As Ireland prepares to vote in a referendum to join the European Community a look at Irish farming during a half century of self-government.

1923 saw the introduction of a new Land Act allowing the last one hundred thousand tenant farmers to buy out their holdings. The act also allowed for the dissolution of the Congested Districts Board for Ireland with its functions transferred to the Irish Land Commission.

The age of tenant farming was coming to an end in 1923 and men saw long term leasing of land as disaster.

Grants were made available for the construction of lime kilns and subsidies on burnt lime were given under the newly established County Commissions of Agriculture.

Landmark 50 Years A-Growing (1972)
Farmer baling hay

1936 saw the introduction of the Agricultural Wages Act and for the first time a minimum wage was introduced for agricultural workers. Wages were fixed at 24 shillings for a six day 54 hour week.

With the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939 came the introduction of the Compulsory Tillage Order in Ireland which meant that by 1944 three quarters of arable land must be cultivated. One tenth of the crop must be wheat. When German resistance collapsed in 1945, the war in Europe was over. Marshall Aid became available from the United States.

1945 found us sending food to starving Europe. The following year found us facing crop disaster at home.

Following the war, machinery became available and agriculture began to develop through mechanisation and mass production. Bogs became exploited for peat and peat burning stations were set up. In 1946 rural electrification was underway.

Landmark 50 Years A-Growing (1972)
Farmer baling hay

In 1949, the Land Rehabilitation Project was set up with grants available to bring rough and wet land into agriculture. The 1950s saw a Fertiliser Scheme and a Farm Building Scheme. Fresian cows and land raised pigs were appearing on more and more farms.

In 1958, An Bord Gráin and the Agricultural Institute were set up revolutionising Irish farming. Three years later in 1961 Bord Bainne was set up and became the sole exporter of butter and some other dairy products. The following year, Kerrygold butter was successfully launched in the north west of England.

Irish exports and trade deals were the first sign of Ireland's entry into the EEC. Britain was already in negotiations with the existing members. In 1965, the Free Trade Area Agreement between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom was introduced resulting in the relaxation of trade restrictions. Also in 1965, the Bovine Brucellosis Eradication Campaign was launched.

Landmark 50 Years A-Growing (1972)

1966 saw the introduction of farming quotas as a result of agricultural protest by the Irish Creamery Milk Supplier Association (ICMSA). However, divisions were emerging between different farming associations. In 1966, the National Farmers Association (NFA) members from every county marched to Dublin to highlight farmer unrest. The converged on Dublin on 19 October 1966 and 30,000 farmers gathered in Merrion Square. That evening, they left leaving nine men who agreed to stay on the steps of the Department of Agriculture until the Minister for Agriculture met them. However, the government announced that it would not be dictated to.

On 8 January 1967, there was a road blockade. Farmers who were fined for their part in the blockade refused to pay and went to jail instead. Picketing farmers identified with their imprisoned colleagues. Farmer-government relationships were at an all time low.

In March 1967, the NFA engaged in a commodity strike meaning that there were no cattle available for sale and was a massive display of the strength of organised farming.

A period of relative quiet ensued with new politicians and new farming leaders. That is until 1 January 1971, when Jim O'Keeffe President of the ICMSA symbolically removed the tax disc from his car. This was the first act in new campaign to bring farmers into conflict with the law and highlight the problems facing dairy farmers. The ICMSA officially requested that the NFA support the campaign. The NFA also engaged in a buying strike resulting in complaints from machinery manufacturers.

1968 saw Irish farmers coming together to raise £3.5 million to buy International Meat Packers (IMP). By 1971, cattle prices had rocketed and beef exporting factories were in trouble. IMP was now letting workers go and replacing high ranking personnel.

In 1970, Dr Sicco Mansholt, the EEC president in charge of agriculture, visited Dublin and the Macra na Feirme rally in Tralee. Jim Gibbons was now Minister for Agriculture and the department's beef incentive scheme attracted floods of applications as many small farmers changed from milk to beef.

In 1971, fresh water pollution was in the news as effluent from silage and intensive farming units posed a threat to farming itself. Mining began to invade the landscape and change the appearance and value of farmland. Negotiations were ongoing for Ireland's entry to the EEC.

This episode of 'Landmark: Fifty Years A-Growing' was broadcast on 9 May 1972. The presenter is Martin Downes.