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.
But the potato harvest of 1904 found the growers of new and high-priced varieties in a very different frame of mind. The precious shoots which they had bought at from $10 to $20. apiece had each and all of them yielded a caricature of a crop, as the merest tyro in botanical science and farm practice could have told them would be the case. Most of the new, or so-called new, varieties had also proved to be quite as susceptible to the disease as the older varieties. And above all, the general crop of the country was a very full one, so that prices ruled very low. Then there was a rush to sell for seed the stocks which had been bought at fabulous prices, but the demand had gone off and the slump came. The following year - 1905, that is - was also a favorable one for the potato crop, and on account of the heavy yield prices were low. The new varieties rushed upon the market two years before had, as a rule, proved no better than any of the well-tried standard varieties, and some which were undoubtedly new varieties developed a fatal facility for going wrong in the pits, though they looked quite sound when lifted. The result is that at the present time potato growers are greatly at a loss as to what variety they should plant, and they are cautious, even to the verge of suspicion, as to the purchase of any new variety whose merits as a cropper and disease-resister have not been fully proved on a large scale, and for at least a couple of years.
But while the potato boom was being shot up by scientific and other devices on its rocket-like course, there were scientists in Ireland engaged in experimental work which was destined to be of great and permanent interest to potato growers. The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland - a Board backed with ample funds and staffed with able and energetic men - had been most successfully carrying on a great work for the advancement of the agricultural and other industries of Ireland. That experimental and demonstration work carried on by the Irish department was destined to be of paramount importance to potato growers in Great Britain as well as in Ireland. The potato crop covers such a vast area in Ireland, and is so staple a food of the Irish peasantry, that the department wisely devoted a great part of its resources toward the development of the potato-growing industry. The chief scientific adviser of the Irish department is Professor J. R. Campbell, a young and very able Scotsman, who was formerly assistant lecturer on agriculture at the Glasgow Agricultural College before being appointed Professor of Agriculture, first at the Lancashire Agricultural College, and afterward at the Yorkshire College. Professor Campbell, while engaged as lecturer on agriculture for the Glasgow Agricultural College, was well acquainted with the principles and practice so profitably followed by the skilful and enterprising farmers on the Ayr and Girvan coasts, and other parts of the southwest of Scotland, in the growing of early potatoes for the early market, and on his being translated to Ireland he soon decided to make a vigorous effort in the way of stimulating the Irish growers to take up that same very profitable business, as Ireland, owing to its earlier and milder climate, was even better suited than the seaboard of Ayrshire for the production of early potatoes in the month of June, when prices for new potatoes are always at their highest.
Knowing full well the outstanding abilities of Mr. Wallace, Terreglestown, Dumfries, as a highly successful grower of both early and main-crop potatoes, Professor Campbell secured in 1900 the services of Mr. Wallace to deliver an annual course of lectures in Ireland, and supervise numerous experimental and demonstration areas for the department in Ireland. This experimental and demonstration work proved a great success.
The system of sprouting seed tubers of the earliest varieties in boxes during the winter and planting them out early in spring, which was followed in Cheshire in the early part of the nineteenth century and has long been followed in Ayrshire and the west coast of Scotland, produced for the Irish growers a good crop which was ready for harvesting in the early part of June before even the Ayrshire crops were ready, and were all marketed at highly satisfactory prices before the time at which the disease makes its appearance, while a fairly full crop of roots, cabbages, or other produce could be afterward grown on the same ground the same season. This was a new and very profitable venture for the Irish growers, and the system is spreading so rapidly in Ireland that the large quantities of early potatoes now annually shipped from Ireland to the British markets are very sensibly affecting the prices and profits realized by the growers on the Ayrshire and west coast generally. The official report of the Irish department showed that the crops of early potatoes in Ireland last year had been all marketed at prices averaging over £30 per statute acre.
It was probably intended at first that the efforts of the department in this direction should be concentrated on the development of the early potato-growing business. But the experimental and demonstration work of the department broadened out into new fields of far-reaching importance. The crops of the earliest varieties of potatoes, when the seed tubers are sprouted in boxes and planted early in early districts, are usually marketed before the disease begins to make its appearance in the fields. For some years the Irish department had made an exhaustive series of experiments in spraying the late or main crops with Bouille Bordelaise or sulphate of copper solution, and had proved up to the hilt that this system was of incalculable value in either altogether preventing or at least very materially checking the ravages of the disease. Professor Campbell and Mr. Wallace came to the sound conclusion that no variety of potato which was then on the market, or was ever likely to be on the market, was proof against the disease, and that while it was very desirable to give a preference to those varieties which showed the greatest power in resisting the disease provided their flavor and yield were satisfactory, yet the best plan of preventing or checking the ravages of the disease was to systematically follow the plan of spraying. Mr. Wallace also well knew the old fact which had been stated in the 'Dictionary of Modern Gardening' sixty years before, but had been practically forgotten by growers in the second half of the nineteenth century - namely, that it was not only most desirable to plant good-sized seed, preferably uncut, but it was also of the first importance to preserve the first bud of the seed tuber in order to provide against loss of stamina in the plant through breaking off the shoots. He therefore proceeded to prove by demonstration on the field what he had previously proved in his own practice at Terregles-town, that it was a most profitable plan to have the seed of even the late or main-crop potatoes sprouted in boxes during the winter, as was done in the case of the early varieties for the early market. "The first Irish experiments in this direction in 1902 were very conclusive, as the crops of good-sized seed tubers which had been sprouted in boxes, and had their sprouts toughened by exposure to light and air before being planted, were not only much larger in yield but were much freer from disease than those which had not been so treated, but had got their first shoots broken off by handling at the time of planting. The department's experiments showed that over all the numerous fields on which these tests as between boxed and unboxed seed had been conducted, the average increase in yield obtained from the boxed seed was over 100 bushels per acre. A similar experiment conducted in the following year at the Yorkshire College farm showed precisely similar results, and attracted much attention in England. Year after year similar experiments were conducted in Ireland by the department, and in every year the results have been practically the same.