Taking the biscuit

I have read some extravagant claims about organic farming over the years, but the statements of Professor Anthony Trewavas (Letters, 28 March) blaming it for undernourishment in the 19th century truly take the biscuit.

A large proportion of the recruits for the Boer Wars in the 1880s and 1900s were rejected for being underweight not because of organic farming, but because they were poverty-stricken and malnourished. Wheat prices fell dramatically in the 1880s due to imports, but landlords did not reduce farm rents in line, which led to the bankruptcy of most wheat farmers in Britain.

As a result, wheat production plummetted 60 per cent by 1895, and unemployment soared as arable farming was wiped out across vast swathes of Britain.

Bread had never been cheaper, but it was still too dear for the unemployed farm labourer.

Shooting estates became the primary land use across Britain while the unemployed starved and this state of affairs persisted until the First World War, when grain importing ships were sunk by the Kaiser’s U-boats and the whole nation came close to ­starvation.


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An urgent call to grow wheat was made in 1915, but not enough ploughs or ploughmen could be found. David Lloyd George later said “we were ten days from famine” in 1917.

Today the poor are again going hungry, while tenant farmers’ rents are increasing beyond their ability to pay. Who said history doesn’t repeat itself?

Andrew Stoddart



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East Lothian