A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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From the Regional Information Officer. North Western Region

Some of the problems and grievances among the farming population in the North West are associated with wartime regulations, and with W.A.E.C. administration.

Ploughing . The North-West Region, especially on the higher land, is not habitually a ploughing country, but is used for grass-pasture and root crops. This year turnips are said to have done badly, while kale, rape and mangels have varied greatly. Corn growing had fallen into abeyance for many years, in favour of milk producing and stock raising. The compulsory ploughing of land has created certain grievances based on the difficulties involved or incidental to the personnel and powers of the W.A.E.C. Farmers are reported to complain of the arbitrary treatment they receive, as members of the W.A.E.C. decide what pieces of farms shall and must be ploughed. It is alleged that these men often appear to the farmers to be incompetent, with no personal experience of ploughing.

The appointment of local men is often not favoured, but “strictly impartial persons” are preferred. The farmer does not appear to have any right of appeal against the decision of such officials, and this constitutes a grievance. It is known among local farmers that ploughing on a grand scale failed in the '70's of the last century. They declare that much of the land is not fit for ploughing and cannot be made fit in a short space of time. “A first crop may be good but the land is soon exhausted.” It is pointed out that a farmer is often ordered to plough up a piece of decent land which does not need improving, when he would really prefer to plough up some of the rougher ground with a view to its ultimate improvement. Farmers are said to resent the fact that the policy of quick returns is preferred to one that would improve the poorer land, without worsening the better.

Draining . It is alleged that much damage is actually being done by the tractors to the drains, especially to the grass drain variety which still survives on many farms; but the main point at issue is said to be that much land requires draining, and many farmers feel it would be better to give subsidies for drainage rather than for ploughing, especially on the higher farms.

On draining depends the success of reseeding for the production of any crop whatever. As in ploughing, a farmer may arbitrarily be ordered to reseed certain fields. He gets subsidies on ploughing but the reseeding he has to pay for himself at a cost of 11 guineas an acre. At present the tenant farmer has to bear this expense alone with no contribution from the landlord. Many feel that the landlord should pay a proportion of the cost, but it is also felt that any subsidy should be paid on reseeding rather than ploughing, in order to ensure that land broken by the plough will not be left derelict at the end of the war (as happened 25 years ago).

Water Supply . This is important also to the farmer's wife. It is still often dependent on rainfall, and on hand-filled boilers for any hot water. Many landlords are said to be unwilling to bring drinking water to farms, even where there is a nearby supply available. (A case is quoted of a farm where fresh water for drinking is brought by the milk wagon twice a week, though a supply 400 to 500 yards away [Text Missing]could be tapped, and though the farmer pays water rate to his Rural District Council for water not received). This is regarded as an important matter for farm policy, as an inadequate water supply handicaps farms, e.g. Milk cannot be cooled, and thus the amount of milk which can be safely produced, especially in summer, is greatly reduced; also Grade A milk cannot be produced on farms thus situated. Again the amount of cattle food a farmer can buy is dependent upon his gallonage of milk.

The urgent question about the problem of water supply is - “whose is the financial responsibility - landlord, tenant, or Local Authority?”.

The farming population, as is pointed out from time to time, awaits with some impatience a long-term Government policy with regard to agriculture. “Short-term policies do not deceive - the farmers want to know the plan for ten or twenty years after the War. Until they can chew over such long-term proposals, they will remain in a state of suspicion or indecision.”

One observer on a country holiday points out the large number of farms coming to let for the first time for many years. It is thought that problems of ploughing and reseeding on the larger farms are responsible for this unsettlement.

On the whole, the introduction of discipline by the W.A.E.Cs. is said to be welcomed, always provided the Committees are thoroughly impartial in their judgement (which may prove difficult when local people are appointed to serve). There is some criticism of exemption of young men and women for farm work; also some impression that conditions of exemption are less rigid in the country than the town. Instances are also quoted of farms purchased by men for their sons not previously employed on the land since the war began.

14th September, 1943.

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