To plough or not to plough?


Perhaps it was Danny Boyle's amazing opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics that highlighted for many of us the change in Britain's landscape. The Industrial Revolution took over much of our green and pleasant land as towns and cities expanded. Technology, know-how and industrial demand do not require so many acres of land to be ploughed. In the 19th century farms were self-contained and self-sufficient units, growing what they needed for their stock and local community, and not for the world at large. Fertility was maintained by rotation not by the application of chemical additives. A 'four course cropping' meant wheat (or oats) barley, roots (or fallow) and grass, with plenty of dung in the process.

The Second World War caused thousands of acres of previously uncultivated land to be ploughed to provide food for the country when the threat of invasion was at its peak. Before then the downs, meadows and heaths across the land were extensively grazed by cattle and sheep in an old fashioned 'Thomas Hardy' style.

After the War,  the newly ploughed areas continued to be farmed to produce food for the country as it recovered from the ravages of war and food rationing. Then in the 1960s and 70s, subsidies encouraged maximum production plus the need to supply a global population that was growing annually by the million.

It seems almost ironic now that, in the 21st century, many of those areas are now being restored to pasture and habitat for nature, wildlife and flowers. Our quality of life allows us to enjoy leisure and relaxation in the countryside; it is other parts of the world which now produce food for the world from their previously untapped resources.

Machinery and modern farming development has added to the ability of farmers to cultivate land previously considered uncultivable or not fertile. Satellite navigation directs the implement to the precise margins of the fields and science allows inputs to the crop to be measured to the 'nth' degree for maximum effect and minimum  wastage.

How will this continue in the future? Leaving the EU is not likely to change the long term development of agricultural land and our need to produce food. Size will still probably dictate, except where individual niche markets are discovered. World peace may protect global food sources and distribution, allowing UK farming to be 'subsidised' by the country's non-farming income, thus granting the population the benefit of what continues to be this 'green and pleasant land'.