Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/191

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187
THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE
THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE.

THE WORK OF THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE UNDER SECRETARY WILSON.

The annual report of the secretary of agriculture is a record of scientific investigation and attainments by the national Department of Agriculture for the past eight years. The broad relations of the department's work give the report a wide general interest, and it illustrates anew the many practical benefits which may accrue to every-day affairs from intelligent and well-directed research and experimentation.

Secretary Wilson assumed charge of the department in the spring of 1897, and has been at its head since that time. This unusual period of service has been marked by rapid developments in work and organization, and by the elevation of the department as a scientific institution and in public estimation. The appropriations during this period have more than doubled, as has also the personnel of the department, and the scientific staff has increased from 925 in 1897 to 2,326 at present. Viewing the department's work in retrospect, it is somewhat surprising to note how many of the features which have brought it into prominence date from the present administration. The work in forestry, for example, which has assumed a position of such widespread importance, has been almost entirely developed during the past eight years. With the offer of practical assistance to forest owners in the management of their tracts, 'the field of action shifted from the desk to the woods'; and this was the beginning of a comprehensive movement, resulting in the formation of an intelligent public opinion and sound national sentiment which are rapidly placing the handling of forests and of the forest reserves upon a more enlightened and conservative basis.

The agricultural experiment stations in Alaska, Hawaii and Porto Rico have all been established and placed upon an efficient working basis under the present administration, and the influence and assistance of the department have thus spread to these remote possessions. The investigations in problems relating to irrigation from an agricultural standpoint, as distinguished from the strictly engineering features, have been inaugurated and organized upon a comprehensive scale. This work has proved so eminently practical and so important to irrigated agriculture that it has grown rapidly in extent and in scope, its appropriation having increased nearly tenfold. Out of it have sprung the work in land drainage and the still newer investigations upon agricultural machinery, so that operations covering practically the whole field of rural engineering have been inaugurated as an entirely new feature.

The breeding and selection of plants and varieties better adapted to special conditions or uses have been developed into a conspicuous feature, as has also the introduction of plants from foreign countries. Agricultural exploration for this purpose was instituted by the present secretary in 1898, with a small portion of the congressional seed fund which he was given authority to expend for that purpose. This has resulted in a vast number of introductions, such, for example, as the date palm, Turkestan alfalfa, Japanese rice, durum or macaroni wheats, and numerous other cereals. Durum wheat was first introduced in 1899, and has proved of such advantage in semi-arid lands that about twenty million bushels were