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Consular reports, Issues 196-199 online

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which has been insidiously creeping upon a patient for years until at last it
brings him to death's door, can not, even by the most expert scientist, be put
to flight and the victim made convalescent in a day.

The life of Sicily's greatest industry has been sapped for years by these
parasites, and it was not until it was in extremis that they were shaken off.
If they be prevented from obtaining another hold, the sores will soon heal.
The country is now passing through the transition stage from sickness to
health, and when confidence is restored there is no doubt that the Sicilian
fruit trade will lose its speculative features and again take its place, which it
should never have lost, as a legitimate industry.

To maintain that position, the laws of supply and demand must be rigor-
ously observed. The bankers should insist that the letters of credit should
limit the shipment to a certain number of boxes by each steamer. As these
documents read now, a shipper with a credit for ;£i,ooo can, if he desires,
consume the entire amount in one shipment. Last season, when the amount
of the advance frequently gave the shipper a good profit, it was no unusual
thing for him to ship just as many boxes as the steamship agents would
accept. I have seen it become necessary for the police upon the Marina
to interfere in the disputes between the cartmen in their efforts to get the
boxes on board. Such an incident could not happen with the restrictions
which I have suggested upon the letters of credit.

Under former conditions, the shippers, with their profits received as soon
as the documents were negotiated, had only one object in view — to get on
board every box possible. Whether the ship ever arrived at her destination
or not was a matter of supreme indifference to them ; in fact, many would
have preferred for her never to have reached port. On nearly every ship-
ment the importer suffered loss, and a great many of the boxes had to be
absolutely rejected.

Had an adequate system of inspection been in force, no such fruit could
have been shipped. I have in nearly all my reports strongly advocated the
inauguration of such a method, and the publication of my report of July
1 8 in all the papers of Messina, translated from the London Grocer, has
aroused much interest and discussion. Some shippers indorse my suggestion
that a corps of inspectors be sent from America to Messina, Palermo, and
Catania; others think that a large warehouse should be engaged, through
which all fruit intended for the United States should be passed and graded by

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inspectors appointed by the chamber of commerce. Others, again, ridicule
the entire idea and claim it is impracticable. It is needless to say that the
majority of those in the last category are the very ones whose fruit is not
wanted, men whose names appear for considerable amounts on the debit side
of our importers* ledgers. The fact remains that had the majority of the
fruit exported last season been inspected by any system there could not have
been such a wholesale rejection, especially from the cargoes of the Algeria
and the Victoria.

The fruit trade of Sicily, as conducted last season, was rotten to the core.
The honest shippers with capital who are in it were so handicapped by the
questionable methods of the ** chevaliers d'industrie" that they lost heavily
on good fruit shipped without advance ; while the others, trading on the
credulity of the importer, reaped in many cases a good profit upon common
fruit before it left the port. To those who would question this statement, I
would cite the following facts: One million two hundred and twenty-two
thousand eight hundred and thirty-five boxes of green fruit left Messina last
season, upon every one of which it is conceded that there was an average loss
of 1 1 per box. Was this sustained by the shipper? By no means; for the
majority of those who do business upon advance payment have nothing that
is tangible. This is conclusively proven by the fact that when the letters of
credit are occasionally stopped these people cease to ship, and at the begin-
ning of the season they could not commence work were it not for the ad-
vance made them by the steamship agents, who are repaid by the addition
of from 3d. to 6d. to the freight upon each box until the debt is liquidated.

Notwithstanding the demoralized market, not one of these shippers
failed. To-day, they are apparently as prosperous as if the price in New
York was ^5 a box instead of I1.45. But there were lost upon Messina ship-
ments alone over Ji, 500,000, and the books of the bankers and importers
tell the story. Hence, I repeat, without fear of contradiction, that the ma-
jority of the shippers made their profits on the difference between the cost
of the fruit shipped and the amount advanced by the importers. A careful
study of the facts will, I feel sure, confirm my assertion, and it should be a
deathblow to the advance system. If an importer wants to speculate in
green fruit, had he not better send a reliable agent to the spot and, instead of
giving an advance, pay a shilling or two more and buy the goods? Then he
can make such disposition of the same as he pleases, and, if he makes a profit,
that profit is his ; if a loss, it is also his, and he knows full well from experi-
ence that if the goods were consigned and sold below the advance, in nearly
every case the loss would still be his. As soon as the average Messina ship-
per learns that a consignment has been sold at a profit he wants the net
proceeds cabled to him, but when there are short proceeds, we have a differ-
ent story. Then the importer, knowing too well that he can not recover cash
from the impecunious shipper, and hoping to recoup on future consignments,
sends another letter of credit; good money goes after bad, and the affair
continues until he finally becomes disgusted and refuses further advances.

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The shipper then finds another consignee in America, and in order to pre-
vent his net proceeds from being attached in the new man's hands, swears that
the goods are sold and so invoices them.

Another method resorted to is to mark the boxes with jhe name of an
employee, who comes to the consulate, swears the goods are his, and noakes
the invoice. The consul may be morally certain that a fraud is being com-
mitted, but he is powerless to prevent it for the lack of legal evidence. A
case in point is that of a shipper who owed a house in New York thousands
of dollars for short proceeds on advances. Being both unable and unwilling
to pay, and still desiring to take a hand in this beautiful game in which he
had every chance to win and none to lose, he found another consignee, who
obligingly had two credits opened — one in favor of a nephew and the other
in favor of a broker. Both came to the consulate and swore they were the
owners of the goods, which they emphasized by the fact that the boxes bore
their marks, and the goods were so shipped.

Retributive justice, however, was not slow in these particular cases, for,
although the advance was low, the market was lower, and on all shipments
upon which an advance was given there was a loss, but not to the shipper.
He is still in the field and ready for any other crooked scheme that may pre-
sent itself.

And there is still another method. Yesterday, a man came into the con-
sulate and made an invoice for New Orleans under his legitimate name.
He then produced another for New York which, he said, his consignee had
been obliged by the custom-house to give bonds to produce. I had dis-
covered that, in order to avoid having his fruit attached in New York for
previous indebtedness, he had gotten a small advance here from a shipper as
unreliable as himself, and had shipped the goods on two bills of lading so as
to reduce the value below J 100, and these he had made under different
names. I had duly notified the collector at New York of the fact, so that
his information was not news to me. He then presented me with the in-
voice, not signed with his real name, as was the one for New Orleans, but
with the addition of another word, which, he said, was his mother's name
and which he used sometimes in business. I called his attention to the fact
that in this office a man could only have one name. He went away vowing
vengeance, but without his invoice.

This class has of late successfully victimized the fruit importers of Ham-
burg by their specious methods, and there is now a case pending against
one of the exporters before the courts here for forgery. Another gentleman
of this ilk, after borrowing all he could, capped the climax by presenting
forged telegrams to bankers and brokers here, upon the strength of which
he cashed ^^400. He then left for New York with an indebtedness of, it
is said, ^25,000, reaching there in time to cable to his friends (?) here his
best wishes for a happy New Year.

These are a few types of the i>eople who constitute the class that has
debased a respectable and reputable industry. They are the cancers that

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would poison the little that remains untainted. The caustic remedy is in
the hands of our bankers and importers. Stop all advances, and you abolish
all these inducements to defraud. If fruit is wanted, buy it. If there is
money to be lost, lose it without paying for the privilege; if there is money
to be made, the profit is yours.

Let it not be understood that there are no honest shippers in Sicily.
There are many; but in the fight against such practices as I have depicted,
in self-defense and to save their capital, they have been obliged to throw
down their arms; and not until their adversaries are put to flight because of
lack of ammunition from New York will they be able to assert themselves.
When that event occurs, then, and not until then, will the Sicily fruit trade
be on a solid and honest foundation.


Messina, January 7, iSg^. Consul.


The popular belief is that the Solanum tuberosum^ now commonly known
as the Irish potato, was introduced into Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh in
1596 or in the years immediately following that date. The tercentenary of
this event, which has been fraught with so much good to Ireland, was made
the occasion of a two days* exhibition by the Irish Gardeners* Association,
December 9 and 10, 1896, in the Rotunda Building, Dublin. The exhibi-
tion brought out a wonderful display of potatoes from many well-known
seedsmen, and also a collection of apparatus connected with the combatting
of the diseases to which the potato plant is subject. At the conferences,
many valuable papers were read and much of importance to the grower of
potatoes discussed. In a report of this kind, however, upon a subject which
has received such wide and thorough attention, it is difficult to know just
what is new or may be valuable.

At the initial meeting of the conference. Lord Powerscourt was called
to the chair and in his address referred to his recollections of the famine of
1847 ^^^ 1848, which he characterized as not the fault of the potato, but
mainly the fault of ignorant cultivation, and congratulated the conference that
such an occurrence was not likely to again occur with the attention which
was now devoted to potato culture. His lordship was followed by Mr. W.
Cotter, with a paper on the " Past, present, and future of the potato.** This
paper was largely historical. Mr. Cotter fixed the time of the introduction
of the potato intp Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh at Youghal in 1596. It
was first brought into prominence in England by Mr. Buckland in Somer-
setshire in 1663. Mr. Cotter drew a vivid picture of the famine of 1847
and 1848, due to the failure of the potato crop, and added:

This famine was commonly regarded as a curse, but I look upon it in quite another light —
a blessing in disguise, specially allowed by an all- wise Providence to salt the earth of human-
ity, as it were, with people of the Irish race.

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He referred to the fact that since 1848, crops of potatoes in Ireland had
been abundant every year, with the exception of two partial failures, one in
1879 ^^^ *^® other in 1890. In dealing with the future of the i>otato, Mr.
Cotter referred to the fact that Ireland was the only country in the world
where potatoes were made the chief article of food, instead of being used
as a vegetable to be taken with other kinds of food more valuable in their
nutritive properties, and he referred to the great waste that went on annually
in Ireland from this source. He advocated that mills should be erected to
evaporate the water from the potatoes and to manufacture potato flour. By
this means he would propose to preserve only the solid constituents of the
potato, and save the annual waste from the loss of storage and the discard-
ing of the crop left at the end of the season. He adds:

According to my plan, one-quarter of the land will raise all we require in the way of
potatoes. * * * With money and labor saved from the great waste, large mills, with
drying and other machinery for the preparation of the potato flour, could be erected where,
at a small cost, the people could send their potatoes to be dried. If any surplus was left
over, markets could be found in all tropical countries and in the very cold parts of the world,
where potatoes are looked upon as almost a priceless luxury. I have sold preserved potatoes
to go to the Frazer River and the Alaskan territories, etc., as high as £$2 to ;f 34 (^160 to
^170) per ton. * * * Some will say the potatoes would be spoiled. Nothing of the
sort ; only the water would be evaporated, and as soon as you had added 84 pounds of water
to 28 pounds of potatoes, you got the article in its pristine excellence again. To show the
waste in potatoes : In November, the fanna produced from 240 pounds was 38 to 45 per cent;
the following May, 20 to 28 per cent — fully a loss of 40 per cent of the food value ; and as
soon as the period of growth fully sets in, the potato loses all of its food value, the starch
and saccharine being turned into water.

Professor Johnston discussed the "Potato plant in health and disease."
I append an extract from his paper upon the question of relative production
between the plahting of the whole potato and the same cut into sections:

In this connection, I may refer to the question of the kind of *' set" to be planted. M.
Girard, probably the leading scientific authority on the cultivation of the potato plant, made
experiments in the years 1S9I, 1892, and 1S93, ^"^ his results are summarized in the Journal
of the Board of Agriculture for December, 1894. M. Girard's experiments led him to con-
clude: (i) The maximum crop is obtained by planting entire tubers of medium weight (3^
ounces) ; (2) the crop is diminished about 30 per cent if such tubers are cut into two portions;
(3) the crop is diminished, with rare exceptions, about 20 per cent by planting cut seed weigh-
ing 3^ ounces from whole tubers weighing 7 ounces or loyi ounces; (4) if two or three
small tubers, weighing in all ^j4 ounces, are planted together, the crop is on the average from
5 to 10 per cent less than that obtained by planting whole tubers of medium weight. Of the
different systems of planting tested, in the case of five different varieties (Kichler's Imperator,
Athens, Blue Giant, Idaho, Gelbe Rose) in the experiments recorded above the most effective
is undoubtedly that of planting entire tubers of medium weight — that is to say, of about 3>i
ounces for those varieties which yield large crops. This is the method which M. Girard
recommends should always be adopted, if possible, by the cultivator, although almost equally
satisfactory results may be obtained by the next best method, which consbts in planting to-
gether two tubers of about half the medium weight, or weighing about 1 3^ ounces each. If,
instead of two such tubers, three very small ones are placed together, a smaller yield is ob-
tained. The planting of cut seed should, in M. Girard's opinion, be regarded as a last resource,

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since it always results in a reduction of the normal yield by 20 to 30 per cent. During dry
years especially the results of cutting tubers may prove disastrous. In 1893, some of M.
Girard's coworkers who adopted this method lost the whole of their crop, and the following
example is given as a case in point.

In 1893, M* Girard planted half an acre of Blue Giant potatoes. With the intention of
showing the fallacy of the announcement of ^ well-known agriculturist that magnificent re-
sults could be obtained by planting cut tubers of this variety, a strip 4^ yards wide and 63
yards long was planted in the middle of the half-acre piece with slices of large tubers cut
into four pieces in the approved manner. Of 789 plants set in this manner, only 38 grew,
yielding a crop of only 14.3 cwts. per acre; the yield of the rest of the field, which had been
planted with entire tubers of medium size, being 10.7 tons per acre. When reading the re-
port of the evidence given before the financial relation commission I was surprised at the low
average yield which Dr. Grimshaw, the registrar-general (Q. 2806), gives for Ireland — 3^
tons per acre. This is, I find, very nearly the same as the average for the whole of the
United Kingdom — 3^ tons per acre (a little more than 4,500,000 tons for a little less than
1,250,000 acres), though in Germany the yield is nearly 4^/^ tons per acre. On asking a
potato grower and merchant in South Yorkshire what was regarded as an average yield per
acre in his district, he told me the average on his farm was above 10 tons an acre; that 7 to 8
tons per acre of Giants or of Bruce was the average in North Notts, Lincolnshire, and South
Yorkshire. He mentioned two cases where Findlay's Up-to-Date yielded above 20 tons
per acre. We may, I think, take it that the German excess of I ton per acre is not wholly
due to advantages of climate and natural fertility of the soil. As bearing on this question of
the yield per acre, I may quote the following paragraph from Sir J. H. Gilbert's report on the
" Growth of potatoes at Rothamsted," 1888:

** For Ireland the estimate shows an average yield per acre of less than 4 tons, against
more than 6 tons in Great Britain. It may be mentioned that the yield per acre given for Ire-
land, where the potato is still of great importance as a supply of food for the people, is less
than twice as much as was obtained at Rothamsted over twelve years in succession on the
same land without any manure; it is scarcely more than was obtained by mineral manure
alone ; and considerably less than two-thirds as much as was yielded by mineral and nitroge-
nous manures together. It is clear, therefore, that the condition of the land, the cultivation,
and the treatment of the crop are in Ireland much inferior to those in the rest of the United

Nor should it be forgotten that it has been stated by Mr. F. W. Burbidge, the curator of
the Trinity College Gardens, and an acknowledged authority on the question, that in the south
and west of Ireland an acre of good land under choice varieties of daffodils is worth twenty
times as much as an acre under potatoes or wheat.

Professor Johnston, continuing, pointed out the great economic waste
resulting from the Irish laborer using potatoes as his chief food. He said :
**As man must have 300 grains of nitrogen in his food daily, potatoes alone
are a very unsuitable article of food. To get this nitrogen he must eat 14
pounds of potatoes.'* In discussing this question, he made the statement
that ** mealy potatoes were the potatoes for the rich, but that for the poor
man unable to buy a mixed diet watery potatoes furnished the best food, as
they gave him a greater percentage of nitrogen.**

Professor Johnston discussed exhaustively the diseases to which the potato
plant and the tubers are subject and proceeded to point out from various
authorities that of the tuber-bearing plants in the solanum family, the
Solanum tuberosum had its native habitat in the high, dry, and cool climate
of the Chilean Andes, while the Solanum maglia was a native of the coast of
No. 199 6.

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Chile, and that hence its characteristics differed according to climatic condi-
tions. He closed his lecture as follows :

As the species Solarium tuberosum is the source of all the cultivated varieties of potato
and is itself a native of a relatively dry and high habitat, while Solanum ma^lia yields readily
an abundant supply of eatable potatoes, and, as far as climate is concerned, would be better
Btted to succeed in England and Ireland than Solanum tuberosumy Solanum maglia and
Solanum commtrsoni " should be brought into the economic arena and thoroughly tested as
regards their economic value both as distinct ty]>es and when hybridized with the innumerable
forms of Solanum tuberosum^

I should like, in conclusion, to call the attention of the conference to a plant which has
been suggested -as a substitute for the potato — a plant which is said to be Bnding increasing
favor in England, France, and Switzerland. It is a member of the dead nettle or labiate
order to which thyme, mint, sage, and other pot herbs belong. The plant, known as Crosne
du Japon and Chinese artichoke, is called Stachys tuberifera, and is characterized by the
{xssession of tuberous underground stems which are swollen and bead like, owing to the ac-
cumulation of food matter in the internodes. The lantern slides and the specimens which
are grown in Ireland will give a good idea of the characters of these peculiar looking tubers.
Their chemical composition is very interesting and shows them to be a great advance in some
respects as a food on the potato tuber. Though in 100 parts by weight 78.3 parts are water,
2 parts are nitrogenous (1. ^., eight times as much as in the potato tuber), and 16^ parts are a
readily digested carbohydrate known as galactan, a body which is much more digestible than
starch, being allied to dextrin, and so more easily converted by the digestive juices into soluble
dextrose or sugar. Stachys tubers are recommended by Planta, their analyzer, as a substitute
for potatoes, especially for invalids or for people with delicate stomachs. The contents of
stachys tubers bear very much the same relation to the contents of a potato tuber that pepto-
nized foods do to ordinary meats.

Professor Johnston was followed by Mr. Sutton, of the firm Messrs.
Sutton & Sons, the largest growers of seed potatoes in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Sutton devoted much of his paper to a historical discussion of the cul-
ture of the potato in England, employing this portion of his paper to enforce
the facts of deterioration and improvement in the potato tuber. Turning
to disease prevention, he stated that two methods were now employed for
the same purpose, though differing fundamentally in principle — one the
spraying process, the other the attempt to develop seedlings of robust con-
stitution capable of resisting the attacks of the fungus. As to the spraying
of potatoes as a means of preventing disease and increasing yield, Mr. Sutton
had the following to say :

In the elaborate series of experiments conducted in conjunction with Professor Gilchrist,
of the University Extension College, Reading, in 1895, we found that in the first and second
early varieties no advantage was gained by spraying. These crops finished their growth
before disease could attack the plants, and the dressing did not appreciably lengthen the
period of growth ; in fact, there was an actual loss on the sprayed plots. During the past
season (1896) these experiments were continued with the result that in the case of a late main-
crop potato there was a gain of 6 cwts. 3 quarters 4 pounds per acre — but exactly the same
spraying applied to the White Elephant potato gave a loss of 12 cwts. 2 quarters. It is there-
fore a question whether in the majority of cases there would be sufficient additional weight
per acre to compensate the grower for the somewhat laborious task of spraying his crop three
times during the growing i>eriod. I must, however, point out that the soil of the experimental
grounds is very light and porous^ and that the climate is dry, and I consider these facts ac*

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Online LibraryUnited States. Dept. of Commerce and Labor United States. Bureau of Foreign CommerceConsular reports, Issues 196-199 → online text (page 72 of 82)