Century of Endeavour
The SSISI in the 40s
(c) Roy Johnston 1999(comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
At a Council meeting on November 25 1939 JJ had agreed to to a paper on a comparative study of agricultural prices and costs in Eire and NI, some time in the coming session. There is however no reference to this in the Mary Daly book. It would have had to appear at a time when transport problems were dominant, and JJ had moved to a farm near Drogheda, which he occupied for the duration of the war.
He did however go on to produce two papers, the second of which was visionary; later he took part in a post-war symposium.
In this paper, which was delivered on February 27 1942, JJ attempted to estimate and classify the amount of capital investment in Irish agriculture, leaning on several sources, primarily the Report of the Banking Commission, and the 1931 SSISI paper of M Murphy. He then goes on to contrast this overall national figure, which was dominated by small-scale subsistence units, with anecdotal figures known to him from neighbouring farms to his current Drogheda location. Specifically, he contrasts the average national output of £5 per acre with the £15 to £20 per acre known to him to be feasible with good management practice on substantial farms of 200 to 500 acres.
He drew attention the the practice of holding liquid money in the bank as a dowry, and questioned whether such might not be better invested in the instrumental capital of the farm.
He concluded with a tribute to Major Barrow, recently deceased, an enterprising Englishman, who had married into a Louth family, and who had taken over his wife's family farm at Milestown, near Castlebellingham, in 1923, after the house had been burned, rebuilt the house, and developed the 211 acre farm as an intensive business employing 14 people. He urged the Land Commission instead of dividing up the land to set up farms in 500 acre units in every county, managed by agricultural graduates, and staffed by the surplus sons of the local small farmers, who would own the farm on a co-operative profit-sharing basis. He had shown the draft of the paper to Major Barrow some days before he died, and the latter was in full agreement with communal large units as the alternative to division. He also referenced the experience of the Mount Street Club, which had created employment in this way, and which could be regarded as a pilot.
There is a record of some discussion, with contributions from Brendan Menton, who was later to become a contributor of papers to the SSISI on financial topics (was he perhaps one of JJ's students?) and a Mr O Coincain, both supporting the need for the State to give a lead in changing the investment environment.
JJ spoke next and drew attention to the fact that price-rigging by the British Government made it impossible for Irish farmers to export cattle except as stores for finishing in Britain. He drew attention to the disappearance in Ireland of winter stall-feeding of cattle, and linked this to the impoverishment of the land through the lack of a managed supply of manure. He called for a comprehensive trade agreement with Britain tailored to the need to maximise the mutual interest.
Other speakers included PS O'Hegarty, Col KE Edgeworth, Mr O Coineain, RJP Mortished, Dr Meenan, Dr Beddy and Dr Geary. The latter supplemented JJ's remarks by pointing out that while the gross output of Irish agriculture had declined during the war, the net output had actually increased, due to the lack of available inputs. In other words, the land was being mined.
In the light of the above JJ projected a mix of small and medium farms, co-operating to own and manage a central large farm, based around the resources available from a 'big house'. The central farm might be in the region 500 to 1000 acres, and the total grouping of all farms associated in the organisation might be 15,000 to 20,000 acres. The central unit would supply specialist services to the members of the group, including educational services; in fact it could be a school or college.
JJ supported his arguments with evidence from the CSO, for 3 districts known to him where intensive large-scale farming had been initiated in recent decades. In all 3 cases the secular population decline, steady from 1871 the 30s, had been turned round and was now on the increase.
The foregoing paper was later developed into an important chapter in JJ's subsequent book 'Irish Agriculture in Transition', published in 1951. In this developed form it represents the most coherent version of JJ's vision for how he felt Irish agriculture should develop. I also had occasion to refer to it in a paper on 'Biotechnology and Sustainability' in the Spring 2001 issue of the Teagasc publication Farm and Food.
(The farm was undoubtedly Killygarvan, run by Lizzie and Sophie Loughrin, cousins of JJ; see the family sequence). JJ argued the case that a type of social welfare possibly appropriate to industrialised Britain applied in rural Ireland had the effect of undermining the viability of agriculture, and discouraging employment of labour, by effectively putting a tax on it. He re-iterated his support for the Richards Orpen 'economic farm cluster' approach, as outlined in his 'rural civilisation' paper earlier.
Other participants in the discussion included John McIlhenney, PS O'Hegarty, FC King, Dr Robert Collis and Rowland Healy on behalf of the Department. There emerged something like a consensus that the proposed system would render more extreme the conflict between urban and rural interests.
Comments on Other Authors
I have been unable to identify any significant evidence of participation by JJ in discussions during this period, for most of which he was living near Drogheda, and depending on the Great Northern Railway.
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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1999