OPINION: A look back at 1976

Within the next couple of months my wife, Lorna, and I will be moving house – downsizing to provide for the next generation.

We’re looking forward to it, although the prospect of living in our own self-designed, purpose-built dwelling would have been more attractive were it not for problems with local planners that have lasted almost three years. Those problems are still grumbling on, but that’s another story for another day. As it is we’ve had to revert to plan B.

Meanwhile we are sorting through piles of accumulated stuff that’s built up over the years. There’s a skip in the yard that’s gradually filling and boxes of things we want to keep are being filled and piled in readiness for moving day.

Part of my role has been to sort the bookshelves – a time-consuming job, as publications you haven’t seen for years come to light and demand attention. Like last week, when I came upon an old issue of Farmers Weekly dated 11 June 1976. I can’t remember why I saved it, but here was a piece of contemporary history I had to review.

Apart from its yellow cover, it was all in black and white. No surprise there. But I had forgotten that the size of the pages in those days was a few centimetres bigger in both length and width than today’s version. Most of the big-name advertisements were at the front of the magazine and several of the auctioneers and suppliers are still familiar today.

There were eight close-packed pages of farms for sale or to let, compared with a handful of widely spaced but more colourful land ads today – a reflection, I assume, of the prevalence of contract farming agreements arranged by private treaty which are seldom publicised. In this 37-year-old copy, an estate of 1,306 acres in north Lincolnshire was offered. It was all let and producing an annual rent of £15,619 – that’s about £12 rent per acre.

A 162-acre block of bare land in Shropshire was advertised for sale at £122,000 or £753/acre. A 77-acre dairy farm in Dorset complete with a five-bedroom house and a cottage was priced at £55,000 or £714/acre.

In the jobs section, a national marketing manager’s position for an ag chem firm boasted a salary of £4,000/annum, plus a car. A sales rep for a drain pipe manufacturer, it was claimed in another ad, could earn £3,500/annum including bonuses.

In the machinery section, a new 14ft-cut Fortschritt combine could be bought for £10,950. And the markets pages revealed that wheat was worth a touch over £70/t off the combine the following harvest. The ex-farm price of milk, paid by the Milk Marketing Board, was about 36p – per gallon!

The main news story concerned a report by the Agricultural Research Council pointing out that the UK was importing £1 million worth of protein for animal feed per day. An investment of just £30 million by government on research into crops such as beans, rape and linseed alongside improved efficiency on farms could halve that bill and lead to massive benefits to the balance of payments as well as agriculture, it said.

As the editor put it, addressing the then-Chancellor: “Are you interested, Mr Healey? You ought to be.”

It is not reported whether that investment ever took place, although I doubt it. But the parallels with similar issues today are glaringly obvious. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

David Richardson farms about 400ha of arable land near Norwich in Norfolk in partnership with his wife, Lorna. His son, Rob, is farm manager.

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