Showing posts with label free seed program. Show all posts
Showing posts with label free seed program. Show all posts

Sunday, March 12, 2017

1888 - Humbug? - Free Seeds from the Government

I have to admit this posting was prompted partly by wanting to share this illustration.  

Weinmann, JW, Phytanthoza Iconographia -  Echinops sphaerocephalus -Artist unknown.

A. I. Root's influential journal, Gleanings in Bee Culture, covered many agricultural and scientific topics. This opinion of the government free seed program was widely held.  While the program started with the admirable intention of exposing farmers and the general family gardener to superior varieties being developed, it grew over time into a politician's give-away to curry favor with their constituents. 
More often in my reading I come across strong opinions from reputable seedsmen who were outraged at the poor quality of seed that was sometimes accepted by the government, as well as the fact the government was competing unfairly with their business as they saw it.

Feb. 1889 - Gleanings in Bee Culture
I saw the notice last spring In Gleanings, stating that the Agricultural Department at Washington had obtained seed of the Chapman honey-plant, for distribution. I applied to our representative, and be notified me that he had never heard of such a plant, but said that he had sent my application to the department, since which time I never heard from it. Were any of your readers more fortunate?
Friend L., I can not help you any about procuring seed of the Chapman honey-plant, opposed the measure of asking the Government to buy friend Chapman's seed, at the National Convention held in Chicago; also at the Michigan State Convention at Saginaw, a year ago.
Some of the friends who were in favor of it admitted that the Government Seed Bureau was a big humbug anyway; but they gave, as an excuse, that friend Chapman might as well have some of the humbug money as anybody else. They did not state it in just that way, but it amounted to that. 
Now, the $2800 that was paid to friend Chapman for his honey-plant seed might almost as well have been thrown into the fire, in my opinion. The seed is very likely stowed away with other old rubbish, and it will probably get too old to germinate before it gets into the hands of beekeepers, if it ever does at all.
 Another thing, I do not believe that any bee-keeper wants a lot of Chapman honey-plant seed until he has first tested it by trying a five cent package; and even after it has been so tested, and the seed was wanted, I am not sure that it could be had of the Government.
Perhaps I am a little uncharitable here; but I can not help feeling indignant at this whole proceeding—not only in honey-plants, but seeds for almost all other purposes. There have been a good many complaints just like yours, friend L., that they could not get the seed of the Chapman honey-plant, even after the Government had paid $2800 for it; and it is not only this kind of seed, but seeds in general are managed a good deal in the same fashion.
Our agricultural papers have for years shown it up, and protested that our money should not be wasted in such senseless proceedings, but still it goes on. This is the first time I have publicly spoken about the matter, and perhaps I shall never have occasion to speak of it again.


As I see some complaint in Gleanings, on page 134, by A. L. Lane and you about the distribution of the Chapman honey-plant seed by the Department of Agriculture at Washington, I want to say that I too read the notice in Gleanings last spring, and I at once wrote to Hon. Norman J. Colman, Commissioner of Agriculture, at Washington, for some seed, and soon got a little package of the same.
I sowed some, and almost every seed came up all right. Some plants had, by fall, leaves 38 inches long.
I believe if Mr. Lane had applied to Hon. Norman J. Colman, Commissioner, for the seed, instead of to his Representative, he would have received some.
Jacob Ruch, Jr.
Gruetli, Grundy Co., Tenn., Feb. 21, 1889.

I had to look up Greutli to see if it was an OCR mistake!  Nope.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

1897 - "The Free Seed Swindle"

Yesterday's post, Free Seeds Anyone?, didn't give the grassroots view of the government seed program.  

Here are three articles from about 20 and then 30 years previous to yesterday's overview of the program and its politics.  

First, the rant of a very mad homeowner/farmer. (The Rural New-Yorker, Volume 54)1895:

Poor Luck with Government Seeds
H. C., McKEAN, Pa.—Last spring, I got some government seeds, with the request to report, etc., which I will do. 
 The first was spinach. This is a plant which, I understand, is for greens. It was little stuff, went to seed before it was six inches high, and would have required a half acre to produce a mess for a good sized family. 
The next were peas, White Sugar, edible pods. These did well, are an excellent variety, and were truly commendable. 
The third was a tomato, Livingston's Early. We had all the tomato seed we wanted, but sowed some of this, and set out some of the plants. I think we had kinds that were preferable. 
The parsnip seed failed to germinate, with the exception of a few plants; the consequence is that we are without parsnips this winter. 
Lastly, turnips—Flat Whites. These were the worst stuff of the whole lot. I sowed a few in the garden; the rest I mixed with a couple of papers that I bought at a country store from a reliable seed house. The few that grew in the garden were the worst things I ever saw. From the two papers, costing eight cents, and the paper of government seed, I got 31 bushels. I could tell them apart, and I don’t think one-half bushel was from the government seed. I was mad to think I had mixed the government seed with the other. I would rather have the eight cents’ worth that I got at the country store, than all the turnip seed the government sent into this Congressional district.

This article from Ranche and Range begins to do introduce the general feelings of western ranchers.  
(The article starts a few inches down...I liked the Arbor Day article so I didn't cut it :-)

In 1885 our seedsmen were wondering what the program was for and distressed at the quality of some of the seed the government was buying for inflated prices.     This article was in Vick's Magazine and the men commenting were successful American seedsmen.

The distribution of seeds by the Department of Agriculture was one of the subjects discussed at the third annual meeting of the American Seed Trade Association, held in this city, in June last. 
The following extract from the minutes, furnished us by the Assistant Secretary, C. L. Allenwill be read with interest:
This subject being under consideration, the President called upon James Vick, Esq., for his views, who replied as follows: "I know very little about it; I have with me a little package that I received last winter by mail. It is a collection of seeds from the Department. I do not really know enough about the Department to know what their object is in distributing seeds, whether they only intend to send out new things, or what the aim of the institution is. But the stuff that I received is a package of Peas, Beans, etc., of the most ordinary character. 
I know of a firm that sold a quantity of Beans to a dealer that he sold to the government at about six dollars per bushel, the same stock the firm were about throwing away, as they were considered worthless. And I have heard of the European houses laughing many times of the sales they have made to our government. "Now to look backwards, while you were talking about duties, some of you were paying twenty per cent., and I know some of you would be willing to pay one hundred per cent. duty on your seeds. I have no doubt that we would make some money if the duty was one hundred per cent. Ours is the only line of trade where the government is in competition with its citizens. I think what I have said here is, possibly, enough to show the absurdity of the Department. I consider it an absurd institution that wastes a great amount of money."
Mr. Wood, of Richmond, Va.,said: "I think that what we have to contend with is the Congressmen. This Department is, in reality, for their benefit, because they go through the country soliciting votes, and they request of the Department seeds for distribution. Consequently it is really a bribe to gain a vote. And I do not see how to expose the business, except through the newspapers. I know that last year there was a large quantity of White Beet seed in my neighborhood, worth about seventy-five cents per bushel, which was sold to the Department for $2.00 per bushel."
Mr. Vick stated that there was a notice in one of the papers that the government had contracted with a large canning establishment for its Tomato seed, an article which no seedsman would think of using. Mr. Wood said that he did not think the government was the first to distribute any new variety of value, but took up anything that favored seedsmen had to offer.
Mr. Burpee, of Philadelphia, thought the government ought to distribute its patronage among the different States, if it was to do a seed business; that his house had only received an order for twenty bushels of Sunflower seed, which was not introducing a very valuable production.
The President said he would like to know if there was any one present that could offer a suggestion whereby this branch of the government could be stopped from sending out free seeds; if not, there was not much use in discussing the subject. It is a great absurdity, and comes in competition with every seedsman in the country, and is a great injury to the trade in general. 
Mr. Mccullough, of Cincinnati, said: "That the height of good statesmanship was compromise. I think that in an agricultural country like this the government ought to do something for agriculture. I think it a waste of money to send out such things as we are familiar with. But I do think the government should annually spend some money on rare and unusual things, coming from a distance, where, perhaps you cannot go for them. For the reason that in a country that depends so largely upon agriculture for its prosperity, there ought to be money supplied for the introduction and distribution of any seed or plant that can be successfully cultivated in this country.
"Now, if we go to the government and report to them that their method is wrong, but that their principle is right, and suggest to them a better way, perhaps we might accomplish something that would mutually benefit the trade and the country."