NATO’s Hard Road Ahead
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FOUR years of war have brought profound changes in the way Britain uses her land. Some of the reversals of previous trends in farming practice and agricultural production may be called revolutionary; but evolution is a better word to describe the procedure as a whole. Under the urgency of the need for more food, the adjustment of farming methods to the progress of scientific research has been immensely speeded up. Some of the changes are undoubtedly temporary. For example, there is a wartime emphasis on the production of cereals, for which the climate of Britain is not primarily suited, and there is a drive toward self-sufficiency in directions which are not economically justified. But other changes are destined to leave a permanent mark on the face of Britain and to give a definite shape to future developments. The increase in mechanization is one: with 125,000 tractors and tractor implements for 16,000,000 acres of tillage, British farming is now the most highly mechanized in the world. Less dramatic but of great significance is the broadening of fundamental agricultural policy to include emphasis on proper nutrition, a change which is in line with the world objectives discussed at the Hot Springs Conference. Most important of all, perhaps, is the growing awareness that for national efficiency and health, as well as to foster national amenities, the use of land for farms, factories, towns and parks must not be left to haphazard decisions. Britain has begun to plan her national estate.
Geographers very wisely draw their distinction between Highland Britain of the north and west and Lowland Britain of the south and east. Highland Britain, which includes Scotland and Wales, has heavy rainfall and acid soils. The areas suitable for cultivation and settlement form discontinuous tracts; there are large stretches in Scotland virtually uninhabited by man or beast. In Lowland Britain, embracing some two-thirds of England, few points reach a thousand feet above sea level. Soils are fertile, rainfall is moderate to low, and cultivation and settlement are continuous except for "islands" of moorland and heathland. The British coal fields all tend to be located on the margins between Highland and Lowland Britain. The population is concentrated in the Lowlands.
The way the land is used in Britain is the result of the long influence and interaction of three great sets of factors -- the geographic, historic and economic. The geographic or natural factors, elevation and relief, weather and climate, are immutable and have determined the broad pattern. The moister west favors grass rather than crops, the drier east favors four to five-course arable farming -- that is to say, crop rotation. The cool short summers of the north limit the range of crops, the mild winters of the southwest permit specialized early vegetable growing. There are often tiny but significant differences of microclimate, such as free drainage of air, which determine success or failure in such enterprises as fruit farming.
The present use of land frequently reflects its past ownership. The great landowners of the past often deliberately selected the poorer land for their parks. The remnants of manorial common lands form the village greens of today, though most of the larger common lands which escaped enclosure did so because of their inherent poverty. In many parts of the country farm holdings are fragmented into isolated groups of fields, an uneconomic arrangement suggesting long-forgotten quarrels regarding the division of the family inheritance.
Economic factors are in large degree responsible for the high proportion of Britain's acreage which has been kept in permanent grass -- 42.8 percent of the total in England, 41.8 percent in Wales and 8.3 percent in Scotland, according to the official statistics for 1933. Land under grass is less productive than land under the plough, but for many years prior to the war the sure market and steady price for milk contrasted with the wild fluctuations of corn prices. In addition, the lower labor costs on grass land made it easier to be sure of an income from a grass farm. Grass farms commanded higher rentals and there was every incentive to both landlords and tenants to keep land in the less productive form. But the very best soils, capable of intensive cultivation under market garden crops or of a good yield of farm crops, have remained under the plough despite the economic vicissitudes of the past 150 years. The maximum of change has been on land of intermediate quality.
Before the war Britain was producing less than 40 percent of her essential food requirements. It is difficult to give an exact figure, because much that was produced -- of milk and meat, for example -- was dependent upon imported animal feeding stuffs. Many so-called dairy farmers were not dairy farmers at all but cow-keepers, relying entirely on purchased concentrates and using land only for running their cattle. Britain was fast becoming a land of idle acres and derelict farms. In 1938 the arable acreage was the lowest ever recorded; much formerly improved land had passed through neglected drainage to "rough grazing," hedges were untrimmed, gates and fences were broken, farm buildings in decay and equipment antiquated or unserviceable.
The turn came with the Munich crisis of September 1938, when a "plough-up" campaign was initiated. The emphasis was on the plough partly because of the growing acceptance of Stapledon's theory of ley farming -- keeping each field under crops for two or three years and then three to seven years under grass. This program, popularized under the slogan "taking the plough round the farm," was championed in opposition to the traditional idea, prevalent in many parts of Britain, that good pastures should never be broken up. In time of war ploughed land is also more flexible. Crops of wheat, barley, oats, rye, peas, swedes and potatoes can be used either as animal feedstuffs or human food.
The County War Agricultural Executive Committees have held a key position in the war program. These are appointed bodies, consisting of prominent local farmers and landowners, or others with agricultural knowledge. At an early stage all farmers were secretly graded A (good), B (average), and C (bad or poor). Every effort has been made to eliminate the C farmer -- by providing him with equipment, material and guidance, giving him extra labor if he was hampered by age or infirmity, or in extreme cases by taking over the working of the farm.
The Committees have organized and carried out the counties' share in the national program. One of their most spectacular jobs, though not necessarily their most successful, has been to bring under cultivation some thousands of acres of hitherto unused common lands. Whether or not these are to be allowed to revert to unimproved common land may be one of the major postwar disputes. The County Committees have also supervised the distribution of mechanical implements, keeping a central pool for their own use or for lending.
Prices for agricultural commodities have been controlled to give high payments to farmers. Even the small and relatively inefficient producers have been able to make money or at least to break even. The big units have been making enormous profits: no one is troubled about that because the profit all flows back to the Treasury in the form of excess profits tax. In many cases producers have received a higher price from the Government than the Government has allowed the ultimate consumer to be charged. The poultry farmer has received 3s. a dozen for eggs; the consumer has paid at the rate of 2s. 3d. a dozen. Some will say it is a mad form of subsidy. But it is an excellent deterrent to black marketing and there are good grounds for believing that the tax payments of the farmers to the Treasury considerably exceed the total subsidies paid out.
Under this program, Britain produced between 70 and 80 percent of her food in 1943. It afforded the priority classes -- expectant and nursing mothers and young children -- and the lower income groups, a more nutritious and better balanced though possibly less palatable diet than they had ever enjoyed before. Under it, also, a large proportion of farms have become self-contained units: they produce on the farm all the essential feeding stuffs for their herds. This has been done without augmenting the labor force. Indeed, experienced male labor has been largely replaced by the 75,000 members of the Women's Land Army.
The growth of democracy in Britain, as the great estates break up under taxation, is shown in the increase in the number of land and property owners. Between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 heads of households have become owners of their homes through Building Societies alone. With more owners has come even greater need for land planning. The old country gentry were often extreme autocrats, but they had a great pride in their possessions. They sometimes prevented legitimate improvements, but they also barred the way to the undignified sprawl of villas and bungalows which has since ruined both the beauty and the amenity of much of the country. Democracy has still to learn how to plan.
The first Act of Parliament to control land development dates only from 1909; it was not until 1932 that the Town and Country Planning Act was passed. Under that law some effort has been made to regulate building construction, but despite its name the Act is merely a town planning measure. It affords no protection to agricultural land as such. Another measure, the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, attempted to cope with the problem of towns sprawling out along the approach roads, but failed. What should be open highways for fast traffic are lined on each side by a continuous ribbon of building for miles on end.
The thirties left the problems of traffic and of housing, of the location of new industries or the future of old ones, in a state of chaos. Britain has perhaps the finest network of secondary roads of any country in the world. The smallest by-lanes, though narrow, are tar-macadamed and have a good surface. But there is scarcely a good truck road in the country. One finds only the patched-up relics of medieval coach roads. Sometimes they have been widened for a stretch; then they will pass into some hopeless urban bottle-neck, or sweep round an old town by a ridiculous semi-circular by-pass; and this more than likely is already cluttered up with new villas. A limited number of main through routes of parkway type, avoiding all towns, is badly needed.
The need for national as well as local planning has been forced on the national conscience, though many fear it means "rule by the bureaucrats." The gravity of the situation led the Government to appoint a Royal Commission on the Geographical Location of the Industrial Population, under the chairmanship of Sir Montague Barlow. The outstanding conclusion of its report was that the great cities, London and Birmingham in particular, had grown too big and that there must be a dispersal of both industry and population. The report was issued in 1939. Before action could be taken on it war had already began to decentralize industry under its own inexorable laws.
A natural corollary of the Barlow recommendations was the appointment of a Committee on Land Utilization in Rural Areas. This Committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Justice Scott and with the writer as vice-chairman, was instructed to inquire into the conditions under which building should be permitted in country districts, consistent with the maintenance of agriculture, the preservation of amenities and the well-being of rural communities. It reported in September 1942, collecting into small compass recommendations covering all phases of life and development in the countryside. A third body, the Expert Committee on Compensation and Betterment, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Uthwatt, attempted the solution of the financial problems. This report regards nationalization of land as impracticable but advocates state acquisition of all development rights in undeveloped land. A fourth Committee, the Land Transfer Committee under Lord Rushcliffe, has, in September 1943, just advocated the extension of the system of registration of land to cover the whole country. These are the signposts pointing the way.
In the spring of 1943 a separate Ministry of Town and Country Planning was created and charged with the specific task of coördinating land use. A delicate balance must be maintained between central guidance, in accord with the national plan and the maintenance of local initiative and authority. The regional unit, a wartime administrative division larger than the county, has turned out to be a useful and promising link between national and local powers. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning has appointed regional planning officers in each of the eleven regions. Similarly the Ministry of Agriculture, which must look after all interests affecting rural land, has set up a Planning Division with a chief adviser on rural land utilization and with regional officers. These regional officers are men of standing, well-known in their respective areas, advisers but not full-time civil servants. This coöperation between town and country, between town planning and agriculture, is a happy sign of the new spirit of planning.
The essential uses of land may be grouped under six headings. Land is needed for industry to provide work for the people; for housing to provide shelter; for agriculture to provide food; for forestry to provide an important raw material; for open spaces both large and small to provide recreation; and for roads, railways and airports to provide means of communication and transport.
Of the industries which are fixed or immobile, the mining industries form an obvious group. From the point of view of land planning they fall into two categories. There are those whose resources will eventually be used to the point of complete exhaustion. Coal and iron ore (above a certain grade) are clear examples. In the coal fields and iron ore fields getting the minerals out of the ground must be an overriding consideration in planning. There are some very attractive town planning schemes which would, unfortunately, sterilize hundreds of thousands of acres of mineral-bearing land. These plans must be classed as luxuries which the nation cannot afford. On the other hand, far more attention ought to be paid to the rehabilitation of land after the extraction of minerals; a tax comparable with the annual premiums on an amortization insurance policy has been suggested to build up a fund to reinstate land after mining or quarrying. In some of the older mining areas, notably the famous Black Country, where minerals have already been worked out, there are thousands of derelict acres awaiting a process of levelling and general tidying up -- it may be for industry, for housing, for recreation, for afforestation or even for farming. Britain also has mineral resources which will never be used up. Limestone, chalk and cement, clay and shale for bricks and tiles, slate for roofing and stone for roads are examples. The areas where exploitation of such minerals is permitted are capable of planning control.
Other industries besides the mining ones are relatively fixed, often by physical factors. Shipbuilding and heavy iron and steel are instances. Industries like oil refining and flour milling tend to be situated at the ports which receive the raw materials. Other industries are tied one to another (the so-called linked industries) and so must be located at the larger industrial centers. Many others are more or less firmly held by labor supplies and tradition: the cottons of Lancashire and the woolens of Yorkshire, for example.
Industries which are definitely mobile or "footloose" are limited in number. Recent studies have shown that some idealists who picture new factories located in the open countryside or in villages -- supposedly to promote the health of the workers -- ignore both essential conditions of industry and the desires of the workers. Modern factories are on such a scale that if one is located in a village, the village becomes a small town; and a single factory is liable to cause great disruption should it fall. Hence new or existing towns and not the open country are the right locations for industry. Land must be made available accordingly.
The standard of housing in Britain has risen, but 4,000,000 new dwellings are still needed, and it is provisionally planned to build these at the rate of 400,000 a year. One house in every five throughout the whole country has suffered damage from bombing and there is much replacement to be done. There is much overdue slum clearance, not only of town slums but of laborers' cottages in the country. Though the population has practically reached its peak and a decline may be anticipated, its age composition has changed: smaller families mean more houses for the same total population. In addition, huge numbers of houses are just "old-fashioned" and lack all modern conveniences. They ought to be scrapped. The popular demand is for detached or semi-detached houses of five or six rooms with a garden -- at 8, 10, 12 or at the most 16 to the acre. Britain's postwar housing program alone may absorb some half million acres. It presents great questions. Should the large cities where the traffic problem is acute be limited by "green belts"? Should new building be in satellite towns and dormitory suburbs? Should wholly new towns be laid out? Or should efforts be concentrated on slum clearance in existing settlements and rebuilding?
Although agriculture is the greatest user of land, in the past it has been the Cinderella. When land has been wanted for housing or industry its agricultural importance has scarcely been considered. Unfortunately, the best agricultural lands -- level or gently undulating and well-drained -- have also been the "best" -- or at least the most easily developed -- for other purposes. Such land has been disappearing under an avalanche of bricks and mortar at a truly alarming rate, a form of slow national suicide to which the national conscience seems awake at last.
Looked upon merely as an industry, agriculture presents certain fundamental demands. It must have land which is accessible and of a quality which repays expenditure on cultivation and manuring. The land must be in units of a proper size. A balance of different types of land must be devoted to agriculture. Stability of conditions and an abundant supply of cheap capital are essentials; and farm land must not have sections cut off at the whim of urban developers.
But agriculture cannot be considered simply as an industry. The farmers and landowners are the custodians of the national estate, the nation's unpaid gardeners. Nine-tenths of the people live in towns, on less than one-tenth of the land, but they enjoy the pleasures and beauties of the whole. Moreover, it is of importance to the whole nation that they eat rightly. We now perceive that national expenditure on fresh food and a properly balanced diet is money spent on preventive medicine, an essential health service. The home farmer is a kingpin in such a concept. And in a further sense farming is more than a business: it is a way of life, deliberately chosen by many independently of financial gain. It is imperative to see that those whose hearts are in the land do not find themselves, as many have in the immediate past, in inferior social, educational, medical and material positions.
With a climate which is essentially a forest climate and where trees grow magnificently it is a national disgrace that forest and woodland occupy only 5 percent of the surface of Britain -- less than in any other country of northern Europe. Even so, much of the woodland is neglected or ill-managed. After the last war, when the acute shortage of timber had been a serious embarrassment to the war effort, the Forestry Commission was established with the primary object of planting about one and three-quarter million acres against a future national emergency -- a task only partly completed when the Second World War broke out. Afforestation must not encroach on improved farm land, but it is a solution for the fuller use of much submarginal land. In 1943 the Forestry Commission published proposals for a 50-year program to replant two million acres of old woodland and establish three million acres of new planting, half in Scotland and half in England and Wales. There is some opposition to the plans, but even if they are completed Britain will still have only six million acres of forest and woodland, covering only some 11 percent of the surface. It is unfortunate that more people from Britain do not know the glorious redwoods or the British Columbian forests or the forests of Finland. If they did they would realize what beauties could be added to their own country.
Much land is needed for recreation, apart from relatively small areas for urban parks and playing fields. Large tracts of wilder country find their highest use, speaking nationally, in the facilities they offer for climbing, walking or just lounging. Fortunately the lands most suitable for such purposes are the lowland heaths -- of hungry sandy soils drying very quickly after rain and covered with attractive heather or a light growth of pine and birch -- and mountain moorland.
In Lowland Britain the commons of poor land which escaped enclosure provide a network of open space to which the public has general rights of access. Of the high areas of moorland, some are open, others closed by water supply companies, and vast areas are strictly preserved as grouse moors or deer "forests." Deer "forests" alone cover four million acres in Scotland; they are, of course, not forests, being treeless. The Forestry Commission is steadily acquiring plantable areas of moorland. Out of the 18,000,000 acres of "rough grazing" about one-third is plantable and one-third capable of improvement for sheep and stock. The remaining third should, as at present, be used primarily for public and private recreation, including shooting, and -- very different -- nature reserves. But despite long continued agitation, Britain has as yet no national parks as understood in America. There are proposals to establish some, especially in the Lake District, North Wales, Dartmoor, the Derbyshire Dales and the Cornish Pembrokeshire coastal areas.
Any considerable extension of railways is unlikely. The need of land for roads will be chiefly for some road widening and a limited number of new main parkways. At present, huge areas of land are occupied by the Air Force, the Army and the Navy. The future of such land cannot be foreseen. Apart from that covered by concrete runways, hangars and buildings, and allowing for a certain interference with drainage, the land now given to airports can readily be restored to agriculture; but clearly there will be a continuing demand for some land for aircraft. The growth of air transport will, incidentally, render accessible, especially for holiday resorts, such places as the sunny islands off the west coast of Scotland previously most difficult to reach.
Such are the uses which Britain could make of her land.
Amid all the changes of the past 75 years there has remained one apparently constant feature. That, surprisingly enough, is the size of the ordinary British farm. In its survey of 1939 the Ministry of Agriculture distinguished 17 types of farming, all closely related and interdependent but each with its own requirements of type of land and size of farm. If, however, one were asked to name a typical British farm one would probably say the family mixed farm of some 100 to 150 acres -- mixed in the sense of being partly arable and partly grass and also of being dependent both on stock and crops. The labor force consists of the farmer (a "dirty boot" farmer), his wife who in particular looks after the dairy and the poultry, his family, and probably one or two hired men. In the poorer lands of the west or north the area of the farm may be increased by several hundred acres of hill grazing; on the chalk downs and wolds it becomes an all-arable farm of large fields; on the richest lands it is an intensively cultivated market garden holding. There are other farms of most varied size and type, but the small or medium sized family farm, more often worked by a tenant than an owner, is the backbone of British farming. Although the Government has not committed itself to a long-term policy for agriculture, manifestoes by the several political parties and other bodies show a remarkable general agreement. Only a small minority visualize great changes. It is they who see the future in terms of small, intensively cultivated holdings for the production of vegetables and other protective foods and the rest of the country occupied by big, completely mechanized "prairie" farms with large fields, and great cattle "ranches." But this would be a backward step. Those who advocate it ignore the fact that world trends are away from extensive monoculture toward balanced rotations of English type, the kind of farming which builds up soil fertility and which eliminates soil erosion.
What is amazing is that the average small British farm has remained for so long an individual unit. Voluntary coöperation among such individualists has not proved conspicuously successful; and many fortunes made in business or on the stock exchange have been lost in large-scale farming. On the other hand, in the few rare cases where large-scale farming has been organized on company lines there have been some outstanding successes. The rarity of such enterprises is due in large measure to the small return on the large capital involved -- less than half that normally sought by the investor -- and the uncertainty caused by the wide fluctuations in prices of farm produce.
One may hazard the suggestion that the future will see five types of farms. The first will be the ordinary family farm as at present. The second will be individual farms which coöperate voluntarily. The third will be scattered groups of farms each under a manager, the whole controlled by an expert board of directors with a central pool of machinery and technical skill. The fourth will be large contiguous blocks of land controlled in the same way. The fifth may be tracts of land farmed by the state, directed by an Agricultural Commission perhaps, with power to acquire and work land as the County War Agricultural Executive Committees do at the present day. Only by some grouping of resources can the most effective use be made of technical skill. The inestimable boon of adequate machinery available from a central pool on exactly the days when conditions are right for ploughing or harvesting has only been realized during the war.
Even so the farm units are likely to remain small. Fields of 10 to 20 acres are the ideal size because they are large enough for mechanical implements but not too large for controlled grazing if under grass. Much realignment of hedges to get rectangular fields and removal of hedgerow trees is needed. Eight or ten such fields can be used either as a four or five-course arable or for a unit in ley farming. There is similarly a move toward flexibility of farm buildings: barns convertible either to grain storage or to cow sheds. Such a farm unit is ideal for individual management.
The British farmer dislikes subsidies as much as does the British taxpayer. If he is given reasonably stable conditions he may be trusted to practise good husbandry. Prices agreed upon in advance which show a modest margin, and a guaranteed market, are the two essentials for stability. The solution for the future lies either with the Ministry of Food, or with a central buying organization which takes over its functions, closely connected with the Ministry of Agriculture. Prices must not be pitched too high, for there is no room for the C farmer. The nation has a right to expect efficiency if it provides stable conditions.
Such a program would be in line with the international agreement reached at Hot Springs. The proper feeding of the people takes first place. In Britain this will be achieved by home production of foods best consumed fresh (with others being produced incidentally to obtain a balanced rotation) and the importation of those most easily transported and stored. Where subsidies are needed it is the consumer who must be subsidized to enable the lowest income groups to obtain the right foods. Give the farmer stable prices and he will play his part.
Another form of stability is needed for successful farming: security of tenure. This implies that landlords will not speculate in land, and that owner-occupiers will not be tempted to sell building plots and raise crops of bungalows instead of corn or cattle. The state purchase of development rights over all undeveloped land as proposed by the Uthwatt committee is one answer. A simple solution, put forward in an appendix to the Scott report, proposes a "standard valuation" for all land and property, to be used both as the basis of taxation and death duties, and of claims for compensation when land is acquired by public authorities under pooling or planning schemes.
There is nothing incompatible between a full development of British agriculture and a great expansion of international trade. Those who cry "cheap food" and demand that it be imported, regardless of what happens to the home farmer, forget how much of the imported cheap food was produced by robber economy in the past. A stiff bill will assuredly be presented, in time, for food made "cheap" by spoliation of virgin land elsewhere, or at the cost of soil erosion, or by the denial of decent living conditions to labor. In the past such "cheap food" was dumped, at less than cost, on those who could pay something for it. Meanwhile half of all mankind -- a thousand million people in India, China and elsewhere -- were living at or below starvation level. The welfare of the British farmer, the welfare of the British people as a whole, and the welfare of the other peoples of the world, are intimately linked together. That primary fact must be the starting point for all plans for the use of land.