Ode to DEFRA, happy retirement to Steve Latham and who was Ralph Robinson?

Steve Latham, Chris Cartwright and I became Senior Lecturers at Harper Adams in January 1990.  Steve in Marketing, Chris in Business Organisation and me in Land Management.  Together we were inducted into the ways of higher education – analysis, evaluation, synthesis.  Steve retires this week, fondly remembered I am sure by 21 years-worth of marketing students at the college.

Steve has been clearing out his office, an amazing collection of old books and videos.   One item, published by Putnam in 1927 in their Whitehall Series is The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries by Sir Francis Floud KCB, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry 1920-1927.  This gripping opus contains the following Departmental Rhyme, originally published by Punch on 20 April 1927 which might at least provide some wry amusement at the contrasts and similarities between the MAF of then (the second F for food came later) and the DEFRA of  today.

The Ministry of Ag and Fish

Does Everything that one could wish

To foster, guide and chaperon

Those industries it calls its own;

And it would be unkind to chaff

The members of its faithful staff

Who seek no rest and find no peace,

But labour always to increase,

By deeds of departmental derring

Corn, flesh and fowl and good red herring.


No slackness is allowed to smirch

Their splendid record of research,

No doubts molest their firm reliance

On methods blessed by modern science.

One expert, in his spacious lab,

Observes the habits of the crab;

Another takes his grain of wheat,

His whiting or his sugar beet

And tries by some ingenious test

What mode of living suits it best;

While others dedicate their lives

To proving how the ploughman thrives

Who mitigates his dull vocation

With intellectual recreation,

And spends an hour of leisure daily

Playing upon the ukelele.


The farmer strolling around his paddock,

The fisherman in quest of haddock,

Unite to sing with grateful glee

The praises of their Ministry.

Rude simple souls, they lack that store

Of expert scientific lore

On which alone success depends,

And this their kind Department sends.

For, if calamities befall

The men who till, the men who trawl –

If beasts contract the foot-and-mouth,

If blizzards blow from north or south,

If prices slump and credit fails,

If nets are rent by sportive whales,

The Staff is ready in a trice

To help them with its best advice,

On land or sea, in drought or storm,

Sent free of charge in pamphlet form.


And a last obscure question for readers who have stayed on this far.  Ralph Robinson was the pseudonym of an active farmer and contributor to Arthur Young’s Annals of Agriculture in the late 1700’s.  He was better known as King George III, Farmer George, and became the founder and patron of the Board or Society for the encouragement of Agriculture and Internal Improvement which was created on 23 August 1793, by Royal Charter.

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