National Geographic : 1944 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine British Combine An English Coverall Girl Repairs a Tractor Made in Waterloo, Iowa Despite farm-machinery shortages at home, America finds it economical to lend-lease tractors to its ally. Since a tractor delivered in Britain produces a minimum of ten times its own weight in food, it saves precious cargo space. Acre for acre, British farmers now have more tractors than Americans. 70 percent, calorie basis.* When the farmer's son left the tractor for a fighter plane, the farmer's daughter kept the tractor going on the farm. And those dim lights creeping slowly across the field by night are the farmer himself keeping the tractor going in the black out for the extra acres. Special tractor lights have been designed for the purpose with a lim ited downward range. (See above and p. 63.) Land is farmed that had never been plowed before-land so rough that it costs more to produce the food than the food is worth, but not more than the food plus shipping is worth. Today parks are potato fields, and golf courses are in wheat. They farm road strips and school grounds, reclaimed marshland and rough hillsides. English farmers have upset their old estab lished rotation systems by taking land out of grass and putting it into crops earlier than long-time sound farming practice permits, thus overdrawing on their checking account of soil fertility, spending fertility in the emergency faster than they make deposit. Mussolini, in several years of peace, re claimed some 200,000 acres of the Pontine Marshes and put them into production.t During one wartime winter, at the height of the Battle of Britain-when one of every five homes in all Britain was being destroyed or damaged by bombs-the English reclaimed 150,000 acres of similar marshland and put them into food production. An Amazing Agricultural Output I had two questions to ask when I learned of England's increase in food production since the war began, and I was surprised at the answers. First, supposing that this "nation of shop keepers" does fight in its precious little fields, of what importance is Britain as a farming country, anyway? If they increased their production so much, could they have been farming efficiently before the war? Second, how have British farmers overcome wartime difficulties? Britain's prewar agriculture was greater than that of any of its Dominions except Canada, in terms of people engaged and value * See "'Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat,' " by Harvey Klemmer, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1942. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Redemption of the Pontine Marshes," August, 1934, and "Story and Legends of the Pontine Marshes," April, 1924.