THE UNPRECEDENTED advances in dairy-cattle breeding achieved in the last 50 years derive mostly from the introduction of Artificial Insemination (AI) and techniques made possible thereby. Joseph Edwards was one of the small team at Cambridge that was mainly responsible for the development. John (later Sir John) Hammond was the inspiration and guide, Arthur Walton the resourceful and inventive technician, and Edwards the apostle.
Earlier, Edwards had graduated B Sc from Glasgow and M Sc at Minnesota before his appointment as assistant to Hammond in 1932. Apart from his work with AI, Edwards's main interest was in the relatively new concept of progeny testing, whereby a sire was judged by the performance of his offspring rather than by his ancestry, which had been the usual method. He published several papers on the subject, but progress was slow because of the difficulty of assembling enough animals. Edwards was quick to realise that AI was the way to progress as a result of the numbers of progeny generated.
The outbreak of war regrettably saw the suspension of further work on AI until RS Hudson, then Minister of Agriculture, took a more forward view which resulted in the establishment of the first commercial AI station in Cambridge in 1942. Edwards, as chairman of the co-operative which established and owned it, had a new lease of life and resumed his advocacy with his customary verve and enthusiasm.
He was thus a natural choice as Head of Breeding and Production when the Milk Marketing Board decided in 1945 to back the new process. Edwards was unable to take up his appointment immediately because he was working for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in Germany. On his return he showed his innate skill in picking the men for the new organisation and soon built up a chain of AI stations covering most of England and Wales.
The groundwork for later developments was established - the progeny-testing that was his first interest, and frozen semen for storage and transport, enabling the import and export of breeding material that is a feature of today.
By the 1950s it was evident that beef calves produced from the crossing of beef bulls on dairy cows were likely to be a permanent feature of the farming economy. Many attempts at improving the selection of bulls for beef production by progeny-testing had been made, but it fell to Edwards to propose to his board a bold and radical approach which enabled the calves of selected beef bulls to be reared in standard conditions, and their growth performance and ultimate carcass quality to be recorded and compared. The involvement of the MMB in bull inseminations gave Edwards the chance to make another significant contribution to British farming. John Hammond had long realised that the heavily muscled Continental beef bulls could be useful as a source of beef from our dairy cows. It was undoubtedly due to Edwards's persistence that the government set up the Terrington Committee that opened the door to the Charolais and other breeds that followed.
After 23 years of internationally acclaimed achievement at the MMB, Edwards was 'head-hunted' by the World Bank and moved to Washington overseeing projects in Africa and Asia.
His achievements were recognised by an Honorary D Sc (Glasgow) in 1949, his appointment as CBE in 1960 and, in France, as Chevalier Ordre du Merite Agricole.
'Joe' Edwards had an engaging personality and had many friends at home and, as a result of much travelling, in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, but he never lost his love for his native Scotland.