Geneticists on the farm
Agriculture and the all-English loaf
in Scientific governance in Britain, 1914–79
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In the first years of the twentieth century geneticists promised a revolution in plant breeding that would bring new forms of agriculture. This chapter tracks the successes and failures of the first geneticists’ plans for agriculture. Specifically we follow Rowland Biffen, based at University of Cambridge's Department of Agriculture, and his plan for an All-English loaf, produced without imported flour. The All-English loaf was a failure in Biffen’s lifetime but his varieties were a huge success. Farmers – especially in the south east of England – enthusiastically adopted the new wheat varieties for their own purposes rather than Biffen’s. Little Joss and Yeoman, the most successful varieties to emerge from Biffen’s scientific breeding program, were the leading edge of a large-scale technological intervention in English farming, in which science was to play a guiding role and backing came from the British Government. However, by the end of the 1920s, when it became obvious the All-English loaf was still a far-off dream, it was Biffen and the Ministry of Agriculture who had changed their views on how to farm wheat, as yields rather than bread-making quality became the leitmotif of intensive arable production.

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