August 4 2014 marks the centenary for the outbreak of the First World War. There are numerous reports and documentaries on how urban communities were affected by the war but the true farming story has remained untold. The NFU has looked back at the last 100 years and investigated the impact that the Great War had on British farming families.
To celebrate all that has been discovered about farming during the First World War the NFU has put together videos, a report and a special supplement in British Farmer and Grower magazine for members (click here to read the supplement).
Watch more of our videos:
- Farming and the First World War: The humble pea
- Farming and the First World War: Women's Land Army
- Farming and the First World War: The blind farmer
British farmers played a crucial role in producing food for the nation during World War One. As German U-Boats cut off trade routes the Government turned to British farmers to feed the country during a time of crisis.
More than 170,000 farmers fought in the trenches and up to half a million farm horses were requisitioned by the War Office to help at the front line. Faced by a lack of labour, farms adapted the way they worked to meet the food production challenge.
A total of 98,000 extra women from the Women’s Land Army worked on farms to fill the void left by men. A further 66,000 soldiers returned from the frontline to help with the harvest. And crucially tractors began to do the work of many hands. In 1917 the Government bought 400 British Saunderson Tractors and a further $3.2million was invested in US models such as the Fordson.
By 1918 6,000 tractors were in operation in Britain. The Ploughing Up campaign of 1917 saw an extra 2.5 million acres of land used for growing cereals. By the end of the war an extra 915,000 tonnes of oats, 1.7million tonnes of potatoes and 830,000 tonnes of wheat were grown. Thanks to the work of British farmers and growers the country avoided being starved into submission.
The 16 page report investigates how government decisions to commit to a policy of free trade resulted in the decline of British agriculture as part of the national economy before the war and looks at the challenges that are still faced today.