Farmer 2(3): 12 (Mar 30, 1827)
On the Selection of Seed Corn
Wake Forest, (N. C.) January 15,1827.
Dear Sir,— I have endeavoured, in conformity to your request, to find the communication I some years ago made to the newspapers, of Joseph Cooper's method of selecting seed corn, but in vain,—though I have searched several files of papers and a series of almanacks, in which I remember to have seen it. It was my intention, upon this failure, to have furnished you with what my memory retained, of the information Mr. Cooper gave me; but it has somehow been delayed to this time, when happening to see in the second volume of the "American Farmer," a letter from John Taylor, of Carolina, to George W. Jeffreys, recommending a mode of selection that was pointedly condemned by Mr. Cooper, I have been reminded of what I owe to one who has laid the whole agricultural community under so many obligations. As these conflicting opinions are sustained by perhaps equal authority, it appears to me now, as it may have done to you before, that it is important both should be known, in order that the fact, now held doubtful, may be subjected to further experiment, and settled by other and uniform testimony.
In a tour to the north, about the year 1810, I paid a visit to the celebrated New Jersey farmer, Joseph Cooper, who then resided on the banks of the Delaware, opposite to Philadelphia. In a walk over his fields, I remarked what I thought the great proportion of ears of corn to the stalks on which they grew, and asked Mr. C. if my impression was correct—if his corn was not unusually prolific? He answered me in the affirmative, and proceeded to inform me how it had attained that quality. It was owing to his selecting for seed, the ears from stalks, which produced two or more each, while the corn was standing in the field. He illustrated the effects of his peculiar mode of selection by an anecdote. A Judge Pennington, (I think that was the name,) had made the same observation that I had, and asked for some of his prolific sort of corn for seed;— Mr. Cooper supplied him. After a few years, the Judge applied for more, saying the seed had degenerated and quite run out—and though, at first, unusually productive, it was now no better than corn of the common sort. Mr. C. asked if he observed his injunctions as to the method of saving seed. He said he remembered none; but his method had been, when the corn lay in a heap, to select the largest and fairest ears. Mr. C. assured him, that this was the worst selection he could have made, for these large and fair ears were produced singly upon a stalk, and would infallibly produce stalks bearing no more, and, of course, an inferior crop. The Judge was once more furnished with seed, upon a promise to select in the prescribed manner,— and no complaints were afterwards made of its degeneracy.
What the estimated advantage of Mr. Cooper's mode of selection was, I do not exactly recollect;— I only remember the impression that it was more moderate than I had expected, considering the importance he seemed to attach to it. I think he might have calculated, that in the many years he had pursued the plan, his crops had, from this cause been improved about 12 or 15 per cent.
If what I recollect of Mr. Cooper's practice and opinions, shall appear adapted to promote rational and successful inquiry, or to the establishment of a useful fact, you are at liberty to make such use of this as you may think proper;— and I shall be gratified that I have been able, in this imperfect manner, and at this protracted period, to furnish an acceptable answer to your inquiry.
With great respect, I am your obedient servant, CALVIN JONES
J. B. Skinner, Esq.