JARS v39n1 - Putting Research to Work for You

Putting Research to Work for You
August E. Kehr, Ph.D.

From a talk given to the Southeastern Chapter ARS, August 19, 1984

It is a pleasure to have this opportunity to talk to you on the research being sponsored by the American Rhododendron Society (ARS) and how it can work for you. My topic is "Putting Research to Work for You." My talk will cover 3 main points:

(1)  The value of research.
(2)  What is ARS research and how can it work for you.
(3)  What has ARS research done for you thus far.

The Value of Research
I have been involved in Agricultural Research for most of my life, so you will have to pardon me if I extol the virtues of research.

American agriculture is a worldwide success story. The productivity and efficiency of the American farmer is unexcelled anywhere in the world and is unique in the history of man. We can produce so much food that the American agricultural policy is geared to reduce production, whereas in most other countries of the world it is geared toward increasing production.

Today we hear much of balance of payments in our foreign trade. For the past decade or more, the U.S. has bought more products from abroad than it exported, and hence we are building up huge deficits of payments. The primary source of our return trade to foreign countries is agricultural products. The amount of foreign trade in agricultural products exceeds any manufactured product or any other commodity. It may not generally be recognized that agricultural products are the main source of improving our balance of foreign trade. Given the opportunity, the American farmer has the potential to export even more.

A measure of our farm productivity can be realized by the following comparisons:

In the U.S., 1 farmer produces enough to feed 55 other persons. In Russia, 1 farmer produces enough to feed about 4 persons. In many countries, 4 farmers can produce enough to feed only 1 other person. The Russians realize the value of agricultural research and are expending huge sums to build up their agricultural research institutes. One of my research friends who recently returned from a visit to Russia described in glowing terms the extensive new laboratories being constructed and staffed throughout the U.S.S.R. Perhaps more than the average American, the Russians recognize the value of agricultural research to the well being of their country, and are doing something about it, whereas in the U.S. research funds for agriculture have not kept up with inflation and the number of scientists involved in agricultural research have been drastically reduced in number.

The American success story in agricultural production began, in 1864 during the very worst period of American history - the American War Between the States. At that time the passage of the Morrill Act set up the Land Grant System for agricultural research and teaching, and later the Smith-Lever Act which set up the system of agricultural extension. The secret of this unique success is that in the U.S. we have a three-cornered partnership of research, teaching, and extension. The three cornered partnership works like this:

The researchers develop the new information in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Land Grant Colleges. The new facts from research are then taught to others by the professors at the Land Grant Colleges, and those who are thus taught, including the extension agents, go out to pass the information on to the users - the American public. Finally, the circle is completed by the extension agents bringing back to the researchers the problems being faced by the users. This cycle is what makes the American system so unique and so successful.

We need this research cycle in the American Rhododendron Society.
But who will do the research on rhododendrons and azaleas in this country? The U.S. Department of Agriculture is not doing it and will not do it. I know of fewer than 3 or 4 scientists in the entire Federal system working on these plants even on a part time basis. The emphasis in research in the U.S.D.A. is on animals and food crops, not ornamental crops. I know this well because for years I struggled unsuccessfully to get funds for work to support the billion dollar plus florist and nursery industry, only to lose out to such things as corn, pigs, and pests. These are the bread and butter enterprises that are most easily justified to the Congress for research funds.

Will the State Agricultural Land Grant Colleges do the research? The answer is again no. They too spend their research dollars largely on corn, pigs, and pests. Research on ornamental plants, despite their huge value in dollars in this country, is minimal at best even in State tax supported research.

It largely boils down to this conclusion - if there is to be research on azaleas and rhododendrons, ARS must do it.

What is Research and How Can It Work For You
My definition of rhododendron research is a simple one; it is problem solving. Hence any recognized problem is a subject for research. If any problem is recognized as such by any member of the Society, it is a fit subject for additional study. If the problem for example is the lack of seed, then seed collection is research. If the problem is the need for a book or a publication, then publication of these items is research. If the problem is the lack of an illustrated talk for the film library, this too is research. It is a definition that encompasses a broad spectrum of activities and brings research to each ARS member's home and garden.

Research is a slow process and any advance in knowledge comes slowly. Breakthroughs in knowledge are rare and most research is far less spectacular. Research goes by steps, each advance being built upon previous research. In today's world, the use of automatic data processing (ADP) makes it easy to learn what research has been done previously on a problem. 1 Research is never completed because each time a problem is solved, new problems are thereby opened up. At one time a group of us had to appear before the House Agriculture Appropriations Committee. The Chairman, in an attempt to "needle" the group asked, "When are you going to finish research? Each year we give you money, and you always come back for more. When will it be finished?" Our Chairman replied," You members of the Congress have met each year since 1776 and each year you pass new laws. Our research will be completed when you stop passing new laws." The Congressman got the message.

Some kinds of research are of necessity never done. For example, research on the control of diseases and insects must be a continued process because the disease-causing agents and insects are always present, never are eliminated, and they often change by mutations into new types that resist the earlier controls. Plant pest research is somewhat comparable to research on the control of human colds; it is almost an unending process.

What Has ARS Research Done For You?
I should like to now turn to the ARS research program and give you some of the background on its functions. The Research Committee was appointed about 1970 by ARS President Carl Phetteplace. With the exception of a few years in the late 1970's, I have been Chairman of that Committee.

In the early days the Committee had no funds of its own and their activity was limited. About the only function we had was to report research done in the Federal Government, colleges, and universities throughout the world.

The first concrete activity was to co-sponsor the International Nomenclature Conference in New York City, May 15-17, 1978, in cooperation with the New York Botanic Garden. From this activity the international group agreed on a single system of nomenclature based upon the Sleumer system. This was an advance because several different systems were being prepared at the time to replace the Balfour system which is not based upon a truly botanical basis. From this conference came the book, "Contributions Toward a Classification of Rhododendron." Thus the first result and accomplishment of the Committee was a publication that is available to the membership. It still is widely read as an excellent source book on such topics as diseases, insects, flower pigments, etc.

In the period of 1974-1976 a total of 12 small grants were made amounting to $500 each These were funded by $6,000 from the profits of the Seed Exchange. All of these were completed and papers appeared from time to time in the ARS Journal. From the beginning the primary requisite of each grant recipient was an agreement to publish a report in the ARS Journal. These publications have added immeasurably to the stature of the Journal to ARS membership and in the scientific community.

The first big project was $2000 awarded to Dr. Wilbur Anderson, Mt. Vernon, Washington, for the initial work on tissue culture of rhododendrons and azaleas, again using Seed Exchange profits. From this initial work has sprung the tremendous tissue culture industry and activities in the Genus . We can all be proud that our Society had a real impact in this success story.

At this point I should like to point out a very definite reason why ARS research projects are such bargains for the Society. With this grant method of research we pay no salaries of the researchers, one of the big costs of doing research. In addition, we get the use of very expensive research equipment, one of the other great costs of doing research. It is almost like getting $25 of research done for every dollar we spend in grants. In addition, many times our small grants act as "seed money" in that the grant recipient can use his grant to justify additional research on rhododendrons and azaleas from his specific research institution. I know of one $1000 grant that led to a university project of $40,000. When our Society demonstrates its need for research by putting up funds, it encourages research administrators to carry on with the work.

The Advent of the ARS Research Foundation
At the annual meeting of the Society in 1975 in Seattle, Mr. Judson Brooks sat in with the Research Committee when they were reviewing the proposals sent in to the Committee in competition for the 12 grants mentioned earlier. Mr. Brooks was deeply impressed with the whole process and especially recognized the potentials to the Society in undertaking a research program. At the banquet in Seattle, he made an appeal for funds. As a result of this appeal and the generosity of the Society membership, a total of $800 in cash and $8000 in pledges was raised, or nearly $9000. With that amount of money, the Society needed to set up some kind of committee for special treatment and caretaking of these funds so they would not be lost in the regular funds of the Society. After much thought and deliberation, it was decided to set up a special organization within the Society to perpetuate these funds so they would remain intact and never be spent except for research. As a result, the Society set up the Research Foundation (RF) on March 13, 1976.

It can be said, therefore, that the Research Foundation had its birth in 1975 at the Seattle meetings. A copy of the incorporation papers and regulations of the Research Foundation is in every chapter president's files, or should be. If you do not have it there, request a copy from Mrs. Egan, our Executive Secretary.

Later, Dr. Alfred Martin undertook the necessary legal actions to obtain a ruling from the Internal Revenue Service for a special tax exempt (501 (C) 3) status for the Foundation. In cooperation with Judson Brooks, he also got a ruling that the Foundation is (in the parlance of IRS) "not a private foundation." This ruling means that the funds come from a broad base the Society membership and from the public. There are distinct legal advantages to this rating, in addition to the fact all donations are tax exempt. All the trustees are ARS members, and all trustees are appointed for a 3 year term by the ARS President. The ARS President is furthermore always an ex-officio trustee and participates as a voting member of the Board of Trustees. The Society, therefore, has full control of the Foundation and in fact the Foundation is, in a sense, only a special arm of the Society whose primary function is to safeguard the endowment funds and assure that the earnings are properly used for research. All funds received by the Foundation go into the endowment fund and are never spent. Only the earnings are used each year to sponsor research.

Early Activities of the Research Foundation
The first earnings from the endowment fund of the Foundation were used to help translate the book, "Rhododendrons of China," from the Chinese language. A total of $1300 was allocated for this purpose. Thus the Research Committee and the Research Foundation have been instrumental in part for the publication of 2 books for Society membership, "Rhododendrons of China" and "Contributions Toward a Classification of Rhododendrons."

A second project was $2000 awarded to Mr. William Gensell, a graduate student at North Carolina State University, to do a study on the R. carolinianum - minus-chapmanii complex. This study is nearing completion and will clarify the relationships of these 3 species. Seeds from this study have gone to the Seed Exchange and superior plants found in the wild were propagated and sent to the Rhododendron Species Foundation. In addition, plants propagated by Mr. Gensell (soon to be Dr. Gensell) have been auctioned off at various meetings where Mr. Gensell talked to the members and gave his interesting and informative findings. These plants netted chapters at least $500, thus partly repaying the initial grant costs. Mr. Gensell said he could not have done this research without RF funds. He told me that after he had selected this problem for his doctorate research, his major professor told him he could not undertake the research because the State of North Carolina would not provide for travel outside the State. However, when the RF provided the grant funds, the research could proceed as originally planned. This is a good example of how the Research Foundation works for you. Dr. Gus Mehlquist should receive credit for this superb project because he was Research Chairman at that time.

Later Activities of the Research Foundation
In recent years research has been funded as follows:

1982 6 projects selected from 12 proposals $7,950
1983 8 projects selected from 28 proposals $10,800*
1984 8 projects selected from 26 proposals $8,500
*Another $3000 was provided in 1983 by the Seed Exchange to fund a seed collection project in China.

Detailed descriptions of each of the above 22 projects are published in the Fall 1982, Fall 1983, and Summer 1984 issues of the Journal. Thus 22 projects have been funded in the last three years totaling $27,250, all from earnings of the endowment fund. Not a cent of original money has been spent and the cost to each ARS member has been nothing beyond his original contribution to the endowment fund.

The Research Foundation Today
Now let's talk about the Research Foundation as it exists and operates at present. The endowment fund has grown from the initial $8800 raised in Seattle in 1975 to about $110,000 today. These funds have come from about 33% of the ARS membership. For example, the dues check off each year has been used by about 1 member out of every 10 to contribute to the Research Foundation. This results in nearly $3000 annually being added to the endowment fund. Many chapters contribute yearly to the endowment fund. One chapter, Piedmont, has contributed $300 per year for several years. The Southeastern Chapter this year contributed $100 as part of the proceeds of one of its cutting auctions. Sales of plants of the new azalea, 'Great Expectations', at the Atlanta meetings and elsewhere grown by the Transplant Nursery (Mary, Jeff and Lisa Beasley) netted nearly $2000. All of these sources bring about a healthy growth of the endowment fund each year, keeping it far ahead of inflation. The trustees of the Foundation are: Mr. J. Judson Brooks, 1987 Chairman, Dr. A.R. Fitzburgh, 1985 Vice Chairman, Mr. Ted Van Veen, 1986 Treasurer, Dr. Franklin West, 1986, Mr. Ernie Kolak, 1985, Mr. Fred Cummings, 1987, Dr. Alfred Martin, Honorary Trustee, Mrs. Janet Binford, Ex Officio.

Two new factors added to RF research include(1)the provision whereby chapters may raise 50% of the funds and the RF will match it dollar for dollar when approved by the Trustees, (2) proposals for research may be submitted by any ARS member through his local chapter research chairman.

How Does the ARS System of Research Work
Our ARS system of research is patterned closely after the highly successful system used in agricultural research mentioned earlier in this talk. It works as follows:

  1. It starts with each local chapter, each of which has a chapter research chairman, who obtains a list of problems from chapter membership and sends it to the national committee. If you do not know the name of this local chairman, ask your chapter president or write to Mrs. Egan, Executive Secretary.
  2. The National Committee compiles the problems into a master list which is sent to all prospective researchers asking for research to solve these problems.
  3. Proposals for research to solve the problems in (1) and (2) above are received by the chairman of the Research Committee and are considered by the Research Committee at each annual meeting, and are put into priority order.
  4. The priority list goes to the trustees of the RF who determine funding.
  5. Checks for recipients of grants go to the nearest local chapter research chairman to present to the recipient. That research chairman continues to cooperate in the research until it is published. It is his responsibility to assist the researcher in obtaining seeds, plants, etc. and to make sure the research is published.
  6. The publication of the research results completes the cycle by making the information available to teachers, professors and Society membership.

I hope I have shown:

  1. That Research does have a value to ARS just as it does to American Agriculture.
  2. That you now better understand what ARS research is and how it is working for you.
  3. That ARS research has contributed markedly to each ARS member already, despite its relative newness, and will continue to do so ad infinitum without undue burden on the membership. A few of the benefits have been 2 books, seed in the Seed Exchange, plants to RSF, chapter speakers, numerous informative articles in the Journal, and additional research on rhododendrons and azaleas, and encouraged and undertaken by various research groups.

Do you have rhododendron problems? Then we are at your service.

1 One of the projects funded in 1984 has as its purpose the development of rhododendron information for ARS members using A.D.P.