Partnership In Pest Control 1880 To World War I

The institutional framework for colleges of agriculture was well established by 1880. The first department of entomology was founded at Cornell University in 1874 under the leadership of John Henry Comstock; others followed shortly.

The primary objective of the department was to train students who wished to become farmers, to identify and classify the insect fauna, to study life cycles, to devise control measures, and to train farmers in their use.

As insecticides became a more important component of production technology, an alliance of increasing importance developed among the agricultural constituency, the agricultural colleges, and the chemical industry. As this partnership developed, agribusiness expanded to provide the goods and services required for agricultural production and grew even more mechanized, technical, and capital intensive. The three partners shared a common objective, pooling their resources to increase the efficiency of agricultural production that accrued ultimately to the benefit of the consumer.

The arrangement involved the agricultural constituency, lending political support to the agricultural colleges in return for their services. The colleges then aided the chemical industry by testing their products and giving their stamp of approval, which enhanced their marketability. A grateful chemical industry provided grants to the entomology departments, which were always short of operational funds. The deans at the agricultural colleges had the difficult task of being broker between the college faculty, with its leaning toward basic research, and the farm constituency seeking low-risk pest control programs. The arrangement was an American innovation that seemed to please everyone. Furthermore, the chemical industry was greatly stimulated by the economic and political activities of World War I. Food and fiber production was given high priority and new discoveries advanced the pesticide industry.

The period from 1880 to 1940 witnessed the maturing of the Agricultural Experiment Stations as a national, highly coordinated network. The extension entomologists became the connecting link between the agricultural college and the agricultural producer. Because insecticides had become the first line of defense, the growing chemical industry added strength to this already solid partnership with the colleges and farmers in the aftermath of World War II. Furthermore, this was the threshold of an era of discovery of new molecules that would affect biological processes of plants and animals.

Along the way some ominous straws in the wind signaled trouble ahead. In 1913, The San Jose scale, QQuadraspidiotus perniciosus, developed resistance to lime sulfur but the phenomenon was not recognized as an expression of Darwinian selection. In 1928, the codling moth, Cydia pomonella, was shown to be resistant to lead arsenate. The apple industry was dealt a severe blow in the mid-1930s when British markets rejected fruit from the United States because of high arsenical residues. Simultaneously, fruit trees were showing loss of vigor because of insecticidal toxicity to foliage and accumulation of residues in the soil.

Although these disquieting revelations were not widely publicized, they were of concern to entomologists, as they and the pesticide industry were marshaled to meet the greater demands for food and fiber required for World War II. Even then, the sustainability of insecticidal control was clearly in doubt.

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