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Land use and the rural workforce

Use of land

The Food and Supply Sub-Committee (of the Committee of Imperial Defence) recommended the maintenance of high soil fertility through stock farming, so that land could be ploughed should the war effort require greater production.

These recommendations were implemented in two acts. The Agriculture Act of 1937 increased the acreage available for arable farming and increased subsidised drainage and fertilisers. The wheat subsidy was also extended to oats and barley. The Agriculture Development Act of 1939 increased government powers to buy agricultural equipment and fertilisers. The drainage grant was increased at the same time. Most significantly, this latter act provided for a payment of two pounds for every acre of pasture ploughed up over the summer of 1939 for arable production.

War Agricultural Executive Committees (War Ags)

War Agricultural Executive Committees (War Ags) were re-formed and empowered to order ploughing-up. They directed agriculture by determining land usage and types of crops to be grown. During the war, Italian prisoners of war were deployed in the 'ploughing-up' campaign; a government drive to encourage farmers to grow as much food as possible to feed the blockaded British Isles. Overall, there was a reduction in stock farming in favour of arable farming. Only beef and dairy stock was maintained, while the numbers of other farm animals declined. In 1940, the Food Policy Committee established controls over wages. Prices for agricultural products were fixed through negotiation with the <<National Farmers' Union>>. 

The Women's Land Army (WLA)

The size of the rural workforce declined as farm labourers volunteered, were called up to fight, or moved into areas of strong demand such as construction and industry. The unemployed from the cities, refugees, schoolchildren and conscientious objectors first filled their places in the countryside. However, these sources quickly proved inadequate. The War Ags increased farm worker wages but this did little to prevent the departure of workers. The Women's Land Army (WLA) was re-formed (having originally formed its roots in the First World War as the 'Land Army') with Gertrude Denman as Director. By 1943, over 87,000 WLA women were working on the land, and nearly 66,000 women worked directly for farmers. Women who worked for the WLA were commonly known as Land Girls. Prisoners of war were also employed in farm labour.