Do Years Of Damage
Economic Science The First Consideration
[We publish in the form of an article a letter in answer to the questionnaire for land-workers which has recently been appearing on page 13.
The writer is a farmer who at present, through ill-health, can do no active work. As soon as he is well again he intends to continue farming. He has had experience as a farm pupil, a manager, and a tenant farmer. Because of his present position he feels that he can write quite impartially on pasture, arable, dairy or sheep farming.
He has no personal axe to grind, he sets forth clearly and simply what he considers a practical agricultural p3licy in England today.] i' THINK that one must come to a clear understanding that, although a policy which benefited farmers might not of necessity benefit the land, a policy beneficial to the land could not fail, to benefit every man engaged in the farming industry. The problem is, therefore, technical first, and human afterwards, because if, for instance, a dole were given to farmers it might not be spent on their farms and the benefit would he both temporary and of questionable Value in the years to come.
One's first thought must be for the land itself; how to increase its utility, fertility, and the prospect of marketing to advantage everything which is produced, either directly or indirectly from the soil. The mistake which people like Distributists make is to think that it would be for the good of the community at large to settle people on the land, without taking sufficient thought for the fate of the land on which they were settled; even if one generation prospered the harm they had done to their holdings would mean that future generations would have to fight a loosing battle against land, dirty and deprived of its heart.
Peasantry Impractical The creation of a new English peasantry would be an artificial experiment: very few men now engaged in the industry would take such an idea with any seriousness so that the new peasants would be men, taken from the towns, and inspired with an idealistic and totally false conception of what they were about to do. With the best will in the world such men would, with a few exceptions, fail through lack of knowledge, experience, and ties of rural birth.
When countrymen, with a real love and understanding of the land, are still drifting to the towns, it is unlikely that townsmen could so change their personalities as to be permanently faithful to a dream.
You cannot farm without manure: to make manure you need stock, buildings, yards, sufficient hay and straw, and withal a house in the centre of your holding. Picture, then, the expense of creating such holdings in a country where the farms and labourers' cottages are designed for a totally different type of farming! To keep more stock than a few old sows and some poultry, you need almost as much equipment as for a mixed farm of medium size.
The usual answer to this is that the settlers would borrow communal implements when they were needed; this would be all very well if everyone had their lambing, their haysel, and their harvest at different times of the year. That unfortunately is not the way in which Nature has chosen to do her work. When one man's plough is idle, so is his neighbour's—when one man's binder is in use, so are all the other binders in the district.
Tractors Don't Help Much
We are now in a country of fields of a hundred or more acres each, up and down which tractors roar all (and every) day and far into the night. We no longer employ farm labourers but men from the local garage—the farmer himself has become a captain of industry.
People who talk about the mechanised farm have failed to grasp that all land is not alike—there is heavy land, light land, and farm upon farm on which the land is something in between. Tractors may replace horses altogether on the very lightest of light land, they may work in conjunction with horses on medium land, and on very heavy land they are generally useless to the point of actual harm. Most land in England which is still under good cultivation (East Anglia for instance) is heavy. It is wheat land, bean land, and stick-to-yourboots land.
On this kind of land a tractor may manage to turn up the stubble after an early harvest, but try and do your winter ploughing (your ploughing for Spring drilling) on such land and the tractor will wallow like a sow, the farmer will contemplate suicide, and his men will invoke (not always prayerfully) the name of their Lord. Farming in England is already mechanised as much as it can be and a great deal more than it should be.
It comes to this: that there is nothing much wrong with the present system of farming (at least there are no practical alternatives) but the system is being badly worked. You cannot say to the farmer and his man: " You fellows have the great open spaces and the companionship of Nature, therefore you can afford to live less well than your opposite numbers in the towns!"
A man who is wet and cold for six months, and sweating his heart out for the other six months, needs if anything to eat better and to sleep more comfortably than anyone else on earth. What we are suffering from more than anything just now is a race of badly nourished people on the land.
You cannot put new heart into the land if you are taking the heart fronz those who work it.
It is trite but true to say that foreign competition is spoiling English farming. Foreigners live worse than we do, their whole standard is lower than ours. You may say that we should make our standard so low that we can produce as cheaply as they do. But you don't say that to English miners or Englishmen in industry.
The test of marketing should be a test of quality and not of cut prices. If the Russian farmer can offer an English miller grain that is better but at the same price as that offered by an English farmer, let the miller take it, but the first duty of the purchaser is homeward.
What of War?
The Wheat Quota is a step in the right direction. I have not heard it said that the price of bread has gone up since the quota was introduced. The quota has done a vast amount of good. Why then stop at wheat? To grow wheat you need manure, to make manure you must have stock. Stock are seldom profitable for manure and slaughter only—there is milk, eggs and wool.
Going back to my original stipulation, any agricultural 'policy that is worth the paper it is written on must benefit the land. The land is like anything else—neglect it and you pay full measure for your neglect. At the moment we are spending vast sums on arms and on the better organisation of the Services; but this will avail us nothing if we cannot do something towards feeding ourselves in time of war. Townsmen on the whole, contemplate the poor pasture, which has taken place of fertile arable land, without a qualm. They believe that you have only to start ploughing again and the land will at once yield crops.
If war was declared in 1938 that summer the broken pastures would have to be ploughed and ploughed again without any crop being sown (this is what we call making a summerland ") then the next Autumn wheat might he drilled; but what a crop it would be. not enough to feed the birds. It would be the Winter of 1940-41 before the nation was eating bread, made from the wheat of broken fields.
Rotation System Food production is a slow business but it is very sure. A farmer farms on the old Norfolk rotation: roots, barley, clover, wheat.
The roots cost him more to grow than any other crop on the farm; they clean the land and a deal of ploughing must be done before they arc drilled, and a deal of muckcarting, too. Then, directly they can be seen above the ground, they must be hoe again—between the rows and between the plants. Next, extra labour has to be em ployed for the pulling, and most of the win
ter is spent pulping them for stock. All this must be paid for by the next three courses in the rotation.
Next year you grow the barley—at the moment barley is a rotten price and the straw is too thin to be of any use.
The third year the clover is cut for hay and the beasts to which that hay is fed must pay a good price to avoid a loss.
Finally the wheat is grown and this should turn the loss into a profit, with a margin for the farmer's self. Here the Quota is doing some good. But how much better if the roots paid through a quota on milk from the cows they fed, if the barley paid by reason of everyone drinking English ale, if better stock prices turned the clover from a loss to a profit, and if the wheat quota was higher still.
Not Mere Bolstering It is not a case of bolstering up a dying industry: we cannot do without ihe industry, it is better protection than all the armies in the World. Our army will avail us nothing if the land is so poor that it lets us starve.
Where the papers can help us is by teaching people a little more about farming as it really is. People cannot sympathise with an industry about which they know nothing. Once you educate people so that they understand how their food is produced at home, they will be ready for the small sacrifice involved in protecting the production and so insuring their own supply.
Land for Labourers One improvement on the present system which • could undoubtedly be made with good results, and with very little expense, would be to supply agricultural labourers with a little land of their own. By this I do not mean that they would cease to be labourers, but that they would have their cottages, not just a small garden, but a plot of land as well. There are many days on the farm when the weather, or the state of the land, is too had for men to go to plough and the farmer has to find unnecessary jobs for his men or else stand them off for the day. There are very few farmers who would not encourage their men to put in these odd days on their own plots, lending them implements and giving them manure. The interest of the smallest piece of land, not only binds a family together, but also binds the family to their land. In the same way master and man have a common bond in their separate concerns.