Progress in Agriculture

  • 1865 - Britain was enjoying a Golden Age of Agriculture
  • Harvests produced successive high yields
  • Prices were steady
  • Farmers' incomes increased
  • Sientific and technological innovation 
  • Improvements were carried out 
  • 1873 - abrupt end and the farming industry entered a long period of economic downturn 
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High Farming

  • Farming practices adopted by many farmers during the yars after the repeal of the Corn Laws
  • Until the depression hit in 1873
  • James Caird is often credited with introducing the term
  • Called for more intensive farming taking into account new methods and improvements
  • Difficult to assess the extent of his influence 
  • High farming was popular over the next 20 years and coincided with the Golden Age of Agriculture
  • High farming methods increased productivity
  • Mny farmers moved from purely arable to mixed farming
  • Hedged their bets by growing wheat and root crops, as well as stocking cattle, sheep and pigs
  • Cushioned against a sudden downturn in price of either crops or livestock
  • Increasing interest in animal husbandry (stock farming) 
  • Some specialised in specific breeds of cattle such as Aberdeen Angus 
  • Profits came from livestock rearing
  • Increase in scientific knowledge, artificial fertilisers were marketed 
  • Indsutry was worth £8m a year by 1870
  • Also a growing market in animal feedstuffs, made from cotton seed
  • Eased the pressure on farmers to pursue mixed farming and made it easier for them to specialise in livestock/arable
  • Problems or poor drainage met by the manufacture of clay pipes
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High Farming

  • Government introduced loan schemes for farmers to invest in drainage pipe systems
  • Improved drainage, together with the use of fertilisers, made improvements in crop yield
  • Ready supply of cheap labour 
  • Introduction of farm machinery was slow
  • Gang system continued - gang master would hire out casual labour to farmers
  • Pay was pitiful, long hours and the work was seasonal
  • Widespread developments in farm machinery 
  • Better ploughs, seed drills and steam-driven threshing machines
  • Steady growth of the population increased the demand for food
  • Also rose as a result of the new prosperity rought to Britain from the Californian Gold Rush
  • Increased aount of money in circulation led to general rise in wags and prices
  • Increased the demand for the produce of the land
  • Development of the railways was beneficial to farming 
  • Food could be transported quickly to the growing towns were there was an increasing market
  • Farmers benefitted from the higher prices of meat, milk, butter and cheese
  • Transporting overseas was slow but there was no foreign competition
  • Exceptional run of high-yielding harvests between 1860 and 1873
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The onset of the Economic Depression

  • Wet summer and poor harvest of 1873 signalled the end of the Golden Age of agriculture
  • Start of a severe depression in farming, particularly arable
  • Several years of wet summers and disappointing harvests
  • Increasing import of cheaper grain from overseas such as North America 
  • Money that British investors had poured into railroad building in America, allowed the transport of large quantities of wheat to be brought to the eastern seaboard to compete with higher priced British wheat 
  • Prices and profits fell - results were catastrophic 
  • One government remedy could have been to introduce tariffs on imported foodstuffs
  • Disraeli accepted the policy of free trade and took the decisio not to protect British agriculture
  • It would need to adapt and change to survive
  • The end of Gladstone's First Ministry coincided with the onset of the depression 
  • Real causes are complex 
  • The period of sustained growth and unchallenged supremacy was coming to an end 
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Causes for Unrest in Ireland

  • Effects of the agricultural depression was being felt in Ireland by the late 1870s
  • Up until this time:
    • Profits in agriculture were increasing 
    • Irish tenant farmers were enjoying a degree of prosperity 
    • Rise in the standard of living
  • Between 1877 and 1879, unusually wet summers, disastorous harvests and the arrival of the market of cheap American corn changed all that
  • Brought a combination of low crop yields and a fall in the price of British wheat
  • This meant a fall in profits for farmers
  • Irish were particularly hard hit
  • Majority of them were tenant farmers
  • No longer meet rent demand = evicted
  • Many landowners reacted by organising their land into larger units to make viable
  • Resulted in the eviction of smaller tenants
  • Land Act did not give protection
  • Respojnse was to conduct a land war demading reductions in rent and redistribution of land
  • Movement spread across the whole country 
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The Problems of Agriculture

  • Golden Age came to a sudden end in the 1870s
  • British farmers were still producing 50% of the home consumption of wheat and 90% of meat
  • Dairy farmers also supplied the home market with butter, milk and cheese
  • Farmers had made huge profits, built themselves comfortable lifestyles 
  • However, not all areas of Britain benefited from this prosperity
  • Remote North and West Scotland - farming was under-resourced and ploughing/harvesting still carried out by hand
  • For most of the country, the accesibility of good, cheap, home-produced food helped to improve the general health 
  • Raised the standard of living in Britain 
  • Several reasons for the depression in agriculture
  • 1870s = run of cool, wet summers with low yielding harvests 
  • Summer of 1879 was the wettest on record
  • Crops rotted in the ground, shortage of animal feed and there were outbreaks of disease among livestock 
  • 'Foot and Mouth' and 'Swine Fever'
  • Difficult enough for farmers to get back on track without such unwelcome disasters
  • Agricultural immuity was low
  • Recovery was made more difficult with the onst of foreign competition
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Problems of Agriculture

  • 1870s America = rich soil and the production of great quantities of wheat 
  • Railways were now assisting US farmers to transport wheat 
  • Rapid development of steamships meat that the grain could be transported quickly and cheaply in huge quantities to Britain and Europe to undercut their markets
  • Advances in farm machinery = Combine Harvester in America
  • Revolutionised the process of harvesting
  • Carried out the actions of reaping and threshing simultaneously 
  • Ideal for America
  • Development of the canning process in the 1880s meant that beef could be put into tins to preserve it and export it to Britain
  • Methods of refrigeration developed at this time 
  • Previously perishable goods could be transported as far as Australia 
  • Could compete with Britain in terms of price and quality
  • No tarrif protection ofr Britain from foreign competiton
  • Indication of the weakeing influence of the landed interests in parliament
  • Results meant fierce competition for the British farmer and prices fell heavily 
  • Price of wheat fell from 55 shilling in 1874 to 31 shillings in 1885
  • Hardest hit = wheat and cereal counties
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The Problems of Agriculture

  • Farmers went bankrupt
  • Many out of work agricultural labourers deserted the countryside and settled in towns
  • Life was not much easier for them there
  • Depression in industry made finding regular work difficult
  • Many sought a better life by emigrating to America and Canada
  • Number of agricultural workers fell from 1m in 1871 to 600,000 in 1901
  • Pattern changed as a result of the depression
  • No part of the country was unaffected
  • British farmers had to diversify in order to survive
  • Farmers in Scotland were less affected - already concentrated on mixed farming
  • Successful new developments in some areas 
  • Less scope for change in other areas
  • Many moved into dairy farming as milk could not easily be imported
  • Some were slow to spot the need for change
  • Poultry farming became popular
  • Development of market gardening as an alternative to farming met with great success
  • Area under cultivation fell, while the area turned over to pasture instead
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The Problems of Agriculture

  • Depression was one cause of violent unrest in Ireland
  • Irish farmers were equally hard hit 
  • Many were left unable to pay their rent and were forced out by the landlord
  • Seasonal work tradition came to an ed 
  • Loss of jobs added to the falout from the agricultural downturn 
  • Encouraged the exodus to the towns 
  • This creatd an nostalgia for the life left behind in the countryside
  • Conditions were still tough in the countryside for those who stayed
  • Standards of housing were poor 
  • Families lived in small two-roomed cottages
  • No running water or indoor sanitation
  • Improvements came more slowly than in towns
  • Lowest paid worforce and they worked longer and more irregular hours
  • Few dared to be members of a union for fear of their livelihood 
  • No vote or political voice until 1884
  • Education was chaotic 
  • However,there were close family bonds, a strong sense of community and respect for each other
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