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LEINSTER LEADER EDITORIAL 4 MARCH 1916

NAAS, SATURDAY,  MARCH 4, 1916.

FARMERS AND FOOD PRODUCE.

The state of the weather for the past week, with its abnormal snow fall, has been almost unprecedented in its continued severity, the only redeeming feature being that the snowflakes were soft a rapidly melted away as they touched the earth, otherwise the conditions might be infinitely worse in having traffic and all out-door work temporarily suspended. However, it is sufficiently severe to cause inconvenience and impede business somewhat, and advancing towards the middle of the spring showing season, it bodes a late year in putting down the crops. This in a year of such tremendous issues worked out with all the horror and havoc of war between the great and powerful nations of Europe, and when so much depends upon an abundant harvest, is of more than ordinary seriousness. Prices for food-stuffs and the very necessaries of life are steadily rising in price, and while for the time being an artificial wave of prosperity produced by enormous out-lays on munition manufactures and works in Great Britain, and high prices for farming produce in Ireland, enables the workers at present to meet the demands made upon them for their maintenance, the reaction must come eventually, and with increased taxation, impoverishment is likely to prevail largely where at present the pinch is not felt. These are the warnings of the economists and others who are already engaged in studying the problems of supply and demand and their regulation in order to tide us over the scant years that will follow the close of the war. The operations in the different spheres of conflict on the continent during the past week disclose renewed activities, and more and more of the manhood and resources of the warring nations, are being consumed in the desolating struggle, and still the end is not in sight. This being so, it is a cardinal doctrine of the day that the more land devoted to tillage the better for the people and their future welfare, and governing as it does the solution of the problems above alluded to anything said or written on the subject now is seasonable. As we know, the question of the supply of home-grown food has engaged the attention of Departmental Committees in England and Scotland, and the Department of Agriculture in Ireland has been requested to appoint a Committee to consider and report what steps should be taken by legislation or otherwise for the sole purpose of maintaining and, if possible, increasing the present production of food in Ireland on the assumption that the war may be prolonged beyond the harvest of 1916. The committee tentatively recommended the fixing of a minimum price for wheat and oats, and also in favour of the maintenance and improvement of breeding stock, the provision of facilities to enable the smaller farmers to obtain agricultural implements and machinery, the conversation of the artificial manure supply of the country, and the maintenance of the Irish fishing industry. The Government, however, have not deemed it advisable to fix minimum prices for any class of farm produce. An active propaganda in favour of increased tillage instituted by the Department has, as we know, been attended with good results, but whether it is satisfactory and sufficient to sustain the country in the lean years ahead of us is not quite clear. The army, of course, has absorbed a good proportion of the population in Great Britain and Ireland, and there is a smaller number of civilians to consume the country’s produce, and the increased tillage of last year has appeared, perhaps more abundant in returns than it must otherwise seem; but at the close of the war this position must be reserved when the large armies embodied for the duration of the war have been disbanded. The necessity, there-fore, of more tillage is apparent. The campaign inaugurated by the Department through the County Committees of Agriculture last year has resulted in the addition of over 80,000 acres to the food producing area of the country, and focused attention on the humiliating fact that only 16 per cent of the arable land of Ireland was put under the plough, while in some cases the amount tilled was as low as 8 or 9 per cent. As to the contributing causes to this abnormal economical condition in the cultivation of the arable land, it is not our purpose to enter as they are patent to farmers themselves as well as to every reader with the most elementary knowledge of the dual system of land tenure which prevailed prior to the passing of the Land Purchase Act of 1903, and the demoralizing conditions which that the system produced. These all belong to the past, and the future is our immediate concern in the solving of those problems with which an untoward international situation, produced by a mighty war, brings us face to face. The general economic condition of the country, as we have said, is so far satisfactory from the farming point of view, but as pointed out by Mr. Russell at the last meeting of the Council of Agriculture, the old and inefficient are in great straits, and the misery of the very poor has been intensified by the increased cost of the necessaries of life. Of the other class, the one most adversely affected by war conditions are those who possess fixed incomes, whether coming from the State or from commercial or industrial sources. The rise in prices and growing burden of taxation make life for this class a much harder problem than it has ever been in the past. The general conditions governing poverty or prosperity must, however, to a very large extent always rest on the system of tenure governing the occupation of the land by the people who till it, and the methods employed in extracting the greatest amount of benefit there from. Absolute ownership gives the farmer at present every encouragement to make the most he can out of the land he owns, and every improvement effected tends to his own individual prosperity without the fear of those confiscations which in the past blighted his prospects, and stifled enterprise and progress. It has been admitted that Ireland has been left far behind in agricultural progress compared with other countries which had fostering Governments to aid them by generous financial treatment in carrying on the cultivation of the land on scientific principles, while the farmers of this country were being harassed and struggling against what appeared to be in surmountable obstacles for that freedom which would give them similar educational advantages to those enjoyed by their class in other lands. Freedom from landlordism has almost synchronised with the inauguration of that public system of education carried on through the medium of County Committees of agricultural instruction which are doing so much to promote efficiency and development in every phase of farming life, from improvement in the breeding of live stock, to the extension and reclamation of the amount of land under cultivation for raising different kinds of crops. That there is plenty of room for progress and development still is quite evident from the figures quoted above showing the proportion of arable land still un-worked and which would provide the thousands of emigrant’s annually leaving the country with that employment at home which they seek abroad. However, these are economic conditions which must satisfactorily adjust themselves in time through the influence of that progress which is now associated with ownership of the land on the basis of a peasant proprietary. Meanwhile those charged with agricultural instruction are not idle, and experiments are being continuously and systematically carried out to ascertain, by practical tests, the best means of treating the land for the raising of various crops, the possibilities of drainage schemes, and manuring of waste lands and bogs for the purpose of having large areas at present allowed to remain idle, added to the food-producing capacity of the country. For instance, for the purpose of obtaining information regarding the manurial treatment of un-reclaimed bog, an experiment was tried by the Department in 1914, in the Bog of Allen, near Naas, and the most striking fact disclosed in connection therewith was the importance of lime in the raising of such crops as rye, rape, potatoes, &c. Similar results followed experiments carried out at Ferbane, King’s Co., where works are in existence for the manufacture of peat moss litter, &c. The work of the Department in this and other directions is, of course, at present hampered by the effects of the war, and as we know the policy of retrenchment followed has led to the abandonment of some work of vital concern to the country. It would appear, however, to be futile for the Department to go any further than the experimental stage with schemes for the reclamation of waste and bog lands, while so many thousands of acres of the best land for cultivation is given over to the raising and grazing of bullocks and sheep. If a real and effective beginning for an increased production of food from the land is contemplated, it must be accomplished by a spreading out of the people on the rich land, and the re-occupation of those fruitful acres which gave content and prosperity to the country in the past. When this is accomplished, it will be time enough to give effect to the finders of the Department mental experts who are at present occupied in ascertaining the possibilities of the reclamation of bog and waste lands, although we are far from decrying the usefulness and value of these experiments in estimating the food-producing capacity of the country. There is nothing extravagant in the proposal to acquire the rich and arable land of the country to meet present wants and future exigencies when it is remembered that schemes are at present being formulated in England and Scotland for the provision of 15-acre allotments to disbanded soldiers and their families. Whether similar schemes will be formulated for this country is a matter which, we believe, largely rests with the people themselves, and their Parliamentary representatives.

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