Agriculture Acts 1920 and 2020

One hundred years ago the Agriculture Act 1920 sought to provide farmers with the confidence they needed to expand their arable acreage to ensure a reliable and plentiful supply of home grown food. It did this by guaranteeing a minimum price for oats and wheat into the indefinite future. The Act also promised that the government would give four years’ notice of any change to these arrangements. This was the confidence-booster that should have enabled farmers to plan for a rotation. It carried into peacetime the guarantees that had been provided in the Corn Production Act 1917 in the First World War when the country had faced starvation due to enemy submarine blockades.

Edward Wood, later Lord Halifax, was Minister of Agriculture from November 1924 until October 1925. “The only sound advice which he could give to farmers was to lay down their arable to grass, cut labour and run their holdings on dog and stick lines”. What happened between 1920 and 1924?

The short answer is the Corn Production Acts (Repeal) Act 1921, described at the time and ever since as ‘The Great Betrayal’. The guarantees offered for at least four years ahead in 1920 were abruptly terminated without notice, just at a time when they might have become seriously useful to farmers and cost the government serious money – as the government contemplated a slide into depression and to what extent the farming industry should be treated differently from any other sector.

Move forward 100 years and we have the Agriculture Act 2020. Lessons from history? Emergence into a new economic and social world; reconsideration of the nature of agriculture and the role of farmers; pressure on national resources ….

The Agriculture Act 2020 is of course just one piece in the jigsaw of farming’s future. This Friday we present the last #RuBrief online seminar of 2020 and we will be discussing the Agriculture Act 2020, the transitional arrangements which have been laid out by Defra, the tenancy changes. We will also look at the pieces of the jigsaw we have not found yet, in particular what is likely to happen on 1 January 2021 when the UK leaves the EU given the latest state of negotiations by the end of the week. The session will run from 09.30 to 11.00 London Time and booking details are here:

I am indebted to two papers published in the Agricultural History Review for the information above:

Edith Whetham’s paper of 1974: The Agriculture Act 1920 and its Repeal – the “Great Betrayal” (AgHR 20 (1974) pp36 to 49)

John Sheail’s paper of 2010: The White Paper, Agricultural Policy, of 1926: its context and significance (AgHR Vol 58, No 2(2010) pp236 to 254)

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