War and weather had put huge stress on farmers facing the urgent need to produce the greatest amount of home-grown food possible.
The potential problem caused by the country’s “undue dependence upon overseas supplies” at a time when the enemy could prevent food reaching our shores had been highlighted earlier in the war.
In 1917, a report said the government should have “put agriculture on a war basis” two years earlier, but had failed to do so as a result of complacency.
The report continued: “Now, two years later, the uncomfortable fact of their dependence on overseas sources for daily bread has been a second time brought home to the British people, and feverish efforts are being made to evolve at lightning speed a policy which should have been carefully thought out and applied in the spring of 1915.
“There is no room for go-as-you-please farming in England in war time. In return for high prices, the farmer should be called upon to grow what the country most needs. Every district, every parish, should be expected to provide the biggest area of arable land to grow an acreage of wheat and potatoes in.”
As well as problems with shortage of labour and materials, the farmer had faced difficult weather conditions in the previous two years.
As a result, harvest began late – one field of wheat as late as the middle of November at Donington – and yields were low.
But labour had been the “outstanding problem” of the year, with military needs becoming ever more insistent “until the breaking point was almost reached”. Bad harvests caused the Government to call a halt to agricultural recruiting and to initiate a substitution scheme, where every man taken from the land was replaced by soldier labour, women or children.