acre at Quetta; and similarly good results were obtained at Pusa.
By 1918 the prophecy was justified that 'the uplands of Baluchistan might become the California of India', for it was above all in this blazing desert sun that the fruit could be grown to supply the populations of the plains with their crowded cities.
It was significant of Sir Albert's robust common sense that at the very outset he had recognized that he would have to deal not with one problem, but with two; he would have not only to grow the fruits suitable to India, but would have to find out how to transport them within that country: and this was really the more teasing, though perhaps not the more important, problem. He states that he took it up first, before even embarking on his real experiments, as the expansion of the fruit trade would have to depend entirely on whether the fruit could be properly conveyed. It may be said that he could hardly have inherited a more depressing situation.
'In order to withstand the rough handling experienced in all stages of marketing, fruit of all kinds is always picked green and unripe, and at a stage when the full development of flavour is impossible. The want of attention to pruning and the close planting of the trees render the damage in picking much greater than would be the case in modern fruit gardens where dwarf trees are the rule. The crop is often shaken off the branches, either into sheets or else on to the ground. A good deal more bruising takes place when the fruit is heaped up before packing. Padded trays for picking are unknown, and the grading and packing are done on the ground generally under the shade of a tree. There are no packing sheds and no padded packing tables, possibly on account of the national custom of working as far as possible on the ground.
'The packages used for fruit, even for such delicate produce as grapes and peaches, are for the most part ill adapted for the purpose. Old kerosine oil boxes represent the rigid type of fruit box, while wicker baskets of various sizes and shapes are common. There is a general absence of ventilation in all the packages, a circumstance which probably follows from the necessity of covering in the fruit to prevent theft. The packing material used is often unsuitable -- grass and leaves being commonly employed. These give off water and do not absorb the moisture transpired by the fruit. In consequence, fermentation and decay are hastened. The flavour is often harmed by the want of ventilation, and the fruit sometimes becomes tainted. Other disadvantages arise from the packages used. The upper layers of fruit press on the lower and a good deal of crushing and bruising takes place. The packages are often non-rigid and are pressed out of shape in transit by the weight of others above them.'
The Indian railways which received this fruit at Quetta provided a curious combination of the good and the bad. Excellent ventilated through carriages were available, with specially built shelving, a facility wasted in view of the completely heterogeneous shape and size of the loadings. But when an attempt was made to put good returnable crates on the lines, the resulting charges were not only absurdly high but completely chaotic; nor was there any system of bulk charging by aggregate weight, each package being separately weighed and rated as high as possible; there was also uninterrupted thieving. A very long battle was fought on these questions, into which Sir Albert threw his whole weight and interest, undeterred by the many prophecies that he would achieve nothing. This prophecy seemed to be justified, when in September 1913 these matters were formally debated at the Railway Conference at Simla, with no outcome except to allow that the complaints were entirely correct. However, when three years later, in 1916, the President of the Railway Board, backed by a petition from all the fruit growers of Quetta and endorsed by the Local Government, took the matter up, victory was won; aggregate grouping of consignments was allowed and the return of crates of a specified pattern was to be free. The principal railways in India followed suit. Thus in the middle of a great World War, which was affecting India hardly less than other countries, a notable triumph was won over confusion, inertia, and unwillingness.
The victory would not have been won had not the practical problems been worked out with great care. In no direction was Sir Albert's thoroughness and ability better shown than in the endless details which he devised for the packaging of his fruit; these were throughout considered with an eye to the use of local, or readily available, materials, with an eye to cost, and with a note of prices. He might have been a trader himself, which, indeed, he soon insisted on being and wrung from resistant officials at Headquarters an almost scandalized consent to a trading account at the Quetta Fruit Station -- a good innovation, but outside the tradition of the British Administration in India or of an Experiment Station. It was very successful, ended on the right side of the balance sheet, and taught a great deal to its originator.
In the end, no fewer than seven different types of packaging were invented. Some were elaborate, indeed, we may rather gasp at their elaboration. But they proved their worth, and were, as the facts show, essential. The following passages refer to Pusa and Quetta respectively.
'In this tract (Bihar) peaches ripen towards the end of May and the beginning of June, when both the day and night temperatures are high. The air is frequently damp at this time so that the conditions for transporting such delicate produce as peaches are particularly exacting. In 1909 a method of packing was devised and tested by which practically ripe peaches could withstand a journey of seventy-two hours on the railway without deterioration when booked in the ordinary way. Local materials and labour only were used in the work and no artificial cooling was employed at any stage. The packages adopted were round, flat-bottomed bamboo baskets, about 5-1/2 inches high, fitted with flat lids. Into these two tiers of small circular bamboo cells for the single selected peaches were fitted, the two tiers being separated by a flat circular open-work bamboo partition, which could be dropped into the basket to serve as a floor for the second tier of cups. The lid, when wired on, served to secure the upper tier and also to keep the whole basket and its contents rigid. Theft was prevented by sealing the wire with a lead seal... each basket contained about twenty-five bamboo cups and thus served to carry that number of peaches. These baskets were made by the local domes for four annas each.'
'Picking (at Quetta) is best done at daybreak as at this time the temperature is near the minimum and the peaches are relatively cool. They are placed, one layer deep, in trays or baskets, padded with sann. The wrapping, in thin blue paper, is done on padded tables in the plot. A little sann fibre, covered with gunny, provides a good padding on a table for packing purposes. Only the best peaches are selected which after wrapping are placed into the cells with a little sann fibre to prevent shaking and bruising during transit. The sann should be wrapped round each fruit and the whole should fit well into the cell without any shaking. The paper and sann fibre, besides, absorb part of the moisture given off by the peaches during the journey while the open-work nature of the package promotes ventilation. Other materials besides sann were tried as packing material, such as peat, cotton wool, and wood wool. None of these proved so cheap or so resilient as sann. Sent in this manner, peaches reached Simla in excellent condition and withstood the journey of three days. The transport involved a journey of seven miles in a bullock cart to the railway, the crossing of the Ganges in a ferry steamer, and eight changes between the garden and the destination.'
A first effort with returnable fruit boxes was made at Quetta in 1911. This did not prove successful, partly because the material tried out was found unsuitable (venesta wood and local dwarf palm, pish, leaves), partly because the railways made endless mistakes and overcharges. After a visit while on leave in England had been used to study modern fruit packaging arriving at Covent Garden and elsewhere, further experiments were instituted. Five different types of crate were devised, for grapes, for peaches, for the local trade, returnable crates for short journeys and for camel transport, and non-returnable crates for the wholesale trade. The principles were much the same as had been adopted for the bamboo baskets, namely, rigidity of the package, protection from bruising, and ventilation for the fruit. Various changes and improvements were made in the following years, and already in 1912 tomatoes, grapes, and peaches were transported without loss or damage a distance of 1,750 miles on a four days' journey from Quetta to Calcutta. By 1920 seven different types of fruit boxes were on sale at Quetta. The success of the sales exceeded expectations; one type was first placed on the market in 1912, and by 1915, after 4,500 had been disposed of, there was still a demand which it was not possible to satisfy. Even the more expensive returnable crates were in great request when once the Indian railways had been persuaded to handle the traffic properly.
'Our experience in... establishing modern methods of fruit packing has brought out two things -- the rate at which time-honoured practices and ideas change in India, and the importance of time and patience in implanting a new idea. When in 1911 we commenced these investigations, we were told on all sides that cheapness was the first condition of success in placing new packages on the market. We were constantly reminded that the grape baskets and old kerosine oil boxes then in use were cheap and that they could be purchased for very small sums. When the 24-punnet returnable grape crates were first brought to the notice of the dealers, they were considered too expensive and altogether unsuited to the conditions of the local trade. A few of the more advanced merchants, however, agreed to try them. The grapes were found to travel perfectly even to places as distant as Madras. A change in the attitude of the trade then began to make its appearance. A demand from the more advanced cities like Bombay that Baluchistan grapes should be packed in punnets followed and from that time success has been assured. The difficulty has been to meet the demand rather than to sell the crates. Nothing is now heard about the cost.
'Time is a factor in India in the introduction of new methods, to which insufficient attention is often paid. This is especially important where trade is concerned. Dealers of all kinds have little leisure and practically all their working hours are spent in details connected with purchase, sale, and finance. Particularly is this the case with the Frontier fruit dealers, whose output of work during the fruit season, considering the means at their disposal, is extraordinary. They have absolutely no time for experiments or for anything else beyond the day's work. To reach such men, patience is essential and they must be given ample time for new ideas to sink into their consciousness.
'This experience proves that too much attention can be paid to the first ideas of the people of India towards new methods. They are certain to be frankly sceptical at first and to exhibit that conservatism which is so valuable in protecting the race from disaster. The inventor must therefore be prepared for this and when he is fortunate enough to discover a real improvement and the best thing possible under the circumstances, he should resolutely persist in keeping it before his public year after year.'
The First World War, by raising the price of certain imported materials, to some extent interrupted the promising opening secured, but as a survey of methods to overcome trade difficulties it could hardly have been bettered; it was indeed common sense applied to agriculture.
Closely allied to the work on fruit transport was that on the drying and packing of vegetables. The first request came in 1916 from local Army authorities to do something to facilitate a provision of vegetables for men on the march in the arid districts of North-west India. Even in the Quetta cantonment itself vegetables were almost non-existent in the winter, while in the summer they were equally scarce in Karachi and other cities of the plains. Drying by artificial heat was a known European process, but the suggestion now was to take advantage of the heat of the Indian sun.
Merely to slice the vegetables and spread them in the sun, as was done by the country population in some parts with turnips and spinach, was useless. In the work which she now almost exclusively undertook Gabrielle Howard had a project in which her genius for detail found full play. It is necessary to read the two Bulletins she soon came to write as a manual of practical advice to commercial producers to appreciate the exactness and thoroughness with which she worked out every stage of the processes required and every item of planning of equipment, cheap and easily procured, but entirely adequate; each vegetable needed slightly different treatment, directions for which were given. Preliminary slicing and paring, in the shade, so as to protect both product and workers from the glare, was followed by a few minutes steaming or scalding. One object was to kill the outer tissues, which accelerates drying; otherwise the effect of quick drying is to cause these to contract, preventing the inside moisture from escaping; such steamed or scalded vegetables also cook better, keep their tenderness and their colour; the first Bulletin includes full directions for cooking each vegetable.
The standard set was that the sun-dried vegetables should be almost as appetizing as fresh ones, indeed, scarcely distinguishable from them, and very different from the tough, leathery, brownish product which can be the result of indifferent drying. The drying as carried out at Quetta only took twenty-four hours. After an interval of a week, and careful looking over, the dried vegetables were pressed into bricks, and, as a rule, tinned. The reduction by volume was to one-seventh; by weight 1 lb. of dried product represented from 10 to 21 lb. of fresh vegetables, according to the kind. Thus a week's supply for a battalion on active service would go into twelve kerosine tins, to be carried on two mules. Sir Leonard Rogers, F.R.S., subsequently reported some of these dried vegetables to have antiscorbutic and all to have anti-beriberi properties, which is not the case with vegetables dried artificially.
The first most excellent Bulletin was reprinted rapidly and also issued in Urdu. By the summer of 1918 production was in full swing in the Quetta cantonment; in 1919 some machinery was installed, another Bulletin giving further directions and all details of costs issued; seven other selling agencies were supplied. The product was exhibited on several occasions and earned a special prize at the All-India Food Products Exhibition at Calcutta in 1918. On his visit to Pusa in 1919, the Viceroy could be informed that, when placed on the market, the orders received were nearly twenty times greater than the available supply.
Grass, Fodders, and Green-manuring
(a) The Making of a Lawn
It is often said that the true farmer does not care for flowers. Sir Albert Howard never devoted himself to the care of flowers. He gave characteristic advice to the horticulturist -- to get a good lawn started and 'to let the flower beds look after themselves'. His judgment that if the lawn were beautiful, the rest of the garden would fit into the general picture without much trouble was a good suggestion, and can be proved by any one who has to start making a garden; the lawn should be the first consideration.
This emphasis on grass was a farmer's emphasis. Certainly in India grass was intensely important and intensely interesting. It was also exceedingly difficult. The only piece of advice on horticultural practice that Sir Albert published in India was on how to get grass to grow so as to make a lawn.
Sir Albert quotes from an old gardening manual to the effect that in a hot country a stretch of lawn is intensely refreshing to the eye and mind. Immediately on arrival at Pusa he decided that he would like a 'park-like lawn' in the Botanical Area. Ten acres of uneven, unsightly, and partly waterlogged ground were taken and converted in nine months into a first-class lawn.
The details of the work are given: repeated ploughing, levelling, grading, picking out of all weeds, bricks, roots; then sowing with dub grass on a special method, protection with dried grass cuttings, frequent cutting, weeding, and then watering with a system of improvised iron pipes cut out of sheet iron; top-dressing with well-aerated earth could follow as required; finally, directions are given for the renewal necessary in this climate. Many of the details were copied from work by a previous experimenter.
It would not be worth while to mention this short paper in the present book except that it happens to illustrate a principle which guided Sir Albert throughout his career -- what might be called 'the look of the work'. It was a strong instinct in him to require that all operations should present that kind of attraction which arises out of neatness, order, and symmetry. This is, in truth, an asset in experimental botanical work, that it should look well and be attractive to the eye. The making of the Pusa lawn was clearly conceived as an item which was to tell its story in just this at once obvious and subtle way. A good lawn in India is not an easy thing to achieve, and would of itself convey to the visitor's first glance an impression of good cultivation. It was, like so much that was done by Sir Albert, clever.
(b) The Improvement of Fodder
But it is obvious that the growing of green crops opens up far more important problems than the making of park-like lawns. There are two aspects of a green crop in agriculture, its use as feed for animals and its use as a green-manure for the soil. These two uses run into each other, because the same plant is very commonly first cut for feed and the residue then incorporated in the soil for enrichment. The use of green crops as feed is perhaps the more straightforward topic and may be taken first.
The problem in India was only too glaring. In all tropical countries, where the grass gives out during the hot season, there is for these months a starvation period for the cattle. Where there are also too many cattle on the land the difficulty becomes permanent throughout the year. Add to this that the improvement of pastures is almost excluded by climatic difficulties, while any extension of their area is out of the question as long as there is such pressure of population; the cattle therefore have to depend on cut feed.
'The improvement of cattle in India depends largely on a plentiful supply of good fodder. This fact is now being generally recognized and few people are to be found who believe that any real progress can be made in animal production if the food supply remains, as at present, a limiting factor. The first step in the problem is to feed the animals which already exist. The creation of new types and the improvement of the present breeds by selection are matters of secondary importance in so far as the cultivator is concerned.'
Some good work had already been done, such as the introduction of new grasses, or the use of bamboo shoots and the prickly pear for animals. Sir Albert's own start at working on this question was made on receipt of a request at Quetta in 1914 from the Foreign Secretary to the Government of India to find some form of good hay for the Army horses and mules used on the North-west frontier.
'The advantage of good hay in the feeding of horses and mules engaged in heavy transport is well known. In India real hay is, however, rare and its place is taken by substances such as bhusa, dried grass or dried lucerne, which are exceedingly hard and brittle and which have not undergone the mild fermentation processes involved in the preparation of grass or clover hay... The difficulties of making good hay in an arid climate like that of the Quetta valley are considerable. The extreme dryness of the air, combined with the effects of sun and wind, dry any green fodder with great rapidity and soon render it so brittle that it cannot be handled without breaking it to powder. Such a product cannot be fermented and an operation like baling is out of the question. The people get over this difficulty, in the case of lucerne, by making it into ropes while green. These are afterwards dried in the sun and stored. The product, however, is not lucerne hay but dried lucerne. No fermentation is possible and there is naturally a great loss of leaf involved in the handling of the dried ropes. The product has the further disadvantage that it cannot easily be baled, so that it can only be used locally and is not suitable for an army on active service.'
It was decided to start, not on lucerne, but on a Persian clover known as shaftal (Trifolium resupinatum). Shaftal yielded four crops in the year, three of which could be used as fodder and the last either for seed or as a green-manure. It was free of pests if properly grown, and its growing season was long as it came on early in the spring before lucerne and also went on after the lucerne; another advantage was that it would grow on land not good enough for lucerne, and could prepare the way for that crop by collecting nodule nitrogen. It was thus a particularly useful crop. It could not altogether replace lucerne as, when used fresh, it was apt to cause blowing in some animals. But if it could be made into hay, it would be very valuable.
To overcome the risk of brittleness an elaborate method was devised of carrying out the drying in stages. After cutting it was spread for a day or two, turned, and left another day. When thus half-dry it was heaped, pressed down firmly, and fermentation began; then opened up again from the heaps and carried to the stacks, where further fermentation and drying took place. The sweet smell of clover hay developed and in two months the product was ready to be baled. Everything depended on spreading and heaping at the right moment so as to secure fermentation without overheating, and the process implied experience and judgment.
Arrangements were made for tests by the Army in 1915 and again in 1916. A ration of 3 lb. of bhusa and 1 lb. of the shaftal hay was found very palatable by the horses, which throve well on it. The second trials in 1916 showed that the mules did better on it than on the usual ration; though they lost a little weight in the second week, by the end of the third week they were 'much finer in appearance than the remainder of the battery mules; coats glossy, less fat, and in every way in perfect condition'. But the most important point for the Army was that there was a saving of 30 per cent in weight in supplies to be carried in these mountain areas; the cost also was less than for the ordinary feed.
Trials on a larger scale were ordered, and in 1917 a successful experiment was conducted to prove that both shaftal and lucerne hay could be got into condition for the close baling required by the Army, if the small stacks were watered on the outside with an ordinary watering can, covered with a tarpaulin for twenty-four hours, and then pressed. Sufficient moisture entered, which made the hay compressible. Its good keeping quality was proved when several bales were opened the next year, 1918, and found to be in perfect condition; much later, some bales which happened to have been kept for six years on a veranda at Pusa were found still palatable to animals. The quality of these hays was equal to the very best grades of such fodders made in Europe.
These valuable experiments were brought to the notice of Army headquarters at Simla. But they were of much wider application. They provided the means for solving the terribly difficult question of how to feed the work cattle of the civil populations throughout India.
'Anyone who has seen the poor feeding of the thousands of cattle engaged in moving produce over the main trunk roads in the North-west will at once realize how much these fodders would improve the efficiency and reduce the numbers necessary for the work. In urban areas both cattle and horses are underfed and overworked. The numerous dairies springing up in the large towns are producing milk, inferior both in quality and quantity, to that which would be possible if the albuminoid ratio of the fodder could be improved. For famine reserves these baled fodders would be of the greatest use. Such produce is easily stored for long periods, is readily transported and the quantity is easily checked by merely counting the bales. It is highly nutritious and therefore would be a useful reinforcement to such materials as bhusa and dried grass, whose function would be the dilution of the leguminous hay.
'Once these fodders become general in North-west India, the producing power of the soil is bound to increase. The work cattle will be better fed and the door will be opened for a more intensive cultivation of the land and for the use of heavier and better implements. The country will, at the same time, support a larger population and with the increased production of the soil the prosperity of the people will rapidly improve. Indian agriculture is at present labouring in a vicious circle. The land does not produce enough to admit of the work cattle being properly fed. Without more efficient oxen it is difficult to adopt the simplest cultural improvements. Only the surface of the soil is scratched and only the merest skin of the deep alluvial soils of the plains is made use of by crops. This vicious circle, however, can be broken. Nature in the form of the nitrogen-fixing leguminous fodder crops provides the means. The resources of the State, properly directed, are amply sufficient to utilize the means.'
It was agreed that the drying and baling were not easy. The baling required a press, which was beyond the means of the ordinary cultivator. For the Army three baling stations were set up, and it was suggested that similar stations ought to be started for civil purposes. Meanwhile the very success of the work implied another problem, how to grow the shaftal, lucerne, or other fodders for making the hay.
'Although there is a great field for botanical work in fodder questions, it must not be forgotten that there are limits to what can be accomplished by plant breeding alone. There is not much hope of producing, either by selection, hybridization, or introduction, the ideal fodder plant, namely, a crop which will give a large out-turn of nutritious, succulent fodder with the minimum; amount of water, which will thrive during that part of the year when all other vegetation ceases to grow and which can be easily preserved without loss or trouble. The evolution of such a type is probably beyond the powers of any botanist. Much, however, can be done by selecting better varieties of existing fodder crops, but the improvement will be one of degree only. A much larger field of investigation lies in the determination of the physiological needs of such crops and the consequent improvements in methods of cultivation... and it is probable that the best solution will be found (where water is available) in the intensive cultivation of fodder crops on a small portion of the holding.'
This ideal of intensive cultivation, with the use of the smallest feasible areas of land, was held in mind. There were two great natural assets -- the intense solar energy of the climate and the quick vegetative growth characteristic of the tropics. Two sets of experiments were carried out, the first set at Quetta in 1915 and 1916, parallel with the drying and baling work, and a subsequent set at Pusa from 1921 onwards. At Quetta sulla (Hedysarum coronarium) and berseem (Trifolium alexandrianum) and an annual red clover (Trifolium pratense) had been tried as well as the shaftal, but rejected for various reasons. While the general trend of the experiments with shaftal showed the importance both of soil aeration and of manuring, too much manuring was not resorted to. It would no doubt have been very successful and given very heavy cuts, but the supply of farmyard manure at Quetta among the cultivators was strictly limited, so that there was 'no point in discovering improved methods which cannot possibly be applied'. But by some manuring and intensive cultivation good crops could be secured, in 1915 five cuts were taken off land manured at twenty tons of manure to the acre.
At Pusa the cultivation of lucerne was pursued; these experiments completed those on the shaftal at Quetta. Considerable improvements in method were initiated. A system of flat beds instead of the usual ridge cultivation proved most successful. Higher yields were got. These experiments are interesting as they seem to be the first where 'leaf compost on the Chinese system' was applied to any crop. The effect was unprecedented: an increase of 50 per cent of yield in 1921 and of another 70 per cent in 1922. By means of these compost dressings lucerne, which ordinarily behaves like an annual in Bihar, could be made to behave like a perennial and yield the much more luscious fodders which are the result of a second and third year's growth.
Another small piece of work on the substance already mentioned as bhusa was carried out at Indore. Bhusa consists of the stalks and chaff of wheat, barley, rice and various millets. It is a very dry feed, and while the all-digesting buffalo will consume it freely, it is not the most relished food for draught oxen.
A fifty-year-old paper by a Mr. Jonas in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England (Vol. V, Second Series, 1870, p. 119; commented on by Dr. Voelcker, F.R.S., the great authority on Indian agriculture, in Vol. VII, p. 85 of the same journal) gave the clue to improvement. Experiments were started in May 1926 in fermenting this chaff, as recommended; a small proportion of green maize and some salt were added to start fermentation; further experiments suggested the omission of the salt and the addition of only about 1 cwt. of the green stuff to 1 ton of the dried. The mixture, fermented for thirty-five days, not only proved on chemical analysis (analysis given in the source mentioned at the end of the present chapter) to be much richer than the bhusa in albuminoids, sugar, and digestible fibre, but what was in Sir Albert's eyes the most important test -- the test by the animal itself -- it was eaten 'with avidity' by sheep and cattle. The programme of work at Indore did not allow of a continuation of these interesting experiments, but the results were communicated to the Indian Science Congress in 1927 with the expressed hope that they would be followed by further investigations elsewhere.
The way was thus shown, in the making of real hay out of unpromising material, in improved methods of growing lucerne, in improved methods of preparing the dry feed, for a complete solution of the feeding of the animal in India. There was still, no doubt, a great deal to be done. Each fodder plant needed separate study and the optimum conditions of growth had to be established. In summing up this topic some years before he left India, in 1924, Sir Albert declared that the advances he had shown to be possible were 'the merest beginning in the intensive cultivation of fodder crops in India'; but on the face of it there was no inherent reason why this problem should not be solved. Actually one final, very useful piece of work was carried out before leaving the country, in experiments carried on in 1927 and 1928 in making silage out of the juar crop; this was done in the first instance in order to feed the Experiment Station animals, and proved so successful that it was introduced to the notice of the Indian public. In later years Sir Albert stated that he saw in the making of silage a solution, indeed, the only complete solution, of the problem of animal feed in the hot weather in tropical countries.
The other use of a green crop, as a manure when cut and incorporated into the top layers of the soil to enrich it, is not less important than its use as a feed for animals. As is common knowledge, the first formal experiments on this subject were carried out in the 1880's by Schulz-Lupitz on the sandy soils of North Germany, since when the subject has continued to be a matter for scientific investigation. (There is an interesting discussion of the principles involved in green-manuring in An Agricultural Testament, pp. 87-95.) But long before these formal investigations the practice of green-manuring had been known. In Eastern agriculture green-manuring was a very old practice and almost universally applied.
It admitted of considerable extension, and, in fact, was being investigated by a number of European scientists in India.
Very soon after he began to grow the Indian crops Sir Albert came to the conclusion that organic matter in the right condition was the limiting factor in success. It was usual in growing tobacco, which needed heavy manuring, to use seeth (the wastes of indigo) or oilcake if cattle manure could not be got. All three manures were very expensive, and this expense was deterrent to the growers. It happened that, for another purpose, early sowings had been made in 1906 of a hemp, sann (Crotalaria juncea L.), this was for the purpose of investigating fibres suitable for the home and export markets. (See Fibres, below.) But sann had also a use as a green-manure, though the possibilities in this direction had been very imperfectly explored. Certain adjustments were desirable. It had been found difficult to get the hemp completely rotted and incorporated into the soil before the cessation of the monsoon led to invasions by white ants, which were only too easily attracted away from the rotting manure to the crop. But 'a little care and forethought' suggested earlier sowing of the sann in May or June, ploughing in during the first week in July, and thus complete decomposition before the end of September. This was tried during the next three years.
'The effect of a successful green-manuring is extraordinary. The texture and colour of the soil are altered, heavy lands become easily workable and readily yield a good tilth. The effect on the next few crops is wonderful both in luxuriance and also in rapidity of growth. On tobacco, the land for which is left fallow in the monsoon, the effect is greater than that of a heavy dressing of farmyard manure... Besides the advantage in rapid growth the sann plots of tobacco at Pusa in 1909 gave a much greater yield per acre than the plots manured with cattle dung, rape cake, or old tobacco stems. Further, the green-manure plots ripened off earliest of all.'
Thus the way was shown for a good cheap manure, which had, in fact, always existed, but the advantages of which had been obscured by faults in agricultural practice.
But if it was important not to incorporate the sann into the soil too late, it was equally important not to do so too early; too long an interval between the decomposition of the green-manure and the sowing of tobacco produced a very stunted crop. This was realized accidentally as one of those observations in the field which were so often the basis of the Howard ideas. The point was at once seized on, and confirmed by direct experiment in 1910 and again in 1913.
The striking results obtained from the use of sann as a green-manure were brought to the notice of the Bihar tobacco planters and widely copied.
Another set of experiments on green-manuring was carried out at Quetta with shaftal, mentioned above as the clover which gave a good hay. In fact, the cultivation of this clover had not started with a view to the making of hay for animals, but as a substitute for lucerne in green-manuring the soil. Lucerne, it was pointed out, remained in the ground some five to six years (not at Pusa; see above, [b] The Improvement of Fodder); in order to teach the population round Quetta the use of a green-manure, some annually available leguminous crop was needed. Shaftal admirably fitted the programme. It had an excellent root system, both a tap root and fine laterals, and was a first-class natural 'plough' for breaking up the soil. It was the best of the four plants tried out for this purpose. Even without being ploughed in, this root action gave elasticity to the sandy soils of Quetta, so liable to pack; when cultivated after the last cut the soil improvement was so marked as to yield heavier crops even than those within the three-mile radius of the Cantonment, where all manure was compulsorily put into the soil, as Army health regulations did not permit of it being stored. The soils green-manured with shaftal round Quetta required no more manuring for some years.
In commenting on the use of green-manure to restore soil fertility depleted by continual cropping, Sir Albert notes that this was a century-old practice in India. Whereas Western agriculture had only accepted it towards the end of the nineteenth century after thirty years' controversy, it was part of the fixed routine of the Orient. The scarcity of animal manure forced this method on the Eastern peasant.
Sir Albert was conscious of this problem from the first moment of beginning to cultivate his crops at Pusa. In the course of a few years he saw in it one of the biggest questions he had to handle. Although the local methods he found in use were, on the whole, good, they were not sufficient. Two special difficulties drew his attention, one at the beginning, one towards the end of his career. With the decline of the cultivation of indigo in Bihar the supply of seeth, the indigo residues, which was one of the best green-manures used, was getting short; this was one of the reasons for the introduction of sann manuring. Meanwhile in quite another part of India, in the newly opened up Canal Colonies of the Punjab, the employment of a green-manure had been neglected. Sir Albert makes a comparison between the agriculture of these Colonies, as first carried on, and the 'soil mining' of the North American continent. As in America, the virgin land opened up by the new canals was rich; the peasant was tempted to take off crop after crop of wheat, cotton, and oil-seeds, which meant money. For a time all went well, but before leaving India Sir Albert issued a warning that with the rapid depletion of these virgin soils production would fall unless the practice of green-manuring were established in these zones as elsewhere in the country. This comparison between the two agricultures, apparently so different, is of great interest.
It is now becoming generally recognized that tropical soils are far more vulnerable than was at first realized. The explanation is quite simple. In tropical climates the intensity of solar energy and the concentration of atmospheric precipitation over short periods stimulates massive vegetative growth, with the consequence that the mineral reserves are present in a high proportion in the growing plants themselves as compared with what is left behind in the soil; in temperate climates, growth is less luxurious, being checked by climatic factors, less reserves are held above the ground in leaf and stem, and more are left in the soil; there is a thicker layer of humus, replete with every kind of reserve, which forms an almost indestructible safety zone. The situation is therefore exactly the reverse, and allows of great elasticity in Western farming. Those accustomed to the coaxing and persuasion which has to be used to get the green crop to come up in the West are apt to be deceived by the easy luxuriant growth of the tropical forest and to deduce from it a vast store of wealth in a tropical soil. The mistake has been universal and has given rise to the legend of the inexhaustible lavishness of Eastern natural resources; it is only lately that we have begun to find out that Africa, for instance, is a poor proposition from the husbandman's point of view.
The scientists who proceeded to India under Lord Curzon's scheme were mostly too well trained to fall into this popular error and were well aware of the problems awaiting them. They had no delusions about the richness of the soils of India. Sir Albert seemed pre-eminently to have been conscious of the delicacy of these soils. He could not but notice how careful were the peasants in carrying out soil conservation practices. The very first crop which he investigated, wheat, he found practically never growing alone, but always accompanied by some plant calculated to restore the nitrogen supply on which wheat makes such heavy inroads, some pulse or even a weed. (See Chapter 2, The Conditions.) A most interesting illustration of this law of compensation between plants was observed in his own work at Pusa. In 1915 a field of wheat was sown, three lines of wheat separated by one line of gram, a pulse; the superior growth of the two outside lines of wheat, which were next to the lines of gram, was so marked that weighings of grain were made when harvest came round; the result was to show that the outer lines of wheat had given a harvest 34 per cent higher than the inner lines. The paper is entitled 'Mixed Crops', and was a signal little confirmation by a scientist of the truth of empiric practices. Then there was the almost universal use of a deep-rooting crop, especially of the pigeon pea, for breaking up the soil; the result was, of course, to induce aeration, the extreme importance of which in the soil could never be sufficiently stressed.
The practice of green-manuring, together with these other allied practices, constituted, in fact, an introduction to the whole wide problem of the nitrogen cycle. Any green-manure, especially if a legume, is an agent for catching the nitrogen out of the atmosphere and donating it to the soil. The significant point is that the Eastern peasant, without scientific awareness of the natural technique of the legume nodule, should have evolved such excellent ways of taking advantage of this natural machinery. In India he had even gone further, and in his cultivation practices had evolved other means of getting hold of the atmospheric nitrogen; thus his rice culture seems to have been a very able adaption of the growth of the nitrogen-fixing algae on the water of the paddy fields to restore the annual nitrogen supply.
This idea that other agents besides the legume can be used to catch atmospheric nitrogen is at the present time somewhat to the fore; it is realized that the nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria can be stimulated to extra activity. Any practice to induce such soil action will be a supplement to green-manuring. Here again the Indian peasant had preceded the Western scientist. Much of the careful cultivation carried on by him had precisely this effect; an interesting instance was the three-year fallow allowed in Sind and Baluchistan between crops of millet; in Sind heavy crops of millet, which is a nitrogen-consuming plant, succeeded each other without any manure beyond the intervening period of rest. The results of this system were 'striking'. Whatever the precise practice may be, the general principle is the same: the soil bacteria are sterilized by some means, but spores survive, and those of the nitrogen-fixing strains seem to have the faculty of very rapid re-multiplication, thus restoring the energy of the soil. Sterilization in Western countries is usually carried out by artificial means, but the Indian sun is so strong that the sterilizing effect is a natural one provided that the soil is cultivated in the hot weather. This empiric practice, which attracted Sir Albert's attention, was confirmed by some early field experiments at Pusa; they were promising and drew the notice of the Indian planters; once again science followed on traditional practice, but explained it and reasserted it. (Report of the Board of Scientific Advice for India, Economic Botany, 1909-10, p. 4.) Ten years later, at Quetta, remarkably good results were obtained on three acres continuously grown with wheat for six years from 1912 onwards without manure; the only treatment, in addition to a single irrigation, was to take care to plough up the stubble and expose the soil to the sun and air for the summer months.
'The yield in 1919 was just under 20 maunds per acre, the highest so far obtained. Results such as those quoted... indicate that alluvial soils, if properly managed, do not require large quantities of organic matter to keep up fertility. That such yields can be obtained at all indicates that nitrogen-fixation in these soils must be much greater than is commonly supposed. The results obtained in the Botanical area at Pusa and on the seed farms in the United Provinces clearly indicate that any fears of soil depletion in the plains of India are groundless. Increased rather than decreased yields are to be expected as surface drainage is improved, as erosion becomes checked, as the texture of the land is improved by the extended use of suitable leguminous rotations and as the conditions necessary for nitrogen-fixation are elucidated and applied.'
A pessimistic view of the soils of India was therefore quite uncalled for, provided that full use were made both of the leguminous crop and of the nitrogen-fixing bacteria -- it will have been noticed that these are coupled together.
Nevertheless, nothing like all the latent fertility of these soils was being put into circulation. There was need for more understanding of soil aeration, of better control of irrigation, and other improvements. If these could be adopted a far greater depth of soil could be brought into use; as it was, 'only a few inches of the surface soil, especially of the great plains, was being used by the cultivator'. It was in such directions that Western science could do much for the Indian peasant.
Three species of fibre plants were studied during the early years at Pusa, Hibiscus cannabinus L. (Deccan hemp), Hibiscus sabdariffa L. and Crotalaria juncea L (sann hemp). In the course of these studies important contributions were made to botanical knowledge.
Sowings of the hemp, Hibiscus cannabinus L., were started at Pusa in 1906 and repeated in 1907. In all, seven samples of seed were obtained from Madras, Bengal, and Lyallpur. A confusion of varieties, quite distinct from each other, emerged. As both self- and cross-pollination occurs with this plant, very careful and tedious hand operations had to be undertaken. By 1910 five varieties comprising eight agricultural types had been isolated. These are described and illustrated in coloured plates in the second of the two papers mentioned at the end of this chapter.
All this was new, and the authors were astonished at their own results. (The claim of the Howards to have been the pioneers in sorting out the botanical confusion of these varieties has lately been accepted by Mr. A. E. Haarer in his book Jute Substitute Fibres, 1952, pp. 93 et seqq.) They had consulted all possible authorities, had sent to Kew and the Calcutta herbarium and Calcutta India Museum, had, when on leave in 1910, examined the collections of the Linaean Society in London. It appeared 'almost incredible' that the existence of such well-marked distinct varieties should have escaped attention in view of the fact that the value of this fibre and the plant was described in all the books, both recent and older, dealing with Indian economic plants. But so it was.
Besides this important addition to orthodox knowledge another point was established. It would be useless to isolate these new valuable types unless some means could be found to prevent cross-fertilization under Indian conditions: it could not be assumed that inferior varieties might not be grown within range. The problem was one which was bound to be encountered in the cultivation of a number of crops, some of importance, cotton, for instance. The solution, in the case of hemp, was not difficult. The young seedlings presented obvious visual differences, which allowed of roguing out the aberrant types by hand. Indian workers could be trained to do this at two stages of growth. A little common sense and care solved a very considerable problem.
This type of hemp was quite an important crop in India: it was used for making string and rope. In growing it was remarkably sensitive to waterlogging and was therefore usually cultivated along the edges of fields. An export trade did not seem impossible, especially as one of the types isolated in pure line, Type 3, showed great robustness, vigour, and capacity to set seed. Indian methods of retting were not very satisfactory, but a little extra care secured the even retting which was so important in offering products on the export market. A sample thus prepared was sent to Messrs. Wigglesworth, world importers of fibres for the London market, and was welcomed by the senior partner as 'the best specimen of fibre from the Hibiscus cannabinus plant which has ever been submitted to me'. Its selling price was estimated at £18 per ton as compared with £8 per ton of another indifferent locally produced Indian sample, and was judged to be capable of sale 'in almost unlimited quantities' (1914).
Similar investigations on other fibres, Hibiscus sabdariffa L. and Crotalaria juncea L. (sann hemp) established the existence in these cases also, of an unsuspected range of varieties. These were named, described, and illustrated. The sann hemp proved of great use as a green-manure and is discussed under that heading.
The oil-seed-bearing plants of India constituted a valuable group of money crops. There was a considerable export, on the consequences of which there was a great deal of discussion during the period of Sir Albert's career in India. He did not agree with the view that this export was dangerous to India; the amount of fertility sold away from the country was, in his opinion, compensated by that nitrogen-fixing capacity of the soil organisms under a tropical sun noted above in the section on Green-manuring. This opinion was based on the fact that, if this automatic replacement of nitrogen had not taken place, the soils of India would have been exhausted long ago and the cultivation of these crops would have come to an end. To retain more of the harvest in India itself would certainly be an advantage, but there were considerable difficulties in altering the balance of trade. (Discussed in Crop Production in India, pp. 147-50.)
In the growing of these crops, the aim would be quantity of harvest; quality, in this instance, mattered little. Of the plants common to India, safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.), mustard (Brassica juncea H.f. and T.), and linseed (Linum usitatissimum L.) were those that principally engaged the attention of the Howards. Investigations were started early in 1908 and came to be spread over a number of years.
The work was mostly devoted to the isolation and botanical description of types. Two very long illustrated Memoirs were published on twenty-four types of safflower, 121 types of linseed; of the 102 types of mustard only a shortened description was given. The labour of description was immense and the plant selection and breeding prolonged.
This work of classification and identification was, like the similar detailed work on wheat, tobacco, etc., pioneering work of importance for the study of Indian botany. Nor was it exclusively systematic, for it led on to further questions of the replacement of inferior by better varieties, which involved a knowledge of the details of cross-fertilization, of vicinism (effect of the growth of two different varieties side by side which accidentally cross-fertilize or 'contaminate' each other), and of the survival of older seeds in an area to be sown with a newer variety. On the question, for instance, of replacing the widely sown safflower by better kinds Sir Albert was pessimistic. The extraordinary viability of the seed permitted of germination for years, as was proved by observation at Pusa. Some seeds were always shed at harvest, so that no field could avoid contamination, which meant that no type could be grown in pure line; there would always be vagrant plants to cross-fertilize, and the new type would speedily be lost. With other crops this problem of contamination could be surmounted by careful roguing or selection of seed, but with this persistent plant it seemed hardly possible.
On the other hand, in the growing of linseed there were prospects of success. Actually three valuable types were isolated at Pusa and the seed distributed to growers. The results on this crop were entirely satisfactory.
In the growing of linseed the adaptation of root systems to different soils was intensively studied, and much light was thrown on the question of the relations of plant type and soil type. Other problems of general bearing were touched on rather than finally pursued, but the point was observed that the castor plant, bearing the castor-oil seed, was vigorous if grown alongside of other crops, in mixed culture, according to the prevailing Indian custom, but became subject to violent caterpillar attack when grown alone. This interesting instance of the saving principle of mixed crops, to which the ancient practice of the East so notably conforms, may be noted. Sir Albert suggested that an explanation would throw light on the mineral requirements of the plant. The question of the mineral interrelations of the roots of plants still, however, awaits solution.
Studies on Pollination and Cross-fertilization
It would not be possible to summarize the whole round of investigations, enquiries, experiments, and observations made by Sir Albert Howard and his wife on the various crops of India. Not every enquiry resulted in a published paper on a named crop. It is not going too far, however, to say that practically all the staple crops of the East (not forestry crops, and not coffee; tea was investigated in a special later journey in 1937-8) came under their notice in one way or another. Thus, though no actual experiments on rice were carried out by the Howards, yet Pusa was situated in a rice-bearing tract and Sir Albert remained extremely observant of the growing of this crop. All the other grains of the East, including gram, on which a long special Memoir was published, were grown by him, as also were the pulses, the opium poppy, ground-nuts, pigeon-pea, and jute. On sugar cane he remained in the closest touch with his friend Mr. George Clarke, and had, in fact, grown this crop in the West Indies. Very fundamental experiments on cotton were started at Indore.
All this gave rise to much reflection, and a good deal of writing, on the important subject of pollination and cross-fertilization; many references have been made to this already. Some formal and intricate studies were carried out in reference to hemps, pigeon pea, the indigos, linseed, jute, and also eventually cotton. It is almost impossible to give an idea of this extremely careful and elaborate work, which occupies pages of botanical description, the result of hours of labour in the field, in a number of papers. The work had originally started from the surprising discovery that, whereas in the damper climate of England, natural cross-fertilization of wheat is the very rarest phenomenon, in the drier parts of India it occurs with moderate frequency. Hence the extraordinarily mixed character of the Indian wheatfields.
The facts were of paramount importance because, in the substitution of better varieties, the first necessity would be to avoid future cross-fertilization; otherwise the whole work would be undone. It has already been stated in the previous section that in regard to a crop like safflower, the difficulty was insurmountable. But in wheat, linseed, tobacco, etc., it was merely a question of organizing the seed distribution properly. The principles advocated by Sir Albert were (1) to call on the more progressive farmers to grow the new seed supply on farms which were supervised by the agricultural officers -- in this way enough seed could be made available at any given moment to supply a really large area and so exclude contamination; (2) whatever the size of the area chosen, to concentrate on it and never to disperse seed. These principles were adopted throughout India with the very loyal co-operation of the Provincial services.
The problem of cross-fertilization did not, however, end at this point. There were further issues. It has already been noted that, at a very early stage, Sir Albert guessed, rather than knew, that the prevailing mixture of varieties in the wheat-stands of the ryots kept up the vigour of the wheat crop of India (See Chapter 2, The Breeding of the New Wheats), a crop which had been growing for over two thousand years and yet showed no sign of real degeneration, even if the varieties maintained were not the best.
Quite at the end of his career another important piece of evidence on this vital problem was secured. In starting the work on cotton at the Institute of Plant Industry, Indore, it had been part of the arrangements that fundamental investigations on cotton should be instituted like those which had led to the improvement of wheat; the Institute, as has already been mentioned, was largely supported by funds derived from the Indian Cotton Committee. These investigations were at once put in hand, and gave rise, as was expected, to prolonged work; as usual, the varieties of cotton had to be sorted out from the beginning and pure lines obtained.
Cotton is mostly a self-fertilized plant, and cross-fertilization is limited to 5 to 15 per cent only of the crop. The experimental work proceeded on the basis of selfed cultures; 'very promising' pure lines were obtained. These bred true, matured early, and possessed the desired type of fibre.
It appeared almost as though the cotton work of Indore was going to rival the rapid breeding of the famous Pusa wheats
But Sir Albert was on his guard. He had learnt a good deal from the work on indigo and the break-down there of varieties. Careful observations were kept, and in the fifth year of the breeding programme (1929) the first signs of the falling off of vigour in the selfed plants was observed. The indications of the next year, 1930, left no doubt on the point. When Sir Albert retired in the spring of1931 arrangements were made to carry on the selfed cultures for some five or six years, so as to establish the facts beyond question.
The difficulty, though of importance to plant breeders, can be surmounted. It means that no one pure line can be used alone for breeding where this phenomenon occurs, but that two or more of these will have to be crossed. As Sir Albert put it, 'crossing in cotton in the future will have to be controlled rather than prevented'.
Memoirs of the Depart. of Agric. in India, Botanical Series, Vol. III, No. 1, 1910: 'Studies in Indian Tobaccos, I; The Types of Nicotiana rustica L., Yellow-flowered Tobaco'.
Ibid., Vol. III No. 2, 1910: 'Studies in Indian Tobaccos, II, The Types of Nicotiana tabacum L.'.
Ibid , Vol. VI, No. 3, 1913: 'Studies in Indian Tobaccos, III; The Inheritance of Characters in Nicotiana tabacum L.'.
Ibid., Vol. XIII, No. 1, 1924: 'Studies in Indian Tobaccos IV, Parthenocarpy and Parthenogenesis in two Varieties of Nicotiana tabacum L., var. Cuba and var. Mirodato' (written together with Kashi Ram); 'Studies in Indian Tobaccos V; The Inheritance of Characters in Nicotiana rustica L.'.
Bulletin No. 33 of the Agric. ResearchInstitute, Pusa, 1913: 'Some Aspects of the Agricultural Development of Bihar'. (Section on 'Tobacco'.)
Bulletin No. 50, 1915: 'The Improvement of Tobacco Cultivation in Bihar'.
Crop Production in India, 1924, Ch. XVI: 'Tobacco'.
Indian Agriculture, 1927, pp. 42-3.
Fruit Including Tomatoes: Sun Drying of Vegetables
Bulletin No. 4 of the Agric. Research Inst. , Pusa, 1907: 'First Report on the Fruit Experiments at Pusa'.
Bulletin No. 16 of the same, 1910: 'Second Report on the Fruit Experiments at Pusa'.
Bulletin No. 1 of the Fruit Experiment Station, Quetta, 1914: 'The Cultivation and Transport of Tomatoes in India', reprinted in The Agric. Journ. of India, Vol. VIII, Part III, July 1913.
Agric. Journal of India, Vol. VIII, Part III, July 1913: 'Some Improvements in the Packing and Transport of Fruit in India', reprinted with a few additions as Bulletin No. 2 of the Fruit Experiment Station, Quetta, 1915.
Bulletin No. 9 of the Fruit Experiment Station, Quetta, 1918: 'The Improvement of Fruit Culture in Baluchistan'.
Bulletin No. 11 of the same, 1919: 'The Agricultural Development of Baluchistan', pp. 13-28.
Agric. Journ. of India, Vol. XV, Part I, Jan. 1920: 'The Improvement of Fruit Packing in India'.
Bulletin No. 8 of the Fruit Experiment Station, Quetta, 1917: 'The Sun-drying of Vegetables'.
Bulletin No. 10 of the same, 1920: 'The Commercial Possibilities of the Sun-drying of Vegetables in Baluchistan'.
Agric. Journ. of India, Vol. XIII, Part IV, Oct. 1918: 'The Sun-drying of Vegetables'.
Crop Production in India, 1924, Ch. XVIII: 'Fruit-growing'.
Grass Fodders and Green-manuring
(a) The Making of a Lawn
Bulletin No. 12 of the Agric. Research Inst., Pusa, 1908: 'The Making and Care of Lawns in India'.
(b) The Improvement of Fodder
Bulletin No. 5 of the Fruit Experiment Station, Quetta, 1915: 'Clover and Clover Hay', reprinted in the Agric. Journ. of India, Vol. XI, Part I, Jan. 1916.
Agric. Journ. of India, Vol. XI, Part IV, Oct. 1916: 'The Improvement of Fodder Production in India'.
Bulletin No. 6 of the Fruit Experiment Station, Quetta, 1916: 'Leguminous Crops in Desert Agriculture', reprinted in the Agric. Journ. of India, Vol. XII, Part I, Jan. 1917.
Agric. Journ. of India, Vol. XII, Special Indian Science Congress No., 1917: 'The Agricultural Development of North-West India'.
Ibid., Vol. XIII, 1918: 'The Baling of Shaftaland Lucerne Hay for Transport'. (Paper not available to the present writer.)
Bulletin No. 150 of the Agric. Research Inst., Pusa: Joint Meeting of the Sections of Agric. and Botany, Indian Science Congress, 1923: 'The Improvement of Fodder and Forage in India'; (a) 'Preface', by Mrs. G. L. C. Howard, Chairman; (b) 'An Improved Method of Lucerne Cultivation, I'.
Agric. Journ. . of India, Vol. XIX, Part III, May 1924: 'An Improved Method of Lucerne Cultivation, II'.
Ibid., Vol. XXII, Part I, Jan. 1927: 'A Method of Improving the Feeding Value of Straw-Chaff'.
Crop Production in India, 1924, Ch. IX: 'Some Aspects of the Fodder Problem'.
In addition to the sources mentioned under (b):
Memoirs of the Dept. of Agric. in India (Botanical Series), Vol. III, No. 3, April 1910: 'Studies in Indian Fibre Plants, I, On Two Varieties of Sann Crotalaria juncea L.'.
Agric Journ. of India, Vol. VII, Part I, Jan. 1912: 'Green-Manuring with Sann'.
Ibid., Vol. IX, Part II, April 1914: 'Notes on Drainage and Green-Manuring'.
Ibid., Vol. XXI, 1926: 'The Preparation of Organic Matter for the Cotton Crop'. (Paper not available to the present writer.)
Crop Production in India, 1924, Ch. IV.: 'The Nitrogen Problem'.
Memoirs of the Department of Agriculture in India (Botanical Series) , Vol. III, No. 3, April 1910: 'Studies in Indian Fibre Plants, No. 1, On Two Varieties of Sann, Crotalaria juncea L.'.
Ibid., Vol. IV, No. 2, August 1911: 'Studies in Indian Fibre Plants, II, On Some New Varieties of Hibiscus cannabinus L. , and Hibiscus sabdariffa L.'.
Agric. Journal of India, Vol. X, Part III, July 1915: 'An Improved Fibre Plant'.
Memoirs of the Dept. of Agric. in India (Botanical Series), Vol. VII, No. 7, 1915: 'Studies in Indian Oil Seeds I, Safflower and Mustard' (together with Abdur Rahman Khan).
Ibid., Vol. X, No. 5, 1919: Studies in the Pollination of Indian Crops I,' pp. 208-217 (together with Abdur Rahman Khan).
Ibid., Vol. XII, No. 4, 1924: 'Studies in Indian Oil Seeds II; Linseed (together with Abdur Rahman Khan).
Bulletin No. 124 of the Agric. Research Inst., Pusa, 1921: 'Safflower Oil' (together with J. Stewart Remington).
Crop Production in India, 1924, Ch. XV, 'Oil Seeds'.
Studies on Pollination and Cross-fertilization
Memoirs of the Dept. of Agric. in India (Botanical Series), Vol. III, No. 6, 1910: 'The Economic Significance of Natural Cross-Fertilization in India' (together with Abdur Rahman Khan).
Ibid., Vol. VII, No. 6, 1915: 'Some Varieties of Indian Gram (Cicer arietinum L.)' (together with Abdur Rahman Khan).
Agric. Journ. of India, Vol. XXI, Part IV, July 1926: 'The Cotton Growing Problems of the Black Soils of India'.
Ibid., Vol. XXII, Part I, Jan. 1927: 'The Mixing of Cotton Varieties'.
The Empire Cotton Growing Review, Vol. IX, Nos. 2 and 3, April and July 1932: 'The Improvement of Cotton Production'.
Next: 5. The Problem of Disease
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