American Technology for Starved Lands

“Men with hoes have been supplanted by a man with a hose" says ROBERT PRICE RUSSELL,who is President of the Standard Oil Development Company. Under his leadership this large research organization developed new chemical processes which were indispensable in the war. Now, with the return to peace, his staff has devised hormone sprays with which the farmer can increase his yield and can control weeds, blight, and insect pests. These sprays increase yields of rice and coffee and ensure our peach and apple crops by keeping the fruit from dropping prematurely from the trees. By such technical aids as these, Americans can bring new fertility to the starved and wasted earth.

by ROBERT PRICE RUSSELL

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SINCE the end of the war, the United States has I contributed or committed itself to contribute more than 20 billion dollars in loans and grants to foreign countries.

But the export of goods and lending of money alone are only emergency stopgaps. They cannot restore economies that were first undermined by antiquated methods and then wrecked by war or exhaustion. To aid the world — and indirectly ourselves — to move forward to an improved standard of health and well-being, we must export the combination of goods and technology. In the long run, I believe, American technology can do more to raise world standards than all the food supplies and dollar credits we can ever make available. The value of technology is that it enables people to help themselves. With it we export self-esteem and selfreliance — just as necessary as food if men the world over are again to hold their heads high and walk proudly among their fellows.

The exporting of technology is by no means new to American private enterprise. United States oil companies, for example, have discovered oil fields, drilled wells, established pipeline and tanker routes, and constructed refining centers in many foreign countries. Not only have our technicians trained local nationals in mechanical skills, but we have helped them to devise ingenious methods for adapting our technological achievements to widely varying situations. The experience of American industry proves conclusively the richness of the dividends that result from technological investments abroad.

One field in which United States research and development organizations can render important service is agriculture and food production. Most of the world is perilously short of food; in many countries the national diet is below the minimum level required to maintain the energy of the people; in most countries surpluses for export are far below normal. The reasons are not difficult to ascertain. Populations are growing, especially in the industrial areas. More and more people are attracted away from rural communities, and in many areas the land is wearing out. Yet, if everyone is to have enough to eat, the soil must be made to yield as much or more food but with less and less labor for planting, cultivating, and harvesting. This is a situation that demands immediate attention, for starvation will not accommodate itself to the delays of hit-ormiss development.

The food crops of the world fall into the principal categories of grain, meat, vegetables, and fruit. Laboratories and experimental farms throughout the United States are now testing tens of thousands of new techniques and preparations which could be applied promptly to increase substantially the world food supply in each of these categories. Consider weed control, the bane of the food grower s existence, whether he is cultivating many acres or only a vegetable garden. In food production, weed control is of vital importance since weeds, if uncontrolled, can even destroy the food productivity of the soil. In many Latin American countries the best land cannot be used for agriculture because, in those areas where the soil is most fertile, weed growth is so extremely rapid that organized agriculture becomes impossible. Throughout this enormous territory millions of people rely on droughtafflicted areas where in the dry months it is possible to burn off jungle growth and prepare the land for growing scanty food crops when the rains come.

In the agricultural program of Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), a substantial proportion of our efforts for the past several years has been devoted to the development of compounds for the control of weeds and fungus growth. One product that has enormous possibilities for rapidly raising agricultural productivity is a synthetic plant hormone derived from by-products of catalytic cracking, a refinery process which first came into major use for making aviation gasoline during the war. Today this synthetic hormone preparation can be made cheaply in large quantities, and it has proved very effective for the selective control of broad-leaf weeds. Like the widely known “2, 4 D,” it works on the principle of stimulation. It is absorbed through the leaves and literally stimulates the plant to death. Dandelion, plantain, poison ivy, and other broad-leaf weeds in the lawn or grain field absorb more of the hormone spray than the thinbladed grasses or cereals. Consequently, the weeds are killed while the grasses or cereals are merely stimulated in growth.

Tests with synthetic hormones have indicated that the possible applications of agents of this type, which alter the life process, are almost unlimited. For example, it is possible to stimulate root growth by using the proper strength of hormone solution, thus making possible new economies and greater certainty of propagation for those crops that are planted by root cuttings. It has been found that the percentage of cacao cuttings that live and grow can be increased from less than 50 per cent under ordinary planting conditions to more than 70 per cent through the application of a hormone solution.

The hormone may also be used for shortening the blossoming period of the coffee bush and thereby reducing the harvesting period. Tests carried out by one imaginative United States researcher have revealed the possibility of shortening the coffee harvesting period by as much as 50 per cent. The labor saving effected can be appreciated when it is realized that over the present-day three-month ripening period, twelve pickings are required. If, by using the hormone solution, the blossoming period can be halved, the number of pickings can be reduced to six. It has been found that this same synthetic hormone can be used as a spray to prevent fruit, such as apples, peaches, and plums, from dropping prematurely from the tree. In this way, a smaller number of hand pickings is required and the labor thus released is available for other essential food-growing tasks. The yield of salable fruit is markedly increased.

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WE ARE certainly only on the threshold of our investigation of hormone agents in agriculture, but if major benefits are to result in a number of countries, these researches must be carried out by skilled technologists under actual conditions of growth.

During recent years several research organizations have devised remarkable new techniques for utilizing special petroleum hydrocarbon fractions in weed control — among the most effective being sprays of petroleum distillates of the type used in dry cleaning and as paint thinners.

Certain crops — carrots, parsnips, onions, and celery, for example—are impervious to distillates which kill surrounding weeds. For other deeply planted crops such as corn, beans, and potatoes, which would be harmed by direct spraying, a proemergence spraying technique has been devised which is already giving amazing results. After the vegetable seeds have been planted but before they sprout, weed seeds, which generally lie close to the surface, are destroyed by spraying a heavy aromatic distillate on the ground. In this way, weed-free soil can be maintained without cultivation through an entire season.

This technique was unknown four years ago; yet in 1946 it was successfully employed in the weeding of more than 95 per cent of the carrots grown for market in New York State. Additional acreages of parsnips, onions, and celery were raised in the same way. The men with the hoes had successfully been supplanted by a man with a hose. This is not only a striking technological development, but its rapid, widespread use illustrates the speed with which important agricultural developments can be utilized if proper technological help is made available.

Recently I was privileged to see, under Central and Latin American conditions, what was probably the first major field trial of some of the new synthetic weed killers when they were applied to a major Latin American crop — rice. I saw a large rice field under study by the Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences in Costa Rica. The entire field had been as carefully hand-weeded as possible under existing conditions of local labor availability, but one end of the field had received a single application of a new chemical weed-killing agent. The difference was spectacular. The specialty treated end of the field was green and luxuriant, while the rest of the field was weed-choked and had the brown, scraggy appearance of most of the other rice fields in that area. The additional number of sound rice grains per stem in the treated section would impress even the most casual observer.

What can actually be accomplished in rice culture by the application of modern technology is demonstrated yearly in California, where one farmer produces as much rice as one thousand farmers in Japan. Rice is harvested by a one-man harvester which accomplishes as much as a thousand men reaping by hand. If the world production of rice, one of the most vital of all food crops, could be quickly and greatly increased without the need for added manpower, and perhaps even with the release of some existing manpower for application to other essential agricultural pursuits, starvation in the world could be reduced decisively.

A new emulsible spray recently developed by the Humble Oil and Refining Company in Texas has given unusual results for fly and tick control on livestock. In devising peacetime applications for the vast quantities of toluene, which during the war were produced as the basic ingredient for TNT, the company developed a preparation combining toluene with DDT for insect control. It was found that a mixture of six gallons of the product in one thousand gallons of water produced a spray or dip which kept livestock protected against flies and ticks for three weeks and resulted in a substantial gain of weight. Furthermore, the effects of this dip are cumulative, each successive dip giving better protection. In tests conducted by the National Livestock Loss Prevention Board and the United States Department of Agriculture, cattle treated with DDT emulsible spray during the fly season gained 40 to 80 pounds over untreated animals — an average gain of 50 pounds per animal. For the expenditure of 12 cents on this spray, an additional 50 pounds of beef was added to the weight of each head of cattle. This product represents an important advance in fly and tick control because it can be manufactured cheaply in bulk, and can be made readily available throughout vast areas.

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WE COULD help decisively to improve food conditions throughout the world by making products such as I have described available to our neighbors, and more important, by sending them the trained technical people needed to work out proper applications under varying local ground conditions. A quick and substantial increase in the world food supply would produce a major economic change in a few years.

Making our newest scientific preparations available to other nations, and providing trained technologists to develop local applications and train nationals in their use, by no means exhaust the technological service that United States research and development groups can render. Few nations have reached a stage comparable with ours in the scientific development and propagation of new and better strains of basic food crops. In many countries people are content to grow the identical crops planted and harvested by their forefathers. They would of course prefer improved high-yield plants to the scrubby native types, but attempts to use seed imported from abroad have usually resulted in failure because of local climatic and soil conditions, and the knowledge and skills needed for developing improved native strains are simply not available.

We could perform a service of immense importance by assisting our southern neighbors in the simple task of improving their potato crops. During the last twenty years, the New York State acreage devoted to potato cultivation has been cut in half, yet the total tonnage raised has been doubled — quadrupling the total potato yield per acre. The reason lies principally in the development of blightresistant seed potatoes. There is no doubt that trained agricultural technologists could create blight-resistant strains of potatoes for Latin American and other countries in a very short space of time. The potatoes available in the Latin American public markets could soon be as sound and as cheap as those we buy in our own markets — far different from the scrawny, scabby, but high-priced potatoes available today in inadequate quantities in the average Latin American market. By exporting trained technologists from our experimental stations to develop strains suited to local conditions, we could increase the yields enormously and thereby put more food into the stomachs of our neighbors.

Another food crop which in ray opinion could benefit greatly from the attention of technical groups is chocolate. A world shortage of chocolate and cocoa exists and experts predict that this shortage will continue for a considerable period. The reason lies to a great extent in the techniques still generally employed. They could best be termed relics of ancient folk culture. Between the time t he cacao pod is whacked off the tree with a machete and the time the finished bean is ready for shipment, a third of the crop is often lost. Furthermore, the type of equipment customarily used for cleaning and drying is of the most primitive kind.

I was glad to learn that the problem of cacao harvesting, cleaning, and drying has recently received the attention of a small group of fertileminded, enterprising United States development engineers. Within a few months they succeeded, in a large-scale pilot plant, in greatly shortening the time between the harvesting of the cacao pod and shipment of the finished bean. I was told that the technique developed resulted in a major reduction of crop losses and in improved product quality. Not only is modern equipment needed to put this technique into general operation, but trained personnel must be provided to educate Latin American nationals in using the new processes. Similar applications of sound engineering principles would undoubtedly result in corresponding improvements in the finishing and processing of other important food crops.

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WE CAN provide a further important service by assisting the farmers in nations friendly to us to get the most out of their equipment, particularly the mechanical equipment we are providing as an important part of our relief activities. A recent study of the life of farm equipment, in the United States revealed the shocking fact that even American farmers do not know how to take proper care of the mechanized equipment they use on their farms. It was found that the average farm machine is used only eleven days out of each year, and the service life of the average farm machine is a little more than two months. In fact, rarely does a farm machine see a service life of more than three months. One can only speculate on the extremely short life and unrealized productive capacity of expensive equipment sent to countries where the agrarian population has still to master the technique of using the wheelbarrow. By establishing centers to train cadres of local mechanics, who in turn would teach the farmers to maintain vital mechanical equipment, we could quickly increase the productive capacity of a number of countries.

Making laborsaving and crop-improving products widely available, applying new developments quickly, and exporting imaginative, well-trained technologists to assist in local applications of new advancements are major contributions we could make to other countries with resulting benefit to millions, including the citizens of the United States, whose prosperity cannot be divorced from general world conditions. The cost, I feel sure, would be but a fraction of the cost of direct relief.

Criticism has been voiced, in limited circles, of United States plans for improving the economy of other countries, on the basis that we are thereby eliminating markets and actually fostering competition. This view is not only selfish but very shortsighted. The level of consumption in most of the countries that require our help is now extremely low, and local needs would absorb any increases in food production for years to come. Instead of decreasing United States exports, the assisting of other countries to higher standards of living would actually make them better customers for the manufactured products which are our principal exports.

I realize that sending technologists abroad will not be easy, for our own need of technical specialists has never been so pressing as it is right now. Every industrial research and development organization in the United States is operating with far fewer technically trained men than it needs, and it will be several years before our colleges and universities can fill our requirements. But I think that, with other parts of the world depending on technically trained men if they are to live, we must find a way to share our technological manpower.

Americans want to live in a peaceful world, but in a world as hungry and poverty-stricken as ours today, peace is an uncertain and elusive commodity. I believe most Americans are convinced that material plenty and political democracy are important means to the achievement of peace. But we have no desire to force our ideal of democracy upon other peoples. The very nature of the democratic philosophy makes that impossible.

We can, however, help other peoples to help themselves, to utilize their resources to the fullest, to save their soil, to combat disease and poverty, and to raise their standard of living and of human dignity. We can demonstrate the validity of our democratic ideal by showing its product. Nothing will do more to strengthen faith in democracy than proofs of its efficacy in terms of the technology it has fostered, the standard of living it has developed, and the good life it has made possible.

Recent observations in Europe and Latin America have convinced me of two things: many people in countries friendly to us are eager for a way of living they cannot now provide through their own skills, and if they do not receive assistance from us, many of them will turn to inferior substitutes with probable accompanying political developments unfavorable to our country.

If we are to have a peaceful world, we must have a friendly world. But charity is a soil ill suited for the growth of friendship, and men have long known that “loan oft loses both itself and friend.” The needs of the world and the safety of America reqiure a full measure of help from us. Our help must make it possible for the ravaged and impoverished countries to satisfy, by their own efforts, the justified desires of their peoples. By exporting their skills our research, development, and engineering organizations can render enduring service to the cause of peace.