Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture

by J. Russell Smith, Sc.D.

Part Four
Who Will Do the Basic Scientific Work which this Book Calls For?

Chapter XXVI -- The Great Hope and the Many Little Hopes

The great hope is an endowed foundation. It should not be many years until the increasing realization of our childish resource waste comes like a revelation in the mind of John Doe, multimillionaire, and he sees a double vision. He sees the beautiful green acres of the John Doe Foundation, which has started the Doe Institute of Mountain Agriculture. Also he sees the name of the John Doe Foundation appearing month after month, year after year, with increasing frequency in farm papers., magazines, Sunday supplements, scientific journals, and finally in treatises on a wide variety of subjects.

In the early years these references will include two kinds of information. The first will be the reports of the erosion-survey expeditions in foreign lands. This will shock the reading world with carefully measured results of erosion, which has destroyed communities and nations in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and is still doing it, and promises to wipe out half the farm land of the United States unless we do something about it, and quickly.

Along with the erosion survey will be reports from half a dozen plant explorers who are scouring the ends of the world and sending back useful new varieties of trees for crop production, but especially for breeding better varieties.

In a few years after this gets started, geneticists and economic botanists will flock to the grounds of the Doe Foundation and walk down the long rows of new hybrids, to see what nature's dice roll out when shaken by the tree breeders of the Doe Institute. Wide-awake professors of botany and students of genetics will bring groups of graduate students to see the relation of these things to scientific theory. As these new hybrids begin to produce crops, the scouts from the big farm papers will come around to get material for articles showing how these new things at the Doe Foundation Grounds are going to make new crops in various corners of this and other countries. Foreign scientists and government experts will come to see. Intelligent farmers, fruit growers, conservationists, and progressive teachers will arrive by the bus loads on vacation trips to see the works of the Doe Foundation.

By this time the Doe Foundation has given its founder a world reputation, but it has only started. The work of such an institution builds up like a rolling snowball. There might be hundreds of cooperating farmers testing out this new icthionomite, a hybrid from a tree that a Doe explorer sent in from Shangri La.

Here and there one of these cooperating experimenters will succeed so well that he starts commercial growing of a new tree crop. His neighbors copy. A small industry arises. It gets a problem, calls on the State experiment station, and now the station hears their cry, for here is a block of votes. The station experts come to investigate, and a new industry has started down the accredited road. John Doe has passed over the River, but his idea and his endowment live after him and are benefiting his fellowmen and his native land.

Meanwhile, the men in the laboratory at Doe Foundation Headquarters, undisturbed by the whims and changes of political control, are working on problems of pure science so called, the seemingly useless things that sometimes turn out to be useful to the point of revolution -- such as the work of Mendel, when he found what we call Mendel's Law. This is the key that unlocks the permutations and combinations of qualities of plants and animals, and make breeding a science.

Some years after his death, John Doe's expanding reputation begins to approach that of Thomas Jefferson and the other real founders and builders of our American civilization. Magazine articles tell about his boyhood and how he came to start a thing so profoundly creative and so important as the Doe Foundation has grown to be. A new biography of Mr. Doe appears.

The Doe Foundation has the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations clearly beaten for publicity. The Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations do good work, but a bit stodgy from the news standpoint. These new plants, new crops, new farming methods, new conservation methods from the Doe Foundation have news value, popular news value, and will produce vast and continuing publicity, crops of publicity.

The above-mentioned biography of John Doe impresses a magnate of that day so favorably that he sets aside millions to start the Richard Roe Foundation in his native State, near the town where he was born. He has a corking good time planning and starting it, as Boyce Thompson did, and he wills it his factory and business as an endowment. Mr. Roe has as much fun as MacManus had with cork (Chapter 13).

We need about twelve such institutions in the United States, located so that each can work out tree crops and techniques for two or three hundred thousand square miles with a given climate and its problems. This is for tree crops only. The States and private business can see far enough to do the annuals.

I suggest the following locations for these crop-tree centers of re-creation. One each within a hundred miles of: Albany; Washington, D. C.; Augusta; Asheville; Minneapolis; Kansas City; Dallas; Portland, Oregon; Los Angeles; Santa Fe or Tucson; Salt Lake City, Boise or Spokane.

The map of world climate regions (Fig. 138) will suggest areas from which useful plants may come for use in the different sections of the United States, and in return it will show what regions may profit by the findings within the various sections of the United States.

The Many Little Hopes

And now, John Q, my fellow citizens of small means, such as the farmers, lawyers, manufacturers, doctors, teachers, spinsters, villagers, who are the members of the Northern Nut Growers' Association, and others like you: don't wait for the Government to do it. It may help, but probably can't do the long-distance stuff. Don't wait for the millionaire. There is room for him when he comes and also for you, too, and right now. Have you an intellect? Or just a kind of high-animal brain? Do you know the thrill of creative work? Of learning or creating something really new?

Use your imagination constructively. An idea, a small yard and one tree may be made to produce astounding results. You might start with one burr oak tree grafted by your own hand to the most promising variety you can find. You might then import pollen and hybridize, or better, you might graft five branches with each of five promising varieties and have the material for big hybridizing work right in your yard on your own tree.

Sprouting hybrid-oak acorns in pots in the house might easily be just as interesting as growing blooming plants; I even suspect you could sneak two acorns into any five-inch flower pot that had a blooming plant, and they could sprout and come through the first winter in the house and go out of doors after one or two years in pots. Put them a foot apart in a corner of your backyard and you could raise them to be three to five feet high. You might use honey locusts instead of oaks.

Now comes the real problem of getting results. If some of these little trees were very promising, you could preserve fifteen or twenty of them grafted onto branches of your big mother tree and carefully labeled. Also some cooperative organization like the Northern Nut Growers' Association would perhaps have persons who would give them space to grow up and prove themselves. You would have to expect some loss here, but then that is the nature of experimental work. You could have a very interesting time, and great results might come out of your backyard with its one oak tree or honey locust tree.

Oaks are of two families, white and black. Bur oak, Q. macrocarpa, is a white oak, a fast grower, and not difficult to graft with other white oaks. There is great need of good northern honey locust.

The Neighborhood Explorer

I have mentioned the private experimenter, but there is another kind of private worker, the explorer. George L. Slate, Geneva Experiment Station, Geneva, New York, gives three interesting examples:

These men are types. Scores like them have made a beginning by creating and joining the Northern Nut Growers' Association and many other scientific societies.

There is no reason to think that we have found the best wild trees of any species in the United States. We especially need good honey locusts from north of latitude 40deg.

Small cash prizes will usually be announced as news by local newspapers; such prizes may start observation by Boy Scouts, rabbit hunters, and other fence-corner naturalists.

The Northern Nut Growers' Association and the State Experiment Stations

My investigation of the work of the Governmental agencies and that of the members of the Northern Nut Growers' Association causes me to have a new vision of the possibilities that may result from amateur effort. Its great need is, of course, extension, but a greater need is more careful recording of its results. How regularly do your trees bear, and how much? Varieties differ greatly from place to place. We need measured facts.

The experiment stations, as previously stated, have their limitations, but they have permanence, and experiment-station staffs might, with great profit, visit each year, or every other year, the leading private experimenters in their States, gather their results, put them in permanent form, and furthermore get results that the private experimenters had not noticed or had not had the opportunity to observe.

For example, the McCallister Hybrid Hickory (see Fig. 18) is the largest nut known of the hickory genus, unless some of the newly bred pecans can rival it. The parent tree seems to have a record of producing nuts that were well filled -- good crops of them. I propagated this tree and sold it for several years in my little nursery, but they never bore nuts, and I never saw well-filled nuts on mine, so I quit selling these trees. Now here comes Mr. Fayette Etter, of Lemasters, Pennsylvania, with a McCallister that bears and fills its nuts. This tree is in the presence of a great variety of other hickories -- one or more of which evidently pollinates the McCallister. Which is it? No one knows.

Five years after it happened, Bill Wiley, a very careful observer who works with my trees, told me that one year a small McCallister tree in my nursery had four well-filled nuts. At the time this happened I had forty or fifty varieties of hickory within fifty yards of the McCallister. The question is: What tree pollinates the McCallister? Someone should camp in Fayette Etter's planting every spring for a week or ten days and note what trees were shedding pollen while the McCallister blooms were receptive. If there were several blooming, as may easily be the case, a few hand pollinations should settle the matter, and a marvelous yard tree and a possible commercial crop might quickly result. The McCallister is a beautiful, vigorous, fast-growing Pecan x Laciniosa (hickory) hybrid.

The great danger with private experimenting is the scattering of the trees, on the death of the experimenter, just as they have reached the age to produce educational results.

Make Your Will

Wherever possible, I urge private experimenters to make some provision, while still alive, for the preservation of your trees for as long as possible after your passing. As an example of this loss to the world through death of tree owners, I cite the fact that twenty years ago Dr. Robert Morris had about fifty varieties of nut trees under test. J. F. Jones, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had eighty-eight, and Willard Bixby, Baldwin, Long Island, had one hundred ninety-nine varieties -- indeed he had a marvelous layout. He spent a fortune starting and operating a private, specialized, economic botanical garden, but he suddenly died without the ability to leave it endowed. Within a few years these three large collections of great possible value were scattered, neglected, and mostly lost -- and their lands were owned by persons to whom a tree was just a tree.

State experiment stations might with great profit, from their point of view, lease such collections for a few years to harvest the scientific results -- provided they had staff members with time and mental competence. That means a tree-crop specialist, perhaps more than one. You can't just go out and pick up competence.

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