1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Agriculture/Acreage and Yields of British Crops

Acreage and Yields of British Crops.

The most notable feature in connexion with the cropping of the land of the United, Kingdom between 1875 and 1905 was the lessened cultivation of the cereal crops associated with an expansion in the area of grass land. At the beginning of the period the aggregate area under wheat, barley and oats was nearly 10½ million acres; at the close it did not amount to 8 million acres. There was thus a withdrawal during the period of over 2½ million acres from cereal cultivation. From Table I., showing the acreages at intervals of five years, it will be learnt that the loss fell chiefly upon the wheat crop, which at the close of the period occupied barely more than half the area assigned to it at the beginning.

Table I.—Areas of Cereal Crops in the United Kingdom—Acres.

Year. Wheat. Barley. Oats. Total.
1875 3,514,033 2,751,362 4,176,177 10,441,627
1880 3,065,895 2,695,000 4,191,716 9,952,611
1885 2,553,092 2,447,169 4,282,594 9,232,355
1890 2,433,595 2,300,994 4,137,790 8,922,379
1895 1,456,042 2,346,367 4,527,399 8,330,303
1900 1,901,014 2,172,140 4,145,633 8,213,737
1905 1,836,598 1,872,305 4,137,406 7,846,309

If the land taken from wheat had been cropped with one or both of the other cereals, the aggregate area would have remained about the same. This, however, was not the case, for a fairly uniform decrease in the barley area was accompanied by somewhat irregular fluctuations in the acreage of oats. To the decline in prices of home-grown cereals the decrease in area is largely attributable. The extent of this decline is seen in Table II., wherein are given the annual average prices from 1875 to 1905, calculated upon returns from the 190 statutory markets of England and Wales (Corn Returns Act 1882). These prices are per imperial quarter,—that is, 480 ℔ of wheat, 400 ℔ of barley and 312 ℔ of oats, representing 60 ℔, 50 ℔ and 39 ℔ per bushel respectively. After 1883 the annual average price of English wheat was never so high as 40s. per quarter, and only twice after 1892 did it exceed 30s. In one of these exceptional years, 1898, the average rose to 34s., but this was due entirely to a couple of months of inflated prices in the early half of the year, when the outbreak of war between Spain and the United States of America coincided with a huge speculative deal in the latter country. The

Table II.—Gazette Annual Average Prices per Imperial Quarter
of British Cereals in England and Wales, 1875—1905.

 Year.   Wheat.   Barley.  Oats.
  s. d. s. d. s. d.
1875 45 2 38 5 28 8
1876 46 2 35 2 26 3
1877 56 9 39 8 25 11
1373 46 5 40 2 24 4
1879 43 10 34 0 21 9
1880 44 4 33 1 23 1
1881 45 4 31 11 21 9
1882 45 1 31 2 21 10
1883 41 7 31 10 21 5
1884 35 8 30 8 20 3
1885 32 10 30 1 20 7
1886 31 0 26 7 19 0
1887 32 6 25 4 16 3
1888 31 10 27 10 16 9
1889 29 9 25 10 11 9
1890 31 11 28 8 18 7
1891 37 0 28 2 20 0
1892 30 3 26 2 19 10
1893 26 4 25 7 18 9
1894 22 10 24 6 17 1
1895 23 1 21 11 14 6
1896 26 2 22 11 14 9
1897 30 2 23 6 16 11
1898 34 0 27 2 18 5
1899 25 8 25 7 17 0
1900 26 11 24 11 17 7
1901 26 9 25 2 18 5
1902 28 1 25 8 20 2
1903 26 9 22 8 17 2
1904 28 4 22 4 16 4
1905 29 8 24 4 17 4

weekly average prices of English wheat in 1898 fluctuated between 48s. 1d. and 25s. 5d. per quarter, the former being the highest weekly average since 1882. The minimum annual average was 22S. rod. in 1894, in the autumn of which year the weekly average sank to 17s. 6d. per quarter, the lowest on record. Wheat was so great a glut in the market that various methods were devised for feeding it to stock, a purpose for which it is not specially suited; in thus utilizing the grain, however, a smaller loss was often incurred than in sending it to market. In 1894 the monthly average price for October, the chief month for wheat-sowing in England, was only 17s. 8d. per quarter, and farmers naturally shrank from seeding the land freely with a crop which could not be grown except at a heavy loss. The result was that in the following year the wheat crop of the United Kingdom was harvested upon the smallest area on record-less than 1½ million acres. In only one year, 1878, did the annual average price of English barley touch 40s. per quarter; it never reached 30s. after 1885, whilst in 1895 it fell to so low a level as 21s. 11d. The same story of declining prices applies to oats. An average of 20s. per quarter was touched in 1891 and 1902, but with those exceptions this useful feeding grain did not reach that figure after 1885. In 1895 the average price of 480 ℔ of wheat, at 23s. 1d., was identical with that of 312 ℔ of oats in 1880, and it was less in the preceding year. The declining prices that have operated against the growers of wheat should be studied in conjunction with Table III., which shows, at intervals of five years, the imports of wheat grain and of wheat meal and flour into the United Kingdom.

Table III.—Imports into the United Kingdom of Wheat Grain,
and of Wheat Meal and Flour—Cwt.

Year  Wheat Grain.  Meal and Flour. Total.
1875 51,876,517 6,136,083 58,012,600
1880 55,261,924 10,558,312 65,820,236
1885 61,498,864 15,332,343 77,331,707
1890 60,474,130 15,773,330 76,247,516
1895 81,749,955 18,368,410 100,118,365
1900 68,669,490 21,548,131 90,217,621
1905 97,622,752 11,954,763 109,577,515

The import of the manufactured product from 1875 to 1900 increased at a much greater ratio than that of the raw grain, for whilst in 1875 the former represented less than one-ninth of the total, by 1900 the proportion had risen to nearly one-fourth. The offal, which is quite as valuable as the flour itself, was thus retained abroad instead of being utilized for stock-feeding purposes in the United Kingdom. In the five subsequent years the proportion was fundamentally altered, so that with a greatly increased importation of grain, that of meal and flour was in the proportion of about one-ninth. The highest and lowest areas of wheat, barley and oats in the United Kingdom during the period 1875–1905 were the following:—

Wheat  .  3,514,088 acres in 1875; 1,407,618 acres in 1904.
Barley  .  2,931,809 1879; 1,872,305 1905.
Oats  .  4,527,899 1895; 3,998,200 1879.

These show differences amounting to 2,106,470 acres for wheat, 1,059,504 acres for barley, and 529,699 acres for oats. The acreage of wheat, therefore, fluctuated the most, and that of oats the least. Going back to 1869, it is found that the extent of wheat in that year was 3,981,989 acres or very little short of four million acres.

The acreage of rye grown in the United Kingdom as a grain crop is small, the respective maximum and minimum areas during the period 1875–1905 having been 102,676 acres in 1894 and 47,937 acres in 1880. Rye is perhaps more largely grown as a green crop to be fed off by sheep, or cut green for soiling, in the spring months.

Of corn crops other than cereals, beans and peas are both less cultivated than formerly. In the period 1875–1905 the area of beans in the United Kingdom iiuctuated between 574,414 acres in 1875 and 230,429 acres in 1897, and that of peas between 318,410 acres in 1875 and 155,668 acres in 1901. The area of peas (175,624 acres in 1905) shrank by nearly one-half, and that of beans (256,383 acres in 1905) by more than one-half. Taking cereals and pulse corn together, the aggregate areas of wheat, barley, oats, rye, beans and peas in the United Kingdom varied as follows over the six quinquennial intervals embraced in the period 1875–1905:—

Year.   Acres. Year.   Acres.
1875  . .  11,399,030 1890  . .  9,574,249
1880  . .  10,672,086 1895  . .  8,865,338
1885  . .  10,014,625 1900  . .  8,707,602
      1905  . .  8,333,770

Disregarding minor fluctuations, there was thus a loss of corn land over the 30 years of 3,065,260 acres, or 27%. The area withdrawn from corn-growing is not to be found under the head of what are termed “green crops.” In 1905 the total area of these crops in the United Kingdom was 4,144,374 acres, made up thus:—

Crop.   Acres.
Potatoes . . 1,236,768
Turnips and Swedes . . 1,879,384
Mangel . . 477,540
Cabbage, kohl-rabi and rape . . 225,315
Vetches or tares . . 139,285
Other green crops . . 186,082

The extreme aggregate areas of these crops during the thirty years were 5,057,029 acres in 1875 and 4,109,394 acres in 1904 At five-year intervals the areas were:—

Year.   Acres. Year. Acres.
1875 . . 5,057,029 1890 4,534,145
1880 . . 4,746,293 1895 4,399,949
1885 . . 4,765,195 1900 4,301,774
      1905 4,144,374

These crops, therefore, which, except potatoes, are used mainly for stock-feeding, have like the corn crops been grown on gradually diminishing areas.

The land that has been lost to the plough is found to be still further augmented when an inquiry is instituted into the area devoted to clover, sainfoin and grasses under rotation. The areas of live-year intervals are given in Table IV. Under the old Norfolk or four-course rotation (roots, barley, clover, wheat) land thus seeded with clover or grass seeds was intended to be ploughed up at the end of a year. Labour difficulties, low prices of produce, bad seasons and similar causes provided inducements for leaving the land in grass for two years, or over three years or more, before breaking it up for wheat. In many cases it would be decided to let such land remain under grass indefinitely, and thus it would no longer be enumerated in the Agricultural Returns as temporary grass land, but would pass into the category of permanent grass land, or what is often spoken of as “permanent pasture.” Whilst much grass land has been laid down with the intention from the outset that it should be permanent, at the same time some considerable areas have through stress of circumstances been allowed to drift from the temporary or rotation grass area to the permanent list, and have thus still further diminished the area formerly under the dominion of the plough. The column relating to permanent grass in Table IV. shows clearly enough how the British Isles became

Table IV.—Areas of Grass Land (excluding Heath and Mountain
Land) in the United Kingdom—Acres.

Year. Temporary (i.e.
under rotation).
Permanent
 (i.e. not broken up 
in rotation).
Total.
1875 6,337,953 23,772,602 30,110,555
1880 6,389,232 24,717,092 31,106,324
1885 6,738,206 25,616,071 32,354,277
1890 6,097,210 27,115,425 33,212,635
1895 6,061,139 27,831,117 33,892,256
1900 6,025,025 28,266,712 34,291,737
1905 5,779,323 28,865,373 34,644,696

more pastoral, while the figures already given demonstrate the extent to which they became less arable. In the period 1875–1905 the extreme areas returned as “permanent pasture”–a term which, it should be clearly understood, does not include heath or mountain land, of which there are in Great Britain alone about 13 million acres used for grazing–were 23,772,602 acres in 1875, and 28,865,373 acres in 1905. Comparing 1905 with 1875 the increase in permanent grass land amounted to over five million acres, or about 21%.

On account of the greater humidity and mildness of its climate, Ireland is more essentially a pastoral country than Great Britain. The distribution between the two islands of such important crops of arable land as cereals and potatoes is indicated in Table V. The figures are those for 1905, but, though the absolute acreages

Table V.—Areas of Cereal and Potato Crops in Great Britain
and Ireland in 1905.

Wheat.

Barley.

Acres.

Acres.

Great Britain

1,796,993

1,713,664

Ireland

37,860

154,645

Total

1,834,853

1,868,309

Oats.

Potatoes.

Great Britain

3,051,376

608,473

Ireland

1,066,806

616,755

Total

4,118,182

1,225,228

vary somewhat from year to year, there is not much variation in the proportions. The comparative insignificance of Ireland in the case of the wheat and barley crops, represented by 2 and 8% respectively, receives some compensation when oats and potatoes are considered, about one-fourth of the area of the former and more than half that of the latter being claimed by Ireland. It is noteworthy, however, that Ireland year by year places less reliance upon the potato crop. In 1888 the area of potatoes in Ireland was 804,566 acres, but it continuously contracted each year, until in 1905 it was only 616,755 acres, or 187,811 acres less than 17 years previously.

A similar comparison for the several sections of Great Britain, as set forth in Table VI., shows that to England belong about 95% of the wheat area, over 80% of the barley area, over 60% of the oats area, and over 70% of the potato area, and these proportions do not vary much from year to year. The figures for cereals are important, as they indicate that it is the farmers of England who are the chief sufferers through the diminishing prices of corn; and particularly is this true of East Anglia, where corn-growing is more largely pursued than in any other part of the

Table VI.—Areas of Cereal and Potato Crops in England, Wales
and Scotland, and in Great Britain, in 1905.

Wheat.

Barley.

Acres.

Acres.

England

1,704,281

1,410,287

Wales

44,073

91,243

Scotland. .

48,641

212,134

Great Britain

1,796,995

1,713,664

Oats.

Potatoes.

England. .

1,880,475

434,773

Wales

207,929

29,435

962,972

144,265

Great Britain

3,051,376

608,473

country. Scotland possesses nearly one-third of the area of oats and nearly one-fourth of that of potatoes. Beans are almost entirely confined to England, and this is even more the case with peas. The mangel crop also is mainly English, the summer in most parts of Scotland being neither long enough nor warm enough to bring it to maturity.

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