GENERAL ARTICLES

English Harvest

G. R. STEVENS August 1 1935
GENERAL ARTICLES

English Harvest

G. R. STEVENS August 1 1935

English Harvest

Canada has more food to sell than she knows what to do with.

Great Britain, hitherto the~~ominion's best market for cereals, is trying f~J cut her bill for food imports in half.

Britain says her farms must be made to yield safety—she hasn't forgotten the submarines.

Where does this leave Canada ?

Herewith Maclean's presents the problem in the first of the year's most important series of articles.

G. R. STEVENS

IN 1936 Great Britain for the first time in her history will restrict the importation of Empire-grown foodstuffs. The British Dominions then lose their last free market. The traditional stimulus to Imperial development will have been withdrawn, and no one knows by what new roads the younger British peoples must seek their destinies. The story of this momentous change is the story of the English harvest; how it ceased to be grown at home, and how a time came when the English soil was required to resume its fruit fulness.

Two centuries of sea power gave the younger British nations an outlook very different from that of other new states. The seas lap the frontiers of all Dominions, and the seas have been kept open. Australians, Canadians, South Africans and New Zealanders have always been able to think in terms of free movements beyond their own shores. They have lived on overseas markets; without such markets they could not have grown to their present stature. Secure in the belief that no impediment would prevent them from selling their produce abroad, they undertook to grow the English harvest, and for the last fifty years they have done the work of the English countryside.

Next year they will discover that the great free market of Great Britain was not owned by them, but only loaned to them. It must be given back. For the English soil is being recalled to its duty, and the Dominions, through the medium of a tariff, will be required to pay a subsidy to re-establish the shires in business.

Why Britain Quit Farming

TO UNDERSTAND what is about to happen, you must walk through the London markets. Every year 20,000 ships come pushing up the seas to English ports, and five out of every twelve of them are laden with food. Blue Star and Nelson liners from the River Plate, P. & O. and Orient ships from Australia, ships with liquid Maori names from New Zealand, C.P.R. and Cunarders from Canada; together with scores of other house flags from every trade route of the world. These ships carry half the meat and dairy produce, six-sevenths of the grains and cereals, four-fifths of the fruits, one-third of the fish and vegetables, which are consumed by the 45,000,000 people of Great Britain; many million tons of food in all, for the English climate requires the stomach to be stoked with solid stuff. To do the work of the English countryside is therefore a vast undertaking. It is worth more than $2,000.000,000 annually to overseas farmers, stockgrowers and planters.

When the ships have been berthed in London Pool, they empty their cargoes into the metropolitan markets. At Smithfield meat is king, and there you may see each week regiment upon regiment of Australian chilled beef; vast counts of lambs from New Zealand ; endless ranges of mutton from Australia and Patagonia; pork, poultry and fresh beef from the Irish Free State and the Continent. The dairy products arrive at the London Produce Exchange—mountains of butter and cheese; millions of long hundreds of eggs, of which some, ancient jests to the contrary, come from China; nearly all the surplus hams, bacons and lard of the world. The packages bear the shipping marks of New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Holland, Denmark, the United States and Germany. On the Baltic Exchange the only grain on view is in little bottles, over which blackcoated men talk earnestly; on the strength of those bottles they buy the cereal crops of whole continents.

But if you wish to see the English overseas harvest in all its glory, you must walk through Covent Garden or Spitalfields. There the fruits and vegetables stand in towering tiers, and each box bears the label of some far part of the world. Tasmanian apples, very small fruit to have come so far; Canadian apples, rosy in cases, green in barrels; American apples in trim boxes; Australian apples in rough boxes; apples from South Africa and France and Chile. Jaffa grapefruit, Jamaica grapefruit, Florida grapefruit, Porto Rico grapefruit; oranges from Spain and Palestine, from South Africa and from Brazil. Italian cherries in straw flagons; Spanish apricots in veneer crates; French gooseberries in mesh sacks; peaches and plums in wood-wool from South Africa; Portuguese, South African or Italian grapes packed by cluster, or in barrels of sawdust. Melons from Chile and from the Azores. Red and yellow boxes of tomatoes from Majorca, Canary Island tomatoes wrapped in gay papers, Dutch tomatoes in cardboard boxes. Endive from Belgium, celery and asparagus from France, tubs of new potatoes from Holland and from Guernsey, which is British as a fief of the Duke of Normandy, who also happens to be the English King.

All this food comes to England because machinery got into the hands of Englishmen 150 years ago, before anyone else had it; and English men and masters flocked into the towns to make great profits out of their priority. The manufacturing towns were very dingy places in which to live, and every townsman envied the rich and the fortunate who could remain in the countryside. For his land is the very fibre of an Englishman. Some patch of soil is the haven of his desires. For complete happiness he needs a bit of property to be snobbish about, an animal for company, and something to kill. These graces are found nowhere as in that paradise of dogs and gardens and blood sports, the English countryside. So as soon as the early masters of machinery became rich, they began to think about their leisure, and their impulses took them—and their money with them— back to the fields from which their fathers had sprung.

Wide Lawns ; No Crops

THE MONEY of the newly-rich English did not fertilize the soil of the shires. It merely gilded it. The new squires lived in the countryside for the sake of the life, not for the sake of the living. If they wanted to farm, there was nothing to stop them; but the farm usually lived on the machines in town and not on the fruits of its own increase. Moreover, the English as a race do not like close quarters, and hundreds of thousands of them who found the towns cramped and who had no other way of escape, went overseas to the colonies. There the land was cheap and rich; the fields were larger, labor was less expensive; above all else, a man had to work hard to make a living. These colonies needed British goods, and such goods had to be paid for.

It seemed best to pay with what Britain needed most, which was food.

The English who stayed at home encouraged this idea. They invested hundreds of millions in every part of the world in the growing and processing of food, and in arranging for its transport and distribution. They were all in favor of the ends of the earth taking over the duties of the English countryside, since it gave them more room to play and a profitable investment to boot. It seemed such a sound plan, to allow the land abroad to work for the output of the machines at home, with the serene loveliness of the English woods and fields reserved as reward for those who had conceived such a clever scheme.

Year by year, as British enterprise and immigrants opened up new lands, the crops dwindled in the shires. It became a crime against society to cut down a tree, to plow under a by-path, or to stiffen a hedge with wire ; but a man who failed to drain his land, or to fertilize it, or to rotate its crops, was still regarded as a gentleman. More and more the population of Great Britain turned from English to overseas food. They even made a political slogan out of it, and the cry of “Free Food” haunted British politics for seventy-five years. That cry simply meant that Englishmen were content to regard their countryside not as wife and working partner of the towns, but as a beloved and expensive mistress, companion of pleasure hours.

The idea became established that England could not feed herself. Manitoba farmers, Argentine hacienderos, Australian squatters and New Zealand station owners, fell into the habit of saying: “Whatever happens, they must have our food.” “Must” is a word of dangerous necessity, and these young peoples, very busy with getting on, counted as their right what was in reality only their privilege. They quite forgot that two circumstances buttressed their livelihood. The first, that they must accept payment for their produce in British goods. The second, that Britain must be prosperous in order to be able to afford to keep her countryside in idleness.

The Lesson of the War

TT IS PART of history how, after 100 years, these twin -*• buttresses were shorn away in a night in August, 1914. How Britain called home her overseas wealth to feed her guns in Flanders; how she could not supply her foreign customers because her factories were employed in repair of the wastage of war; how in 1917, command of the seas passed for a few weeks to the U boats, and Britain’s future as a world power trembled in the balance. For those weeks, wealth and prestige were gone. World markets were gone. Security was gone. The menace passed, but thereafter the English scene never again could be quite the same.

The post-war years confirmed the permanent disruption of the old order. Europe remained in a ferment even more anxious than the crisis of actual war. Every European nation drew into itself and sought to live within a carapace of national self-sufficiency. The first and most vital of all armament is food supply. The great powers set out to grow their own food.

By dint of national expenditure only less costly than the extravagance of war, they made it possible to live within their own shells. France, Germany and Italy, who formerly bought many hundred thousand tons of grain each year from the New World, became self-sustaining in cereals. Today farmers in these countries receive about two and a half times the world market price for their wheat. A duty of 125 per cent upon meat entering Germany destroyed entirely a market which formerly absorbed 200,000 tons of chilled beef. The duty on imported butter was raised to 100 per cent of its value in Germany, to nearly 200 per cent of its value in France. The price of butter in Germany, France and Belgium today is two and a half times greater than the London market price. So with other foodstuffs.

For the sake of safety, the European nations blockaded themselves.

Yet when these markets were closed, the grain did not stop sprouting, nor the animals breeding. Foodstuffs accumulated in the British Dominions, in the Argentine, in Holland and in Denmark, and there was nowhere for them to go except to Britain. There ensued such a glut on the British market that prices fell into the pit. This fall in prices was the coup de grâce of the English countryside. British land values dropped rapidly. It is estimated that British agricultural property declined in capital value at the rate $5,000,000 each week for a period of over five years. Between 1925 and 1931, the astounding sum of $1,250,000,000 was lost.

The price of this loss was the cheapest food in the world. Food was so cheap in England that during these black years the consumption of all staple foodstuffs increased; and the economic phenomenon was observed of an improvement in the standard of living at a time of unprecedented depression. Ten years ago, a German and an Englishman each ate 116 eggs in the year. Now the German eats .101, the Englishman 152. Butter consumption has fallen everywhere in tiie world except in Great Britain, where it has increased by 27 per cent since 1930. Over the entire range of foodstuffs, British consumption has increased by ten per cent in the last five years.

But only about fifteen per cent of the average income is spent on food, and cheap food is not everything. It did not bring Great Britain prosperity. The Englishman of the towns began to do some hard thinking. He had become inured to passed dividends and low rates of interest, but the loss of capital in the fall of land values shook him. There must be something very wrong when rich land becomes worthless. Could he afford to allow rural England to become a great private park, or to be turned into a desert? Export markets for British manufacturers were going or gone. The Dominions had closed their doors to British immigrants. Dictators strode about Europe, crying defiances; the world moved under the monstrous shadow of the next war. Slowly a conviction began to smolder in the dark of many minds. We Must Grow Our Own Food. We Must Save the Countryside.

What of the Dominions?

HPHIS SOLUTION was not devised by the bankrupt and -L beaten British farmers, who had been sacrificed so often to the welfare of the factories. The idea and the impetus behind it came from the townsmen, who saw their world crumbling. Dominion statesmen should realize this fact ' when they come to talk business in London. They still arrive under the impression that the British farmer has been able to score over them by some fluke of luck, and that they only need to appeal to the common sense of the consumer. They are years behind current British thought. The townsman gave the National Government a mandate to rehabilitate British agriculture. He knows that it will cost him something, and he will not jib unduly at any reasonable bill. When he decided that the English soil must go back to work, he was not thinking of the farmer. He was thinking of himself, and of the world in which he expects to find himself tomorrow.

Above all else, he was not thinking of the Dominions. The Dominions are not particularly thought about in Britain today. They have gone their own way; the Mother Country must go hers. In any case, they cannot object to a policy which they themselves have sponsored. They were the authors of the very proposal which Great Britain now promises to enforce against them. For years they demanded with all emphasis a duty on foreign foodstuffs, without offering any appreciable concession in return. In 1930 the Canadian Prime Minister made an offer to which Mr. J. H.

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Thomas applied a single word, a scathing but thoroughly just description. In pique Mr. Bennett threatened, if foodstuff duties were not forthcoming, to seek preferences elsewhere. It never occurred to him or to other Dominion statesmen that if Great Britain taxed food, she would do so for her own protection; and where her protection is concerned, the difference between foreign countries and the Dominions is only a difference in degree.

Yet it seems possible that as late as the Ottawa Conference in 1932, some agreement might have been reached which would have retained a free market for Dominion foodstuffs in Great Britain. Something along the lines of Lord Beaverbrook’s Empire Free Trade ideal might have been realized; an agreement in which the Dominions are preeminent; Canadian grains and bacon, New Zealand butter and lamb, Australian wool and mutton, South African maize and oranges.

But this would have meant the counteradmission of reciprocal British groups—textiles, crockery and fine steels. The Dominions could not face this. The Ottawa Conference, therefore, was a rather unhappy affair. The tantrums of Mr. Bennett, the inability of the Australians to forego their election pledges, the aloofness of the South Africans, contributed to the series of jests by which the Conference is chiefly remembered. That the Canadians, who were ludicrously unready, had' mistaken the year of the Conference; that every Mother Country has the Dominions which it deserves; that in future conferences it should be clearly understood that both sides knew how to add and subtract; that these ’ere Dominions thought they had the Old Lady up an alley with a blackjack; that the Canadians had the Flag in one hand and a brick in the other.

Such small ironies contain the germ of the tragedy, which was that there was too much spoof about. The Dominions were unable to realize how rapidly their sands were running out in the British market. The Canadians and Australians, in return for the free entry of their foodstuffs for a limited period, promised to adjust their tariffs in such a way as to give British goods a chance to enter their markets. In the main, this promise has been neither recognized nor kept. As a result, nothing now can prevent the imposition of duties upon Dominion foodstuffs when the short-term agreement expires.

Duties are like drugs. A nation becomes addicted to them, and it is hard to keep from increasing the dose. A small margin of duty with a wide margin of preference probably would not hurt the trade of the Dominions unduly. But the object of the British duties will be to limit external competition and to raise internal prices; and the Dominions threaten such under-

taking as much as any foreign supplier. In the long run, therefore, they will receive little consideration. Whatever the margin of preference, the duties on Dominion foodstuffs eventually will be raised to a point where the English farmer can make money, and where the Dominions farmer will be forced to export his produce at the world market price less the duty. This will cripple him. For England today is a buyers’ paradise, where the seller can do no more than to take the price offered.

Britain Grows Her Own

TN THE four years since 1931, a new -*■ strength has been breathed into the English shires. They have been fructified by the powerful seeds of subsidy, and today the land is reclothing itself with crops and with cattle. The hard-pressed farmer has come through, and young men are turning to agriculture as they once turned to commerce or to the colonies or to the sea. The Government is finding the money. Research—

intensive to a degree which would astonish the Dominions—is finding the ways and the means, and age-old impulses, profound as life itself, are drawing Englishmen to reassert their ancient custody over the English soil.

Mistakes will be made as they are being made at the moment, but it would be very foolish for the Dominions to take heart from such mistakes. Whatever Government holds office, the policy will stand—the countryside must go back to work. What this policy means in terms of acres and production is difficult to compute. Mr. Lloyd George talks of an expenditure of £400,000,000 and 400,000 more people upon the land. If this should be possible, Britain’s bill for overseas foodstuffs will be cut from $2,000,000,000 each year to a quarter of that sum. Tea, sugar and other tropical produce would comprise the most of that quarter, and there would be little or no market left for the crops of the temperate zones. Informed opinion is critical of Lloyd George’s anticipations. It is considered more likely that the bill for overseas foodstuffs may be brought down to half its present figure, or about $1,000,000,000 each year. This reduction means the end of bulk imports of dairy products, pig products, and meat, and a severe reduction in British requirements of overseas wheat and other cereals.

The British harvest promises to come home, and with it, for the Dominions, some particularly unfortunate chickens return to roost.

Editor’s Note: This"is the first of a series of articles by Mr. Stevens. The second, which will appear in an early issue, reports an interview with Rl. Hon. Waller E. Elliot, Minister of Agriculture for Great Britain, who discusses his programme with startling frankness.

Rebyilding Metal Parts

FIRED AT the speed of a rifle bullet, particles of hot metal rebuild worn machine parts by a new method. Screw heads are cut into the surfaces to be repaired and then the metal is sprayed on the grooves and ridges in such a way as to “freeze” and become part of the metal under treatment. The spraying is done with an electrically

operated gun that “shoots” the metal particles through a tiny hole in the nozzle at 2,700 feet per second. The rebuilt parts are smoothed and polished with abrasives, giving long wear. Piston rods, cylinder walls, shafts, bearings and turbines are among the parts treated successfully.—Popular Mechanics.