1913 Born in Crumpsall, Manchester, England
1918-24 Attended Crumpsall Lane Elementary School
1924-29 Attended North Manchester Grammar School
1929-32 Attended Manchester Grammar School
1932-35 Read Natural Sciences at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, funded by scholarships from both Manchester Grammar School and Emmanuel College. Whilst in Cambridge he cycled between Cambridge and home (in Manchester) at the beginning and end of term.
1935 Received a double starred first class degree and came overall second in that year’s Tripos.
1935-39 Studied for a PhD in Cambridge, working with Mr A. E. Watkins MA at the Plant Breeding Institute, which at that time was part of the University. His thesis, entitled ‘Experimental Polyploidy in the Genera Raphanus and Brassica‘ was submitted in December 1938 and the PhD degree was awarded in February 1939. On receiving his degree he became a member of staff.
1939-1978 Worked at the Plant Breeding Institute, Cambridge (PBI). Until 1952, the Institute was part of the School of Agriculture in Cambridge University. From 1952 it became a state-aided Research Institute, funded by the Agricultural Research Council, and it moved out of the university buildings to a new site in Trumpington, Cambridge in 1954.
For very many years Dr Howard was Head of the Potatoes and Brassicas Section (later Department). Initially, breeding work on brassicas was confined to agricultural kales. Dr Ken Thompson worked with Dr Howard on self-incompatibility in marrow stem kale and this eventually led to the production of hybrid varieties, most notably Maris Kestrel, the first double-cross kale variety, which was released in 1965. By 1984 this variety was being grown on 30-40% of the acreage and it is still the leading kale variety in the UK today (2016). The PBI was awarded the Queen’s Award to Industry for marrow stem kale in 1975.
Work on potatoes within the PBI started in 1939 when R.N. Salaman, famous for his work on resistance to potato blight, retired from the Potato Virus Research Institute in Cambridge and gave the Institute his material and notebooks. Post war, there was an expansion of work on the crop, including use of the blight-resistant species, Solanum demissum, and the development of new techniques for testing viruses. Two potato varieties, Maris Page and, more importantly, Maris Peer, were sister clones bred from Salaman’s material . Maris Peer is still widely grown today; in 2015 it was ranked third in the AHDB table of area of potatoes planted in Great Britain.
Work on resistance to potato cyst nematode commenced in the late 1950’s and this resulted in the breeding of Maris Piper.
A section of the photograph of the PBI staff and governors taken in 1973. Dr Harold Howard (HWH) is second on the left in the third row. To his left is Dr Ken Thompson, the brassica breeder; behind HWH to the right, Mr John Fuller who ran tests for nematode resistance; two to the right of HWH is Mr Colin Cole, a senior member of the potato breeding team, and to the right of him, Dr Graham Jellis, the potato pathologist (and author of this website).
A number of other varieties were released in the 1970’s, the most successful of which was the first early, Maris Bard, which was first Recommended by the NIAB in 1976.
Although best known for his breeding and research on potatoes and brassicas, Dr Howard did genetic research on a number of other species, particularly during the 40’s and 50’s. These included watercress, oats and woodlouse (Armadillidium vulgare). Some of this research is still being cited today.
Dr Howard was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science (ScD) by Cambridge University in 1968 for a substantial body of published work accumulated over a number of years in a distinguished career.
In the jacket notes for ‘Genetics of the Potato’ (H.W. Howard, Logos Press) published in 1970, it states that Dr Howard ‘is the author of over 120 scientific papers and notes, about half of which are on potatoes’.
Other honours/awards included the Haigh Trophy, awarded by the National Association of Seed Potato Merchants for rendering outstanding meritorious service to the seed potato industry, in 1975.
Receiving the Haigh Trophy
Harold Howard received the OBE in 1976.
During his career, Harold Howard supervised a number of post-graduate students, the most famous of whom was Professor M S Swaminathan, who has been acclaimed by the TIME magazine as one of the twenty most influential Asians of the 20th century. He played a leading role in India’s ‘Green Revolution’. Dr Howard made a number of trips to India and also South America, to advise on potato breeding and production.
Harold Howard retired in 1976 but returned to the PBI in 1982 when the Institute received the Queen’s Award for Technological Innovation for Maris Piper, a fitting end to an illustrious career.