Farming in the 1960s

Farming to feed the nation; learning the lessons of the past

University of Exeter

Researchers: Michael Winter, Paul Brassley, Matt Lobley, and David Harvey

Funder: ESRC

Historical farming books are being used by researchers at the University of Exeter to learn the lessons of the past.

The team led by Professor Michael Winter and including academics from the Centre for Rural Policy Research and Geography is using original individual farm field books, to solve the 'productivity and technical innovation' problems in agricultural history.

The ESRC funded project team are are combining the evidence from the field books with oral history involving famers who participated in the Farm Management Survey (FMS).

As concern over food security grows, it is important to learn lessons from the past. In the 1950s and 1960s there was a far reaching transformation of farming in the UK. Yet much of the technology and innovation adopted in the post-war period had been available since pre-war years and the cost-price pressures on agriculture that limited productivity in the 1930s were equally present in the 50s and 60s.

The project aims to establish why farms intensified and expanded in the ‘50s and ‘60s using a rich and detailed data source, not previously used for historical analysis - the FMS, a Government-commissioned annual survey to determine farm profitability, which began in the 1930s.

We know a great deal about aggregate change, but how did it play out on individual farms? Where did farmers get information and advice?  How did they increase production? Was it by increasing inputs of feedingstuffs, fertilizers, labour, machinery, and capital, or by using new varieties, pesticides and breeds? To what extent, and when, did crop and livestock yields change? Were the yield changes produced by using new varieties and breeds? When, and to what extent, were pesticides used, and how rapidly did the use of artificial insemination spread? What new enterprises were introduced?
Professor Michael Winter, Politics