Agriculture in Post War Britain
Since the end of World War II in 1945, British agriculture has become ‘production orientated’. In the second half of the 20th Century farmers were encouraged to maximize yields through the use of increased artificial inputs and improved plant and animal genetics, areas which will be examined in further detail later.
This trend continues to the present day, with new technological advances in genetic modification of plants and animals becoming available to farmers.
This is demonstrated by the graph below illustrating changes in wheat and barley yields since 1948.
Source: (data) DEFRA, 2011
At the end of the war in 1945, the UK needed to maximize food production. Food rationing did not end until 1953.
As a result of this, generous guaranteed prices were continued for major agricultural products.
The 1947 Agricultural act was passed (and supported by all political parties) and stated:
The twin pillars upon which the Governments agricultural policy rests are stability and efficiency.
The method of providing stability is through guaranteed prices and assured markets.
Annual price reviews were instigated and prices fixed for the main crops (wheat, barley, oats rye, potatoes and sugar beet) for eighteen months ahead.
Minimum prices for fatstock, milk and eggs were fixed for between two and four years ahead.
An agricultural expansion plan aimed to raise output from agriculture by 60% over pre-war levels.
In 1953, world cereal prices fell and minimum guaranteed prices were replaced by deficiency payments for cereals.
The 1957 agriculture act set out some long term assurances, including:
Not to reduce the guaranteed price of any product by more than 4% in any one year.
Not to reduce the price of livestock or livestock products by 9% in total over any three consecutive years.
Not to reduce the total value of guarantees by more than 2.5% in any one year.
Given stability in prices and guarantee’s, farm incomes rose, giving farmers the confidence to undertake capital investments and utilize the latest technology.
This was especially true of arable farming. Cereal prices increased at a quicker rate than other commodities.
Crop yields improved due to higher yielding varieties, herbicides and fertilizer.
Labour use and costs were reduced as the level of mechanization increased.
Increases in incomes on dairy, upland and small farms were slower with less scope for mechanization.
CLICK HERE for a browse through the University of Reading Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) website. This includes many interesting articles and photographs
Pause for thought…..List 5 reasons why government should continue to provide monetary support to agriculture in the UK.
Trailed combine, Hampshire – 1930’s
Photograph courtesy of The Rural History centre, University of Reading
During the 1970’s and after Britain entered the European Economic Community (EEC), the system of price support changed from deficiency payments to protection and intervention payments.
There was a complex system of monetary compensation amounts which attempted, without success, to keep farm prices similar in different countries, but farm incomes generally remained stable.
In 1972-73 poor grain harvests led to world grain shortages (some prophets of doom were predicting world starvation) resulting in price increases of around 50%.
Fortunately, world harvests soon improved and surpluses of grain and other products soon developed.
The price farmers received for these products continued to improve, as did yields.
The chart below illustrates the increase in UK wheat yields since 1885 note the change in the curve during and after world war II.
CLICK HERE for spreadsheets detailing post cereal yield improvements (includes oats, triticale & rye).
Pause for thought….. Does the above graph suggest an increase in the efficiency with which cereals are produced in the UK other than an increase in output per hectare… is this an important measure of efficiency?
Born in Blackwell, Derbyshire, Williams grew up in Swinton in Yorkshire, and began work in 1899 in Kilnhurst colliery. He became involved in trade unionism and joined the Independent Labour Party, switching briefly to the British Socialist Party during World War I before joining the Labour Party. In 1918, he was elected as a Labour member of the Bolton-upon-Dearne Urban District Council.
In the First Labour Government, from January to October 1924, Williams was Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Noel Buxton, the Minister of Agriculture. In the Second Labour Government from 1929 to 1931, he was PPS to the Minister of Labour, Margaret Bondfield.
Williams first held ministerial office in Winston Churchill‘s wartime Coalition Government, when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries from 1940 to 1945, serving under the Conservative minister Robert Hudson. He was made a Privy Counsellor in August 1941. In Clement Attlee‘s post-war Labour government, he was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1945 to 1951, and after Labour lost the 1951 general election he was the opposition spokesperson on Agriculture until 1959
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