English Harvest

Conclusion : The Balance Sheet

G. R. STEVENS October 15 1935

English Harvest

Conclusion : The Balance Sheet

G. R. STEVENS October 15 1935

English Harvest

Conclusion : The Balance Sheet


"The programme for the rehabilitation of British agriculture must be set down as a costly and dubious experiment"—The Author

FOR TWO MONTHS I wandered in the English countryside.

I saw the shires in the icy grip of May and in the drowsy fragrance of July. I saw old farms and new; a map of “The Deameanes of Rothamstead near unto Redburne. Taken in Aprill Anno DM 1423;” and the latest word in agricultural institutes, which now stands on that ground. I walked over land which has grown the same crop for eighty years without decline, and across pastures which in five years have been quickened by clever management into double yields. I visited research stations where scientists were creating the food plants and animals of tomorrow; where nature’s species were so much raw material. I met statisticians who plotted everything in graphs, from heredity variants to milk yields; engineers who devised new machines for the lightening of farm labor; investigators given over to pure science, and hard-headed officials who made pure science pay. These were all servants of the English Harvest.

I talked with farmers new and old. Gentlemen farmers who were quite interested in crops until someone mentioned hunting. Dour squires doing well out of Government subsidies, but quite certain that everything was going to the devil. Hard-working chaps who kept books, and even costed individual crops. The star turns—the really successful men whose farms are the models of what many British farms will be tomorrow.

In the snug pubs, over beer and ga*~ of darts, I met

Hogben himself, his roots gripped in the soil which he serves, the same steadfast opinionated breed that has spaded England for ten centuries. Exactly one hundred years ago, Jeremiah Clarke, a farm laborer of Wanstead in Surrey, was condemned to death for feloniously firing a straw stack. The judge admonished him to fix his hopes on heaven, for he could expect no mercy upon earth. At the same assizes, Robert Winans, a farm laborer, was charged with having exposed his wife for sale in a halter. He took fourpence for her because he was hungry. Hogben has come a long way since then. He now has forty shillings a week, his cottage, his milk, and his wood; nine times out of ten a wireless set and a nest-egg in the post office.

I spent these months in endeavoring to decide what the new English Harvest really represents, and what it will ultimately mean to Great Britain and in addition to the British Dominions.

If one strikes a balance on concrete evidence—debiting subsidies and additional cost to the consumer and crediting increased domestic production—the programme for the rehabilitation of British agriculture must be set down as a costly and dubious experiment. For the first four years the venture is deeply in red ink. In subsidies, direct and indirect, the British taxpayer now finds about $85,000,000 annually for the crops of sugar beet, wheat, cattle and milk. The housewife pays an additional $45,000,000 toward the support of the home bacon industry. The cost of potato control fluctuates, but the intervention of the Marketing Board has raised the price of that vegetable by at least twenty shillings per ton. This represents a consumer charge of nearly $25,000,000 annually. The customs duties on fruits, vegetables and flowers have increased the cost of these items by at least the same amount. In round figures, therefore, the British consumer contributes $180,000,000 each year to the man on the land, as the price of keeping him there; and this sum will be augmented by another $25,000,000 when dairy products receive the assistance which is in store for them. Thus the overall cost of the Elliot schemes to the British public promises to be not less than $200,000,(XX) annually.

Bigger and Better Crops

WHAT DOES the English countryside return for this vast expenditure?

Sugar beet tonnage has doubled, and 300,000 tons less sugar is imported each year. Wheat acreage and bacon production has increased by fifty per cent, and further increases are imminent. Barley is coming back rapidly, and home-grown fruits and vegetables are reclaiming markets

from overseas suppliers. But in spite of the subsidy, the number of British-reared fat cattle is declining, whereas without subvention four sheep are being raised where there were three five years ago. Allowing for all reasonable inclusions, it is doubtful if the Elliot schemes have increased British foodstuff production by more than $100.000.000 annually. The British consumer therefore pays out forty shillings for the privilege of growing an additional twenty shillings worth of food in England.

This is not business, and if the foregoing figures accurately reflected the situation, the English, ever a practical people, would quickly abandon the experiment. But the logic of arithmetic is relative to circumstance. Many of the present subsidies are temporary, and cannot be regarded as permanent overhead costs of agriculture. They might be considered more correctly as capital outlay for the protection of wasting assets. The chief creditor of an insolvency often finds it profitable to buy up the book debts of other creditors in order to expedite reconstruction. Treasury support of British agriculture springs from the same motive. The subsidies have freed the British farmers from their financial shackles; until they were free, they could not think of bigger or better crops. Moreover, if the Government had not intervened, agricultural lands would have continued to lose capital value at the rate of many millions sterling each year. This saving should be credited to the Elliot schemes.

Furthermore, in Europe today, food must be regarded as armament. If the armies should march tomorrow, a national food service would be as essential as any other form of protection. At forty millions sterling the Elliot schemes are not expensive if they ensure England against starvation in time of war. Such a sum represents less than one-quarter of the annual cost of Imperial defense. And then, what of tomorrow?

In 1945 British requirements of overseas foodstuffs will be less than half of what they are today. Imports will be cut to not more than $1,000,000,000 in that year. Upwards of £100,000,(XX) sterling will represent sugar, tea and other tropical products, leaving the balance for the purchase of the crops of the temperate zones. Great Britain will then import perhaps half her present volumes of bacon, grains, meats, apples and butter; very little cheese and poultry and very few eggs; except for out-of-season and exotic supplies, no fruits and vegetables at all. By that time her population will be approximately one million less than today, and Englishmen will eat more cream, butter, cheese, fruits and vegetables, than now; about the same quantities of bacon and cereals; but less beef and mutton. There will be a great expansion in the consumption of tinned meats, fruits and

vegetables, and ninety per cent of these requirements will be processed at home.

Research in Agriculture

rT'HIS FORECAST is inspired by some acquaintance with

X the third partner of the British Government and the British farmer in the great enterprise of the English Harvest. That partner is Research.

The English mind may lack orderliness, but it possesses a wilful curiosity which has kept a badly educated people in the front rank of intellectual nations. As a consequence, the English do not put their scientists in institutions: they build the institutions around the scientist. Thanks to tire labors of pioneer investigators, to private endowments, and to that admirable organization, the Empire Marketing Board, which the Dominions scuppered in a moment of folly, there are now twenty specialist research stations in England devoted to the problems of British agriculture. The chief officers of these institutes are outstanding and often famous scientists. They eat the Government’s bread, but they are free thinkers who speak their minds; they do not hesitate to damn their dislikes openly and copiously. These men know what can be done.

Sir John Russell, Director of the Research Institute at Harpenden, is the recognized authority on soil chemistry. I put the question to him:

“You can speak for the soil, Sir John. Have you the land to grow all of England’s food?”

“We can go as far as they ask us to go,” he responded. “We now grow forty per cent of our food. We can raise this percentage to fifty, sixty, seventy, if necessary. By sorting out our soils and by developing our pasturage scientifically we can stock our farms with any quantity of animals. Risk of disease—not acreage or feeding stuffs—is our real problem. There is no shortage in England of either arable land or pasture.”

At another research station I queried a similar statement, and 1 pointed out that it would require an additional eight million acres, at thirty bushels to the acre, to grow Great Britain’s imports of wheat. Was so much land available, which was not now devoted to other crops?

I drew the prompt reply that it was no more than a problem in mechanization. “We need special equipment to deal with our small fields and bad weather,” my informant said. “Our yields are heavier than anywhere else in the world. We are improving our strains of wheat every year as the Canadians improved theirs—by selective breeding to suit our conditions. We believe that the portable grain dryers which we are now developing, and the pigmy combine harvesters which are being perfected in Germany, will greatly diminish our handicaps. We can double or treble our grain production without interference with existing crops.”

Science Takes a Hand

T)ASTURAGE will always count for more than arable land

in England. The increase of forage crops is the peculiar province of Professor R. G. Stapledon of the Plant Breeding Institute at Aberystwyth. He sows gold at the grass roots of England; he has added millions to the value of British pasture crops. He attacks bad lands, prescribes nurse crops, and breeds new species to suit any diversity of soil. It is said that he can increase the fodder crops of Great Britain by one-fifth, which is the equivalent of four million additional acres. Another four million acres can be reclaimed by simple and inexpensive drainage projects. Such reclamation forms one of the chief planks of Mr. Lloyd George’s New Deal.

Professor’Stapledon grows the grass; Professor Woodman of Cambridge University supervises it into bone and blood. Full-grown grass has more fibre and less food content than young grass. Moreover, when grass dries into hay, it loses many of the valuable salts which build flesh. Professor Woodman, therefore, tackled the problem of how to save these salts, and how to supply animals with young grass throughout the year. He has perfected a grass-cake which preserves all the native values of fresh forage and is equal to rich oilcake as a feeding stuff. This affront to the three-offseasons is reported to be highly successful, and has just been placed in production by the British chemical combine. Its value to British agriculture may be incalculable.

Along the Huntingdon Road, on the outskirts of Cambridge, the hedgerows are gay with the same flowers which gave Rupert Brooke such delight. Behind the hedgerows stretch the experimental farms which are linked to the laboratories filling block after block of business-like buildings beyond the quad of the Zoological Museum. ' Here the mysteries of growth and of breeding are being probed to the quick. These laboratories are judge and jury of the new English Harvest.

Strange and exciting problems are being sorted out. Doctor Hammond, a brilliant investigator who was starved for support until the Russians came to his aid, continues his experiments in artificial insemination. He crosses Shire stallions with Shetland mares; with the aid of the air mail he breeds English bloodstock with Argentine, Indian and Australian strains. (As a sideline, he is engaged in a fascinat-

ing investigation into the migratory impulse. He thinks that this profound mystery can be explained by the variation of light at different seasons of the year. Certain breeding peculiarities of ferrets put him on this trail. He has a chamber filled with these venomous-looking rodents, on whom batteries of graduated lights play night and day.)

Near at hand Professor Foreman splits protein into a dozen flesh-forming constituents; he straightens up from his labors to pay no uncertain compliments to a wandering journalist. Next door, Miss Cruikshank wrestles on, year after year, with the yolks of eggs, in order that she may chart the laws of heredity. Professor Punnett, having with great labor bred hens and cockerels of a distinctive plumage •—a very valuable achievement—has handed over to Professor Pease, who is now engaged in strengthening the new breed in egg production. Doctor Deighton’s laboratory looks like Hollywood’s idea of a torture chamber; it is equipped for the duty of animal nutrition. At the Low Temperature Research Institute, investigators from all parts of the world are studying chilling processes as restraints to decay; and among the test tubes and retorts of a dozen other laboratories, patient scientists are weighing the new harvest in the balance, and evolving solutions to the problems of increased. foodstuff production.

Research the Keynote

TD ESE ARCH WORKERS are not the best judges of the value of their discoveries. Professor Punnett, I was told, spent a long time in teaching a hen to lay a blue egg. He did not greatly mind when it turned out to be no better than any other egg. Plant breeders in particular are notoriously impractical. A new hybrid, a strange sport, is an end in itself. Before they breed the new species into practical value, they grow weary or go bankrupt. So at Cambridge the Imperial Institute of Botany steps in, undertakes to improve the strain, to grow the seed in commercial quantities, and to arrange for its marketing. Thus the business man supplements the work of discovery and frees the scientist for further research.

Indeed, every resource of science and money puts it fairly up to the British farmer. Never again will he be offered such a partnership in the economy of England. I think he realizes his opportunity. Tradition is thick bark upon him, but the sap is flowing underneath. Thousands of shiresmen have undertaken not only to be better farmers than their fathers, but better farmers than their Dominions kinsmen. Every county boasts of many who have put solid money in their pockets by the employment of new methods and new machinery. Their names are in print, their enterprises the talk of every market day.

W. S. Abbott o’f Sacrewell Farm, near Peterborough, in the north-eastern Midlands, has departmentalized his farm, keeping pigs, poultry, dairy cattle and cash crops as separate organizations. In ten years he has increased his receipts from six to sixteen pounds sterling per acre, and the value of his output from £103 to £417 per employee.

The Tomkins Brothers, near Northampton, are putting into production land which has been idle for nearly fifty years. Their five-thousand-acre farm is completely mechanized, nearly all equipment being of their own invention.

F. D. Phillips, of Pembrokeshire, retired as a chemist at the age of fifty, and commenced poultry farming with a dozen mongrel hens. He has only twenty-five acres of land, but his annual audited statement is studied by thousands of farmers, and hundreds inspect his farm each year.

Mr. A. J. Hosier has given his name to a system of farm management whereby tire barn goes to the cow, not the cow to the barn. A perambulating milking stall and corral completes milking and pasteurization in a single process. Its mobility minimizes the risk of disease on heavily stocked land.

The Bomford brothers of Worcestershire, pioneers of power farming, have invented device after device of peculiar interest to proprietors of small holdings. They buy cruiser and destroyer funnels from the shipbreakers to use as silos.

Mr. F. P. Chamberlain of Wallingford in the Chilterns, has applied machinery to grain production on a small area so effectively, that he is making money at the world market market price of wheat—an achievement which few farmers anywhere can duplicate.

Dozens of other original experiments have won through, and their success serves as inspiration to the rank and file of British husbandry.

The soil is right, the land available. The British taxpayer is willing to back the experiment. Every resource of science is being mustered to secure greater and better returns from the land and to master the perverse and intractable English climate. The shires are harking back three hundred years, to the days when England grew all her own food, and the great Bristol trade was founded on exports of wheat and of wool. For a century the countryside has paid for the towns. Now the towns will pay for the countryside until some balance has been struck between the national responsibilities of British fields and British factories.

What the Dominions Want

'"PHREE DANGERS confront British agriculture.

The farmers may grow greedy. Cheap money goes to the head like new wine, and subsidies are peculiarly intoxicating. Such uneconomic experiments as the sugar beet bounty have led certain farming leaders—including some particularly muddleheaded peers—to talk a great deal of nonsense. If the country tail undertakes to wag the town dog, and the farmers fail to realize that the taxpayer is financing them not as an act of equity but as an act of grace, there wiil be trouble. What seems justice to the farmer looks like alms to the townsman. Mutual understanding is necessary.

Secondly, the hazards of politics may cost British agriculture the services of Major Elliot. The Minister of Agriculture is not a politician. He has not let himself to the process of stately ossification which turns senior British statesmen into Great Stone Faces. Some of his Cabinet colleagues regard his dynamic career as rather bad form. His loss would be a body-line blow to the new English Harvest. It has no other sponsor. No one could replace him.

Finally, there is a bare possibility that the Dominions will come to their senses before it is too late. Even now, Australia and New Zealand are preparing to make British foodstuff production a supreme Imperial issue. New Zealand in particular is prepared to say to Great Britain,. “We must have your market, whatever the cost. Tell us your price. If the other Dominions cannot face it, leave them out, and deal only with us.”

This proposal would substitute unilateral agreements for the present Empire-wide arrangements, and it would put Imperial transactions on a business basis. For what one Dominion obtains, the others must have; they would be led to offer concessions that Great Britain could not refuse. For instance, if the Dominions surrendered their textile markets unreservedly—and their cloth-producing industries are dubious assets—in return for a fret market for foodstuffs, the slow rot of Lancashire might be stayed at the expense of the British farmer. The possibility of unrestricted Dominions competition is a shadow which still stands over the shires; but the English farmers take comfort from the knowledge that at Imperial parleys the Dominions go in for horsetrading rather than for decisive policies.

Today, the English countryside is on the march. Within ten years, progressive Dominions farmers may be selling out in order to take up land in England.

Editor's Note—This is the fifth and concluding article of a series by Aír. Stevens.