By: James Stewart
Map of tobacco and cotton plant pathology demonstrations. From 1954 annual report.
Many NC Cooperative Extension Service annual reports now digitized in the Better Living Collection can be a fascinating introduction to the agricultural sciences. One of these sciences is phytopathology, or plant pathology, the scientific study of diseases in plants caused by pathogens (infectious organisms like bacteria), environmental conditions, and physiological factors.
The Cooperative Extension Service extended the life of N.C. field crops by demonstrating new scientific techniques to farmers designed to combat these factors. This helped save farms from losing thousands of dollars in crops each year. Howard R. Garriss, an early extension plant pathologist, was also the lead author of these reports. Reading Garriss’s reports shows the various teaching methods and scientific techniques used by the extension service.
Cropped section from cover of the 1946 Plant Pathology Annual Report.
Section from cover of the 1946 Plant Pathology Annual Report.
A good example of how extension agents operated is illustrated in the “Tobacco Diseases” section of his 1946 report. Tobacco is listed first in each report perhaps reflecting the importance of that crop to the agricultural economy of N.C. One of the most troubling pathogens to tobacco growers that year was downy mildew, or blue mold. Garriss documents how growers were very receptive to small group meetings and method demonstrations (step by step presentations) on using Fermate spray to kill the mold. He also documents the use of what were called “result demonstrations”, a method that used recorded evidence of the effectiveness of a new scientific method after a certain amount of time.
Circular letters, publications, publicity, and exhibits at the NC State Fair are also detailed in the plant pathology reports as successful ways to instruct farmers. In addition to tobacco, the reports address diseases of peanuts, cotton, small grains, vegetables and fruits. Other pests to crops like the nematode and Black Shank are described as well as their recommended treatments.
Resources related to plant pathology or plant diseases and other agricultural sciences are available as part of the NCSU Libraries’ Rare and Unique Digital Collections, which provides access to other topics. Additionally, our Historic State Department of Plant Pathology timeline is a rich resource for more information about the development of this science in NC.