I. V. Michurin Reference Archive

Results of My Sixty Years' Work and prospects for the Future

Source: I. V. Michurin: Selected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1949.
First Published: Transactions of the I. V. Michurin Plant-Breeding Station, Vol. II, 1934
Online Version: Sally Ryan for the I. V. Michurin Reference Archive (marxists.org) 2002.

Now, when our great country has entered the period of Socialism, when Socialism has become tangible not only in the spheres of economics and culture, but also in science and technology, and when the time has come for the most extensive application of scientific knowledge in practical work, it is a pleasure for me, who has devoted some sixty years of effort to attaining a constant improvement of fruit and berry plants, and to producing absolutely new varieties of plants, to tell the working masses and the men of science about how I worked, what results I have attained and what the prospects are in the work of breeding new varieties of fruits and berries.

I am described as a spontaneous dialectician, an empiric, a deductivist. Without entering into a discussion about the correctness or incorrectness of these epithets, I consider it my duty to say the following in this brief review of my activities. I began my work in 1875, at the dawn of Russian capitalism when survivals of serfdom still existed. At that time not only was there no science of genetics (even, now it is only in the formative stage)--a science which should be organically associated with plant breeding--but there was no such thing as scientific horticulture in general (a chair of horticulture was first founded in 1915), and all Russian science was regimented by Tsar Alexander. In short, I had no precedent in the organization of scientific breeding of new varieties of fruits and small fruits. Nor could I draw upon earlier, more or less serious experimentation, by others.

The one thing I saw was the unusual poverty of Central Russian horticulture in general and, in particular, the poor assortment of plants, as compared with other countries and our own South.

It pained me to observe the sad state of our horticulture, considering the exceptional importance of this branch of agriculture. I came to the conclusion, at the time, that horticulture in Central Russia, and particularly in Northern Russia, had not advanced a single step since time immemorial....

What have we in the orchards of the vast areas of Central Russia?--I asked myself. Everywhere you saw only the traditional Antonovka, Anis, Borovinka, Terentyevka and similar antediluvian varieties of apples. There were still fewer pears, sour cherries and plums--only such old favourites as Bessemyanka and summer Tonkovetka pears, Vladimirskaya sour cherries and semicultivated sorts of damson and wild blackthorn.

Only rarely did one find orchards that could boast of a few varieties of Reinette apples of foreign origin, and in very insignificant quantities at that. The organisms of these plants had been exhausted long ago; they had become frail and sickly and had lost their resistance powers, with the result that the plants became an easy prey to disease and were plagued by pests for long periods.

The sorry picture of Russian horticulture in those days evoked in me a painfully acute desire to remake all this, to influence the nature of plants in a different way, and this desire was embodied in my own principle, now universally known: "We cannot wait for favours from Nature; me must wrest them from her."

I made this the basic principle of my work and am guided by it to this day.

However, having no precedents that I could follow in my scientific research, I was compelled, in the early stage of my work, to act by intuition and, somewhat later, to resort to the deductive method.

I set myself two bold tasks: to augment the assortment of fruits and berries in the central regions by adding high-yield varieties of superior quality, and to extend the area of southern crop cultivation far to the North.

But it was some time before I accomplished these tasks. I should point out that there are three sharply outlined stages in all my work.

The Acclimatization Stage

In the eighties of the last century a pseudoscientific theory about the acclimatization of plants, propounded by the Moscow scientist Dr. Grell, was current. The substance of this "theory" was that in order to augment the assortment in the central regions it is necessary to take southern plants and gradually adapt them to our climatic conditions. And despite the fact that this method was fallacious, I chose it for lack of any other. The fact that the acclimatization of plants is, in essence, altogether unscientific was still unknown to me at that time.

In procuring plants from abroad--from the South--I expected that these foreigners would grow and bear fruit in our part of the country. But these experiments were not successful for the plants perished from frost in the very first winter. True, some specimens did bear fruit, but in the end they perished, too, or proved impractical for cultivation in our parts.

After this failure I employed another method; by means of grafting I attempted to bring the South to the North, believing that the southern varieties grafted on to our frost-hardy wildings would adapt themselves to our climate with greater rapidity, and that their seeds would produce seedlings from which, after being exposed to the influence of various factors, new improved varieties might be selected. But alas, here, too, I met with failure; all of my seedlings were killed by the frost during the first winter.

For ten long years, patiently suffering the grave consequences of fallacious methods, I got hundreds of adverse results but did not abandon my work and continued to try out one method after another.

The Mass Selection Stage

This stage is also the first stage in breeding new hardy varieties for each separate locality. This I tried to achieve by training and selecting seedlings from seeds of the best native and foreign varieties. However, it soon became evident that seedlings selected from the best local strains possessed only slightly higher qualities than the old varieties, while seedlings produced from seeds of foreign plants proved, in the majority of cases, too frail.

The Hybridization Stage

In my subsequent work I chose pairs of parent plants from among the best local varieties and crossed them artificially, but again the hybrids thus derived fell short of the required standard. Next, I crossed our local plants with southern varieties, but while the varieties produced in this way yielded better-tasting fruits, in the majority of cases they could not keep through the winter. In my opinion, the properties of our local varieties of fruit-bearing plants in most cases dominated over the properties of southern plants, for our varieties originated in our localities and have grown there for hundreds of years, while the southern sorts are "newcomers" in our parts.

And so after that I struck an absolutely correct path, one at which science has arrived only in recent gears--I began to cross races and species of plants of distant habitat.

Under this method the chosen pairs of parent plants were placed, in our part of the country, in an environment to which they were unaccustomed. The offspring of such crossbreeds were most adaptable to our climatic condition and produced a more favourable combination of qualities, one that approximated the requirements I had set. As a result of such hybridization, the southern plants transmitted to their offspring flavour, size, colour, etc., while the wild frost-resistant species contributed their endurance to our severe winter frosts.

My Achievements

Following this, I proceeded to procure for my nursery plants from practically every part of the globe. By the October Revolution the nursery had approximately eight hundred species of initial plant forms. There were pants here from North and South Dakota, Canada, Japan, Manchuria, Korea, China, Tibet, India, Pamir, Indonesia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Crimes, the Balkans, the Alps, France, England, the tundra regions, etc.

When in 1919 my nursery was placed under the supervision of the People's Commissariat of Agriculture of the R.S.F.S.R., it contained the following new varieties of fruits and small fruits, industrial crops and melons which I had produced:

apples ...................45 varieties
sour cherries ............13
sweet cherries.............6
cigarette tobacco..........1
plums--Reine Claude
and blackthorn (dessert)..15
wild strawberries..........1
white acacia...............1
attar roses................1

Total........................153 varieties

In my further work I managed to evolve a number of methods with the help of which I obtained outstanding varieties, frost-resistant not only in the Central Black-Earth Belt, but also in the Ivanovo Region and even further north, and in Siberia.

At the present time the assortment I have cultivated contains over three hundred varieties and represents a substantial basis for the socialist reconstruction of fruit and berry cultivation not only in the European, but also in the Asiatic part of the U.S.S.R. and in the high-altitude areas of the Caucasus (Daghestan, Armenia).

Two Worlds--Two Possibilities

I have survived two tsars, and for over sixteen years now I have been working under a socialist system. I have entered another world, one diametrically opposed to the former. An abyss separates these two worlds.

That this is so may be seen from the following. Under tsarism, throughout my many years of work to improve the breed of fruiters, I received neither remuneration for my labours, nor, moreover, subsidies or grants from the tsarist exchequer.

I carried on my work the best I could on my own means, gained by my own labour. I struggled constantly against poverty and endured all manner of hardships in silence, never petitioning assistance from the government.

Several times, on the advice of eminent horticulturists, I submitted memoranda to the department of agriculture. In them I tried to explain the great importance and necessity of improving and replenishing our assortments of fruit plants, but nothing ever came of my memoranda.

I welcomed the October Revolution as historically necessary in its justice and inevitability, and I immediately appealed to all honest agricultural experts to come over to the side of the Soviet Government and unreservedly take the path of the working class and its Party. And to those who argued that "it is better to stick to the tried and tested, rather than strive for the new and the unknown" I replied, at the time, "You cannot cling to a part when the whole is rushing irresistibly forward." As early as 1918 I entered the service of the People's Commissariat of Agriculture and in 1919, with my fullest and sincerest consent, my nursery was declared state property.

Hardly had the Civil War come to an end when no other than Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, whose memory we all revere, gave his attention to my work. In 1922, on the instructions of Vladimir Ilyich, the work I was doing was expanded to unparalleled dimensions. Outstanding leaders of the Communist Party and the Government, headed by Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin, Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R. and of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, took an interest in my work. Mikhail Ivanovich paid two visits to my nursery.

I received three awards from the Soviet Government. At the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition in 1923, I was honoured with the highest award--a certificate of the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R. In 1925, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of my work, the Government decorated me with the Order of the Red Banner of Labour, and in 1931, when horticulture was being reconstructed along socialist lines, I was awarded the Order of Lenin.

On the basis of my achievements the Government established a number of specialized institutions and schools catering to the entire Soviet Union and bearing my name: a scientific research institute of horticulture, a plant-breeding institute, a technical school, a workers' high school and an experimental centre for youngsters. The purpose of these institutions is to train agricultural experts with higher and secondary education. There is also a combined state farm and orchard of five thousand hectares that has been named for me, and, lastly, the city of Kozlov has been renamed Michurinsk.

Thus, by the will of the Party and the Government, the small nursery, confined to a tiny plot before the Revolution, has been transformed into an all-Union centre for research in fruit growing and plant breeding.

My feeling of solitude disappeared after the Revolution. I have a number of assistants who have done much to facilitate my work and have devoted a great deal of strength and effort to the organization and development of our all-Union research centre of fruit growing and plant breeding. They have earned my profound gratitude and respect.

The Work I Began Should Develop

The future prospects of my work have been outlined by the Government in its decisions of November 23, 1923 and May 13, 1931. These decisions point out that "the outstanding achievements of I. V. Michurin in the production of new high-yielding varieties of fruits and small fruits for the central regions of the U.S.S.R. are of enormous importance for the socialist reconstruction of horticulture and for heightening its technical level. The development of large-scale state and collective farms, the planned distribution of varieties and scientific cultivation methods create unprecedented opportunities for the extensive substitution of new, improved varieties for local low-yielding varieties."

The work which I have been doing or sixty years is inseparably bound up with the masses; it is their cause. But in order that the mass of the people might more quickly, and with the greatest possible benefit, take advantage of this work, the following effected :

1. I think that the period of popularizing my work is over; it is no longer a matter of propaganda, but of making practical use of my achievements. Yet, the propagation and study of my varieties in various climatic zones is anything hut satisfactory. Though I am in touch with thousands of kolkhozes and kolkhozniks, I feel no contact whatsoever with the regional and district agricultural administrations whose duty it is to disseminate my varieties.

There is a very large and ever increasing demand from kolkhozes for my varieties but, contrary to Government decisions, the local cultivation of stock is conducted on an insignificant scale.

It seems to me that the work of putting my achievements to practical use should be placed under the control of the political departments of machine and tractor stations and state farms.

2. The further development of breeding fruit an small-fruit plants requires regular expeditions to procure new specimens. In my research of the wild flora of the Far East I proved the importance of this aspect of the work and raised it to a scientific level.

3. Since our goal is not only to explain the world, but to change it so that it may better serve the needs of the working people, I regard plant breeding as a powerful instrument of our contemporary society, engaged, as it is, in the construction of Socialism. This instrument can help us master the nature of plants. That is why I think that instruction in plant breeding should be introduced in all agricultural schools, from primary schools to colleges.