Victorian County History|
A History of Dorset
25,060 acres, only to drop the next year, however, to 21,817 acres. In 1906 the figures stood at 20,254 acres, and there is very little hope that it will ever rise much above that figure. As prices are at present, a farmer, at all events in Dorset, cannot cultivate wheat to compete with the imported article, and he can buy cheaper from the ship at Poole or Bristol than he can grow.
Like wheat, the barley area has steadily diminished. Bad seasons have had their effect, and Dorset farmers find it difficult to produce barley which can successfully compete with that produced by other counties and other countries. That mainstay of the barley-growing farmer - the brewer is finding that he can use substitutes for barley which are cheaper, and where he finds he must have barley he prefers foreign barley which is thinner skinned, of a clearer colour, and more even quality. The Burton brewer, it is said, is becoming fonder of Dorset barley, but his recognition of it is very slow, and one or two bad seasons have made him very shy of the Dorset crop. Still, were brewers to encourage growers to produce good barley, there is not much doubt that the acreage under barley in Dorset at the present time would very materially increase.
In 1873 barley was cultivated on 38,269 acres. Two years later the area had increased to 41,329 acres, whilst in 1879 it had risen to 42,104 acres. Again that disastrous year shows its effect in a reduction of over 1,500 acres. In 1885, in spite of the repeal of the malt tax, the acreage had decreased to 34,982 acres, but in the following year, owing no doubt to crop rotation, it had risen to 35,097 acres. From 1890 down to the present time, with the exception of 1894, which shows an increase over the previous year, the area under barley has shown a steady fall, until in 1906 the low figure of 21,995 acres was reached.
From the point of view of the tillage of the land the Returns of the acreage under oats afford us the most gratification. This, during the period from 1873 to 1906, shows over fifty per cent. increase, due to the more extended use of oats as feeding stuff and to the enhanced value of oat straw, which has come to be recognized as equal to wheat straw. In dealing with comparison of prices between the two crops it must be remembered that oats give about 33 1/3 per cent. higher return per acre than does wheat, and this usually more than compensates for the difference in price per quarter. Slight fluctuations there have been in the number of acres under oats, but generally speaking the Returns show a steadily increasing number of acres that are being cultivated under oats. In 1873 the number of acres sown was 20,992 ; in 1906 31,311. With the exception of 1879, which shows a total of 20,036, the figures of the succeeding years have not been below those of 1873.
The rye area has been almost a negligible quantity, at least so far as a corn crop is concerned. The cultivation of rye ' went out' to a great extent between 1793 and 1815, and has never since really come back into favour in Dorset. The use of other than wheat bread became, with a shilling loaf, the recognized sign of poverty, and as such was thrown off with the first return of good times. The areas given below, however, of course only refer to rye allowed to ripen into a corn crop. Rye cut green appears under a pastoral heading. On the figures it would appear that rye as a corn crop is slowly regaining popularity, but with the increased tendency in Dorset to lay more land down to grass it is doubtful whether it will ever rise to any prominence. In 1873 but 643 acres were cultivated for rye ; in 1906 882 acres were sown. But during this period the areas fluctuated somewhat largely. In 1883 653 acres were down to rye ;-in 1885 only 575, whereas in the following year the total was 773 acres. Again in 1893 a total of 1,457 acres was sown with rye, whilst in the following year the acreage rose to 2,996. In 1903 the number of acres was 1,022, and in the following year 1,049 acres.
When we come to consider the cultivation of green crops the decline in the acreage cultivated is as noticeable as it is in the cultivation of grain crops. The full total of acres under green crops in 1873 was 60,871 From that figure down to the 45,957 acres cultivated in 1906 is a big drop, which is particularly noticeable, of course, in the principal crop of swedes and turnips. Marigolds, however, show an increase, as will be seen from the figures. Potatoes have declined, as has the cultivation of the minor green crops. The diminution in the number of sheep has no doubt exercised some influence on the reduction in the acreage of roots, whilst the bad season of 1886, when the ravages of fly spoilt the crop, and the bad season of 1899, may have had something to do with the reduction in the area. The total for all green crops in 1873 included minor acreages not under the three chief crops. Among these minor acreages the most important were tares, lucerne, and rye cut green. These came to 8,794 acres altogether, but were not divided. The Returns of 1906 are better divided, Major Craigie's figures being as follows : Cabbage 491, kohl rabi 110, rape 1,606, tares 4,649, and lucerne 323 acres, giving a total acreage to the minor crops of 7,179, as against the 8,794 acres in 1873
Land cultivated for potatoes has decreased in acreage in common with swedes and turnips. It is difficult to give a hard and fast reason for this reduction ; their value as cattle feed is a negligible quantity, but with the increase in the number of pigs kept in the county it would seem likely to be profitable to continue to grow potatoes to the same extent as formerly. In 1873 the total number
Source: Victorian County History - Dorset (1906)
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