Foundations of SASA

1913-1918 Seed testing and seed potato classification in central Edinburgh
1920 East Craigs purchased
1923 Labs built
1935 Seed testing station – Plant registration service
1936 Plant pathology work
1945 Plant quarantine work – Farm certification schemes

In 1920 The Board of Agriculture purchased the 111 acre East Craigs farm on the then western outskirts of Edinburgh and in 1923 approval was given for the building of laboratory facilities there. By 1925 construction work had commenced and the Seed Testing Station and the Plant Registration Service were merged and set up operation on the site which was officially opened by Sir John Gilmour, Secretary for Scotland. At that time the site was shared with the Scottish Plant Breeding Station (SPBS) until it moved to Pentlandfield in the early 1950s. Craigs House and the old Empire Building were originally occupied by SPBS with Craigs House being the residence of the Director of the SPBS during this period.

Purity laboratory analysis of pea sampleLaboratory methods of seed testing have been in use in continental Europe since the mid-19th Century. The first official seed testing station in the British Isles was established in 1910 in Dublin by the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland. In 1912, the Board of Agriculture was established in Scotland and under its aegis some seed testing was carried out at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. In 1913 the need for a full-time seed testing station was accepted and one was opened the following year in Duke Street, Edinburgh. This Scottish Seed Testing Station was set up in response to pressure from various sections of the agricultural trading community who were pressing for standardisation in the practice of seed testing. Its functions in the early years (1914-1917) were mainly advisory and educational. However, the Testing of Seeds Order 1917 required more stringent checks to be made on the quality of seed grown for, and sold to, the agricultural community and in 1918 the Seed Testing Station became the Official Control Station for Scotland occupying larger premises at 7 Albany Street, Edinburgh. Tests were initially carried out for purity (impurity being defined as all foreign matter but excluding immature and ill-ripened seed) and germination capacity (applied to all species of seed in the sample including immature seed). This method of analysis differed from the continental method in that the latter classified immature and ill-ripened seed as impurities, but it had the advantage, for the purchaser, of accurately reflecting the quality of the seed supplied as required by the new legislation.

For several years prior to 1917, the Board of Agriculture had been under some pressure to set up a Plant Registration Station. In 1918 a conference was held between representatives of the Board and Agricultural Trade Associations, where the proposal was officially approved and a committee formed. In 1923 a formal constitution and code of rules was adopted. The early work of the Plant Registration Station was mainly concerned with potatoes and oats, respectively administered under the Potato Synonym Sub-Committee and the Cereal Sub-Committee.

The importance of newly emerging problems in scientific agriculture, including varietal purity had been recognised in 1908 when it was discovered that some potato varieties were naturally immune to potato wart disease. The Board of Agriculture sponsored work to encourage the production of immune varieties and to assess the availability of pure stocks. East Craigs played a central part in this work by describing old varieties, testing and registering new ones, and providing a technical basis for a seed certification scheme.

Later, emphasis moved from varietal purity to freedom from virus disease and production of virus tested stocks. In 1929 the Board of Agriculture became the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, and in this year work started on developing healthy virus-free potatoes.

In 1924 advisory work on horticultural plant pathology was begun by the Board of Agriculture at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. In 1936 this section moved to East Craigs, where it concentrated much of its energy in investigating Strawberry Red Core disease. Until 1945 the section’s work was mainly advisory but after this date its scope widened due to increased interest in plant quarantine and disease control through the introduction of certification schemes. The section’s remit included provision of technical advice to the Department on fungus diseases, examination of diseased specimens for the Department and the agricultural colleges, general education work, wart disease testing and research on special diseases.

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