A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


1. The Farmer

This inquiry is concerned with two aspects of the general problem of raising the level of farming technique.

In the short term this is being done by the use of a wide variety of media to advise and persuade farmers and through the advisory services of the County Committees and in the long term it is the problem of the education of children going on to the land - these are the main subjects of the inquiry.

This whole body of information is more intelligible, however, when it is looked at in the light of some general information about the farm community as a whole. Certain things are fairly well known about the homogeneity of the farm community, but little is known in detail about this subject and little is known about the background and history of farmers, in particular their education.

The main subjects in this section are the following:-

The occupation of the fathers of farmers

Why the farmer entered this profession

His previous industrial history

The schools to which he went and how and where he learned to farm

The Occupation of the Fathers of Farmers

The fathers of 91% of the farmers questioned were themselves farmers or in occupations closely related to agriculture.

The Occupation of Farmers’ Fathers

Fathers’ Occupation No. %
Farmer 81
Farm workers, labourer 4
Rural occupations (Hedgers, Thatchers, etc.) 1
Occupations dealing directly with farmers 2
Rural Craftsmen (Carpenters, Smiths, etc.) 2
Technical advisers 2
Other occupations 7
Retired and unoccupied 1
No answer 1
SAMPLE: 1968 100

This analysis demonstrates in detail how almost the whole of the farm community is drawn from the countryside and from farmers and occupations closely allied to the industry. In very large numbers of cases when farmers were asked the question about their father’s occupation they told us that not only were their fathers farmers but their grandfathers and their predecessors for many generations. Where this was not so it was very often that the farm was, in fact, not the farmer’s main but a subsidiary interest.

Rather fewer of the fathers of small farmers were farmers; 72% of those with under 50 acres holdings compared with 80% to 88% in the other groups. 16% of the fathers of the farmers with the smallest holdings were in rural occupations, but only 7% of the fathers of the farmers with the largest holdings.

The young farmers, those up to 35 years, had the highest proportion whose fathers were farmers. This is accounted for, of course, by the fact that a number of the other farmers were men who had come from other occupations late in life.


Why the Farmer entered this Profession

The first question the farmers are asked in this inquiry “Why did you take up farming” was answered by most farmers – 83% by “I was born to it”. Within this 83% three groups emerged - those who ‘were born to it' and said that they would not do anything else even if they had had the chance, they were 7%; those who 'were born to it' and were apparently satisfied who were 70% and 6% who 'were born to it' but who complained that they had no opportunity for anything else.

12% of farmers came to it from some other job and 2% came to farming for health reasons.

There were no important differences between farmers with different rating and only a small difference between farmers of different age group, in that the higher age group there was a higher proportion of farmers who had come from other jobs. There was, however, an interesting difference when farmers with different size holdings were compared, in that the group with the smallest holding had higher proportions coming from another job or who had becomes farmers for health reasons. The differences, however, were very small. Looked at in a slightly different way it may be said that the up to 50 acres group has the smallest proportion of those who were born to farming.


The Farmer’s previous Industrial History

The most striking point about this analysis is that just under one-fifth of all farmers have had experience in other occupations outside agriculture. 65% of farmers had done nothing except farming and the others, about one-fifth had been engaged in occupations related to agriculture. Details are given below: —

Other Jobs done by Farmers

No. %
Farm worker, labourer 5 19
Rural occupations (Thatcher, Hedger, etc.) 2
Occupations dealing directly with farmers 7
Craftsmen (Wheelwrights, Carpenters, etc.) 3
Technical advisers (Estate Agents, etc.) 2
Other occupations 19
None 65
No answer 1
SAMPLE 1968 100

An analysis of the different groups of farmers showed some interesting differences. The proportion who had done nothing besides farming was about equal in the cases of both owners and tenants - 66%, but in the case of farmers who were both owners and tenants the proportion was lower — 54%. In some other analyses it will be seen that in some ways this group of farmers shows a greater interest in some of the activities studied and it is suggestive, therefore, that their experience outside farming may have had a somewhat broadening effect.

The proportion who have done nothing besides farming is highest in the youngest age group - 78% but about equal in the two higher age groups - 62% and 63% throwing light on a process which was described to us and which appears fairly wide spread where by farmers sometimes spend a few years out of farming, often in ancillary occupations and return to farming later in life. This may be illustrated from the fact that although 81% of farmers had fathers who were farmers, only 65% had not been outside farming in the course of their working life.

A comparison of the groups with different size of holding showed that the group with the smallest holdings had the highest proportion who had been in other

occupations - 27% compared with between 13% and 18% in the other groups. The proportions who had done nothing except farming was highest in the 101 - 150 acre group - 77%.

A notable feature of this analysis was that in all groups there was a proportion of men who had been farm labourers. They were 5% in the group with holdings of up to 50 acres, 6% in the next, then 4% in all the larger groups, although taking together farm workers, thatchers, hedgers and rural craftsmen the proportion is somewhat higher in the groups with smaller acreage, thus up to 50 acres there are 12%, 51 - 100 acres 12%, 101 - 150 acres 7%,151 - 300 acres 6% and over 300 acres also 6%.

8 9

The Schools to which the Farmer went and how and where he learned to farm

In this analysis the most immediately interesting fact is that 28% of farmers went either to a secondary school or to a public school; thus the farming community may be regarded as being two groups two-thirds having had only elementary school education (mainly in country elementary schools) and one-third who have had secondary and higher education.

In comparing different groups of farmers it is found that of those in the higher rating there are 35% who have been to secondary and public schools compared with 24% in the lower rating and the latter group has a correspondingly higher proportion who have attended county elementary schools. Comparing groups of different types of ownership it is found that owners and owner tenants have had almost identical education, but that the tenant farmers have a somewhat lower proportion who have been to secondary or public schools and a higher proportion who have been to country elementary schools only. Comparison of the age groups show an interesting difference in that the younger groups have a far higher proportion who have had higher education than the older groups. The difference between the youngest and the oldest group in respect of secondary and public school education is 26%.

An analysis by size of holdings show also marked differences, the farmers with the large holdings having much higher proportions who have had higher education compared with those with the smaller holdings.

Schools attended by Farmers

Summar Size of Holding Age of Farmer
Up to 50 acres 51-100 acres 101-160 acres 151-300 acres Over 300 acres Up to 35 yrs. 35-55 yrs. Over 55 years.
No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. %
Local Elementary(Town) 7 10 5 6 10 4 7 8 6
(Country) 76 81 86 79 69 49 72 76 80
Preparatory School 7 4 4 6 10 19 9 6 7
Secondary School 23 15 18 25 30 37 34 26 12
Public School 5 2 2 5 6 21 8 5 4
Agricultural College or Institute 3 1 1 2 4 10 6 3 1
University 1 - 1 - 2 4 1 2 1
Others 4 2 3 4 5 8 4 3 5
All who specified what school 1939 98 504 99 534 98 301 99 423 98 175 98 353 99 958 99 608 98
School unclassified 19 1 5 1 3 1 1 - 7 2 3 2 2 1 11 1 3 1
No Education 10 1 2 - 5 1 2 1 1 - - - - - 2 - 8 1
SAMPLE 1968 100 511 100 542 100 304 100 431 100 178 100 355 100 971 100 619 100

The importance of education may be demonstrated by the following two sorts of analyses; in the first the information about the education of the farmer is separated into those who have had elementary school education only and those who have had preparatory, secondary and public school education and may have, in addition, attended an elementary school.

In the second sort this division has not been possible and the data is shown divided according to the education that each farmer has had in detail, but not distinguishing those elementary school children who have also had secondary education or those who have had higher education who have also had elementary school education. The differences in this second group of analyses are, therefore, blurred by this factor of overlap. Nevertheless in both sets of analyses the same differences emerge.

Farmers were asked “Whether any of the leaflets of the Ministry of Agriculture or County Committee had been of any use to them” and 54% said that they had been of use. The proportions were higher amongst young farmers than older farmers and

higher amongst farmers who had had secondary education when compared with those who had had elementary education only. It is noteworthy that difference between both these groups was negligible in the youngest group, but important in the two older groups suggesting that as far as the type of education influenced willingness to study printed instructions, the advantage of higher education no longer existed for those who had had their education within the last 20 years. In effect there has been a raising of the level of elementary education towards that of secondary education. The table below compares the three large groups.

Age of Farmers

Up to 35 35-55 yrs. Over 55 yrs. All Ages Summary
Elementary (only) Sec.and Prep. etc. Elementary (only) Sec.and Prep. etc. Elementary (only) Sec.and Prep. etc. Elementary (only) Sec.and Prep. etc.
% % % % % % % % %
Those who had made use of leaflets 60 63 53 68 39 53 49 63 54
Those who had not 38 36 44 31 59 46 49 36 44
No answer 2 1 3 1 2 1 2 1 2
SAMPLE: 182 171 629 329 461 147 1272 647 1968

The second analysis which does not distinguish those who have had elementary school education only, concerns the dressing of seed wheat with a mercurial dressing. In this analysis the most important difference is between the farmers who went to country elementary schools and those who went to secondary schools where there is a difference of the order of 10% in favour of the latter group. Farmers who have been to a town elementary school, however, have as large a proportion dressing their seed corn with a mercurial dressing as those who went to secondary schools.

A comparison of the reasons why farmers dressed their seed corn was possible between those who had been to a local country elementary school and those who had been to a secondary school and showed that 64% of the latter group understood the correct reasons compared with only 56% of the former group.

The second comparison is about the sort of advisory service that farmers would like to see after the war. In this respect the first comparison is between these farmers who would like an advisory service after the war and those who would not. Those in favour of a post-war advisory service were 69% of those who had been to secondary schools, 75% of those who had been to a town elementary school, but only 58% of those who had been to a country elementary school. Another sidelight on this same problem is that those who had been to a country elementary school had almost twice as large a proportion unable to give an opinion as those who had been to a town elementary school. Within the groups, however, who consider that an advisory service was necessary, the proportions who wanted the War Agricultural Committee to continue on present lines was similar. |

Two other comparisons were possible between those who had been educated at the local elementary school in the country and those who had been educated at a secondary school. The first is between the proportions recording their milk - they were 3 % of the first group compared with 8% of the second group. Comparing the proportions who had gone over to winter milk last year it was found that they were 14% of the country elementary school group, but 18% of those with secondary education.

From all this it is obvious that the type of education that the farmer has had has an important influence on his reactions to attempts to make him raise the level of his technique and change his farming practice. It is noteworthy, however, from the analysis given in the first example that differences in types of education are apparently less important than they were.

The family nature of the farming industry is well displayed by the analysis of where farmers learned to farm. No less than 77% of farmers learned to farm on their father’s farm and a further 6% learned to farm in the farm of a relative; thus 83%, over four-fifths, of all farmers learned to farm within their own family. The only important other groups were those who were a pupil on some other farm – those who learned as farm labourers – 7% and a miscellaneous group who had taught themselves by practical experience, or through books, or abroad, or any other ways about one-tenth.

There were no very considerable differences between the farmers in the two ratings.

Where Farmers learned to Farm

Summary Size of Holding Age of Farmer
Up to 50 acres 51-100 acres 101-150 acres 151-300 acres Over 300 acres Up to 35years 35-55 years Over 55 years
No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. % No. %
On father’s farm 77 68 80 85 80 76 84 76 76
On relative’s farm 6 7 4 4 7 7 5 6 5
As a pupil on another farm 7 7 5 7 6 9 7 6 7
At Agricultural College or Institute 3 1 1 2 5 10 6 3 4
Others - As farm worker 7 14 8 3 3 3 2 8 7
From neighbours, friends 1 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 1
Practical experience 7 9 6 5 5 7 5 6 7
Through books, bulletins, etc. 1 1 1 1 1 - 1 1 -
Abroad 1 1 - - 1 1 - 1 1
Miscellaneous 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
No answer 1 1 1 2 - 2 - 1 1
SAMPLE: 1968 100 511 100 542 100 304 100 431 100 178 100 355 100 971 100 619 100

A comparison of the age groups show small differences, particularly between the youngest group and the others. In the youngest group the proportion who learned on their father’s farm is higher - 84% compared with 76% in the other groups and the proportion who learned at an Agricultural College is also somewhat higher - 6% compared with 3% and 4%. There were differences between the groups of farmers with different size holdings. The 101 - 150 acre group had the highest proportion, 85% who had learned on their father’s farm, the up to 50 acre group had the smallest proportion 68%. On the other hand the up to 50 acre group had the largest proportion who had learned as a farm worker - 14% compared with 8% in the 51 - 100 acre group and only 3% in all larger groups. This was also true of the group who said they had learned by practical experience, the proportion being largest in the up to 50 acre group.

Farmers who had been to an Agricultural College or Institute, or a University and had taken agriculture were asked what subjects they had taken. The numbers, however, were too small to show differences. A list of the topics studied and the numbers who mentioned them is given below:-

No. %
General Agriculture 26
Engineering 2
Stock Keeping and Animal Husbandry 10
Zoology 4
Chemistry 15
Veterinary Surgery 11
Forestry 1
Geology 3
Bookkeeping, Estate Management 9
Bacteriology 2
Dairying 12
Arable Farming 7
Botany 8
Biology 2
Surveying 3
Physiology 1
Poultry 1
Horticulture 2
Entomology 1
Economics 2
Others not relating to farming 6
All who specified what subject 70 3
Those who did not go to College or Univ. 1886 96
Subject unclassified 12 1
SAMPLE: 1968 100

Courses of Instruction given by the Country

8% of farmers said that they had attended courses of instruction given by the Country. The proportion was somewhat higher amongst farmers with over 100 acres as much higher in the youngest age group compared with the oldest, the proportions being 14% of those up to 35 years, 8% of those between 35-55 years and 6% of those over 55 years.


It follows from these analyses that the English farming community is very homogeneous. In nine-tenths of cases our present farmers are the sons of farmers and in four-fifths of cases they have either learned to farm on their father’s farm or on the farm of a relative and further it will be shown later that the majority of farmers’ children are either already in agriculture or are likely to go into agriculture. A point, however, that should be remembered here is that about one-third of farmers have had some business or industrial experience outside farming.

About one-third of farmers have had secondary or other higher education and two-thirds of them had elementary school education mainly in country elementary schools. Considerable differences in the effectiveness of certain of the Ministry of Agriculture’s campaigns are shown between groups with different education and an important difference is shown between the receptiveness to written advice of the different groups. It is noteworthy, however, that this difference does not exist in the youngest group of farmers where both those with elementary and secondary school education have equal proportions who have made use of leaflets.

These facts about the recruiting of the farming population, its homogeneity and its source of technical training emphasise very strongly the point that farming education needs to be concentrated on the present farming population because the new generation of farmers are undoubtedly being trained on existing farms. It also emphasises the need for improvements in the country elementary schools and a positive direction of their teaching towards agriculture, as well as the need for more provision for secondary schools in country areas. The section on education bears out this general conclusion.

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