1. Introduction: An Adventure in Research
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I INTRODUCTION AN ADVENTURE IN RESEARCH My FIRST post was a somewhat unusual one. It included the conventional investigation of plant diseases, but combined these duties with work on general agriculture; officially I was described as Mycologist and Agricultural Lecturer to the Imperial Dt:partment of Agriculture for the West Indies. The headquarters of the department were at Barbados. While I was here provided with a laboratory for investigating the fungous diseases of crops (mycology) and was given special facilities for the study of the sugar-cane, my main work in the Windward and Leeward Islands wru, much more general-the delivery of lectures on agricultural science to groups of schoolmasters to help them to take up nature study and t( make the fullest use of school gardens. Looking back I can now see where the emphasis of my job rightly lay. In Barbados I was a laboratory henoit, a specialist of specialists, intent on learning more and more about less and less: but in my tours of the various islands I was forced to forget my specialist studies and become interested in the growing of crops, which in these districts were principally cacao, arrowroot, ground nuts, sugar-cane, bananas, limes, oranges, and nutmegs. This contact with the land itself and with the practical men working on it laid the foundations of my knowledge of tropical agriculture. This dual experience had not long been mine before I became aware of one disconcerting circumstance. I began to detect a fundamental weakness in the organization of that research which constituted officially the more important part of my work. I was an investigator of plant diseases, but I had myself no crops on which I could try out the remedies I advocated: I could not take my own advice before offering it to other people. It was borne in on me that there was a wide chasm between science in the laboratory and practice in the field, and I began to suspect that unless this gap could be bridged no real progress could be made in 1 the control of plant diseases: research and practice would remain apart: mycological work threatened to degenerate into little more than a con- 'venient agency by which-provided I issued a sufficient supply of learned reports fortified by a judicious mixture of scientific jargonpractical difficulties could be side-tracked. Towards the end of 1902. therefore. I took steps which terminated my appointment and gave me a fresh start. My next post was more promising -that of Botanist to the South-Eastern Agricultural College at Wye in Kent. where in addition to teaching I was placed in charge of the experiments on the growing and drying of hops which had been started by the former Principal. Mr. A. D. (later Sir Daniel) Hall. These experiments brought me in contact with a number of the leading hop growers. notably Mr. Walter (afterwards Sir Walter) Berry. Mr. Alfred Amos. and Colonel Honyball-all of whom spared no pains in helping me to understand the cultivation of this most interesting crop. I began to raise new varieties of hops by hybridization and at once made a significant practical discovery-the almost magical effect of pollination in speeding up the growth and also in increasing the resistance of the developing female flowers (the hops of commerce) to green-fly and mildew (a fungous disease) which often did considerable damage. The significant thing about this work was that I was meeting the practical men on their own ground. Actually their practice-that of eliminating the male plant altogether from their hop gardens--was a wide departure from natural law. My suggestion amounted to a demand that Nature be no longer defied. It was for this reason highly successful. By restoring pollination the health. the rate of growth. and finally the yield of hops were improved . Soon the growers all over the hop-growing areas of England saw to it that their gardens were provided with male hops. which liberated ample pollen just as it was needed. This. my first piece of really successful work. was done during the summer of 1904-five years after I began research. It was obtained by happy chance and gave me a glimpse of the way Nature regulates her kingdom: it also did much to strengthen my conviction that the most promising method of dealing with plant diseases lay in prevention-by tuning up agricultural practice. But to continue such work the investigator would need land and hops...