This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
During the season of 1911-1912 the United States has imported large quantities of potatoes from Europe. The crop of 1911 was a good many million bushels short of the needs of the nation.
This situation causes the thoughtful student of the food problem to ask why we do not grow more potatoes. Have we not a sufficient area suited to the crop? or is the average production per acre too low, and if so, can it be increased?
A potato shortage is apt to result in this country any year that weather or soil conditions are unfavorable in our principal producing districts.
We can and must grow more and better potatoes. There are good undeveloped districts that can produce a large tonnage, and by better methods of propagation and cultivation the yield on areas now in the crop can be very greatly increased.
The potato comprises about 25 per cent. of the food of European and English-speaking people. Only the Oriental races exist without it. If the potato crop of Europe should fail, famine would result, as it did in Ireland between 1840 and 1850. More pounds of the potato are produced than of any other food crop in the world.
The number of pounds of food produced to the acre in the potato crop is large, as compared with some other crops. In a 90-bushel potato crop there are 5,400 pounds of food; a 14-bushel wheat crop weighs only 840 pounds.
Although good yields are made by some growers in the United States, the average production is only 89.8 bushels per acre, while in Germany the average yield is 197.3 bushels, and in Great Britain 186.4 bushels.
In the United States the average consumption of potatoes per capita is between three and four bushels. In Europe it greatly exceeds this, in some sections being more than twenty-five bushels. The potato furnishes a cheap, wholesome food, and its use could be considerably increased with benefit to the race.
At the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan, under the direction of one of the greatest food experts in the world, 1,000 people consume 7,000 bushels per year - seven bushels per capita.
The use of the potato can and will be very greatly extended. In Europe, especially in Germany, the potato is largely used in manufacturing and for stock food. The price of gasoline and kerosene is kept down by the low price of spirit distilled from the potato. A very high-grade glucose, from which confectionery is made, is a potato product. It is superior to grain glucose. Flour which is used in all kinds of cooking is made from the potato. Potato starch is also made in Germany and in the United States.
It was with the idea of improving potato conditions that the senior author wrote the following letter, dated December 7, 1908, to Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson; "It may seem presumptuous on my part to suggest any remedy for the betterment of the present unsatisfactory conditions obtaining in American potato growing, but the more I investigate the subject of potato culture in this country the more I am convinced of the necessity of more thorough and special knowledge of potato growing by American farmers, if they are ever to compete with the vast influx of foreign potatoes to our shores. It seems to me urgent that our Government exert itself to ameliorate, in some measure at least, the present deplorable state of this great and vital industry. We should investigate the causes whereby the foreign potato culturists are able to so considerably exceed our own best efforts of production, and the diffusion of such information among our American farmers would be invaluable and certainly productive of the use of more intelligent methods by them, resulting in a perceptible increase in this great food staple, together with a much needed improvement in quality.
Map showing production of potatoes in the world.
Graphic map showing production of potatoes in the United States.
I am fully persuaded that we imperatively need a more practical knowledge of seed growing and seed selection, of growing special seed stocks, the proper storage of seed stocks during the winter, preparation of seed bed and cultivation, balanced plant foods and fertilization of soil. I know of no acquisition to agricultural knowledge so devoutly to be wished, or that would be so valuable to our farmers.
If Germany, with an area not more than twice that of Colorado, can and does produce fully two billion bushels of potatoes annually, and the United States, in its entirety, a meagre two hundred and seventy-five million bushels annually (which latter is vastly overestimated), we ought to know what it is that produces such marvellous results on foreign soils, which have been cropped for a thousand years."
Since this letter was written the senior author has carefully studied the European potato situation, and the results of his investigations are incorporated in the chapters which follow, being given in detail in chapters XXXVII, XXXVIII, XXXIX and XL.
The attention that is given to this matter abroad, and the esteem in which it is held, are shown by the following extract from a very able address by David Young, editor of the North British Agriculturist, Edinburgh, Scotland, entitled "The Potato Crop." He says:
The potato crop is one of the most important of all in the rural economy of the United Kingdom. The potato is an esculent which is largely used and highly relished as an article of diet by rich and poor alike. The very poorest of the population find it one of the cheapest forms of sustenance they can obtain, and no well-ordered banquet, however sumptuous, would be considered complete without the roti-boeuf and the poulet being flanked by the pommes de terre.
The potato crop is practically the one farm crop grown primarily for human food of which the United Kingdom can in ordinarily favorable seasons supply the wants of its teeming population."